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Moneylife » Life » Wellness » Homeopathy—science or fraud?

Homeopathy—science or fraud?

Prof Dr BM Hegde | 04/01/2012 11:24 AM | 

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.

Placebo effect

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.

Conclusions

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 hegdebm@gmail.com)

 


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71 Comments
BM Hegde

BM Hegde 3 years ago

Skeptics are those who know where to go but do not know how to reach there.

Some one quoted David Hume without knowing that Hume was NOT a rationalist and was not talking about medical science of today vis-a-vis evidence.

He was a Scottish philosopher who had his own science of man ideas!

Some people simply comment, using, at times bad language condemning others without having really gone through the rigours of those that try and find simple solutions for man's illnesses.

Less than 1% of the world population could access modern medical hi-tech solutions which have not made a dent on illness or death rates.

Rather, they are the leading cause of death in audits done in the US. Some one was saying that one need not worry about American medicine, but that is what is being practised in India today!

I would like all critics to join in our efforts to make medical care simple, inexpensive and inclusive taking the poorest of the poor patient also into our mission.

Please go through all our efforts and then shoot of your comments.

Future is for an integrated system combining the best in all systems properly authenticated using scientific methods of modern science. That is the aim of our Academy which has some of the world's top scientists chipping in their lot.

"I am done. Shame on you" is a comment which is self explanatory.

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Guy Chapman

Guy Chapman 3 years ago in reply to BM Hegde

Skepticism is the default position in the scientific method, and it is just one of the ways in which science differs from homeopathy. Homeopathy starts from a position of belief and seeks to confirm it, which is the opposite of the scienntific method.

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Nagesh Kini FCA

Nagesh Kini FCA 3 years ago

Dr. Hegde,
Hats, or should it be topis, off for opening new flood gates for debates.
You have been in deed responding to each comment very effectively with authoritative references.
Perhaps this will go down as the most debated Column.
Look forward to many,many more!

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Guy Chapman

Guy Chapman 3 years ago

Homeopathy is as scientific as is modern medicine? Um, really?

First, homeopathy is predicated on the so-called "law of similars". The sum total of scientific evidence for this is: none at all. The only reason homeopaths have for believing this is that Samuel Hahnemann said it, and the only reason he said it was because he was generalising from a single data point. In other words, the base premise on which homeopathy is based, is utterly unscientific - there has never been any attempt at all to prove this scientifically.

Second, there has never been a credible mechanism by which homeopathy could work. In the early 19th Century yo could defend serial dilution of the kind homeopaths use, because nobody knew any better. Now we do. The principle of serial dilution can be considered refuted by the work of Avogadro, and completely refuted by our modern understanding of the nature of matter. Homeopaths like to claim that some experiments show "water memory" but those experiments turn out to be either fraudulent (Benveniste), irreproducible (Montagnier) or to identify effects whose duration is in the picoseconds - an inconveniently short shelf life.

Third, the scientific method embodies the concept of the null hypothesis. In order to prove something, you must refute the null hypothesis. In the case of homeopathy, the null hypothesis is placebo effect plus observer bias. No study on homeopathy has ever credibly refuted this null hypothesis, every single result supportive of homeopathy has been produced by someone trying to prove it works rather than someone honestly testing whether it does; multiple review studies have shown that the more you eliminate observer bias, the more the result shows that homeopathy is a placebo treatment. Science is unsurprised: for homeopathy to be anything else would violate multiple laws of physics (the real kind of laws of physics, the sort that are objectively testable, not the sort that rely on you believing the word of a 19th Century German as infallible).

Homeopathy is not scientific. Even when homeopaths try to pretend to be scientific by conducting "trials" and using sciencey-sounding words, they are only tinkering at the edges. There is as term: tooth-fairy science. It describes attempts to study the tooth fairy, the amount left, the effectiveness of placing the tooth in a pot vs. under the pillow and so on, but which never acknowledges that the tooth fairy does not exist. So it is with homeopathy studies: they are just collections of anecdotes that never address the fact that there is absolutely no theoretical or objective underpinning to homeopathy.

It's not even really pseudoscience, in that it relies on the word of one man taken as gospel. Homeopathy is, at heart, a religion. It is as bonkers as scientology and every bit as unscientific.

