“Perhaps the problem with homeopathy isn’t that it’s not effective. Instead, maybe it works, but we lack the appropriate tools, or processes, to measure what’s going on.”
I’ll be honest. When it comes to the effectiveness of homeopathic treatments, I’m skeptical. Perhaps you are too.
It’s easy to understand why: Homeopathic dilutions contain no active ingredient and their effects on the human body—if any—can’t be measured using the scientific method.
But after speaking with Dr. Justin Newman, a 23-year veteran of homeopathic medicine, a nationally Board Certified Doctor of Holistic Medicine, and Medical Director of the Banyan Holistic Healthcare Center in Miami, FL, I found thoughts like the above running through my head.
In his gentle, soft-spoken demeanor, Dr. Newman was refreshingly upfront about the lack of scientific evidence surrounding the efficacy of homeopathic medicine. In other words, when asked how it works, he didn’t shy away from saying “I don’t know.”
He did, however, provide a handful of key, although admittedly unproven, theories that could help explain homeopathy’s mechanism of action—as well as why these treatments seemingly continue to help people from all walks of life.
Here, in the second part of our series, we’ll explore some of the concepts proposed by Dr. Newman’s in greater detail, all with the goal of starting a fruitful conversation.
To outline the complexity of this conversation, though, let’s begin with a thought experiment.
Unicorns and Homeopathy: Establishing the Burden of Proof
Here’s a quick challenge: Try proving that unicorns—or Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, or Purple Martian People Eaters, for that matter—don’t exist. Tough assignment, right?
This is an attempt to prove a negative, which isn’t possible. Why?
I’m not going to wax philosophical here (or bore you to tears in the process), but the crux of the issue is this: There’s no way to rule out every single scenario in which unicorns, or any other fairy tale creature, could exist. At least not without possessing all-knowing superpowers.
For example, unicorns might live in another dimension. Perhaps they become invisible when humans are near. Or, maybe they were driven away to another planet millennia ago by evil fairies, only to fly back to earth on rare occasions. Perhaps it’s a combination of all three.
As you can quickly see, in order to prove the non-existence of unicorns, the number of scenarios you’d have to disprove is limited only by the human imagination.
But what if we’re not talking about something imaginary? What if I told you that I had a real, live unicorn in my backyard at this very moment?
Here, I’d be making a positive assertion: I have tangible evidence that unicorns exist.
In this situation, what’s the first thing you’d do? You’d ask for proof, right? Likely by requesting to visit my back yard and see the unicorn for yourself. While there, you’d probably take some pictures, shoot some video, and maybe even discreetly pluck a hair sample or two.
How does all of this relate to homeopathy? This points toward two key thoughts that need to be addressed before moving deeper into our conversation:
“Isn’t Supported” vs. “Isn’t Effective”
In a philosophical scenario (such as the one we’re discussing), the burden of proof rests on the party making the assertion.
So, if we state that there’s a lack of scientific evidence supporting homeopathy’s claims, this is something we can back up. In fact, that’s exactly what we did in our first installment in this series.
In short, we can say that homeopathy doesn’t currently meet its burden of proof, showing that 1) it has any impact on the human body and 2) that it can provide real-world benefits.
However, just because something doesn’t meet its burden of proof, doesn’t mean we can be 100% certain that it doesn’t exist.
If we made this assertion, as we saw in our unicorn example earlier, we’d get stuck disproving a never-ending stream of (likely ridiculous) possibilities—at least based on our current understanding of the world.
With all of this said, the goal of this article isn’t to shirk the homeopathic community’s responsibility for delivering proof of their claims. Instead, the purpose is to open different avenues of dialogue and make sure everyone’s voice is heard.
After all, we should at least be willing to ask—and thoughtfully consider—the question, “Is homeopathy simply ineffective, or is there a gap in our knowledge and abilities that results in our lack of understanding?”
The good news is that as our knowledge of the world continues to grow, the gaps where ‘what if’ scenarios like this could hide become increasingly small. At some point, they’ll have nowhere else to go.
In the meantime, let's explore a few of these scenarios.
An Ongoing Discussion About Homeopathy
During our hour-long discussion, Dr. Newman told me that he was, and still is, drawn to the safety of homeopathic treatments, which he says rarely cause any side effects.
He noted that many homeopaths are also medical doctors, so the “do no harm” part of the Hippocratic Oath makes these treatments especially attractive.
Dr. Neman also told me that he’s impressed with the fact that homeopathic medicine takes a holistic, whole person approach to wellness, which includes physical and psychological aspects, medical histories, individual backgrounds, and more.
