Homeopathic remedies are chosen according to a detailed list of symptoms sometimes called a “symptom picture.” These lists are developed through provings (more formally called homeopathic pathogenic trials). Originally, provings were conducted in the following manner: Individuals were given very high doses of a substance, and all their symptoms were recorded. Symptoms experienced in common by several individuals became part of the symptom picture associated with that substance, and a homeopathic version of the same material was used to treat that symptom picture. More recently, ultra-high dilutions of the material are used, in the belief that they will produce similar symptoms, at least temporarily.

Some of these symptom pictures are extremely detailed, and may include, besides physical symptoms, details of psychology and lifestyle. According to homeopathic theory, the better the overall “fit” between a person and a remedy’s symptom picture, the better the remedy should work.

For example, the homeopathic remedy Sulfur is said to be useful for people who have red lips, stooped posture, and a tendency toward untidiness in personal affairs. A small selection of other traditional characteristics of this remedy include mid-morning hunger, and a tendency for increased discomfort of whatever physical symptoms they may be experiencing after exposure to cold air or motion, and between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m.

To be scientifically rigorous, the provings that lead to these symptom pictures should be double-blind and placebo-controlled . Otherwise, participants are likely to experience symptoms simply because they expect to, and observers will tend to observe the expected symptom picture as well. Unfortunately, few of the provings used to define the treatments chosen by homeopaths were performed in a scientifically reliable way. 1 A well-designed trial found that when provings were performed under rigorous conditions, the observed symptoms fell all over the map, rather than falling in any kind of consistent pattern. 2 In addition, a double-blind placebo-controlled trial of 253 people attempted a rigorous proving of homeopathic Belladonna (30C), but found that there were no symptoms consistently associated with use of the remedy. 3