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lauriej

lauriej 3 years ago in reply to Guy Chapman

Your arguments are very old and very tired and all refuted at http://www.extraordinarymedicine.org
Pharma drugs have proved again and again that the suppression of symptoms does not cure anything. Those who want to do more than symptom suppression do well to use Homeopathy which, through microdoses of substances with proven symptom similarity cure the same symptoms in a patient. The Arndt-Shulz law illustrates that microdoses stimulate, moderate doses suppress and mega-doses kill.
It's through clinical practise that Homeopathy has been proven time and time again for well over 200 years.
Your comprehension of Hahnemann's work is childishly simplified, as it is in most pseudoskeptical remarks.
BTW Benveniste's work has been successfully reproduced at the University of Toronto and other research labs.
Montagnier's work is just beginning, along with the brilliant nano-particle work ongoing in India.
Most conventional drugs have no known mechanism of action -- aspirin's wasn't known until quite recently, however it didn't stop MDs from prescribing it or people from using it. According to your theory nothing should be used until the mechanism of action is known. Call the FDA and get all those drugs withdrawn, will you?
Oh, no, not that end of physics argument again... or that end of chemistry argument...
Just proves again that pseudoskepticism is philosophy, not science. It's the fringe religion of Scientism.

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Guy Chapman

Guy Chapman 3 years ago in reply to lauriej

Oh, what a shame: you forgot to cite any reliable evidence for the law of similars, the mechanism by which homeopathy is supposed to work, or to refute the null hypothesis.

Don't worry, as with the writer of the article I am pretty well convinced that the problem is just that you don't actually understand the scientific method or the objections that scientists have to homeopathy.

Here's a test for you: can you cite an example where homeopathy has self-corrected by abandoning a remedy that is shown in practice not to work? After all, even the most ardent fan would not be so deluded as to claim that a field in which work is done entirely empirically would be infallible.

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lauriej

lauriej 3 years ago in reply to Guy Chapman

The symptomatology of the patient is matched to the known symptomatology of the remedy. If it's not the right match, it's the wrong remedy. It's not mass market medicine where everyone with the reputed same condition gets the same drug. It's easier for the prescriber, but has been proven to be more profitable for the drug industry than of benefit to the patients.
Your knowledge of Homeopathy is demonstrably poor.
You don't seem to know the difference between science and health technology. Medicine is not science.
And you're still just spouting philosophy.
Scientists don't object to Homeopathy, pseudoskeptics do.

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Guy Chapman

Guy Chapman 3 years ago in reply to lauriej

Your comment above is vaguely sciencey sounding but in the end it is simply a series of assertions, lacking any basis in provable fact.

Yes, scientists do object to homeopathy, because it goes against everything we have discovered in the last 200 years about the nature of matter and the human body. Slinging pejorative terms around does not in any way address the problems I identified above.

You also need to learn the difference between repudiate and refute.

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lauriej

lauriej 3 years ago in reply to lauriej

So how do you know homeopathy works?

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jane colbash

jane colbash 3 years ago in reply to lauriej

I know homeopathy works because it cured my problems. Thats how I know it works!! initially I was fascinated at the debate triggered by this column... but now it looks like a series of BLOATED EGOs battling it out. I am glad, Dr Hegde has stopped responding.
As for this skepticat or whatever, posting even when he is dropping off and tired -- that too cynical doubts, makes me wonder-- whats your trip man? or gal? Are you just plain catty - skepti or otherwise - or are you with big pharma? If you are tired, why don't you take a break for a couple of days and post when you are fresh as a daisy (but hey, dont launch into a debate on whether daisies can be fresh in all the many senses of the word) and can post correctly??
This stuff went from intellectually stimulating, to amusing and now it is just BORING. So i will unsubscribe from this comments string. Bye guys, dont bother responding because I am not listening anymore !!

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Skepticat

Skepticat 3 years ago in reply to jane colbash

No, Jane, I'm neither catty nor with big pharma. I'm just upset about the needless deaths of innocent people thanks to the misinformation being promoted on the internet by the likes of Dr Hegde who, notably, has avoided engaging with the very fundamental question I keep posing. A question, by the way, which you yourself haven't managed to grasp:

"I know homeopathy works because it cured my problems. Thats how I know it works!!"

My question is: How do you know that your condition improved AS A RESULT OF homeopathy and didn't just improve of its own accord?

I don't expect an answer from you because you don't have an answer. But it's always entertaining to watch apologists have cathartic tantrums then run away. :-)

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Guy Chapman

Guy Chapman 3 years ago in reply to jane colbash

And I know homeopathy doesn't work because if it did my GPS, cellphone and CD player could not. "It works for me" is a fallacious argument as by definition you are not able to control for placebo effect or observer bias.

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Skepticat

Skepticat 3 years ago in reply to lauriej

No, that was just me putting your name in the wrong place by accident late last night when I was tired. Sorry for the confusion.

I note you are still avoiding my questions so here they are again:

Remember you said “the best evidence for the success of Homeopathic treatment is just not going to come from RCTs”?

And I said:

" OK. So tell me where the best evidence for the success of homeopathic treatment can be found?"

Well you didn't answer that question or the more fundamental one of how you know homeopathy works. I wonder why these questions are such a problem for you?

Yet you link to a website saying all the arguments Guy Chapman put forward are refuted there. Well, I've just looked at that website and it does nothing of the kind. Most amusingly, it seems to think the best evidence for homeopathy does, in fact, come from RCTs. As you claim to know better than them, shouldn't you put them right on the subject?

