THE BASIS OF CANCER HOMEOPATHY
The basis of homeopathy is that ‘like cures like’. Practitioners take compounds that induce a symptom, say, nausea, and then dilute the active compounds sequentially to the point when not a single molecule of the original substance remains. Proponents claim that the ‘potentizing’ involved in making a homeopathic remedy somehow ‘imprints’ the water molecules with properties that will have medicinal effects. The effects are generally held to be the reverse of the symptom induced by the agent the homeopathic pharmacy began with – hence the medicine from the example above would be used to treat nausea. For such a therapy to be effective would require a reworking of a substantial body of physics, chemistry, and tissue biology, all of which is currently lacking. Even if we concede that our knowledge of these disciplines is imperfect, it is not unreasonable to expect that there would be evidence from clinical trials of effectiveness. If there were convincing trial evidence of efficacy, clearly the underlying scientific orthodoxy would need to be re-examined to accommodate the new evidence. We, therefore, need to examine the clinical trial evidence for homeopathy.
A number of controlled trials with homeopathy have indeed been carried out. In 2005, the respected medical journal The Lancet published an article analysing the results from 110 trials of homeopathy that included a placebo. These trials were compared with 110 similar trials of conventional medicine (referred to in the homeopathy literature as allopathy, meaning ‘other than the disease’). The Lancet article concluded there was no evidence of a coherent effect from homeopathy that could not be explained by the placebo effect. In contrast, the conventional trials were able to show effects from conventional medicines over and above the placebo in similar conditions. Homeopathy would thus seem to sit solidly in the ‘alternative’ category as its practitioners promote it as exactly that, an alternative to conventional medicine. With no evidence of solid benefit, this seems an irresponsible view to take, especially as homeopathy is promoted for use in all manner of diseases including potentially lethal conditions such as asthma, tuberculosis, and AIDS. This view is endorsed by bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) which recently issued a warning stating that the use of homeopathy to treat conditions such as tuberculosis and malaria was dangerous, and it said quite categorically that lives were being lost as a result. Hence on every level, when the ‘science’ of homeopathy is examined, it clearly poses problems by the yardsticks of conventional science – there is no coherent physical basis for its mode of action or convincing trial evidence of efficacy. Despite this lack of evidence, homeopathy is available on the NHS in the UK, and millions worldwide, including the Prince of Wales, believe in its effectiveness.
So why do so many patients use these treatments? Most people have only the sketchiest understanding of science and tend to view the claims of scientists and alternative practitioners as equally valid alternatives. This view is peculiarly limited to biology – no one wants to use ‘alternative’ approaches to, for example, engineering or piloting an aeroplane; they stick with the laws of aerodynamics and trained pilots. I believe that in many, if not most, cases, people are simply desperate and want to hedge their bets by backing both horses. Patients who have run out of curative conventional options often pursue these therapies and are clearly vulnerable to exploitation. Extreme varieties of these treatments often require the patient to travel to countries where regulation of such therapies is less strict than it is within, says, the USA or European Union.