Over the spring and summer of 2014, CBC’s Marketplace secretly visited homeopaths in the Toronto and Vancouver area in search of information on homeoprophylaxis and vaccine alternatives for an upcoming episode planned for this fall. They also contacted us and asked what our position was on that subject.
Below is our response to their associate producer.
We hope that after reading these studies, CBC will produce a segment that is accurate and based on science instead of hearsay and bias.
Dear Ms. Grundig:
Thank you for your email. We had been planning to contact you and were in the process of formulating our message.
To correct: we do not represent Canadian homeopathic practitioners, though we assist them where their efforts align with our mission and vision. We have some members who are in the field, but membership is open to all, and we are a lay organization.
Our only comments will be in writing, and to address two topics only, as they underlie all objections to homeopathy:
1) the notion that homeopathic medicines have nothing in them that can affect the human organism more than water and sugar. We follow science relating to homeopathy closely, and we would now say the existing science (which has advanced since the last CBC Marketplace episode on homeopathy, in 2011) casts enough doubt on this premise that it is not fair or accurate to declare it with certainty or premise any judgments or arguments on it.
2) the notion that homeopathic medicines are ineffective or have been proven ineffective. We will give evidence both scientific and economic that this is not the case at all.
Numerous experiments going back some years have shown that high dilutions prepared in the same way homeopathic medicines are have different properties than plain water, and can be distinguished from each other using the right tools. Some examples:
Rey, L. Thermoluminescence of ultra-high dilutions of lithium chloride and sodium chloride Physica A 323 (2003) 67 – 74 “During that phase, their thermoluminescence has been studied and it was found that, despite their dilution beyond the Avogadro number, the emitted light was specific of the original salts dissolved initially.”
Rao, ML et al: Characterization of the structure of ultra dilute sols with remarkable biological properties Materials Letters, Volume 62, Issues 10-11, April 15, 2008, pp. 1487-1490.
“Our recent work having established the importance of the structure of water on its properties, [; R. Roy, W.A. Tiller, I. Bell, M.R. Hoover; Mater Res Innov. 9 (2005) 577.] we have examined the structures of many waters with easily demonstrated (e.g. silver aquasols) or long-claimed (e.g. homeopathic remedies) biological effects. The results show that such materials can be easily distinguished from the pure solvent, and from each other, by the use of UV–VIS and Raman spectroscopy…”
V. Elia and M. Niccoli, New Physico-Chemical Properties of Extremely-Diluted Aqueous Solutions, Journal of Thermal Analysis and Calorimetry, Vol. 75 (2004) 815–836.
“The procedure of dilutions and succussions, even if there are no convincing theoretical explanations yet, is capable of modifying in a permanent way the physico-chemical features of water.”
Montagnier L. et al, Electromagnetic Signals are Produced by Aqueous Nanostructures Derived from Bacterial DNA Sequences Interdiscip Sci Comput Life Sci (2009) 1:81-90)
This is the original experiment in which Dr. Montagnier found that not only do solutions of DNA diluted beyond the Avogadro limit emit radiation, but the radiation affects solutions nearby. Note: the author is a winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, for co-discovering the HIV virus.
Chikramane, PS et al, Extreme homeopathic dilutions retain starting materials: A nanoparticulate perspective Homeopathy 2010 Oct;99(4):231-42.
(Attached: ChikramaneetalNanoparticulatesHomeopathy112010.pdf, ChikramaneSupplement2010mmc1.pdf)
“Using market samples of metal-derived medicines from reputable manufacturers, we have demonstrated for the first time by Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM), electron diffraction 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.”
Chikramane, PS et al, Why Extreme Dilutions Reach Non-zero Asymptotes: A
Nanoparticulate Hypothesis Based on Froth Flotation Langmuir (American Chemical Society) 2012; 28(45):15864-75.
(Attached: Chikramaneetal2012LangmuirNPAsymptoticConcentration.pdf, Chikramaneetal2012SUPPORTINGINFOla303477s_si_001.pdf.)
“In this article, we propose and validate a hypothesis to explain how nanoparticles are retained even at such enormous dilution levels. We show that once the bulk concentration is below a threshold level of a few nanograms/milliliter (ng/mL), at the end of each dilution step, all of the nanoparticles levitate to the surface and are accommodated as a monolayer at the top. This dominant population at the air−liquid interface is preserved and carried to the subsequent step, thereby forming an asymptotic concentration. Thus, all dilutions are only apparent and not real in terms of the concentrations of the starting raw materials.”
Chikramane’s work is of particular interest because it triggered the first detailed theory of what is in homeopathic medicines and how it works. An American scientist, Iris Bell MD PhD, read the first Chikramane paper, wondered how nanoparticles could interact with living organisms, and realized that she might find answers in the field of nanoparticle medicine—a very hot topic in medical research right now as it holds the promise of delivering drugs more efficiently.