Here let me help you. The website says this:

"A meta-analysis is a study of studies, a totaling of results reached in a group of them. The Faculty of Homeopathy did a meta-meta-analysis, and found: “Four of five major comprehensive reviews of RCTs in homeopathy have reached broadly positive conclusions..."

Well, let's have a look at those studies shall we, lauriej?

1. Kleijnen et al, 1991, meta-analysis, 107 trials.
"CONCLUSIONS: At the moment the evidence of clinical trials is positive but not sufficient to draw definitive conclusions because most trials are of low methodological quality and because of the unknown role of publication bias."

2. Boissel et al, 1996, critical literature review commissioned by the European Commission Homeopathic Medicine Research Group, 184 trials. Boissel controversially combined p-values of the highest quality trials to arrive at this conclusion:

"From the available evidence it is likely that among the tested homoeopathic approaches some had an added effect over nothing or placebo….but the strength of this evidence is low because of the low methodological quality of the trials."

3. Cucherat et al 2000, used the same data as Boissel but with the addition of at least two more trials. Boissel was one of the four-strong research team and authored the report, which concluded:
"There is some evidence that homeopathic treatments are more effective than placebo; however, the strength of this evidence is low because of the low methodological quality of the trials. Studies of high methodological quality were more likely to be negative than the lower quality studies."

Early in 2010, science writer Martin Robbins quoted Jean-Pierre Boissel, an author on two of the four papers cited (Boissel et al and Cucherat et al), as saying: “My review did not reach the conclusion ‘that homeopathy differs from placebo’,” and pointed out that what he and his colleagues actually found was evidence of considerable bias in results, with higher quality trials producing results less favourable to homeopathy. (See Guardian on-line 5 February 2010).

4. Linde 1997, meta-analysis, 89 trials.
"The results of our meta-analysis are not compatible with the hypothesis that the clinical effects of homeopathy are completely due to placebo. However, we found insufficient evidence from these studies that homeopathy is clearly efficacious for any single clinical condition. Further research on homeopathy is warranted provided it is rigorous and systematic."

Linde produced a follow-up paper in 1999, which concluded:
"The evidence of bias [in homeopathic trials] weakens the findings of our original meta-analysis. Since we completed our literature search in 1995, a considerable number of new homeopathy trials have been published. The fact that a number of the new high-quality trials… have negative results, and a recent update of our review for the most “original” subtype of homeopathy (classical or individualized homeopathy), seem to confirm the finding that more rigorous trials have less-promising results. It seems, therefore, likely that our meta-analysis at least overestimated the effects of homeopathic treatments."

Linde co-authored a brief article in the Lancet in December 2005. In it he wrote,
"We agree (with Shang et al) that homoeopathy is highly implausible and that the evidence from placebo-controlled trials is not robust…"

Shang et al were, of course, the team who did the fifth major review - the high quality one that showed homeopathy to be worthless beyond placebo.

I'll leave the last word to Linde, from the Lancet article:

"OUR 1997 META-ANALYSIS HAS UNFORTUNATELY BEEN MISUSED BY HOMEOPATHS AS EVIDENCE THAT THEIR THERAPY IS PROVEN."

The simple fact that you, lauriej, and the other homeopathists here are in denial about is that there is no evidence that homeopathic remedies have any effect whatsoever. You've probably invested far too much in this cult for you ever to be able to look at it calmly and objectively and that's why you have to resort instead to anecdote and ad hominem. As Guy said, you obviously don't understand the scientific method; as a result you come across like a petulant child.

Poor you.

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lauriej

lauriej 3 years ago in reply to lauriej

I did not post the above, so obviously some pseudoskeptics will sink very low indeed.

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Nagesh Kini FCA

Nagesh Kini FCA 3 years ago

Mr. Nandkumar,
I understand that some hospitals are veering towards holistic medicine approach.
There's nothing to stop you from checking out AMA - "Against Medical Advice" to take up other lines of treatment.

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RNandakumar

RNandakumar 3 years ago

Recently one of my friends got affected by GBS virus and got admitted in a corporate hospital. After 75 days of very intensive treatment my friend is showing signs of recovery. His grandson who is getting treated for repeated cold attack by a homeopath consultant opined that viruses are treated better by homeopathic medicines and that GBS could be treated economically instead of spending lakhs for recovery which in certain instances take more than six months intensive care. If only this corporate hospital could permit the homeopath to treat and cure the patient nothing wrong in it. But the corporate hospital does not allow this.
Placebo or medicines if treatment gives an effective cure the aim of the treatment is achieved. In fact scientific comparative studies would result in hospitals to give an economic cure. And this would not result in instances where one sells or spends the life time savings or assets for treatment

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