Homeopathy—science or fraud?
Homeopathy is as scientific as is modern medicine. If a sensible doctor that knows both the systems well tries for a good combination many present day incurable diseases could be managed to the extent possible
I believe that we are solely responsible for our choices, and we have to accept the consequences of every deed, word, and thought throughout our lifetime—Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
There is a raging controversy over homeopathy, especially in the west. One of the London newspapers has a weekly column by a young modern medical doctor writing to convince the readers that homeopathy is nothing but a fraud on the gullible public. I am sure that column is sponsored by some vested interests and the author might not have had long enough experience with modern medicine to get to know the frustrations of a conscientious practitioner about its failings. While the writer gets a full page every week, the poor chaps who have to rebut that get hardly any chance. One gets an impression from those writings that while modern medicine is perfect and is a panacea for all human ills, there is absolutely no need to look beyond its frontier and try to get succor from fraudsters in homeopathy!
Origins of homeopathy
Homeopathy, like modern medicine, started as an art based on some scientific principles in the eighteenth century by a modern medical doctor Samuel Hahnemann who was born in Meissen in Germany in the year 1755. Mr Hahnemann’s frustrations in modern medicine led him to look for help outside. While translating the materia medica of a Scottish doctor by name Cullen, Mr Hahnemann chanced upon the pharmacology of quinine. He took a very small dose of quinine which gave him almost identical symptoms of febrile illnesses. Thus was born the pharmacology of homeopathy. “Similia similibus curantur”, like cures the like, was the basic principle. Every homeopath should be a prover in the sense that s/he should try the medicine on oneself to see the symptoms in a healthy individual before using that drug for curative purposes.
Materia Medica of homeopathy
Mr Hahnemann was impressed by his studies of many other drugs like ipecac, opium, etc, and by 1810 he had collected so many similar drug reactions that the general law of homeopathy was laid by then in his book, The Organon or the art of healing. The symptom complexes that occur in healthy individuals are called “proving” or “pathogenesis.” Between the work of Mr Hahnemann and his followers hundreds of substances are added on to the homeopathic materia medica. This system claims that it is “therapy for the whole man”; consequently, is better suited for a dynamic system like the human body where reductionism has no place. There is no quarrel with allopathy as this system tries to help the body use its immune guard against a disease while allopathy tries to hit the disease on its head to get rid of it. If judiciously used in combination, they might even complement each other.
Modern Science of homeopathy
Edward Calabrese, the then director of research at Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling’s department of chemistry at Berkeley, was the one that discovered a new phenomenon called “Hormesis.” Derived from the word hormo (encourage) the new phenomenon shows that any chemical molecule in its very small doses is always bio-positive while the same drug in its larger doses could be bio-negative. Mr Calabrese’s PhD student elegantly showed that a tomato a day, containing about 25 mg of vitamin C, is very strongly bio-positive while the same vitamin C in larger doses could be dangerously bio-negative in the long run! Similar was the experience of the father of America’s hydrogen bomb, Edward Teller, who described radiation hormesis while working in the Nevada Desert to explode bombs, showing that very minute doses of radiation, in fact, could improve human health significantly while larger doses do kill. These two people got into serious trouble with their establishments for showing the truth and suffered a lot. That is for another occasion. Hormesis shows that homeopathy has a better claim on human healing compared to allopathy.
Science of water structure
Professor Rustum Roy, an octogenarian, is the father of nano and material sciences at the Penn. State University. He is of Indian origin from Bengal. A brilliant man, professor Roy, with an enviable reputation in the comity of scientific nations, all of whom have honored him with their highest awards, has been at the forefront of research on the structure of water. However, the Swedish Academy failed to recognize him despite being nominated twenty one times for the Nobel since his first ground breaking paper on Sol-Gel technique to extract nano particles in 1954. His students did get the award though. One of the reasons is that he is a humane scientist who goes after the truth ruthlessly.
His original work on the structure of the water along with the work of Professor Martin Chaplin’s at South Bank University, London, has established beyond doubt that water has a very complicated structure. Any chemical put into water changes the structure for ever and further dilutions do not change the structure. This is the signature of the chemical in water. Chemical analysis by conventional methods does not show the presence of the original chemical but the water structure remains changed as per its signature. That is how the very dilute homeopathic solutions work.
Lots of people have an idea that homeopathy is only a placebo and not effective otherwise. This is not true. That said, I must hasten to add that the so called placebo effect is now measureable scientifically. There are many studies of modern medical drugs, leading ones being the expensive anti-psychotic drugs that have been tested against placebo tablets in patients. Almost all of those drugs were less effective than the placebo in the management of depression, anxiety etc. Similar studies have been done against some pain-killers also. Curiously there were studies to find out the basis of the placebo effect in the human system. While a patient has faith in his/her doctor and takes a placebo, the forebrain produces very powerful chemicals that work on the hind brain and through that on the whole system. Studies have also tried to block the release of those powerful chemicals from the forebrain using the blocking drug Naloxone prior to the testing with placebo. Lo and behold, there was no placebo effect and there were no chemicals getting to the hind brain at all. In other words placebo effect is a reality and not pseudo-science!
Therefore, even if one were to think that homeopathy is only a placebo, it does not belittle its importance as most of our modern medical drugs are worse than placebos. The added advantage is that placebo does not have side effects as the good effects are happening through body’s own generation of healing chemicals from the forebrain. Oliver Wendell Holmes, a Harvard-trained doctor who became a poet and a writer for a living had this to say about the placebo effect of a humane doctor’s work. “The two most powerful drugs ever produced are the two kind words of a humane doctor,” he wrote and added that “if the whole materia medica could be sunk to the bottom of the seas it would be that much better for mankind but that much worse for the fishes.” That statement has to be written in golden letters today what with Adverse Drug Reactions (ADR) becoming the fourth leading cause of death in the United States of America.
Homeopathy is as scientific as is modern medicine. Neither of them is perfect, though. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages in equal measure. If a sensible doctor that knows both the systems well tries for a good combination many present day incurable diseases could be managed to the extent possible. Unfortunately, there has not been significant progress in the science of homeopathy for a long time. What research happens is only repetitive but not refutative to demolish the myths and take knowledge forwards. Science suffers from this malady for some time now. To understand nature (human system) good scientists must come together to understand one another.
Division of science (method to unravel nature’s secrets) into smaller compartments will only hinder growth and understanding, like the Law of Thermodynamics which says that anything that divides ultimately disappears. Even inside these divisions there are sub-specialties. They try to know more and more about less and less until they know more and more about nothing. What we need in every field for progress is not information and knowledge but wisdom. Hope homeopathy would progress to be a real good method of relieving human suffering, especially for the minor illness syndromes, which form the bulk of sick absenteeism on any given day! It could also be a boon to the poor who bear the brunt of most illnesses but can not hope to go for top heavy prohibitively expensive modern medical methods.
Choose being kind over being right, and you'll be right every time—Richard Carlson
(Professor Dr BM Hegde, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS. He is also the editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Science of Healing Outcomes, chairman of the State Health Society's Expert Committee, Govt of Bihar, Patna. He is former vice-chancellor of Manipal University at Mangalore and former professor for cardiology of the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, University of London. Prof Dr Hegde can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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