Dr. Bell spent two years studying the nanomedicine literature, and she found striking similarities in what these researchers were doing to what is known in homeopathy. As one example, nanoparticle medicines are made for research purposes through a method of agitating the solution—similar to the succussion process in homeopathy. Glass—long used in manufacture of homeopathic medicines—and lactose—the standard vehicle for dry homeopathic medicine—both turn out to have unusual and special properties relating to nanoparticles. Conventional drugs have been shown to have equal effects in exponentially smaller amounts—in nanoparticle form.
As well, Dr. Bell found a physiological explanation for why homeopathic remedies sometimes work very rapidly, within seconds, affecting the entire body: a cascade effect through the non-linear allostatic stress response network, a system of the body which encompasses the immune system, central nervous system, and other systems, and provides the capacity for instant whole-body responses to stressors.
From this, Dr. Bell postulated a theory as to how homeopathy works. She published the paper in late 2012, and I have attached it (BellKoithan2012 BMCCAM NanoparticleModelHomeopathy FINAL1472-6882-12-191.pdf). In subsequent papers, she has suggested methods of testing this theory. Several more papers by other authors have been published adding to the argument.
So can we say we know for sure how homeopathy works? Not yet, according to Dr. Bell, because she is a careful scientist; more replications, i.e. successful repetitions of experiments by other scientists, need to be made before we can be certain. Replication is the gold standard of science. However, there is enough evidence that it is not accurate or fair at this point to declare or imply with certainty that there is “nothing” in homeopathic medicines.
Efficacy: RCTs & metanalyses
Some months ago, The National did a segment about homeopathy and homeoprophylaxis, and I was in communication with the reporter, Kim Brunhuber. He seemed somewhat interested in the evidence, but the piece went to air before we had a chance to share in detail with him. Afterwards, he asked me, “Can you send me even one paper by a peer-reviewed, non-homeopathic, non-alternative health journal that shows positive results for homeopathy in a randomized, controlled trial?”
“Sure,” I told him, and after asking two people who compile research relating to homeopathy to help me, I supplied him not with one, but with 37 (some in English, some in other languages). The citations are attached (38RCTs.docx).
In my email, I pointed out that these studies were published against all odds, due to:
- the difficulty of obtaining funding for homeopathic research in the developed world;
- the hesitancy of researchers to study homeopathy due to the risks (Dr. Jacques Benveniste’s career was completely destroyed; Dr. Gustavo Bracho has been blacklisted by medical journals even for his non-homeopathic work, and received death threats);
- the reluctance of mainstream medical journals to publish work on homeopathy (see above re blacklisting, and read Dr. Montagnier quoted in Science magazine about “intellectual terror”); and
- the difficulties in conducting an RCT for a form of health care which relies on individualization of treatment, and therefore often uses different medicines for the same conditions in different people.
A metanalysis is a study of studies, in other words, a paper that examines all the other papers that have been published on a topic and tallies up the results. Five major metanalyses on homeopathy have been published in non-homeopathic journals, with four finding broadly positive results, and one finding negative.
The four finding broadly positive:
Kleijnen J, Knipschild P, ter Riet G. Clinical trials of homeopathy. Br Med J 1991; 302: 316–23.
Linde K, Clausius N, Ramirez G, et al. Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials. Lancet 1997; 350: 834–43.
Linde K, Scholz M, Ramirez G, et al. Impact of study quality on outcome in placebo controlled trials of homeopathy. J Clin Epidemiol 1999; 52: 631–6.
Cucherat M, Haugh MC, Gooch M, Boissel JP. Evidence of clinical efficacy of homeopathy – A meta-analysis of clinical trials. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 2000; 56: 27–33.
For the fifth—
Shang, A. et al, Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy Lancet 2005; 366: 726–32
—the authors took 110 placebo-controlled studies of homeopathy, and concluded that homeopathy has no more effect than placebo, based on eight of them. But they did not—and will not—reveal which eight. This makes the study unreplicable—when replication is the gold standard of science. (The reason why scientific papers are so technical and precise about methods is so that other labs can use them as recipes to attempt to replicate.) Nonetheless, it was used as the centrepiece of a huge media campaign to discredit homeopathy.
Efficacy: the world votes with its feet, and cash
It’s not scientific per se but the popularity of homeopathy around the world is testament to its effectiveness. Other health methodologies claimed to be effective, safe and in some cases necessary have come and gone because they turned out not to be one or more of those things—from bloodletting to alcohol-based nostrums to the water-cure to tonsillectomy to a fair number of conventional drugs. Worldwide, homeopathy has experienced steady growth for its full two-century history, except in North America where it was actively suppressed—but where, of course, it is now making a resurgence. See an overview on our website here.
If you have any further questions, feel free to reply.
Best regards,Karen Wehrstein Media Co-ordinator Canadian Consumers Centre for Homeopathy