In our last post, we talked about a coping strategy for how to deal with research in homeopathy. This time we will attempt to address an important question: how does homeopathy work? Because the physico-chemical research underlying this question continues to unfold, it is not possible to provide a definitive answer. However, Dr. Iris Bell of the Department of Family and Community Medicine, College of Medicine at the University of Arizona has assisted us greatly by providing the closest thing to an answer in plain language. In a 2012 online article that can be found at http://howdoeshomeopathywork.net/ , she draws on 26 recent scientific articles from journals such as the International Journal of Nanomedicine and Environmental Science and Technology. Here is my attempt at a very brief and partial summary of what she says (all quotes below are taken from her article):
Homeopathic medicines are made using a serial dilution process resulting in 1/10, 1/100 or 1/50,000 ratios, which is why they are frequently dismissed as mere placebos. However, the scientific evidence has repeatedly confirmed that homeopathic remedies are actually “nanoparticles, not ordinary bulk forms of source material”. Dr. Bell asserts that “this fact changes the scientific issues completely from a debate over ‘placebo effects’ to a serious scientific consideration of how nanoparticles can act in the body to stimulate healing processes”. For this reason, homeopathy can probably now best be viewed as a type of nanomedicine.
What are nanoparticles and what makes them special?
Nanoparticles are very, very small amounts of substance measured using a special “nanometer” scale. Research has shown that nanoparticles “have biological, chemical, optical, thermal, electromagnetic and quantum mechanical properties that larger particles do not”. When employed as medicines, nanostructures “require lower doses to get the same effect, can have longer durations of action and fewer side effects compared with ordinary conventional drugs, herbs or vaccines”. This is probably the reason why we know homeopathic remedies to be effective, gentle and safe.
One of the interesting properties of some types of nanoparticles is that they can “stimulate beneficial changes whereas higher doses of the same material can inhibit function or cause adverse effects”. In other words, nanoparticles can have the opposite effect on an organism as higher doses of the same substance. So unlike conventional drugs that work in the high-dose range “trying to just barely avoid toxicity and causing ‘side effects’ while suppressing or inhibiting function”, medicines made from nanoparticles appear to trigger “adaptive processes within the overall cell or whole organism”. This might help explain how a single dose of the correct homeopathic remedy can effect a permanent change toward health in an individual.
Homeopathy: an early personalized system of medicine
Dr. Bell concludes that the properties of nanoparticles make homeopathy “one of the first systems of personalized medicine in which the individual’s complete pattern of health problems leads to a precisely-targeted treatment choice”. While the field of modern nanoscience is relatively new, it seems that the German physician-chemist Samuel Hahnemann, who founded homeopathy more than 200 years ago, was “among the first to discover how to make nanoparticles from natural products and use them for medicinal purposes”. It is only now that we are beginning to more fully understand his profound contribution to medicine and human health.
This monument located in Washington DC to Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, was dedicated 57 years after his death in 1900, and is visible from the White House.
For a fuller and more indepth scientific explanation of how homeopathy might work, see an article by Iris Bell and Mary Koithan published in BioMed Central Complementary and Alternative Medicine called “A model for homeopathic remedy effects: low dose nanoparticles, allostatic cross-adaptation and time-dependent sensitization in a complex adaptive system”, which can be found here: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6882/12/191 .