Homeopathy supposedly works on the basis of ‘Simila Similibus Curenta’ – or ‘Like Cures Like’ – and was founded on the observations of Homeopathy’s creator, the German Physician Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann (10 April 1755 – 2nd July 1843).
Hahnemann was a gifted linguist, having mastered five languages by the age of twenty, and a further four in following years. He studied Medicine for two years at the Leipzig University and a further ten months at the Vienna University – apparently moving from Leipzig to Vienna for wont of facilities in the former.
Hahnemann believed that the medicine of his time did as much harm as it did good:
My sense of duty would not easily allow me to treat the unknown pathological state of my suffering brethren with these unknown medicines. The thought of becoming in this way a murderer or malefactor towards the life of my fellow human beings was most terrible to me, so terrible and disturbing that I wholly gave up my practice in the first years of my married life and occupied myself solely with chemistry and writing
Hahnemann gave up his practice in 1784 and lived chiefly as a writer and translator. This is where he came across the information that would form the beginnings of his development of Homeopathy. While translating ‘A Treatise on the Materia Medica’ by William Cullen, he read that Cinchona, the bark of a Peruvian tree, was effective in treating malaria because of its astringency.
Wishing to understand how this ‘cure’ worked, he tested it on himself in small amounts – 4g of the powdered form, which contained only trace amounts of the actual active ingredient, Cinchona. From his reactions to this substance (heart irregularities, fever, thirst etc) – which have since been hypothesised as an allergic reaction to the quinine present in the medicine – he deduced that the application of any remedy that evokes similar reactions to an illness in a healthy person, that same application would cure the ‘like’ illness in a sufferer.
This formed the basis of his theory, which later came to be known as Homeopathy (from the Greek, hómoios ‘similar’ and pathos ‘suffering/disease’).
Taking this gross generalisation, Hahnemann began to experiment. He tested a series of substances on healthy people, recording the reactions of his subjects to each one. From the reactions, he tried to work out which illnesses they would ‘cure’. The process of investigation included keeping detailed notes on the subject’s emotions, thoughts and activities while taking the ‘remedy’ and was called ‘Proving’.
The process of ‘Proving’ is still used today:
A healthy person takes each of the various substances over a variety of time periods, from days to months, with every single subsequent physical, mental and emotional event and experience carefully recorded, as they happen, minute by minute. One recent account of a proving of argentium sulphuricum, for example, includes the report that ‘crashing pots in cafe area don’t put me off’ and ‘as I get ready for work, my nose looks bigger.’ Physical symptoms include ‘teeth hurt after eating soup’ and ‘feel hot but no fever and feel as if sweat is trying to come out but no sweating.’
However, his initial trials showed an unacceptable risk to the healthy person. To combat this, he began to dilute the ‘remedies’ before continuing the trials.
Despite his claim that Succussion (systematic mixing through vigorous shaking) and Potentization (to render the latent power of anything/something available) still resulted in the healthy individuals producing symptoms, no clinical trial has yet reproduced the results.
Hahnemann believed that this process of dilution allowed the ‘remedies’ to act on the disease itself, while leaving alone the organs of the body – in a process where the ‘remedy’, due to having it’s ‘coarseness’ removed through dilution, acts only on the nerves (the part of the body closest to the soul).
It has to be explained that Hahnemann believed that disease and illness is transmitted by ‘dynamic’ (invisible) forces, as explained in this quote, from his book ‘Materia Medica Pura’:
What is dynamic influence, dynamic force? We see that earth causes the moon to revolve around it … by some invisible mysterious force and that the moon in its turn produces in the ocean at regular intervals alternating tides of ebb and flow … A magnet powerfully attracts a piece of iron or steel near it in a similar way; …The invisible force of the magnet does not need any mechanical (material) means, such as a hook or lever; it attracts the iron or a steel needle by its own pure, nonmaterial, invisible, spirit-like force. We have here a dynamic phenomenon. …In a similar way a child who has smallpox or measles will transmit them to a healthy child by approaching him, even without touching him. This contamination takes place invisibly (dynamically) at a distance, with no more transmission of any material particle from one to the other than from the magnet to the steel needle. A specific, spirit-like influence communicates smallpox or measles to the child nearby, just as the magnet communicates magnetic force to the needle.
