The new British minister of health has recently become the target of scorn and mockery, after a science writer with The Telegraph noted that he supports homeopathy, a branch of alternative medicine most health experts view as quackery. But just how quackish is it?
Quick as Western doctors are to equate alternative medicine with utter nonsense, there's a difference between something that hasn't been proven to work and something that couldn't possibly work. The tools available for understanding the body are largely blunt, and some alternative theories have gained traction as those tools sharpen. Improvements in brain imaging technology, for example, have shown that meditation—a practice long dismissed by Western doctors as pure mysticism—can improve both the structure and function of the brain.
The form of alternative medicine known as Homeopathy was developed by a German physician around the turn of the 19th century. For two and a half centuries, it has sustained a solid following: According to the National Center for Homeopathy, over 100 million people worldwide use homeopathic medicine. There are—according to the Center's website—eighteen homeopathic doctors within a ten-mile radius of Popular Science's office in New York. Could it be that the practice of homeopathy is simply untested and unfairly stigmatized, or is it truly implausible?
To answer that question, let's first set aside some of the more philosophical/hypothetical principles of homeopathy. Let's ignore, for example, the homeopathic notion that illness is caused by a disturbance in an individual's "vital force" rather than something external, like a bacterium or virus. Let's focus instead on what matters most: whether or not the medicine makes people better. Homeopaths do, after all, use medicines, often in the familiar form of tablets and pills.
Those medicines are formulated according to a number of what we may loosely call "laws." The first of those laws states that "like cures like" — an agent that causes certain symptoms in a healthy person will cure anybody suffering from those same symptoms. The theory behind why the law works is pretty mystical in nature, but the basic idea is central to mainstream medicine: most vaccines consist of at least part of the thing they're meant to vaccinate against.
Another thing homeopathy has in common with Western medicine is its strict attention to how treatments are dosed. All homeopathic remedies are available in a huge range of concentrations. But there's a big difference: those concentrations are really small. In homeopathy, less is more, so homeopaths think of a large dose as a high dilution, instead of a high concentration.
The idea that a lower dose of a drug has a bigger effect than a high dose runs contrary to what western medicine has found. The contradiction is troubling, but it doesn't totally kill homeopathy's plausibility. The fatal flaw lies in just how much homeopathy says to dilute things.
Most homeopathic remedies are available at a maximum concentration (or minimal dilution) of 6X. A remedy at this concentration contains only about 1 microgram of active ingredient. To put that in context, here's how a 6X dose of remedy compares to some other known substances:
There are substances out there whose effects can be felt in amounts tinier than a 6X dilution. Botulinum toxin—a protein produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum and frequently injected into human skin to reduce the appearance of wrinkles—is lethal (when ingested) at a dose of just 80 nanograms, or about 4% of the 6X homeopathic remedy. And the human body produces miniscule amounts of several chemicals whose effects remain a mystery to medical science.
The trouble is, most homeopathic remedies are sold at much higher dilutions than 6X. On one popular homeopathic website, for example, sulphur is available in 13 different dilutions. The third-lowest dilution is 30X, which is well past the point where plausibility breaks down:
In fact, most available treatments are sold at even more absurd dilutions. Oscillococcinum, a popular flu remedy derived from duck liver and made by Boiron, a French manufacturer of homeopathic cures, comes in a standard dilution of 400X.
At this low concentration, to ensure you actually did ingest one molecule you would have to swallow about 10380 pills—many, many more pills than there are atoms in the universe.
And that's pretty implausible.
So in other words it's a placebo effect.
Yes and no, the dosages are at times at a potency where you would not expect to see an effect. The active ingredients however may well have a beneficial effect at the correct dosage.
From my own personal experience having used both western medicine and homeopathy was that there wasn't a massive difference between the 2, whether they were placebo effects or not the homeopathy seemed just as effective. Nowadays I just try to get regular exercise and a good diet which seems to work a heck of a lot better than any medicine for keeping me in good health.
Pop Sci should be embarrassed to have this kind of article. This is not science it is belief and has no right to even be tangentially connect to science and by even considering it gives it far too much credit. Homeopathy is fake it is just sugar water and can not work. Equal time does not have to be considered as Homeopathy is just dangerous and fake.
A nice piece. I once studied homeopathy...
In naturopathy school. It's a form of what I'll term junk thought / sectarian medicine.
A holdover from the 1800s.
