Dilutions Discussion: A Critical Response
Even from the get go, homeopathy didn’t stand a chance on this CBC Marketplace episode. Not five minutes into the program had the term “so-called” remedies popped up, so we knew it wasn’t going to be an objective, unbiased piece. But I disagree: only partial truths were disclosed and the research was incomplete. This letter will focus on the “suspect dilutions” found in homeopathic medicine.
The dilution of homeopathic remedies is one of the things that make this form of medicine unique – also one of the main targets of scepticism. Homeopaths adhere to the ultra diluted substances because the point is to stimulate the body to heal, not to create a drug response that disappears once we stop taking the drug. However, this is not a reason that everyone accepts, and led to slanderous remarks from the reporter: “sugar pills”, “nothing”, and “loopy thinking”. Name-calling aside, there were two main premises on this show: 1) There is no scientific research which shows that diluted substances have an effect and 2) There is no scientific research which shows that diluted substances retain matter.
The research to support homeopathic dilutions is in actuality growing, despite CBC’s inability to find the literature. One of the areas of interest, which has great implications for homeopathic prescribing, is “serial agitated dilutions.” This is a laboratory technique involving successive dilutions of matter, with shaking (or agitation) in between each dilution – the general process that every homeopathic remedy is subjected to.
Various studies have shown effects from these diluted substances, including one done on mice. Jonas and Dillner (2000) compared the prophylactic use of these serial agitated dilutions to a control group to evaluate immune response of mice. After 1 month of repeated prophylactic dosings, the researchers gave lethal injections to every mouse and assessed the time of death. Those given serial agitated dilutions stayed alive longer. Certain dilutions (at the 30C, 200C level) yielded antibody reactions in the mice – an indication that an immune response was stimulated. Things to point out in this study: it was not done on humans, which refutes the show’s assertion of “elaborate placebo effect.” This study also supports the idea that prophylactic use of diluted substances might actually have some credence to it: an idea that seemed incredulous to the host of CBC Marketplace.
In another study by Frenkel et al. (2010), ultra-diluted homeopathic remedies slowed down cell division in breast cancer cells in comparison to the control solvent. In some cases, the dilutions stopped cell division cycles and contributed to apoptosis (or “cell death”) of cancer cells. Please note that this study was done in the laboratory (and not on animals), so there are limitations to how far we can interpret these results. The fact that ultra-diluted substances had an effect on cells (that are not susceptible to placebo effects) should be noted.
Although there are many studies done on humans that document use of homeopathic dilutions, I choose another animal study to emphasize the absence of a placebo effect. Camerlink et al. (2010) found that when treating sows with Homeopathic Coli 30k (compared to the placebo in a double blind environment), the piglets born from the Coli group had fewer instances of E. Coli diarrhea and reduced transmission between piglets. Specifically, the piglets who received placebos had six times more diarrhea than the homeopathic group and were observed to infect each other much more rapidly than the homeopathic group.
Seeing as how homeopathic literature shares similar methodology to conventional medical research (e.g. double blind studies, comparisons to placebos, tests on different subjects), it appears as though our “flawed science” is just “regular science.”
CBC Marketplace brought homeopathic remedies Belladonna and Ipeca to the lab to investigate the active ingredients in remedies, seeing as they were so dilute. The chemist concluded that the active ingredients were “below the limit of detection using their instrumentation.”
Yet, in a study by Chikramane et al. (2010), Transmission Electron Microscopy and Inductively Coupled Plasma-Atomic Emission Spectroscopy were used to detect homeopathic nanoparticles even at incredibly high dilutions. The ultra diluted substances were found to have retained the same characteristics as their starting material.
Rey (2002) examined different salts of Lithium Chloride and Sodium Chloride in terms of thermoluminescent glows. This is where, when heat activated, specific particle emit different light unique to their own chemical composition. The emissions are considered energy releases in chemistry and physics, so it is a measurable property. Rey found that there were differences between the lithium chloride and the sodium chloride even after high dilutions. Like the last study, emissions between the diluted and the undiluted substance remained the same.