And further explained in this quote from ‘Organon’:
This remarkable transformation of the properties of natural bodies through the mechanical action of trituration and succussion on their particles (while these particles are diffused in an inert dry or liquid substance) develops the latent dynamic powers previously imperceptible and as it were lying hidden asleep in them. These powers electively affect the vital principle of animal life. This process is called dynamization or potentization (development of medicinal power), and it creates what we call dynamizations or potencies of different degrees.
Today, the dilution process is a distinct point of consternation in the orthodox medical and pharmaceutical fields. The dilution process of Homeopathy has been revealed to reduce the remedy to miniscule and even non-existent amounts.
Of course, this is where we come to the crux of the problem. According to the dilution process of Homeopathy, the first dilution results in a ratio of 1:10, the second at 1:100, the third at 1:1000 and so on. Against all common sense and scientific knowledge, Homeopaths believe that the higher the dilution, the more powerful the ‘mother tincture’ is. This ratio – or degree of dilution – is known amongst Homeopaths as the ‘potency’.
Now, to understand the various remedies dilutions, you have to understand the terminology. So, a tenfold dilution is written as ‘x’ and a hundredfold dilution as ‘c’. In Homeopathic preparations, the most common potency level is 30x – in written form, this means that the ratio equals 1 part actual medication to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 parts water!
In terms easier to imagine, I bow to Quakwatch’s Dr. Stephen Barrett, as quoted in Suckers:
Imagine a cubic centimetre or mother tincture – about a fifth of a teaspoon full – mixed with enough water to produce a 30x dilution. This volume of water is greater than the amount needed to ‘fill a container more than fifty times the size of the Earth. Imagine placing a drop of red dye into such a container, so that it disperses evenly. Homeopathy’s Law of Infinitesimals is the equivalent of saying that any drop of water subsequently removed from that container will possess an essence of redness.’
Paraphrased from Homeopathy: The Ultimate Fake
According to physicist Robert Park, in order to get even one molecule of the mother tincture, from a 30x dilution, you’d need to drink 7,874 gallons of the mixture!
It gets worse. Many Homeopathic remedies are diluted, not at the relatively low ‘x’, but at the huge ‘c’ levels. In fact, the Practical Guide to Homeopathy states that a dose with a potency of 6c is an appropriate dosage to start with for minor problems – and after a few days, if the problem is not getting better, to up that dose to 30c!
That works out as 1 molecule of medication, to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules of water! The container to hold that volume of water, would necessarily be 30,000,000,000 times the size of the Earth.
More astonishingly, the popular Homeopathic cold remedy is Oscillococcinum, which comes from the liver of a French duck and has a potency of 200c.
Again, I leave the description to physicist Robert L. Park:
That would result in a dilution of 1 molecule of the extract (actual medication) to every 10 to the power of 400 molecules of water – that is 1 followed by 400 zeros. But there are only about 10 to the power of 80 (1 followed by 80 zeros) atoms in the entire universe. A dilution of 200c would go far, far beyond the dilution limit of the visible universe.
This is why real medical practitioners and pharmacists have a problem with Homeopathy. According to the Mathematician and Physicist Avagadro, any dilution beyond 24x, (24 dilutions at 1:10 parts) there is no chance of even a single molecule of the original medication remaining in the solution. In real terms, this means that out of the entire solution, only one single sample will contain a single molecule of the original medication, the remaining samples will contain absolutely nothing other than water.
These diluted solutions, once complete, are then dripped onto sugar pills, where the solution then evaporates, bottled and sold for extortionate amounts of money to vulnerable or gullible patients.
Now – to get even more confusing, Homeopaths dismiss the problems inherent in repeatedly diluting a solution, by claiming that the water contains a memory of the medication diluted into it, known as ‘the memory of water’.
Dr. Peter Fisher (Homeopath to Queen Elizabeth II) described it in New Scientist as:
I think it’s to do with changes in the structure of the water ...somehow information is stored in the water.
Basically, he is implying that the process of diluting the medication imprints the properties of the medication onto the water. He also shows that he doesn’t understand this hypothesis enough to even explain it.
Normally, at about this point, the Homeopath will attempt to use Quantum Physics to explain the hypothesis. However, as any Physicist will explain, Quantum Physics as they want to use it, does not apply to ‘large and/or un-isolated systems such as cells, people and pills.’