Yet, the naturopathic 'profession' labels homeopathy on their board exams for North America a "clinical science."
With this law "...homeopathy, less is more, so homeopaths think of a large dose as a high dilution, instead of a high concentration...", quickly protects the homeopathy doctor from harming the patient and protecting himself from a lawsuit, there by continuing practice. In this the law is suspect to me, verse actually helping the patient.
Great job. I like how you used the Eddington Concession to really drive home the point. I can imagine a proponent of homeopathy reading along confident in the method of the authors reasoning and then BAM, not one molecule of medicine!
Is this article supposed to represent "science" or investigative journalism? If it is, it has failed horribly in this article and the author needs to do some more homework.
1) Dr. Hahnemann was a well known chemist in his day. He knew very well that the dilutions past 12C were past avagadro's number. So, what is the premise of homeopath?. People do your homework. Whether you want to agree with it or not, Homeopathy is an extension of "vitalistic" medicine. Please refer back to the 'father of modern medicine', aka, Paraceleus. The concept of "vitalism' has been a part of western medicine for centuries, while it has also been an integral part of Asian medicine (chi, prana). Hahnemann said the high dilutions, WHICH ARE ALSO 'POTENTIZED' (succussion)...NOT JUST DILUTED, are aimed at correcting the life animating 'spirit-like' part of the human organism, NOT the physiological basis of the being. the premise is that the vital force is where the disturbance is and from there, "functional' disease if left uncorrected can become pathological disease. So, everyone please get your facts right in regarding the homeopathic concept. No homeopath is saying a 200C potency remedy is affecting physiological change in a direct fashion. This is the misinformation of so called "science' writers who try to debunk homeopathy. (So I'm not trying to defend "vitalism', but at least get the facts right.)
Vitalism is the key concept here and this is what has to be discussed for a proper debate on homeopathy. Homeopathy has never laid claim that the ultra-dilute medicines were having a direct effect on the physiology.
2. Evidence of cure: just from a historical perspective the early homeopaths were awarded medals of honor from the Prussian govt in the early 1800's for their great successes in curing people during the cholera epidemic. Besides this there are 1000's of cured cases over the body of literature from the past 150 years. "Evidence based medicine"?
To be proper scientists, we should be observing a phenomena, evaluate the hypothesis, and then see if this is true. I find that most anti-homeopathic "science' writers are spouting their "beliefs" or repeating the "beliefs' of others, and really haven't evaluated ALL the evidence. As conventionally trained medical physician, I can attest to some amazing cured cases using homeopathic medicines that were applied via the proper application of homeopathic principle and theory. I have seen remedies that were applied contrary to proper homeopathic principle and law that had no effect -- a sugar pill result, so-to-speak. (Hence, these world wide events to disprove homeopathy whereby individuals stage a "poisoning' with homeopathic mercury or arsenic, are in themselves anti-scientific, as a remedy incorrectly prescribed will generally do nothing, and their staged mass poisoning will not poison anyone as any homeopath would agree.)
3. The human organism is amazing and not just limited to structure and chemicals. The terminal strands of our DNA emit photons. Biophotons! (Google Fritz Alfred Popp, PhD, cell biologist). Our cells communicate via photons in addition to hormones and intercellular small molecules like nitric oxide, etc. So, I ask you to open your imgainations up.
Really, I could list scores of scientific studies that have already been published over the past century that demonstrate the effectiveness, clinical studies, as well as physical science. there is no room to post this here, but basically, since the homeopathic medicines are prepared in a water based solution, the science of this has more to do with water molecule retention of energetic information from the original substance. I'll try to cut and paste just one of the many fascinating studies on this phenomena:
The Defining role of structure (including epitaxy) in the plausibility of homeopathy. Homeopaty 96 (2007):175-182 Rao ML, Roy R, BellIR, Hoover R. From the Materials Research Institute, The Pennsylvania State Univ, University Park, PA, USA
...the presumed "implausibility' of biological activity for homeopathic medicines ...past Avogadro's number. the argument relies on elementary chemistry.
In contrast materials science focuses on the 3-dimensional complex network structure of the condensed phase of water itself, rather than the original solute molecules. ..structure of water can be determined by epitaxy (transmission of structural info from the surface of one mateiral to another w/o the transfer of any matter, temperature pressure processes during succussion (an important part of homeopathic preparation in addition to dilution! mine), and formation of colloidal nanobubbles...and the remedy source material..
