Thursday, 23 February 2006

Quack Medicine

On my cycle journey into work I pass a business offering complimentary therapies. Yesterday morning they had some new posters in their windows offering courses in 'Beginning Homeopathy'. Now, whilst I accept that some of these 'therapies' may compliment traditional medicine and I can't help but remain sceptical. Especially about therapies which market themselves as alternatives to traditional medicine. A homeopathic 'remedy' is a perfect example of a placebo – a perfectly harmless, ineffective, neutral substance (water) being marketed as a medicine and charged for accordingly. If you take such a 'medicine,' you can do so with virtual certainty that the substance is safe. You can do so because it is nothing but plain water or maybe water with a little alcohol or food colouring. Such remedies are so diluted that there is no chance of there being a single molecule of the active ingredient whatsoever (whatever it’s supposed to be) being present. I did a little research into how these so-called 'remedies' are prepared. Read what I found here.
If the original substance is soluble, one part is diluted with either nine or 99 parts of distilled water and/or alcohol and shaken vigorously (succussed); if insoluble, it is finely ground and pulverized in similar proportions with powdered lactose (milk sugar). One part of the diluted medicine is them further diluted, and the process is repeated until the desired concentration is reached. Dilutions of 1 to 10 are designated by the Roman numeral X (X = 1/10, 3X = 1/1000, 6X = 1/1,000,000). Similarly, dilutions of 1 to 100 are designated by the Roman numeral C (1C - 1/100, 3C = 1/1,000,000, and so on.) Most remedies today range from 6X to 30X, but products of 30C or more are marketed.
He goes on to say...
A 30X dilution means that the original substance has been diluted 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times. Assuming that a cubic centimeter of water contains 15 drops, this number is greater than the number of drops of water that would fill a container more than 50 times the size of the Earth.
Got that? A 30X dilution requires a sphere of water 50 times the size of the earth to contain a single molecule of the active ingredient. So, when you buy your 10-20ml vial of homeopathic 'remedy', it has to be pure water (plus whatever colouring and flavouring they've added). Higher dilutions are even more ridiculous. But according to homeopathy’s founder Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), the more diluted a solution is, the more powerful and therefore more effective it is. This is homeopathy’s 'law of infinitesimals.' It’s an idea that goes against everything we know about chemistry and physics. To believe it is to believe in alchemy and magic.
Robert L. Park, PhD, a prominent physicist who is executive director of The American Physical Society, has noted that since the least amount of a substance in a solution is one molecule, a 30C solution would have to have at least one molecule of the original substance dissolved in a minimum of 1,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules of water. This would require a container more than 30,000,000,000 times the size of the Earth. In fact, such a container would be 30,000 times larger than the Sun–which is already a million times larger than the Earth.
Money for old rope?