Homeopaths often bang on about how their remedies are “natural”. The result of this is that many people think that homeopathy and herbalism are the same thing.
Wrong. Herbal remedies are made from plants, some of which contain active ingredients. Willow bark tea contains the same active ingredient as aspirin, for example. The main problems with herbal remedies are that the amount of active ingredient varies and the presence of other ingredients can have a synergistic effect. Homeopathy is something else altogether. If you are not aquainted with the reality of homeopathy, you will be convinced that I’m making the following up. I assure you I am not.
First off, it “works” on the basis that “like cures like” so in order to get rid of a symptom, you have to treat with something that causes the symptom. It might seem a tad heartless to prescibe a laxative to someone suffering from diarrohea but the homeopaths get round this with their “Law of Infinitesimals” which state that the active ingredient becomes more powerful the more it is diluted.
Let us consider a case of a patient with hypertension. As we’re told often enough, this can be caused by too much salt in the diet. On the basis of “like cures like” therefore, a homeopath may prescribe salt to “treat” the hypertension. The prescibed remedy has to have been diluted from the “mother tincture”. A saturated salt solution contains approximately 350 grammes of salt per litre of solution. Our homeopath then begins her dilutions. If she has a litre of her mother tincture she draws off 10 millilitres and makes that up to one litre with plain water. This solution is one hundredth the concentration of the mother tincture. This is then “succused” ie shaken around and then “potentised” ie the container is banged on a leather covered board. If you think I’m making this up, see here http://www.hmc21.org/phdi/pl.nsf/supppages/2555?opendocument&part=4#potent . This is now a 1c remedy, in homeopath’s jargon. Ten millilitres of the 1c solution is drawn off, made up to one litre with plain water and the process repeated to make a 2c remedy. Homeopathic remedies are frequently 30c ie diluted by a factor of 100^30 (10^60, or 1 followed by sixty zeros).
Now comes the science bit. After Samual Hahnemann wrote the homeopathic bible The Organon, real scientists discoved that all substances are made up of molecules and any particular molecule is made up of atoms in fixed proportions. Common salt was found to be made up of equal numbers of sodium an chlorine atoms. Further investigation showed that it is made up of crystals containing equal numbers of sodium and chlorine ions. A salt solution is made up of Na+ and Cl- ions in the proportion 1:1 in water.
Proper chemists express the concentration of solutions in terms of molarity, the number og “gramme-molecules” of the solute in a litre of solution. A gramme molecule of a substance is a mass in grammes of the substance numerically equal to its relative molecular mass. In the case of salt, NaCl has a relative molecular mass of 58.44, so a 1Molar solution of salt contains 58.44 grammes of salt per litre of solution. One further piece of science, Avogadro’s Law tells us that one mole of a substance contains 6.02 x 10^23 molecules, so our one molar salt solution contains 6.02 x 10^23 Na+Cl- ion pairs per litre.
Our homeopath’s saturated salt solution “mother tincture” would thus contain 3.61 x 10^24 ion pairs. A 1c remedy contains 3.61 x 10^22 ion pairs per litre, a 2c remedy 3.61 x 10^20 ion pairs per litre and so on. An 11c remedy will contain 361 ion pairs per litre, or put another way, there is 2.77 ml of water per ion pair. A 12c remedy will have 277 ml of water per ion pair, a 13c remedy 27.7 litres of water per ion pair and so on until we reach the 30c remedy which will have 2.77 x 10^35 litres of water per ion pair. There are one thousand litres to the cubic metre and one billion (10^9) cubic metres per cubic kilometre. Thus our 30c remedy would have one sodium ion and one chlorine ion in 2.77 x 10^23 cubic kilometres – a sphere 81,000,000 kilometres across, one hundred times the diamiter of the Moon’s orbit! There is probably not that much water in the entire galaxy, of course. When our homepath dilutes down to 12c, there are only a handful of ion pairs left. After that the probability approaches certainty that the last of the actual ingrediant is thrown away during the dilution process.
Homeopaths try to get around this problem by claiming that their succusation and potentisation process activates a memory of the substance in the water. They sometimes invoke quantum physics to explain this. No reputable physicist has ever found evidence of this water-memory. Even if it did exist why does the water not remember everything else it has been in contact with, such as the contents of a dog’s bladder? Homeopaths claim that the potentisation only activates the memory of the substance of the remedy but they don’t explain how they can know that. This is a magical ritual, not science.
Often these days, homeopathic remedies are sold in the form of sugar pills, not liquid. What they do is place a drop of the remedy onto the sugar pill, allow it to evaporate and, according to the homeopaths, leave its memory behind. This is baldly asserted without any evidence whatsoever.
Of course, in the above example, the connection between salt and heart disease has been established by allopathic doctors so a true homeopath may wish to come up with her own remedies. To do that they pick a substance then administer it (often already diluted) to volunteers in a process called “proving”. The volunteers record their symptoms and, by homeopathic logic, these are the symptoms it will treat.
Here ( http://uk.geocities.com/veryscarymary/helvetiaproving.html ) is an example by a practising homeopath. She even appears to believe that homeopathic dilutions of pieces of Victotian shipwreck can cure being stuck in traffic! Words fail me.