...data using Raman and ultra-biolet spectroscopy illustrate the ability to distinguish two different homeopathic medicines (Nuv vomica and Natrum muriaticum) from one another...in 6C, 12C and 30C potencies.
This is just one of several basic science studies to demonstrate a plausible mechanism for the ultra-dilutions to work. There is also nuclear magnetic resonance field studies than can distinguish solutions contrived from different homeopathic medicines, showing each with a unique MRI pattern. Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy of homeopathic remedies: J. Holistic Med. 5:2:172-177.
As for clinical studies, there are scores. MD Anderson demonstrated cancer cells going into apoptosis when the top 5 "cancer" homeopathic medicines where used. A recent Dermatology study show efficacy of homeopathy in eczema. "A 225 patient study in atopic eczema showed that after 2 yrs of homeopathic treatment, patients could reduce their use of conventional drugs (Witt, Ludtke, Willich. Acta Derm Venereol 2009;89(2) 182)
I would don't mind healthy skepticism, but what I'm seeing being passed off as scientific journalism is hardly that, but really is just elementary school penmanship devoid of any real study of the scientific literature out there that supports homeopathy. The literature and blog commentary is more akin of religious fanaticism that comes from the idea that homeopathy just can't be, so therefore it is dismissed. I would instead like to see a really informed article for a change, and a more informed conversation!
I read this article just now. There r certain scientific points in this article but saying Homoeopathy implausible is non sense. Dr Ballery of Biotechnology Deptt. Mumbai has scientifically proved & we r proving d efficacy of our medicines daily------
1. So what you are saying is that homeopathy when using potencies below 23X is plausible?
2. You comments regarding the vital force are incorrect. Hahnemann was well aware that external factors like epidemics could create sickness as well as hereditary factors. What he is saying is that symptoms (in mind and body) are caused by a derangement of your vital force.
3. From where did you get the quote "In homeopathy, less is more"? Hahnemann advocates for the minimal dose. In his book Chronic Diseases he writes:
"which had been hurtful only because of its over-large dose- can be used again, and, indeed, as soon as it is homœopathically indicated, with the greatest success, only in a far smaller dose and in a much more highly potentized attenuation, i.e., in a milder quality".
4. I think you have missed the basic concept of homeopathy, which is that it is not the drug that cures - it is your own self-healing powers (vital force, immune system) that cures. What you are looking for from the well chosen homeopathic remedy is to create a reaction from your vital force in order to start this self-healing process. Some call this the placebo effect, but homeopathy is much more. You can treat animals, babies and even plants with homeopathy and it still works. Check for instance Darwins experiments with the Sundew plants.
5. Also you try to explain homeopathy from a molecular perspective. I think the molecular system is not the end of all knowledge and that homeopathy goes beyond the molecular level. Just imagine that beyond the molecular level is a sub-system and beyond this sub-system is another sub-system and below this sub-system is another subsystem and so on.
The very fact that Homeopathy helps cure diseases in animals suggests that it is not a mere placebo effect.
Research in the area of how homeopathy works is still ongoing. Here is one such example paper from the Elsevier Journal:
"Extreme homeopathic dilutions retain starting materials: A nanoparticle perspective" wherein it was shown that certain highly diluted homeopathic remedies made from metals still contain measurable amounts of the starting material, even at extreme dilutions of 1 part in 10 raised to 400 parts (200C)
Wow... a 'conversation' about homeopathy on a scientific website... what is the world coming to
Homeopathy is fraudulent and can kill you if you attempt to treat a serious illness with it's false claims. For pity's sake, never EVER seek a homeopathic remedy for you or those you care about. It's snake oil, sugar water and too shameful in it's scam to be called a placebo.
Is it really suprising PopSci would have a pseudo-science article on here? I mean, they talk about evolution all the time.
"Dr. Hahnemann was a well known chemist in his day. He knew very well that the dilutions past 12C were past avagadro's number."
Well except that Hahnemann died before the Avogadro constant was even defined...
Doesn't stop homeopathy believers making things up as it suits them.
A few things:
1. We should not overlook the real value of the placebo effect. Whether we are talking about homeopathy or conventional medicine, patient confidence affects patient outcome.
2. We need to distinguish between homeopathy and naturopathy, between herbal remedies and techniques of application.
3. We can describe high-tech treatments in woo-woo terms, and we can discuss homeo/naturo treatment in scientific terms. Let's not base judgment on jargon, but on results.
