By Andy Ho
HOMEOPATHY is integrated into the national health-care systems of France and Britain. The fact that their governments pay for this mode of alternative health care seems to imply it must have been well established beforehand that it works.
However, in October 2009, when queried by the House of Commons, the British Department of Health stated that 'no scientific evidence was examined in drawing up the National Rules Scheme', which is the British licensing regime for homeopathic treatment.
Most of us tend to conflate homeopathy with herbal or 'natural' remedies. If so, you might be quite taken aback by the mystical claims some make on its behalf.
The present system called homeopathy was first founded by a German called Samuel Christian Hahnemann (1755-1843) who ingested some cinchona bark. This had long been identified as a cure for malaria as it contains quinine. When Hahnemann developed an allergic reaction to the bark, it caused symptoms that resembled malaria, such as fever, chills and rigors. Based on this observation - his first and only 'correct' one - he deduced that there were many natural products that induced symptoms resembling those of a given disease.
If so, such substances needed to first be identified by direct experimentation. He thus fed his family and himself various things used as remedies in his day and recorded any symptoms he thought were induced. To this day, his compilation of such symptoms is still used.
Now, if you have certain symptoms in your present illness, the substance that produces the same symptoms could be used as a cure if it were made into a solution. This is because that substance imprints a mirror image - and thus the inverse - of itself on the water used.
As the inverse, the image's effects must be the reverse of those of the offending substance. Hence its curative powers.
But if you took it unattenuated, it would surely only cause symptoms like those you already suffered from. So it should be diluted until it no longer evokes symptoms when ingested. Thus, the dilution process is key; serial dilutions supposedly lead to increased potency.
The preparation is to be diluted tenfold (1:10) or a hundredfold (1:100) at each step, with the steps repeated several times - up to 200 times, say. But at such a rate of dilution, just one molecule of the substance or none of it will remain (according to a law in chemistry involving something called Avogadro's number).
Between each dilution step, the concoction must be vigorously shaken ('succussions') many times to increase its potency. Hahnemann believed that the dilution process - augmented by the succussions - set free some vital force held inside the offending substance. Thus even after there was none of it left in the solution, the freed force remained in it.
Not all homeopaths today would defend these ideas that Hahnemann championed, for they are scientifically indefensible. Instead, homeopaths might simply assert that the mechanisms by which their remedies work are quite unimportant as long as people are cured. But do they really work?
'A systematic review of systematic reviews of homeopathy' published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology in 2002 concluded that 'no condition... responds convincingly better to homeopathic treatment than to placebo...'. This was updated by the same reviewer in a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia last year, which also concluded that 'homeopathic medicines have no effects beyond placebo'.
This should not surprise us since there is no viable mechanism for water to have memories or carry information. No bona fide scientist has proposed a plausible one and none has ever been demonstrated experimentally.
In fact, if water memory did exist, then every soluble substance would have dissolved in the world's total stock of water at some point in history. In such a scenario, any water we drink would have the memories of these substances and thus have an infinite range of effects on us. Under these circumstances, the effect of any homeopathic remedy would be overwhelmed completely by a deluge of water memories.
At any rate, a homeopathically prepared remedy would have whatever active substance it supposedly carries already significantly diluted. If so, the concoction should be mostly water or whatever the inert solvent is. This should ensure that homeopathic remedies are not toxic. That is they are safe even if useless.
In fact, the Homeopathic Reference Manual (Natura-Bio) states: 'In homeopathy, there is no harm in taking the wrong medicine or too much medicine.' That is, homeopathic preparations are basically inert.
But if this were so, whence their capacity to treat specific diseases? This is a logical dilemma. In his book, Homeopathy: How It Really Works (2004), Jay Shelton says that homeopathy does work - because it is simply an elaborate placebo system.
However, it would be erroneous to conclude from this that all homeopathic remedies are inherently safe because they are so highly diluted, containing essentially nothing. Remember that unscrupulous hucksters might spike their homeopathic preparations with prescription painkillers or steroids, say. In such cases, serious toxicity may ensue. This being a possibility, smart consumers should simply get rid of any and all homeopathic remedies which they might have at home.