Table of Contents
- 1 Homeopathy: what is it?
- 1.1 Created in the early nineteenth century by Samuel Hahnemann, it is essentially based on:
- 1.2 The process of high dilutions.
- 1.3 The homeopathic method
- 1.4 The dilutions
- 1.5 What are we diluting?
- 1.6 It works, yes or no?
- 1.7 Open to amazing explanations, but still scientists.
- 1.8 Here are some excerpts from the report.
- 1.9 The responses of homeopathic advocates to these 2 publications
- 1.10 High dilutions: scientifically measurable effects.
Homeopathy: what is it?
Homeopathy A unique therapeutic technique still proving very controversial, homeopathy is practiced all over the world, by doctors, dentists, and veterinarians as well as by naturopaths, chiropractors, practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine, and several other health professionals. However, in Quebec, only the professional homeopath has a complete training that assures his competence in the use of the fundamental principles of homeopathy.
Created in the early nineteenth century by Samuel Hahnemann, it is essentially based on:
The law of similarity. Similia similibus curentur, the like cures the like. This principle, which goes back to Hippocrates, says that a substance that causes a group of symptoms in a healthy person can cure a sick person with the same group of symptoms. It is this principle that gave its name to homeopathy, the Greek words homeo and pathos meaning respectively “similar” and “illness or suffering”.
Law of individualization. In homeopathy, we treat the sick individual and not the disease to do this we look for the most idiosyncratic symptoms in a person taking into account all the aspects that characterize, physical, physiological, mental, psychic, heredity etc. We need a global picture of the unique symptoms of the individual.
The process of high dilutions.
The homeopathic theory claims that the dilution and the “dynamization” of a remedy can potentiate its curative effects. The homeopathic remedies are diluted several times in water or in a mixture of water and alcohol, to the point where there is usually no chemical trace of the molecules that made up the original substance.
Between successive dilutions, the remedy is administered a series of tremors (called succussions in the jargon of homeopaths) in order to “energize” it. This boosting would be absolutely essential to the effectiveness of the product.
Neither of these foundations has so far received the consent of the scientific community. The law of similarity is opposed to the classical medical approach which, to fight the disease, is based on drugs whose purpose is to eliminate the symptoms or to destroy the aggressors. For example, a drug that causes fever when the patient’s temperature is considered too high, an antibiotic that destroys the bacteria responsible for an infection, an antacid to counteract gastric hyperacidity, a hypotensive to correct high blood pressure. etc. This is called “allopathy”, also meaning “different”.
As for the process of high dilutions, it goes against the current of modern pharmacology which is based on the biological activity of specific molecules. From the chemist’s point of view, any therapeutic effect is attributable to specific molecules. In the majority of homeopathic preparations, these molecules are no longer found.
As for the law of individualization, in allopathic official medicine we do not consider that the body reacts as a whole, rather we focus on the function of each element separately. It’s a more mechanical approach. Homeopathy is a holistic medicine.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the subject has caused in the past – and still causes – very heated debate among scientists. Despite this, homeopathic remedies have been used to treat patients for 200 years and there is no indication that the popularity of this therapy is declining, either for the health professionals who use it or for the patients who receive it.
The homeopathic method
Homeopathy is based on the premise that the body has the strength to generate a natural healing process. From this premise, Hahnemann argued that it was more important to find ways to stimulate the natural healing process inherent in any living organism than to know the specific pathogen or name of the disease.
In this way, the homeopath tries to discover all the symptoms of the patient in order to trigger or support the corresponding healing process. The practitioner will, therefore, seek to know when and how the symptoms appear, which amplifies or decreases their intensity, the times they appear, the actions that exacerbate or relieve them, etc.
Thus, 2 patients suffering from the same disease in the sense of classical medicine could be prescribed different homeopathic remedies because their mode of reaction differs or their specific symptoms are not the same. They could have the same “cold” (same virus), but not the same nasal discharge, for example. Homeopaths now have computer databases.
A homeopathic preparation labeled 6X denotes a remedy in which the original extract has been diluted (usually in a mixture of water and alcohol) in a proportion of 10 to 1 (hence the X). This is called a low dilution or a decimal dilution. At each step (6 in this case), the mixture will have been boosted by printing 100 shakes. There are also percent dilutions (100 to 1 at each dilution) which are designated C, and “millesimal” dilutions with the letter M (1000 to 1). These last two types of preparation constitute high dilutions.
