The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia recently released their results of an investigation into homeopathy and homeopathic claims finding it to be nothing more than junk science and medical quackery. They warn the public:
“Homeopathy should not be used to treat health conditions that are chronic, serious, or could become serious. People who choose homeopathy may put their health at risk if they reject or delay treatments for which there is good evidence for safety and effectiveness.”
Homeopathic substances are diluted several time by one part in a hundred. Of course 1% of 1% of 1% of … , leaves close to zero molecules of the active ingredient left. This is something anyone with introductory high school chemistry should know, which means everyone should know it. Homeopath providers and sellers of the concoctions, however, claim that the water molecules retain a memory of the active ingredient, and that memory acts on the consumer of the product. Can water molecules remember the molecules they interacted with?
The vibrational states of water molecules are fairly limited and well understood. There is not a lot of room for memory. Anyone who passed their introductory chemistry class, and learned that water is H2O would be aware that water molecules do not have much of a memory.
Let’s assume water has a memory. The dilution is so weak as to be equivalent to a drop of the substance diluted in all of earth oceans. Common dilutions are 1 part in 100^20 to 100^200, which is less than one molecule in our milky way galaxy. You can see where I’m going with this. Any water used in homeopathy has already been exposed to cow dung, duck liver, and ebola virus in higher concentrations. You are simply diluting with water that has a memory of something else.
Much of the water around us has been here for about 4 billion years. We have reason to believe that much of it came from asteroids and comets dumping the liquid on earth. Those molecules have seen a lot of things in the last few billion years including the bottle, pipes and treatment used by the manufacturers of homeopathic substances. Those molecules have seen a lot, but perhaps their memories are too short and only remember the active substances they most recently witnessed. If true then their shelf life would have to be less then the time it takes to bottle them.
We cannot blame the father of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann, who developed modern homeopathy in 1796. Molecules, viruses, and vaccines were unknown, and at least the practice of homeopathy did no more harm and created a atmosphere of caring for the sick. However, in today’s world we cannot be so forgiving, and institutions such as the University of Toronto deserve the criticism they receive over their homeophathy research spending that could be put to beneficial use.
“We are curious about why, given the need to investigate natural therapies that may actually have a potential for benefit, and saddled with a scarcity in funding, a Department of Pharmacy is interested in investigating a subject that has been … found wanting both in evidence and plausibility,” reads a letter from over 60 scientist addressed to Heather Boon, dean of the U of T’s Faculty of Pharmacy.
According to the Toronto Star, Boon has replied that “Rigorous research into these products and therapies — including the research conducted by Professor Boon and at the Centre for Integrative Medicine — helps patients and their caregivers make informed treatment choices.”
The U of T also bowed to pressure to review one of its courses that promoted anti-vaccine ideas. According to the Toronto Star, Beth Landau-Halpern, a homeopath and alternative health instructor, teaches a course called “Alternative Health: Practice and Theory.” Under a section of her course syllabus called Vaccination: The King of Controversy, the required viewings included a video interview with Andrew Wakefield, one of the authors of the widely debunked study purporting to link autism with measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. Wakefield had previously done work at U of T.
Landau-Halpern, responding by email Monday to questions from the Star, said she has removed the vaccination debate from her current course outline. “Because of the volatility of the vaccine issue and the current outbreak, this particular controversy is not a part of my course any longer,” she wrote.
As of today, the U of T is still soliciting participants 6-16 year olds with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder for a study entitled “Homeopathy and ADHD in Children and Adolescents.” Their pilot study concluded that future study was warranted. The study coordinator is David Brulé, founding member of the Riverdale Homeopathic Clinic in Toronto. He charges up to $220 for a appointment and offers homeopathy to children. This is who U of T uses to coordinate their studies.
There are two problems with these remedies. The most important is that people may avoid getting proper treatment for themselves of their kids, and they spend money in the range of $6B a year based on marketing claims of the manufacturers. Many people believe the homeopathy pseudoscience promoted by institutions like U of T and a few experts in the field. This practice puts people at risk and U of T is out of touch with the moral responsibility they bear as a respected institution of higher learning.