Now – also at this point – any thinking person will then ask ‘Does sugar also have a ‘memory’?’ Perhaps followed by ‘Does the water of the whole world not then contain ‘memories’ of every single thing it has passed through?’ How about, ‘What about when water passes through the sewage system?’ And ‘Does water have a selective memory?’
These are not questions Homeopaths are typically willing to answer – and if they do, obviously not with any degree of certainty.
Unfortunately, my choice of ‘vulnerable and gullible’ to describe the patients was not idle. For the most part, this is true. As with all forms of Complimentary and Alternative Medication (CAM), the biggest supporters are the healthy middle-aged Upper Class with lots of disposable income.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine study conducted in 2002, that surveyed 31,044 people as a supplement to the 2002 National Health Interview Survey, Factors associated with highest rates of CAM use were ages 40-64, female gender, non-black/non-Hispanic race, and annual income of $65,000 or higher.
The majority of these users are not ill, they are what would be called 'health-freaks' - perfectly healthy people who only worry about fictional health problems because of the general day-to-day aches and pains of bipedalism on a body originally evolved for quadrapedalism.
However, alongside these health-freaks are the inevitable seriously, or terminally ill patients who turn to CAM as a last resort (or in some cases, the only resort) because it offers an unfounded, but all too appealing hope.
Homeopathy has, over the years, made various claims about cures. Curing cancers for instance. Every last one, though, has fallen by the wayside, unproven, with no evidence other than annecdotal evidence - and as we all know, annecdotal evidence is no evidence, especially to a scientist.
Homeopathy, as a trade, as well as offering unfounded hope, offers the personal, one-to-one doctor-patient relationship that people so yearn for in the modern age, but are rarely able to find due to GP time constraints. A Homeopath spends more than an hour per appointment, really listening to everything the patient says, whether it be silly complaints about general back pain, or full rants about troubles in the patients very life. This happens because Homeopathy bases it's remedies on the individual, not the illness.
So people flock to the trade, less for the 'cures' and more for the chance to have a 'real relationship' with their 'doctor'.
I say this from personal experience - I once visited a Homeopath and spent more than an hour being questioned minutely about anything that could have emotional, biological and psychological effects on me. I ended up pouring out my whole life story. It was this carthartic release of emotion, a 'psychological release' that allowed me to feel better and happier - not the silly little sugar pills they then prescribed me (which I stopped taking within days.)
Fortunately, in my case, this lead me to seek out actual psychological/councelling help, rather than relying on the Homeopaths and their extortionately priced sugar pills.
I leave you with the story I posted some time ago.
As final, unequivical proof that Homeopathic remedies have no effect, whatsoever on the human body - as in fact, they simply can't, it is biologically impossible for them to do so - I offer a report about some Belgium skeptics who decided to comit suicide by Homeopathy.
Seeing the errors of the skeptic’s ways, they resigned themselves to committing mass suicide by drinking a lethal dose of terribly toxic and dangerous drugs: snake poison, Belladonna or deadly nightshade, arsenic, dog’s milk, petrol, and cockroach. Dog’s milk does not sound that dangerous, but try milking a pit bull. To assure immediate death, these powerful drugs were immensely dynamized: the daring skeptics selected the over-the-counter 30C homeopathic solutions (reimbursed by the health insurance, if prescribed by a certified quack).
A dynamization of 30C means the poison is diluted [10.sup.60] times. That is a one followed by sixty zeros. The whole earth (estimated at [10.sup.50] molecules) is way too small to hold a single molecule in that dilution. That is, in homeopathic terms, an awfully powerful dilution. The immensely “dynamized” spirits of arsenic and snake poison (not to mention the pit bull milk) will rise from the liquid, and kill the skeptic on the spot. All important newspapers and TV stations were recruited to witness the terrible extermination of these dangerous minds.
The skeptics on death row solemnly queued to personally select their own toxin: “In Flander’s fields the skeppies glow, to take their poison, row on row.” In front of the assembled national press they filled their chalices and drained their drinks, fully expecting to meet their Maker (if He existed). The skeptics didn’t succeed in their suicide attempt, however. All of them survived.
From the May-June, 2004 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer.
Heavily referenced from:
Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools Of Us All by Rose Shapiro
How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered The World by Francis Wheen
Wikipedia articles Homeopathy and Samuel Hahnemann