Scientific research in homeopathy
Since becoming a medical anthropologist I have had a keen interest in homeopathic research. The scientist within me initially couldn’t comprehend the answers given regarding how homeopathy works and I relied on my intuitive understanding of energy and its effects to reach my own conclusions about it.
The first law of homeopathy I understood, ‘like curing like’; but the second law regarding potency which was determind through the systematic dilution of a substance to increase potency left me confused. Applying my thoughts about energy I felt that through potentisation the elements in a remedy become greatly fragmented, with each fragment maintaining its original energy. Each potency has an increased volume of energy through successive processes of dilution and fragmentation.
I concluded that working at this level of energy, a remedy given in the right potency must reflect not only the energy of the disturbance but also the energy of the patients overall wellbeing to be effective. Selecting this potency is a skill of which hahnemann says “to solve this problem… is not a matter of theoretical conjecture… only pure experiment, the meticulous observation of the sensitivty of each patient, and sound experience can determine this” (Aphorism 278:1982). It is this area of research which I feel I can contribute to in the long term. My research to date has involved pure experiment by utilising MYMOP research methods to explore homeopathic effect on health and wellbeing; is expanding to include observation of the sensitivity of each patient; and invariably will evolve as my experience of homeopathy continues.
In 2003 I placed “homeopathic research” into a Google Scholar search and found countless articles describing Randomised Control Trials (RCT) with attention being paid to the efficacy, or not, of specific remedy actions. For scientists RCT’s represented at one time the ‘golden standard’ of research where significant results indicated scientific proof. However over time scientists have been told to question this so called standard and acknowledge flaws in methodology which may lead to unstable results. Rutten and Frei (2006) draw a parallel between this change in scientific thinking towards RCT’s and the conclusion of the first meta analysis of homeopathic RCT’s which found homeopathic remedies to be as effective as conventional methods. Interestingly if this is true, medical science in its effort to dispute RCT’s which find homoeopathy effective, have now provided enough doubt in the RCT methodology to question RCT’s which find homeopathy not to be effective.
A common flaw in homeopathic RCT’s is the misconception that one remedy fits a specific health issue, such as arnica’s action on sore muscles. Arnica is then tested on those suffering with sore mucles and compared to a control group taking a placebo; the hypothesis being that if arnica has any efficacy it will be effective in all cases of those suffering from sore muscles. However these types of trial do not take into account other aspects of a case which may indicate a different remedy entirely. Frei et al (2006) addressed this problem in their research into ADHD by using different phases of research to allow for modifications in homeopathic diagnosis. A test questionnaire was developed and questions that did not lead to successful prescriptions were removed and patients that did not respond at all were excluded from the trial. The research process is thorough and time consuming however does reflect a more effective way to collate homeopathic data.
Scientific research falls largely into the more comfortable habit of trying to label substances and place them into a box according to their disease application rather than according to their characteristic attributes which make them individually applicable. However Bayesian theory has provided a way to produce valid conclusions in real world phenomena. The bayesian principle is congruent with Hahnemanns belief about the importance of rare and peculiar symptoms as “a diagnostic test is better as it is positive more frequently in people with the disease than in other people”. A rare and peculiar symptom has a higher likelihood ratio and adding symptoms increases our certainty about a curative effect. This paves the way for research without RCT’s in the field of homeopathy as it provides a formula which lends itself to the methodology of homeopathic prescribing.
Research into how homeopathic remedies react within the body is plagued by the view that to act on the physical level they must work in a physical way. Scientists expect homeopathic remedies to act the same as pharmaceutical doses and research them accordingly, as Vandenbroucke says, “microbiologists know for sure that infinite dilutions of an antibiotic will never show any effect on bacterial growth.” He goes on to explain why science finds it difficult to accept homeopathy by pointing out that “accepting that infinite dilutions work would subvert more than conventional medicine; it wrecks a whole edifice of chemistry and physics”. Basically, to accept that homeopathic remedies are effective is to acknowledge that our understanding of chemistry and physics is more limited than we first believed. Luckily as years pass scientists are beginning to broaden their understanding of the effects of energy exchange and interaction through quantum physics; however we are still a way off from having homeopathy accepted at this scientific level.
There are of course other factors to account for when researching energy in homeopathic remedies at the level of quantum physics. These factors include research into the memory and purity of water; the possible structuring effects of succussion, and also the glassware used in the manufacture and housing of homeopathic preparations. The interaction of a remedy with water has been a hotly debated issue since Benveniste 1988 found what he thought was proof of action when no measurable molecular substance was present. Although this research was discredited it was a valuable step forward in thinking and more recent research has included looking at hydrogen bonds between water molecules (2007) and the memory of stable water clusters (2004).
The millipore corporation highlight the issue of water purity in their report on ultrapure water for elemental analysis. The report details how “contamination can result from anything that comes into contact with the sample; the laboratory environment, the air, and anything else used during the sample preparation”(1998). On this point alone when researching homeopathic remedies, the interactive process from collection of the original substance to the administration of that substance to a patient indicates that contamination may have occurred. So when we prescribe a remedy for a patient, the actual purity of that remedy is in question before it’s even administered.