We often see the letter H (for Hahnemann) contiguous to the symbols X, C or M (for example, 30CH). This identifies the Hahnemannian dilutions we have just described. Some dilutions are prepared using a slightly different procedure developed by another Hahnemann contemporary homeopath, Dr. Korsakov. Korsakovian dilutions are usually identified by a K.
In homeopathy, it is believed that remedies prepared in high dilution are more potent than those prepared in low dilution. They are used by professional homeopaths and more rarely used over the counter or in complexes intended directly to the public. Once the extract is diluted, it is presented in the form of tablets, granules (small soluble balls, whose base is usually sucrose, which is allowed to melt under the tongue) or solutions that take a few drops to that time.
For topical uses, there are also homeopathic products in the form of lotions or ointments. Some preparations, such as skin creams, are said to be homeopathic in that they respect the principle of similarity (similar cures the like), but they are not necessarily diluted. They may contain, for example, mother tinctures of plants prepared according to a method specific to homeopathy.
What are we diluting?
The stem products used to make homeopathic medicines may be of plant, animal or mineral origin. Sometimes the relationship between the product and the condition being treated seems quite logical. Apis mellifica – diluted bee venom – is used to treat insect bites or other conditions that give similar reactions. Similarly, the Essential oil of a plant, Arnica montana, which was traditionally used to treat bruises and sprains, found a similar use in homeopathy.
On the other hand, in other cases, the relationship is more amazing. Thus, the venom of the viper Lachesis mutus is used against certain disorders of the menopause; and Arsenicum album (derived from arsenic, a very toxic heavy metal) is recommended against certain skin diseases and various types of colds.
It should also be noted that Oscillococcinum, a “flu-breaker” and one of the best-selling homeopathic medicines, is made from a maceration of liver and duck heart.
It works, yes or no?
Opinions on this subject are radically different. Scientists, researchers, clinicians, doctors, health professionals, experts from international agencies say things totally opposite, “unstoppable” evidence to support. It would be either a scandalous absurdity or an extremely promising approach that would prove itself every day to millions of people and would be more and more solidly documented. Who to believe?
Without pretending to make an exhaustive presentation, here are the main arguments of both sides as well as the most recent hypotheses that attempt to explain the alleged effects of homeopathy.
Homeopathy is based on absurd concepts that have not changed for 150 years.
The very high dilutions make sure that there is not a trace of the original product in the final product. According to classical science, the latter could not, therefore, have any specific therapeutic action. Renowned researcher Edzard Ernst, director of the Complementary Medicine Group at Exeter University in England (who was originally trained in homeopathy) is convinced of this. In an editorial entitled Should we keep an open mind about homeopathy? 1 published in 2009 in the prestigious American Journal of Medicine, he says that homeopathy is not based on science, but rather on ” faith “and on outdated and absurd metaphysical concepts. Homeopathy would be an affront to modern science, just like astrology, perpetual motion, alchemy or Elvis apparitions!
According to Ernst, “Opening oneself to believe in homeopathy goes beyond the tolerable limits of open-mindedness. We should start from the premise that homeopathy can not work and that any positive data can come only from publication bias or experimental error until proven otherwise. (…) By opening the door to irrational forms of medicine alongside evidence-based medicine, the public is deceived and its mind poisoned. “
Open to amazing explanations, but still scientists.
Proponents of homeopathy retort that their opponents are fighting an ideological rather than a scientific struggle. They readily admit that the action of highly diluted products does not come from a specific action of the original molecules. But they maintain that it is contrary to scientific thought to assert that there can be no other possible explanation. Moreover, more and more experiments would prove those very highly diluted products have a clear biological action (see, below, High dilutions: scientifically measurable effects).
Another recent, and at least surprising, a hypothesis that explains the effectiveness of homeopathy, as well as the difficulty of evaluating it by double-blind tests, is that of patient-practitioner-remedy intrication. According to her, there would be real “links” between the patient, the practitioner and the remedy! The term entanglement comes from quantum mechanics.
It describes the phenomenon by which two particles, once entangled, have “links” that make any change in one immediately implies the same change in the other, regardless of the distance between them. A similar process could occur in the relationship between the patient, the practitioner and the remedy.