And “instead of masking symptoms,” Dr. Newman noted that homeopaths like him “find the correct medicine to address the symptoms themselves.”
What About the Lack of Clinical Evidence?
Even though Dr. Newman mentioned that homeopathy is much more popular in other countries than in the U.S., he also admitted that you’re “going to have to do some digging” if you’re looking for reliable evidence supporting its efficacy.
On top of this, he was forthright that, as a system, homeopathy offers no standard diagnoses or treatment regimens.
He attributed this to the fact that everyone has a distinct frequency (more soon), which is “why the same afflictions are treated differently” in each patient.
If this is the case, he wondered, could it mean we can’t yet grasp the mechanics of homeopathic treatments, simply because we don’t have access to the necessary diagnostic technology?
To make his point, he posed the following question: Before x-rays were discovered in 1895, did they exist?
The answer, of course, is yes, but we didn’t have the appropriate tools to detect or measure their presence.
A potential problem with this example, though, is that, while Wilhelm Roentgen didn’t formally discover x-rays until 1895 (which earned him the 1901 Nobel Prize in Physics), many others had observed the effect of x-rays beforehand.
In contrast, to date, the medical community has yet to directly observe the biological effects of homeopathic dilutions, so it’s not like we’re comparing apples to apples here.
Despite this lack of evidence, Dr. Newman let me know that in his daily practice, he sees homeopathic treatments helping children and pets, which he believes rules out the placebo effect.
So, in Dr. Newman’s opinion, what’s going on here? He provided me with three different concepts, prevalent within the homeopathic community that could explain how their treatments might have an effect on the human body:
- Water Memory & Consciousness
- Quantum Physics & Vibrational Medicine
Let’s take a look at each one of these in closer detail, while discussing some pros and cons.
1. Water Memory and Consciousness
Water memory is the idea that water retains a “memory” of substances that have been diluted in it. As a result, proponents believe this allows homeopathic dilutions to affect the human body, without containing any molecules of an active substance.
The problem is that water memory entails little more than a concept; it doesn’t provide any predictive power, there’s no proposed mechanism of action, there’s no data on water memory’s properties or how it behaves, and the process has never been observed.
And if water memory is a real phenomenon, one has to wonder why millions of us aren’t dying of overdoses caused by the “memory” of all the different chemicals used to treat tap water!
Jacques Benveniste’s Study
In 1988, a French immunologist named Jacques Benveniste, then working as senior director for the French medical research organization INSERM, published a study in Nature titled “Human basophil degranulation triggered by very dilute antiserum against IgE.”
In layman’s terms, the study claimed to show that basophils (a type of white blood cell produced in marrow) could still respond to human antibodies, even though the solution was diluted to the point where antibodies were no longer present.
Unfortunately, all double-blind experiments conducted since then, while still following Benveniste’s precise protocols, have failed to reproduce his original results or to provide any insight into the concept of water memory.
Luc Montagnier and Water Structures
Luc Montagnier is a French virologist who discovered HIV, which earned him the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. While Mr. Montagnier has never explicitly supported the field of homeopathic medicine, he’s famous within the industry for saying:
“I can’t say that homeopathy is right in everything. What I can say now is that the high dilutions are right. High dilutions of something are not nothing. They are water structures which mimic the original molecules.”
What structures is he talking about, exactly?
In 2009, Montagnier published a paper titled Electromagnetic Signals Are Produced by Aqueous Nanostructures Derived from Bacterial DNA Sequences.
The paper concluded that DNA in viruses and bacteria “emit specific radio waves” that can affect nanostructures in the solution.
As a result, he found that their pathogenic effects could still be recreated, even though the solution no longer contained any of the original viruses and bacteria.
As with Jacques Benveniste’s study, it appears no third parties have replicated these findings.
Masaru Emoto and the Molecular Structure of Water
While not directly related to homeopathy, proponents often point to Japanese author and photographer Masaru Emoto’s photographic experiments as proof of just how much we don’t know.
In a nutshell, Masaru would begin by exposing water to different stimuli, such as words, images, and music. Then, he’d freeze the water samples and examine their properties using microscopic photography.
Masaru claimed his pictures revealed that water formed different crystalline structures depending on the type of stimuli it was exposed to, as well as where it was obtained.
For example, water sourced from a mountain stream and subjected to positive thoughts and prayer would form more attractive crystals, while water pulled from a public source and exposed to loud music would create less attractive ones.
While Emoto’s book The Hidden Messages in Water made the NY Times bestseller list, his experiments have met a great deal of criticism, since they were prone to human error and manipulation—not to mention that he failed to show a direct correlation between certain stimuli and more attractive crystal formations.
