Homeopathy does not work beyond a placebo effect
IT WAS the titan of science Carl Sagan who said extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence – yet this logical axiom is jettisoned whenever people indulge in the dubious and ill-founded promises of alternative medicine.
King among all these outlandish claims is homeopathy, proposed by Samuel Hahnemann in 1807. This is the belief that “like cures like”; that a substance that causes similar symptoms to a certain disease in a healthy person will cure that disease in an unhealthy person.
This is in no way an empirical law of nature, but rather a hunch Hahnemann wished to entertain. He also decreed that the more dilute the remedy is, the more potent it is. This is the antithesis of what is observed in nature, where the potency of any solution is proportional to the active ingredient in that substance. But these dilutions are incredibly extreme. Homeopathy solutions are typically diluted to 30C – akin to having just one particle in a collection of 10^60 particles, where 10^60 is 1 followed by 60 zeros.
This is a tiny fraction and is contrary to physical chemistry, which precludes this level of dilution actually being possible on Earth. In fact, it’s easy to prove that to have this solution with just one active atom would require a “planet” of water 15,000 times the mass of the sun and 28 times its size.
When Hahnemann proposed this he could perhaps have been forgiven, as the existence of atoms was not proposed and proven until almost a century later – making it seem perhaps plausible that there would be no limit to how much you could dilute something.
However, modern science cannot take a position so clearly divorced from reality. The homeopathic community claims water has the ability to somehow “remember” what it has been in contact with.
This concept is called water memory, but has long since been debunked; polar bonds in water persist for no more than a few million billionths of a second. Given that all water on Earth in a closed system and every molecule of water in existence will undoubtedly have seen quite an amount of effluent, we should perhaps be somewhat grateful for this liquid amnesia.
Yet despite this, homeopaths sell “remedies” diluted up to 200C, which would require 10^320 (a number equal to 1 followed by 320 zeros) universes to have a single active molecule. This is most inconvenient, given that as far as modern cosmology can ascertain we have only one. In general, it’s a good rule of thumb that any treatment that would have to violate the laws of physics to be viable is probably unlikely to be biologically effective. There is simply no way around the fact that homeopathic medicines are quite simply just water and sugar.