Dr. Masaru Emoto, a Japanese researcher, has experimented with altering the purity water. By freezing water molecules and taking photographs he has shown that water molecules can hold messages transmitted to them. His experimentation involves various methods of transmitting the message, from collective good thoughts to placing a vial inbetween speakers and playing uplifting music. His experimentation shows that happy uplifting messages form beautifully colourful crystal shapes whereas messages of death and unhappiness cause the crystals to become dark and mishapen. The homeopathic implications of his work are two fold. On the one hand it provides a stunningly visual portrayal of how water responds to a stimulus, and that ‘good’, ‘positive’ thoughts can transform water from being contaminated to pure; on the other hand it also furthers thinking regarding practitioner/patient interaction.
The practitioner/patient relationship has been found to have a beneficial, almost ‘placebo’ effect on the patient. The duration of consultation provides enough space for the patient to really explore and engage with their healing and is viewed as a form of counselling by scientists. The belief is that regardless of a homeopathic remedy the consultation alone may account for positive figures in homeopathic research. While Emoto’s research provides an avenue to explore the practitioner/patient dynamic further it also indicates that the remedy itself can be influenced by the positive beliefs of the practitioner in its ability to help with the condition it is being prescribed for. With our bodies made up predominently of water, the practitioners message of goodwill will have a beneficial effect in the patient before having even taken the remedy, and a beneficial effect in the remedy when it is administered.
Emoto’s research involves the energetic power of intentional messages and capturing the influence of this energy in water. In the 70’s, Ganzfield studies researched the statistical probability of sending and receiving thoughts between two people, however in the mid 1990’s Professor Robert Jahn began researching the energy of thoughts and feelings to influence the material world directly. His study concentrated on the ability of the mind to influence sequences of ones and zeros produced with mechanical and electronic random number generators (RNG). His research findings were remarkable and prompted Princeton University to install a worldwide network of about 50 random event generators and computers, which generate and send data continuously through the internet to Princeton. This network was in place on September 11th 2001 when the terrorist attack on the towers of the World Trade Centre occurred. The televised event influenced the thoughts of every individual and registered as a strong cumulative deviation from the normally random flow of data from the machines “it becomes apparent that our thoughts leave a substantial effect – an effect which transcends the brain of the individual concerned” (2005).
From this data we could conclude that the substantial effect of the homeopathic practitioner is to influence the health of their patient by believing the consultation will be positive and helpful. Conversely however this opens up a further avenue of research. Professor Jahn’s experiment shows that negative feelings leave a substantial effect which can be seen clearly in Emoto’s evidence of unhappy negative energy in water. Could this give indication that any negative thoughts regarding recovery generated by the patient will intefere with the positive action of homeopathy? and is it possible that this phenomena could explain negative results in homeopathic research?
Research shows that positive and negative thoughts have influence and it could be argued that homeopathy provides a system of healing which draws upon energy through all the methods mentioned. Research also shows that more research is needed to explain exactly how homeopathy provides positive and negative results. I find myself wondering if I need particular proof in any one area, be that the efficacy of individual remedies in particular diseases or the power of thoughts to alter the energetic state of any substance. The specific action of a remedy is difficult to quantify scientifically due to the individuality of its application however homeopathy has been used to great effect for many years. Before rigorous scientific testing became more intricate in its search for answers belief was generated from beneficial results. For me it is a culmination of the remedies energetic match to the patient, the practitioners influential belief that a remedy’s action will be positive and belief of both the practitioner and patient that homeopathy will help in a positive way which improves the health and wellbeing of the patient.
- Hahnemann, Organon of Medicine translation 1982 USA
- Rutten & H. Frei, Scientific Research in Homeopathy: to prove or to improve (2006) International homeopathic internet journal
- Frei H, Ammon K von, Thurneysen A. Treatment of hyperactive children: Increased efficiency through modifications of homeopathic diagnostic procedure. Homeopathy 2006;95:163-170
- Rutten A.L.B., Stolper CF, Lugten RF, Barthels RJ. Repertory and likelihood ratio: time for structural changes. Homeopathy. 2004;93:120-124
- Vandenbroucke JP, Craen AJ. Alternative Medicine: A “Mirror Image” for Scientific Reasoning in Conventional Medicine. Ann. of Internal Medicine 2001;135(7): 507-13
- Davenas, F. Beauvais, J. Amara, M. Oberbaum, B. Robinzon, A. Miadonna, A. Tedeschi, B. Pomeranz, P. Fortner, P. Belon, J. Sainte-Laudy, P. Poltevin and J. Benveniste, Human basophil degranulation triggered by very dilute antiserum against IgE, Nature 333 (1988) 816-818;
- Teixeira, Can water possibly have a memory? A sceptical view, Homeopathy 96 (2007) 158-162.
- J. Anick, High sensitivity 1H-NMR spectroscopy of homeopathic remedies made in water, BMC Complement. Alt. Med. 4:15 (2004).
- Millipore The R& D Notebook: ultrapure water for elemental analysis down to ppt levels (1998) France
- (2005) Investigating Thoughts – scientific tests show how thoughts work. Issue 1 Grailworld Oct-Dec