No serious study would have proven beyond doubt that homeopathy would be more effective than placebo.
Here we are witnessing another formidable battle of specialists. In both camps, doctors, and researchers of high caliber. In both camps, serious scientific publications downright contradictory. Two examples.
In 2005, the Lancet, one of the most respected medical journals in the world, published a systematic review5 that was widely reported in the media. The researchers compared studies evaluating homeopathic medicines to as many studies for allopathic (conventional) drugs. Among all these studies, they retained only those of the highest quality and including the most subjects: 8 for homeopathy and 6 for allopathy.
From these studies, they concluded that the effects of homeopathy could, at best, only be due to the placebo effect. On the basis of this systematic review, the Lancet published a devastating editorial entitled The End of Homeopathy. The editorial team mentioned that “the results of the systematic review are not surprising. What is surprising is that the debate continues despite 150 years of adverse results. (…) The politically correct attitude of laissez-faire towards homeopathy has lasted too long, but a light is finally coming. (…) The debate between homeopathy and allopathy fueled by biased reports and selective analyzes should stop, as should all research on homeopathy. “
Second example. Published in 2010, a large study commissioned by the UK Parliament once again concluded that the action of homeopathy was due only to the placebo effect. The researchers recommended that homeopathy is no longer reimbursed by the state.
Here are some excerpts from the report.
“Randomized clinical trials are the best way to determine if there is a cause and effect relationship between a treatment and a result. “
“Although several studies have found that homeopathic remedies in many cases provide a great deal of user satisfaction, this does not prove their clinical efficacy. The high satisfaction rate could be attributable to a strong placebo effect reinforced by the following 3 factors:
Homeopaths would mainly treat conditions that tend to be self-limiting (such as the common cold) or particularly sensitive to the placebo effect. Individuals treated with homeopathy would deliberately choose this therapy and would probably give it more confidence from the start. Homeopathic consultations are usually long, empathic, and warm, and physicians with a warmer attitude have been shown to have better clinical outcomes than those who are more formal. “According to our research, the concept of ultra-dilution that water could retain the imprint of a previously dissolved substance is not scientifically plausible. “
The responses of homeopathic advocates to these 2 publications
Bad faith researchers?
These publications have, of course, provoked an outcry from homeopathic advocates, whether they be doctors, practitioners or researchers. With regard to the Lancet study, they accused the editorial team and the magazine of bias and not being objective. They pointed out that judging all homeopathy on the basis of 8 studies was grossly against the scientific method. In addition, there was no mention of the studies in question. Four months later, the Lancet provided the list of studies. Proponents of homeopathy said that 3 other studies, which met the research criteria of the study perfectly, had been omitted. And if we included them, the results clearly tended to favor the effectiveness of homeopathy.
The methodology of conventional studies is not adapted to homeopathy.
According to his supporters, random clinical studies do not do justice to the particular functioning of homeopathy. Indeed, in homeopathy, we do not treat a single symptom in isolation, but rather the whole person. In addition, attempting to isolate the patient-practitioner relationship to test only the drug goes against the clinical reality of a homeopathic treatment and could disrupt the results.
The placebo effect does not explain everything.
They also argue that in many cases the effect of homeopathy cannot be explained solely by the placebo effect. Thus, even if they are relatively few in number, quality randomized clinical studies indicate that homeopathy has, in some cases, significantly greater effects than placebo (see Therapeutic Applications).
This is the conclusion reached by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the US National Institutes of Health: “Most reviews of homeopathy studies conclude that there is very few evidence of its effectiveness in treating specific conditions. In addition, a lot of research has important gaps. However, some observational studies, some randomized clinical trials, and laboratory researchers show that homeopathic remedies have real positive effects and well-defined physical and chemical properties. “
Thus, as one researcher has pointed out, 10 it is sufficient to discover a single black swan so that it is no longer possible to say that ALL swans are white. Similarly, if we discover even one effect that is not due to placebo, it becomes impossible to say that ALL homeopathy results are due to the placebo effect.
High dilutions: scientifically measurable effects.
