The nano effect of homeopathy

The more you dilute a potion, the more potent it becomes, this perhaps is the corner stone of homeopathy system of medicine. The most powerful homeo medicines do have the highest dilution factors. While this enormous dilution principle remained the pillar of this 18th century healing science which seeks to deal with the disease holistically rather than addressing the manifesting symptoms, it also proved to be the Achille’s heel for its detractors.

If you go on diluting a solution containing hundred per cent of the material further and further, there won’t be any of the particles from original material left in the remaining solution beyond of point of dilution. Homeo remedies come through the process of `infinitesimal dilutions’. How can a ‘drug’ without any active substance evoke a therapeutic response, skeptics ask benchmarking with the principles of modern allopathic medicine which relies on dose- related response of medications. No active ingredient in a formulation means that the pill or liquid can be nothing more than a placebo. And the high potent homeo drugs, which are usually the extremely diluted versions of the starting substances, could be nothing more than that.

This fantastic dilution process became central to homeopathic medicines which are normally prepared from herbal, animal, metal and mineral sources. Samuel Hahnemann , (a German physician who established Homeopathy as a mode of therapy propounded that dilutions of substances accompanied by vigorous shaking (succussion) elicit potent activity to the preparation. The process, called potentiation, can be repeated infinitely and each step gives a specific potency to the diluents. The potency could increase as you go on diluting. He developed Law of Similars, which considers that symptoms of disease can be cured by extremely small amounts of substances that produce similar symptoms in healthy people when administered in large amounts. That is why the most potent homeo medicines are the most diluted ones. The scientific community, however, always contested this idea. They claimed that the ‘high potency’ homeo medicines can only be placebos as no drug particle can exist beyond a certain point of dilution.

Setback to scientific critics?

But the theory that extremely low dilutions can have no starting material seems to have taken a big jolt very recently as Indian researchers detected particles of original materials in abysmally low dilutions. Certain high potency – that means extremely diluted—homeo remedies made from metals still contained measurable amounts of starting materials even at one part in 10 raised to 400 parts. At 200th dilution (200c) the chances of finding even one atom of the starting material approaches zero. “We used solutions with dilutions of 30c and 200c. They are well below the Avagadro’s number that hypothizes there can be no starting materials beyond a point of dilution. Our experiment proved that particles do exist even at 30c and 200c,” said Prasant Chikramane from the Chemical Engineering Department from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay and the lead author of the study.Avagadro’s number corresponds to homeopathic potencies of 12C or 24X (1 part in 1024). Then how can particles from the starting medicine be still be found even after dilution factors at 200c or raised to 400 measures.

Homeo remedies are nothing but expensive placebos with less or no predictable benefit, say critics. The basis for inclusion in the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia is not modern scientific testing, but homeopathic “provings” conducted during the 1800s and early 1900s. The current (ninth) edition describes how more than a thousand substances are prepared for homeopathic use. It does not identify the symptoms or diseases for which homeopathic products should be used; that is decided by the practitioner (or manufacturer).

Looking for clinical data

The researchers utilised electron microscopy and electron diffraction techniques to detect the nano particles in the diluted solutions. Six metals and their respective homeopathic medicines manufactured by the leading Dr Willmar Schwabe India (WSI) Private Ltd and SBL India were used for the analysis. The medicines were gold (Aurum metallicum or Aurum met), copper (Cuprum metallicum or Cuprum met), tin (Stannum metallicum or stannum met), zinc (zincum metallicum or Zincum met), silver (Argentum metallicum or Argentum met) and platinum (Platinum metallicum or Platinum met).

Through this path breaking study, the Mumbai researchers have now directly tested for the starting materials and “disproved the tenet that nothing but ‘spirit’ is left in high potency homeopathic medicines”, observed an editorial accompanying Chikramane team’s paper in journal Homeopathy . The researchers, however, are a bit cautious. While upholding the strength of the new discovery, they maintained that the study could be only a beginning of a hypothesis with farreaching implications which needs to be tested over time. “The new findings have a direct bearing upon one of the principles of homeopathy. But whether it is going to support or dispute the basic tenets needs to be evaluated. There is a need for material and nanoscience evidence to be supported by biological and clinical studies to further elucidate this point,”said Dr Jayesh Bellare, co-author of the study.

The research carried out no studies nor did it make any claim on the medical efficacy of the drugs . “So we cannot say they (homeo medicines in extreme dilutions) `work’. Only medical experts can and need to establish the medical effects , if any, in humans and to say what role the residual material plays,” he added.

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