Homeopathy: Why is it controversial?

Controversy exists over homeopathic medicine because of its use of highly dilute medicines. For the homeopathic practitioner the main problem is to find the medicine which most closely matches the disease and the type of patient. But from the scientific viewpoint the most challenging aspect of homeopathy is the use of so-called ‘ultra-molecular’ dilutions.

Homeopathic medicines are made by a process of serial dilution and succussion, sometimes known as potentisation, (succussion means vigorous shaking), in steps of 1:10 (denoted x) or 1:100 (c or cH). Matter is composed of particles (atoms and molecules), so that if you dilute a substance enough, you will eventually dilute it out altogether.

The homeopathic medicines sold in most pharmacies in the UK are in 6c and 30c dilutions. While the 6c dilution is likely to contain molecules of the starting substance, it is extremely unlikely that a 30c dilution does. Such dilutions are called ‘ultra-molecular’.

This is a problem! But recent scientific work suggests that it may not be an insuperable one.

Homeopaths think that their medicines contain information, held by the water/alcohol mixture in which they are made. From the chemical viewpoint homeopathic medicines consist of water, alcohol and lactose (from the pills). But think of a floppy disk or video tape: chemically it consists of vinyl and ferric oxide, but it can store large amounts of information. This information is stored in a physical form (the alignment of the dipoles of ferric oxide), which cannot be detected by chemical analysis.

In 2009, Nobel Prize winner, Professor Luc Montagnier (a French virologist who co-discovered HIV) and his team reported the results of a series of rigorous experiments investigating the electromagnetic properties of highly-diluted biological samples (read more)

Memory of water is just one of several theories under consideration as to the mechanism of how homeopathy may work. Much more research is needed in this field.

See also the earlier work of another French Scientist, Dr Jacques Beveniste, who was Head of the Depart for immunology, allergy and inflammation research at a biomedical and public health research institution. His work in the late 1980s, on the action of high dilutions of anti-IgE antibody on the degranulation of human basophils, appeared to bear out the concept of homeopathy, which caused an international controversy.

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