4. "The higher the dose the more effective the treatment" is not a fact of conventional medicine. "The right dose" is what you want.
5. As we learn more, our attitudes change. Some homeo/naturo treatments have rotated into the realm of conventional medicine once the science had been established. It continues to happen. Remember when nobody knew how useful turmeric could be in diet? Ayurvedics knew. What you sneer at today could be the wisdom of tomorrow.
6. A cornerstone of this is lifestyle. Someone with bad habits who assumes science will save him from paying the piper won't be as healthy as someone who is mindful and prudent.
7. Conversely, bad habits plus a few weird herbs and tinctures does not equal homeopathy failure. And all the healthy mindfulness in the world does not replace a mastectomy. Each has a place.
Really you guys?
Fatal flaw of the whole article
" Let's ignore, for example, the homeopathic notion that illness is caused by a disturbance in an individual's "vital force" rather than something external, like a bacterium or virus."
That's like turning off the power to a computer and asking "how does thing work?" The vital force is the distinct difference between a living body and a freshly dead body. It's the exact reason that, as we start from birth we don't decay, as the law of entropy would have us do. If the law of entropy was the only force at work in the body ,we would never grow from the sperm and egg to develop into a multi-trillion cellular organism.
At one point it was mentioned about measuring outcomes. But where are the stats?
Pop. Sci. Should be embarrassed, this is a stain on a great reputation.
So just out of curiosity : Who funded this article? Some pharma corporation? Seriously, you're looking at the entire aspect wrong: you're applying chemical quantitation mechanisms to measure an effect of a drug that is based on physics. The way homeopathic remedies are active is not by introducing a chemical active ingredient into the patient's body (and that's what you were looking for). The main premise is that by diluting an active ingredient, the ingredient itself should not be present in the drug. It's physical signature, however, i.e. molecular spin will affect the molecules of the dilutant (water). When such "imprinted" dilutant is introduced into human body, it affects the cells on a molecular level - correcting the spin. There are some other responses here that go into homeopathy in more detail, so I'll try to summarize: in your article you're simply using a wrong tool for a job, and that's why your conclusion is very wrong. What really bothers me, is how easily you call millions of people who are successfully using homoeopathy "quacks".
I wonder how many people commenting have actually used homeopathic medicines? I've been using various individual and combinations of homeopathic medicines for 43 years and have found them to be frequently effective. If they are strictly placebos I'm pleased that my brain is so powerful. Either way they certainly work for me and everyone in my family.
Vital force is a quaint term describing the body's innate ability to heal itself. If you arent familiar with ELF fields and intercellular communication with very small amounts of chemical compounds, perhaps you should be arguing so vociferously about the ineffectiveness of homeopathy.
I wouldnt argue otherwise except i have seen a homeopathic remedy named cantharsis outperform antibiotics consistently. (used in the treatment of chronic bladder infections. ) In certain cases where every antibiotic used to treat bladder infections became useless, cantharsis cured it with no recurrence after 3 years in 2-3 days.
My suggestion is that it acts similar to floc in a pool. (allowing smaller particles to stick together so that they can be excreted) I could be wrong about its mechanism, but its effectiveness is unquestionable to me. I have also tried other homeopathic remedies that have had no success.
I would suggest that discounting all homeopathic remedies is akin to discounting all commercially produced pharmaceuticals, many are effective, and many are not worth it when you weigh benefits vs side effects.
Homeopathics , while not as generally effective as brute force high dose chemistry, does have some benefits, even in the small doses , which havent been properly tested or standardized in some cases. Some enzymes are tremendously active in small doses.
Recently Switzerland did a thorough scientific project on Homeopathy and determined that it worked and added it to their healthcare program.. Since there was no big money behind this study and the results were positive I suggest all the nay Sayers do some serious thinking.. With the negative history of pharmaceutics and resulting deaths as well as debilitating reactions Homeopathy seems a no brain er in safety.
Vaccines do not not work on the principle that "like cures like". They work on the principle that "like inoculates against like", but only in some cases. This is an important distinction: homeopathic cures are supposed to cure an existing condition, vaccines train your immune system for a future attack.
Even if you accept that homeopathy is on to something with the "like cures like" principle, how is duck liver supposed to be like the flu? My two year old makes more sense than this, which is why Boiron uses Latin to obscure the non-existent "active" component of their Oscillococcinum. What an utter scam!
