Homeopathy, arguably the safest alternative medicine is making a strong global comeback, despite having lost the first round to allopathy
AVOGADRO'S NUMBER AND PLACEBO CURE
Homeopathic substances (if liquid) are diluted in alcohol and/or water and shaken vigorously. If solid, the formulation is finely ground and mixed with powdered lactose. This diluted formulation is then further diluted. The process continues till the required dilution is reached. By which time not even a single molecule of the original substance may remain.
Dilutions of such a high degree militate against a principle called Avogadro's number. Chemicals consist of molecules and atoms. Since there are far too many molecules to count individually, and they are too small, the moles are counted instead. One mole = Avogadro's number of an object, which is 6.022 x 1023. This means one mole of a substance contains 6.022 x 1023 atoms. When a substance is repeatedly diluted, even the mole of the original substance no longer exists.
Now, scientists muse, how can the original substance cure when it no longer exists?
In 1988, French scientist Jacques Benveniste claimed that although the original substance might not be present in a remedy, its 'memory' exists in the water where it was first dissolved and this 'memory' effects the cure. Benveniste's findings were published in Nature magazine.
Most scientists are still not convinced.
A study, published in the Lancet, examined over 100 randomized, placebo controlled trials and found an odds ratio of 2.45 in favor of homeopathy. The authors concluded that ''the results of our meta-analysis are not compatible with the hypothesis that the clinical effects of homeopathy are completely due to placebo.'' Clinical trials in Europe have suggested a positive effect on conditions like allergic rhinitis (Reilly et al., 1986), fibrositis (Fisher et al., 1989), and influenza (Ferley et al., 1989).
"It is certainly not a placebo. I will give two instances for the critics to ponder.
(1) How can a remedy produce a placebo effect in a one-month-old child with diarrhea?
(2) How does homeopathy work in veterinary practice?" asserts DR A.U. Ramakrishnan from Chennai, India.
DR Mukesh Batra too pooh-poohs the placebo cure theory, mentions Jacques Benveniste's findings and adds: "I could give you a hundred cases of diabetics whose reports show that their blood sugar levels decreased after taking homeopathic treatment. If you say that's automatic regression due to lifestyle changes, yes, it's possible. But the fact remains that I've been pumping them with sugar and in spite of that their sugar comes down! There's got to be something medicinal to get those results. Moreover, scores of double-blind trials have been conducted that conclusively prove the efficacy of homeopathic medicines."
Jacques Benveniste's case may hold a conclusive answer. In the 1990s, some scientific journals ran stories debunking Benveniste's research. French scientists Charpak and Jacob and American magician James Randi claimed Benveniste was a "fraud". When the French monthly, Science et Vie, splashed the allegations, Benveniste sued.
In September 1998 a Paris court convicted the French publisher for libeling DR Benveniste, ruling that Science et Vie produced no evidence to corroborate its charge. James Randi subsequently denied making any allegation of fraud.
Therein lies a tale in itself.
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