Many researchers have looked at the specific biological effects of homeopathy. They found that highly diluted preparations can cause measurable biological effects on, animals or isolated cells in the laboratory. For example, a homeopathic preparation of arsenic has made it possible to increase the germination rate of wheat grains previously contaminated with true arsenic, as if they had been “cured” of their contamination. This would respect both the principle of similarity and high dilutions. As another example, researchers in a double-blind experiment measured significant differences between electroencephalograms of patients with fibromyalgia who took a homeopathic product or placebo.
Two special issues of the journal Homeopathy, published in 2009 and 2010, have been devoted to this theme and report a great deal of research on the biological effects of homeopathy. (The full content of the second issue is available online for free, see Books, etc.)
On the other hand, several laboratory experiments using calorimetry, thermoluminescence or optical emissions have demonstrated that it is possible to differentiate between pure water and ultra-dilute solutions (which, according to classical chemistry, should no longer contain only water). Other experiments have differentiated two homeopathic solutions.
Cancer cells destroyed in vitro
Finally, a study published in 2010 by the MD Anderson Cancer Center, one of the most reputable cancer treatment centers in the United States, found that 4 different homeopathic preparations could destroy breast cancer cells in a targeted way (by cytotoxicity). The action of 2 of them was similar to that of paclitaxel (Taxol), the product most used in chemotherapy against breast cancer. In addition, one of the four drugs consisted of ultra-diluted cancerous tissue extracts, in accordance with the principles of similarity and high dilution of homeopathy. The authors concluded that the homeopathic remedies evaluated in their study (and already used against breast cancer in a clinic in India) seem promising from a preventive and therapeutic point of view. This justifies, according to them, to continue the research.
Hypotheses of explanations of Homeopathy
There is growing evidence that water can actually retain the footprint of a previously dissolved substance, even if the underlying mechanisms are not yet well understood. In 3 special issues of Homeopathy, published in 2007, 2009 and 2010, researchers presented the results of many experimental studies that could explain how highly diluted and “dynamized” products could produce measurable biological effects. Among these, we find:
The “restructuring” of water molecules that contain the same chemical elements (H2O) but are structured differently.
The influence of silica from glass containers in which water is shaken. Silica could positively “contaminate” the product, as in the case of semiconductor doping.
The formation of nano-bullies and singular nanoparticles during succussions.
The creation of long-lived electrical and electromagnetic phenomena in water molecules.
Non-uniform dispersion and agglomeration of diluted products.
In one of the articles in the 2007 special issue, The Memory of Water: An Overview, the author, a researcher in applied science, states that “there are several rational explanations that can demonstrate why water actually displays different properties based on its past history. In fact, they are so blatant that one wonders how such a controversy persists around the “memory of water”.
Finally, in the main editorial of the same magazine, the author states: “There is still a lot of work to be done, but we can say one thing with certainty: it is absolutely wrong to claim that homeopathy is impossible under the pretext that the “water memory” would be impossible. “
Why so much passion?
Many supporters of homeopathy accuse their opponents of acting with almost religious fervor. They accuse them of dogmatically refusing the slightest possibility that hypotheses that go beyond physics or classical chemistry may explain the effects of homeopathy.
Following the release of the study on the in vitro destruction of breast cancer cells by the MD Anderson Cancer Center in February 2010 (see above), renowned cancer expert Ralph Moss had the following reflection: 22 MD Anderson Center, which conducted the study, was ranked the United States’ best cancer hospital by the US News and World Report28. It will be particularly interesting to see if professional skeptics will, as usual, try to discredit the study. I hope that it will be a turning point and that conventional science will finally be forced to reassess its rigid opposition to this disconcerting but fascinating mode of treatment. “
Finally, the reaction of the skeptics was not so virulent, although some still tried to discredit the study. They mentioned that the alcohol used to dilute the preparations could be responsible for cell death and that, as the laboratory experiments were not double-blind, the study lost all credibility.
In a special issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine devoted to homeopathy, on the occasion of Hahnemann’s 250th birthday, the publisher wondered: “Why is it so difficult to open up to homeopathy? The reasons we propose are complex and profound. They come as much from reason as from psychology as well as the search for intellectual and spiritual “comfort”.
Homeopathy, perhaps more than any other discipline, causes reactions of a rare intensity as much to its antagonists as to its protagonists. Probably because the principles that underlie homeopathy absolutely defy the vision of nature and the biomolecular paradigm that currently prevail and that are a general consensus. “