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ISIS miniseries - "Water, water, everywhere"

2. Homeopathy Enters the Mainstream

Homeopathy is entering the mainstream in the UK. Sam Burcher reports on some recent findings that bear on a centuries-old controversy that still baffles mainstream science.

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Chemists in Korea discovered how molecules clump together on dilution in water (see "Molecules clump on dilution", this issue). Their report triggered off speculations on how that might explain homeopathy. But does homeopathy really work? According to the medical establishment, the answer is no, there is no known mechanism whereby it could conceivably work.

But on 30 April 2002, the Royal Homeopathic Hospital became a member of University College London Hospital. This marks a decisive change in attitude of the medical establishment towards homeopathy. But the scientific controversy remains.

The most recent controversy regarding homeopathy erupted around distinguished French research scientist, Dr. Jacques Benveniste, well-known for his discovery, in 1971, of PAF (Platelet Activating Factor) a mediator implicated in allergies and inflammations e.g. asthma.

In 1984, Benveniste made another remarkable discovery: water is capable of carrying molecular information or biological messages. This "imprinting" is activated when a substance is dissolved in water and then diluted repeatedly until not a single molecule of the substance could remain.

Benveniste’s dilutions went way beyond the level investigated by the Korean chemists Samal and Geckeler. The highest dilutions could have contained nothing but water molecules. Yet, these gave effects just as if the drug molecules were still present. The water appears to "remember" the original molecules dissolved in it.

Benveniste does not think the new phenomenon can explain his findings. Fred Pearce of University College Hospital London, who repeated Benveniste’s experiments agrees, but thinks it could explain the effects of low-dilution homeopathic remedies.

The debate over the effects of homeopathy has certain similarities with that over the harmful effects of mobile phones and other electrical installations in the environment. Both are connected with the sensitivity of organisms to extremely weak electromagnetic fields, for which there is no explanation accepted by the scientific establishment.

Homeopathy has a long history with notable successes. For centuries, practitioners of homeopathy have successively diluted extracts of organic substances by either a factor of 10, the decimal scale, designated d or by 100, the centisimal scale, designated c. Between each dilution, remedies are shaken energetically to "potentise" and remove impurities. Higher potency (more dilute) remedies are used for acute symptoms while the lower potency (less dilute) for milder symptoms. The level of dilution tested by Samal and Geckeler is comparable to a six-fold dilution, classified as low-potency in homeopathic remedies.

Dr Peter Fisher, Director of the Royal Homeopathic Hospital in London comments "The whole idea of high dilution homeopathy hangs on the idea that water has properties which are not understood". Clusters and aggregates "happen with a variety of substances suggesting it’s the solvent that’s responsible." He concludes "It doesn’t prove homeopathy, but it’s congruent with what we think and is very encouraging." (See "Crystal clear", this series).

The world is experiencing rising tides of cholera, malaria, yellow fever and typhoid epidemics partly as the result of de-forestation and flooding associated with global warming, and current medical practices exacerbate the problems. Forestry disturbs natural habitats, and swamps that are breeding grounds for infectious diseases become exposed. This contributes to outbreaks of malaria and other diseases. Over-use of prophylactics and drugs have created quinine resistant strains of the parasitic protozoa causing malarial disease transmitted by Anopheles mosquitoes found in tropical and subtropical countries. The need for reliable treatments and prevention for malaria and other diseases is becoming acute.

In recent years homeopathic research has centred on alternative prevention and treatments of malaria using the alkaloid Artemisin and extracts of the shrub Artemisia annua. There are 25 different plant sub-species of Artemisia (Compositae) of which Artemisia abrotanum (Abrotanum), A. maritima (Cina), A. absinthium (Absinthium) are fully proven homeopathic remedies. (See "Two Takes on Malaria" Science in Society issue 13/14).

Artemisia annua also known as "sweet Annie", has been used for 2000 years in Chinese medicine as a potent tea to cure malaria and other fevers. The plant has been successfully cultivated in central Africa and the aerial parts extracted by simple tea preparation method. In a trial of 48 patients with malarial symptoms 44 showed disappearance of parasitaemia within 4 days. In 1972, the active part of the plant was isolated using alcohol and since then clinical evaluations have focussed on pure, isolated artemisinin and its semi-synthetic derivatives, artesunate, artemether and arteether. A study over 13 years in two large camps for displaced Karen people on the northwest Thailand boarder used initially a monotherapy of mefloquine to control P. falciparum (most commonly occurring malaria strain). Resistance increased even as higher doses were used and cure rates fell to 71%. Artesunate was combined with Mefloquine in 1994 and cure rates have reached 100% since 1998 with a general decline in incidence of P. falciparum since 1995Conventional medicine’s store for treating viral infections is running low, and the use of vaccines is increasingly controversial on account of the range of side-effects different vaccines can cause (see "The MMR controversy", Science in Society 13/14; AIDS vaccine or slow bioweapon", this issue; "Health warning over partially effective vaccines", ISIS members website).

Homeopathy is based on stimulating the body’s defence system instead of attacking pathogens directly, and may offer protection without undue side-effects, though few practitioners have the confidence to recommend it due to the lack of research and plausible mechanism of action.

A trial in HIV infection was reported by the British Homeopathic Journal in 1999. The study aimed to evaluate the role of homeopathic remedies on the immune status in 100 HIV positive individuals. The CD4+ and CD8+ve lymphocyte counts were monitored after homeopathic treatment, and compared with placebo over a six-month period. There were significant increases in both lymphocyte counts in symptomatic AIDS patients after homeopathic treatment. No improvements were seen in the asymptomatic or placebo groups.

At Lyon University Hospital, a pilot study was conducted with 75 HIV and/or Hepatitis C (HCV) patients with a combination of homeopathic and orthodox antiviral treatment. Orthodox antiviral medicines induce well-known and unknown side effects due to individual variation in reacting to drugs. The study concluded that a synergy exists between the two therapies; anti-viral drugs reduced viral load while non-toxic homeopathic remedies improved the patients’ quality of life by treating symptoms not related to the viral disease.

Childhood diseases such as measles, whooping cough and chickenpox are not normally targeted for prevention by homeopathic treatment. It is thought if a child succumbs to these illnesses it’s their way of naturally shedding any "miasms", or suppressed inherited susceptibility to diseases. If symptoms linger, a ‘potentised-microdose’ of the specific virus may be given to effect a cure. For example, variecellinim is given for chickenpox and protidinum for mumps. With suspected links of autism to MMR jabs a worrying spectre for many parents, some have turned to homeopathy.

Homeopathic veterinary medicine is now used to treat common health problems presented by cows. Treatments are applied at the earliest sign of disease. Homeopathic vaccinations are called nosodes and are encouraged in America for most bovine conditions including mastitis and fevers. For the treatment of mastitis, common homeopathic remedies are phytholacca, byronia and hepar sulph.

A study of pigs in 1999 revealed that between 24% and 69% became ill during some stage of the fattening process. Most prevalent is a disease of the upper respiratory tract. Homeopathic remedy was more effective than both the placebo and the routine dose of antibiotics. Only when the antibiotic dose was increased did it compare favourably to homeopathy. Homeopathy offers hope on different levels to a conventional medicine system desperately searching to cope with multi-drug resistance.

There is an urgent need to support research, not just in more clinical trials, but also in the possible mechanisms whereby homeopathy might work, which would greatly enhance our understanding of the organism itself.

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