So, if both nanoparticles and thermoluminescent properties of substances are detectable and distinguishable after dilutions, are dilutions really “nothing”? Just because the active ingredient is super dilute, does this necessarily mean that it didn’t impart something into the water? These studies seem to suggest that there is something in the water.
Keep in mind that this research does not prove homeopathy. Every study has its limitations, so research papers only serve to strengthen an argument, or weaken it. I acknowledge the fact that other studies have shown no significant difference between homeopathic prescriptions compared to placebos. The fact that these studies say otherwise warrants further research, not a dismissal of homeopathy as “quackery.”
Science is an exploration for the truths of the world. There is no “right” or “wrong” in scientific literature, there is only material that we choose to see, or choose to ignore. I choose to see: not only to see that which supports my views, but also that which refutes them. And when asked, “where is the evidence?” I can confidently say that it is everywhere, if you just dare to look.
Resources for homeopathic research
Homeopathy, or “like suffering,” is an alternative school of medicine that treats disease using minute doses of natural substances in accordance with the Law of Similars, a principle stating that a substance that can cause disease (toxic) symptoms in healthy people can also cure similar symptoms in the sick. This principle of “like cures like” can be understood with a simple illustration of the homeopathic remedy, allium cepa, or red onion. As red onions can cause tearing, redness and burning of the eyes, and copious, watery, acrid nasal discharge, similar symptoms found in a sick person with the cold can be cured by the homeopathic remedy, allium cepa (Boericke). Homeopathy was discovered by Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician, more than two hundred years ago and treats the great majority of chronic and acute ailments, including such conditions as cancer, epilepsy, depression, and malaria. Homeopathic remedies are prepared from natural sources through a process called potentization and prescribed according to the Law of Similars and the principles of the single remedy, the minimum dose, and individualization of a holistic totality of symptoms. Because of its principles and despite its supporting evidence, homeopathy remains a highly controversial school of medicine that is both widely contested and practiced around the world in varying degrees.
After noticing that cinchona, a Peruvian bark, could produce malaria-like symptoms when ingested by healthy people, Hahnemann observed the curative effects of the Law of Similars by successfully administering it to and curing malaria-stricken people. He further developed his initial observation through strict adherence to the scientific method (inductive experimentation) and outlined its resulting principles in the Organon of Medicine. In addition to the Law of Similars, homeopathy adheres to the principle of one remedy, which states that only one remedy shall be prescribed at a time in the treatment of the sick. Concurrent administration of multiple drugs can obscure a physician from knowing which drug, if any, affected a change(s) (therapeutic or side effect), thus limiting true knowledge of a drug’s properties beyond controlled drug-trial settings. The principle of minimum dose states that only the smallest dose of a drug necessary to affect healing shall be prescribed, and the majority of homeopathic remedies do not contain any trace of the original medicinal substance. This last principle of “ultradiluted” drug dosage is opposed by the popular wisdom of conventional medicine and science.
Ultradiluted homeopathic remedies are made from natural plant, animal, and mineral sources. Ultradilution is achieved through a process unique to homeopathy called potentization. A substance, for example, arnica montana (a mountainous flower), is first diluted in water and then succussed, or vigorously shaken. This two-step process is then repeated many times until the repeated dilutions yield a solution that contains not one, single remaining molecule of the plant; only the water used in preparing the solution and the imparted healing properties of the flower remain. Potentizing remedies serves a two-fold function. First, the resulting homeopathic remedy satisfies the maxim “do no harm” because it is liberated of any chemical toxicity (as there is no trace of the original substance). Second, a paradoxical effect of increased medicinal power is achieved through greater and increasing dilution of the substance (Hahnemann).