2. The Curious Case of Nanoparticles
By definition, a nanoparticle is simply a particle between 1 and 100 nanometers in size, which acts as a complete unit and (at least for the purposes of our discussion) is formed by the breakdown of larger particles.
Dr. Kane’s Experiment
In 2010, the homeopathic community was buzzing with the publication of a study titled “Extreme homeopathic dilutions retain starting materials: A nanoparticulate perspective“ in the journal Homeopathy.
During his experiment, Dr. Shantaram Kane, a chemical engineer in Mumbai, India, analyzed two different dilutions (30C or 200C) of six different elements; gold, copper, tin, zinc, silver, and platinum.
Using TEM (Transmission Electron Microscopy), SAED (Selected Area Electron Diffraction), and ICP-AES (inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectrophotometry), Dr. Kane claimed to have detected the presence of nanoparticles—despite the fact that there were no remaining particles of the original substances in each solution.
This, he said, provided a mechanism of action that explained how homeopathic dilutions could still work, without containing any active substance.
Problems with Nanoparticles and Homeopathy
As we’ve discussed on multiple occasions, even if this study was perfect, it doesn’t “prove” anything. Instead, you’d need a large body of evidence obtained by reproducing the study—and its results—hundreds or thousands of times over.
However, like much of the evidence we’ve discussed so far, this isn’t the case. In fact, not only have Dr. Kane’s results not been reproduced, several fatal flaws were identified in his methodology, including that he didn’t use any variable controls.
What’s more, even if this study confirmed the presence of nanoparticles in dilutions, the homeopathic community would still have all their work ahead of them. Why?
Because again, the amount of the active ingredient is too small to cause any measurable changes in the human body. So, instead of offering an explanation, it seems that the idea of nanoparticles simply moves the goal post.
3. Quantum Physics and Vibrational Energy
What Is Quantum Mechanics?
The late theoretical physicist Richard Feynman is famous for quipping that, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics.” Why?
Quantum physics, also called quantum theory and quantum mechanics, is the study of atomic and subatomic particles and how they affect matter and energy.
The problem is that when you get down to the scale of subatomic particles, our traditional understanding of physics—and of reality in general—flies out the window. In other words, some very strange things happen.
As a couple of quick examples, quantum mechanics allows electrons to be in two places at the same time—and in two different states (both a particle and a wave).
Not only this, these particles can be linked (a change in one instantly causes the same change in the other), regardless of their distance from one another. This faster-than-light paradox is called quantum entanglement.
Another idea is that these particles and waves don’t actually exist. Instead, they’re simply part of a larger field of energy and only come into existence once their energy, or vibration, reaches a higher state. This is called quantum field theory.
Despite these bizarre propositions, quantum mechanics is the underlying principle behind many technological advances we currently take for granted, including the Internet, computers, lasers, and more.
How does this relate to homeopathy?
Does Quantum Theory Offer an Explanation for Homeopathy?
Because of its largely misunderstood nature, all sorts of ideas that lack traditional evidence fall back on quantum mechanics to ‘prove’ their claims—homeopathy included.
After all, quantum physics provides an easy hiding place for homeopathic medicine because a) we know just enough to recognize it as a legitimate field of inquiry, but b) we’ve only begun to scratch the surface. There’s a whole lot we don’t understand.
Not to sound like a broken record, but again, even if we retreat to the wacky world of quantum physics to explain the potential effects of homeopathic treatments, the fact remains that they still aren’t shown to have any measurable effects on the body.
Where do we go from here?
Bottom Line: Should You Invest In a Homeopathic Treatment?
Whether writing a product review, an article, or anything else, our goal at HighYa isn’t to tell you where—or where not—to spend your money. Instead, it’s to present you with the details and leave the final decision up to you.
As a result, the goal here isn’t to disprove homeopathy, since this would be a fool’s errand, which we outlined in the earlier unicorn example.
But, given the fact that homeopathy’s fundamental principles violate much of what we know about the world, as well as the fact that their most common alternative theories don’t hold a lot of water (pun intended), it seems unlikely that these treatments result in any physical benefits.
Now, are all homeopathic practitioners necessarily bad people, leeching off the public’s lack of scientific understanding? Certainly not, as personified by Dr. Newman.
In fact, it’s clear that practitioners like him are passionate about homeopathy and legitimately believe the dilutions they prescribe can help make their patients’ lives better, without causing harm.
Whether you want to attribute a patient’s results to the placebo effect or something else, though, the reality is that you have to ignore reams of scientific evidence if you’re going to put any stock in homeopathy.
So, perhaps in this instance, the absence of evidence really is evidence of absence.