This article, while showing the utter absurdity of homeopathy, nevertheless gives it too far too much credit.
Just one thing that has bothered me for a long time. Some moths will respond very quickly to the release of small amounts of a suitable pheromone over a mile away. What concentrations are we dealing with there? Sometimes what we don't know colors our ideas. Remember back in 1912 when everything that was going to be invented had already been invented?
In due respect, the above article is totally lame, especially for a POPULAR SCIENCE article.<BR>
This article is totally theoretical and doesn't choose to cite any of the many (hundreds!) of basic science or clinical trials, most of which have found biological activity and/or clinical effects of homeopathic medicines as distinct from placebo.<BR>
First of all, using market samples of metal-derived medicines from reputable manufacturers, scientists at the Department of Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology have demonstrated for the first time using Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM), electron diffraction by Selected Area Electron Diffraction (SAED), and chemical analysis by Inductively Coupled Plasma-Atomic Emission Spectroscopy (ICP-AES), the presence of physical entities in these extreme dilutions in the form of nanoparticles of the starting metals and their aggregates.<BR>
The # of nanoparticles remaining in EACH of the 6 samples were considerably higher than the # of many hormones that circulate in our bodies (which are often in extremely low doses!).<BR>
I assume that your magazine will next assert that the atomic bomb was also a placebo because those exceedingly small particles could not "possibly" have significant effects. Well, so much for theory. Please refer to RESEARCH next time.<BR>
As for Avogadro's number, such important concepts are not relevant when dealing with complex systems such as water and vigorous shaking in glass vials (do you understand that 6 parts per million of silica fragments fall off the glass walls from shaking?)(do you understand that the shaking creates bubbles and "nano-bubbles" that dramatically change the water pressure?)(is it possible that these factors influence what is being diluted?...the answer is CERTAINLY!).
By the same token, I can therefore conclude that nanotechnology is a con because the particles are just too small for me to see.
Brilliant science guys.
I've used homeopathy on my family and my pets with remarkable success and no side effects. I cannot say the same about modern medicine.
Homeopath’s own studies show – it doesn’t work
A new review by Prof Edzard Ernst inclusive of studies by Homeopaths, fails to yield positive results.
Announcing a new review of Homeopathy to be published in the Medical Journal of Australia, the review is authored by Prof Edzard Ernst. A press release by the MJA follows this short introduction.
Prove Homeopathy works and get a million dollars!
Here’s Randi’s latest challenge to the homeopaths.
When it was developed, homeopathy "worked". So did "the power of sympathy", osteopathy, and who knows how many other practices now lumped together as "quack cures" or "alternative medicine", depending on who is speaking.
However, they did not "work" for the reason claimed. When homeopathy was developed, mainstream medicine often treated people by bleeding and purging them, as well as administering medicines which contained heavy metals and other toxins. George Washington was effectively bled to death by his doctors. Napoleon may have died as the result of a medicine containing arsenic. President James Garfield might have survived his assassin's bullet had his wound been allowed to heal instead of being kept open by doctors who routinely inserted their unsterilized fingers into it (he died of blood poisoning).
Meanwhile, various cures that advocated a healthy diet and lifestyle or just plain did nothing at all allowed the body to heal itself. Times have changed. Holistics has become a concept used by mainstream medicine, and the tools, techniques, and medicines used by mainstream medicine are subjected to a certain amount of scientific review (not always with perfect results, but that's another subject). The conditions under which homeopathy "worked" no longer exist. Its creator should be applauded for promoting the idea that a good diet, fresh air, and exercise lead to improved health. But it must not be mistaken for medical treatment, and the distilled water and sugar pills sold as homeopathic remedies may safely be ignored.
"Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion" --Thomas Jefferson.
I was expecting a mathematical analysis of the results. Antidepressants are more dangerous, and perform no better than randomly psychoactive placebos in tests. The ads are based on testing against sugar pills, which don't fool the control group.
When the medical world proves they KNOW what they're doing, then I'll dismiss alternative methods!!! I don't see that happening any time soon!
I'm glad that every glass of water I drink has infinitely small concentrations of every possible homeopathic remedy, so I know I will never get sick from anything.
Homeopathy is great news for heroin addicts! They can buy it once and keep diluting the same batch for life, getting higher and higher with each dilution.