The homeopathic view of disease (and health) is a holistic one in which the definition of disease includes all symptoms (mental, emotional, and physical) experienced by the person, in addition to the pathognomonic, or typical, symptoms associated with a disease. To a conventional medical doctor, or allopath, a disease diagnosis of cancer is defined by the syndrome of the cancerous lesion and any symptoms, like swollen lymph glands, fever, and weight loss. To a homeopath, the disease diagnosis of cancer and associated symptoms only represents a part of a greater symptom-complex, as “the disease” also includes any other physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and genetic symptoms that a person experiences. The sum total, or totality of symptoms, of a person constitutes “the disease” in a homeopathic diagnosis.
In addition to the symptoms typical of a cancer patient, a homeopath would also include in their diagnosis, for example, all symptoms like and including restless sleep, constipation, and depression that resulted from the cancer diagnosis. The totality of symptoms between two people is never the same and because no two people are sick in exactly the same way, a homeopath is given the distinguishing features necessary in selecting a homeopathic remedy.
Individualization is the identification of a person’s unique totality of symptoms during a homeopathic consultation. This singular and varying expression of disease can be shown in an example of two people with asthma (shortness of breath, chronic cough, and wheezing). Patient A experiences shortness of breath only in warm weather with an aggravation when lying down; while patient B only experiences shortness of breath in cold weather and an amelioration of the asthma on lying down. Further differentiation may be found in the cough, as patient A only coughs in the morning and patient B coughs throughout the day. Further homeopathic investigation may reveal that patient A also suffers from chronic constipation and panic attacks, while patient B suffers from chronic diarrhea and insomnia. These clear symptomatic differences individualize each person’s totality of symptoms and guide the homeopath in selecting the particular homeopathic remedy that has the “propensity to produce [similar] disease symptoms in the healthy (Hahnemann);” that is, both patients A and B would receive a different homeopathic remedy in contrast conventional medicine whereby the patients would receive medication based solely on the disease name (asthma).
Homeopathy is a highly controversial school of medicine. Popular medical and scientific wisdom holds that homeopathic remedies are purely placebos that “cannot possibly work…[because] it’s just water.” This argument, however, contradicts scientific evidence showing that the “structures [and therefore properties] of liquids are easily and regularly changed;” while other evidence shows that “homeopathically processed lab samples are measurably different from the original waters (Roy).” Critics also claim that randomized double-blind clinical trials of homeopathic remedies show them to be no better than placebos. The protocols of double-blind trials, however, prescribe the same remedy according to disease name (the allopathic method) to all drug-taking participants unfairly ignoring the homeopathic protocol for individualized prescribing.
Extensive clinical records collected by governments and hospitals from around the world detail homeopathy’s efficacy during times of epidemics. In one, large sampling of more than thirty years, pneumonia cases records were collected from five U.S., London, Paris, and Vienna hospitals that had both an allopathic and homeopathic wing. Of the 9 385 cases treated by homeopaths, only 365 died resulting in a 3.9% mortality (Bradford). A comparable allopathic study of twenty years from 1978-1998 in the use of antibiotics for bacterial pneumonia in Huntington, West Virginia, resulted in an allopathic mortality of 20.3% (Mufson). Between 1853 and 1878 in the Greater New Orleans area, 6 569 patients with yellow fever were treated homeopathically that resulted in 360 deaths, or a 5.5.% mortality (Holcombe). In stark contrast, conventional medicine still offers “no curative treatment for yellow fever (Roukens).”
Due to the controversial nature of homeopathy, its practice and regulation differs worldwide. In some countries, no regulatory government organizations exist, while in other countries medical degrees are required for practice. Here in Canada, homeopathy is currently in the transitional phase of being regulated for the first time in the province of Ontario. In some countries, homeopathy is covered under insurance policies, while in others homeopathy is a part of the national health care system. Unlike conventional medicine, regulation and testing of homeopathic remedies is not required in many countries because ultradiluted homeopathic remedies are not considered harmful (Homeopathy).
Glen Jung, Homeopath, www.downtownhomeopathy.com
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