A Historical Perspective of Homeopathy

Originally published in The Ottawa Citizen September 11, 2001

Homeopathy is regarded by some as an alternative or adjunct to the betterment of their health. Most are unaware of its history. I want to mention two numbers before we proceed. The reason will be apparent later. The total number of atoms in the universe is estimated to be about one googol (1 followed by 100 zeros). In chemistry, a mole represents the molecular weight of a substance expressed in grams. The number of molecules in a mole of any substance is 6.022 x 1023 (Avogadro’s number).

In 1796, Samuel Hahnemann, a German physician, created homeopathic theory in response to his dissatisfaction with conventional medicine. Conventional medicine suffered from a dirth of evidence that its treatments were efficacious. They were often more dangerous to the patient than the actual disease.

He presented three hypotheses as the cornerstone of Homeopathy. The first was based upon the “law of similars”: Similia similibus curentur, like cures like. He hypothesized that if a substance caused a specific side effect or symptom in a healthy person then this same substance would cure a similar symptom in a sick person.

The second dealt with the power of diluted substances. If the substance were diluted to fantastically small amounts to minimize side effects, it would not reduce its effectiveness to heal. Hahnemann did not believe in the existence of atoms. He thought he could continue dividing matter endlessly. According to Hahnemann, the water/alcohol solution used in the dilution process remembered the substance that was once there. Vigourous shaking of the solution (succussion) evenly distributed the substance maximizing its healing energy.

The third principle stated in his book “Organon” was “The sole true and fundamental cause that produces all the countless form of disease is “psora”. Psora is also known as itch. This principle is rarely followed by followers of Hahnemann.

Homeopathy states that it uses “natural” substances to set it apart from conventional medicine. Some of these substances include Belladonna (deadly nightshade), hemlock Conium), cadmium, salt, mountain daisy (Arnica), sulfur, poison nut (Nux vomica), raw bovine testicles, crushed honey bees (Apis mellifica), venom of the Bushmaster snake (Lachesis), arsenic (Arsenicum album), rattlesnake venom (Crotalus horridus), Ipecac (Ipecacuahna), dog milk (Lac canidum), poison ivy (Rhus toxicodendron) and others.

How did Hahnemann determine what each substance did? He and his students tested the remedies upon themselves. They would eat various foods, plants, minerals and carefully observe the symptoms. The problem was they all knew what they were ingesting. One could be somewhat apprehensive knowing that they were swallowing snake venom or other noxious substance and feel somewhat queasy thereafter. Today we try not to allow both the researcher and the test subject from knowing the substance being used in order to avoid potential bias in reporting.

Homeopathic remedies are usually in pill form containing lactose. The labels on homeopathic preparations indicate a dilution factor, for example, C30 or D60. The “C” represents a dilution factor of 1:100, “D”, 1:10. The number that follows indicates the number of times it is succussed and diluted again. C30 indicates the 1:100 dilution is repeated 30 times. This is a dilution factor of one part per 1060 (1 followed by 60 zeros). One would be hard pressed to find one atom of the substance left at C30 since Avogadro’s number is exceeded. You would have to ingest billions of pills just to get one molecule of the medication. Some dilutions are C100 to 200 exceeding one part per googol. There are not enough atoms in the universe to leave just one in the solution.

Some toxic substances can remain so if insufficiently diluted. For example a dose of D6 cadmium exceeds safe limits. However when diluted to D10 or greater, there is little left to cause harm.

Homeopathy is concerned with the symptoms of disease. It is not designed to take into account the mechanism of disease. Let’s assume that the claims made by homeopathy are true. It states that a vital healing force (the essence of the substance) is retained within the solution regardless of how dilute. Three questions must be asked:

  1. Why does the water/alcohol mixture remember the healing powers of an active substance but forget the side effects

  2. What happens to the memory of the substance when the last drop of liquid evaporates from the lactose tablet?
  3. Does the water remember other substances as well? Thousands of substances must have mixed with the water during its history. Do not these substances interfere with one another? Would not it be difficult to isolate a single effect?

Each person must decide for themselves what is best for their health. It has been my goal to present the history and background of homeopathy to you for expressly this reason.

© Dr. Barry Dworkin 2001

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