2010 September

Editorial: the never-ending story of Placebo

by Patricia Maché

There is an increasing pressure on homeopaths to prove that the working of homeopathy is not simply a placebo effect, as is so often asserted by its sceptics. For those who repeatedly witness the rapid, gentle, and lasting effects of adequate homeopathic treatment, especially on those not prone to the effects of placebo (babies, animals, comatose, and ... sceptics), there is little need to prove its effectiveness, though there always remains a healthy curiosity towards its working mechanism. Contrary to the claims that there is no scientific evidence in favour of homeopathy, recent researches have added to the already ample evidence that the effectiveness of accurately prescribed homeopathic remedies cannot rest on a placebo effect. Recent studies, one on piglets (see Interhomeopathy March 2010, Jan’s column) and another on breast cancer cells seem to rule out the influence of “wishful thinking”.

A study, published in the February 2010 issue of the International Journal of Oncology, reveals that certain homeopathic remedies have a beneficial effect on breast cancer cells. Conducted at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston, Texas, the leading U.S. centre for cancer research, it shows that certain homeopathic remedies have preferentially elevated cytotoxic (killing) effects on breast adenocarcinoma cells compared with cells derived from normal breast epithelium. Moreover, the homeopathic remedies appeared to have similar activity to that of Paclitaxel (Taxotere), the most commonly used chemotherapeutic drug for breast cancer, without the toxic effect on the normal cells. The remedies used were: Carcinosin 30C, Thuja 30C, Conium 3C and Phytolacca 200C. The researchers concluded: “The ultra-diluted natural homeopathic remedies investigated in this study offer the promise of being effective preventative and/or therapeutic agents for breast cancer and worthy of further study.” Moshe Frenkel MD, an associate professor at the University of Texas and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Centre, commented that after the promising results of the work done by Dr Banerji in Kolkota, India, on the treatment of cancer with homeopathy, “we felt that homeopathy needed to be tested in the same way that we test new chemotherapeutic drugs.”

The study was met with enthusiasm by the homeopathic community and, unsurprisingly, with derision by the section of the scientific community, which calls itself ‘the sceptics’. Citing a consistent lack of statistics, which is a valid point,* Dr Rachie in her 'Sceptics’ book of Pooh-Pooh', (yes, that is its real name!) proceeds to dismiss the whole study and indirectly calls for the heads of the International Journal of Oncology’s review panel for having allowed this ‘tripe’ to be published. Another sceptic, writing under the pen name of Orac, expectedly adds ‘water’ to Dr Rachie’s mill, in a similar tone. There is, however, an interesting sentence in his diatribe: “It tests a remedy so highly implausible as to be safely considered, for all practical intents and purposes, impossible barring some truly extraordinary evidence coming to light, evidence sufficient to overthrow long-established science in multiple disciplines.” (my emphasis)

Five centuries ago, uncannily similar words were addressed by Luther to Copernicus, who had presented his heliocentric theory: "this fool who wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy." Isn’t it ironic to find the sceptics caught in the unenviable position of the Church of those times, which relentlessly persecuted anyone who dared oppose its authority and threaten its power, and systematically used brutal repression in lieu of scientific argumentation. Thankfully, times have changed and the flames of the stakes have been replaced by fiery words; Edzard Ernst does not shy away from using the word 'heretics' to qualify homeopaths! (see Jan's column) 

Would not it be another pleasant change, however, if instead of ‘pooh-poohing‘ works that do not follow the established creed, the sceptics took up the real challenge to answer Dr Frenkel’s research on the scientific ground to which it belongs and reproduce his experiment in their own labs, to either confirm or oppose his findings. Then, and only then, will we have a truly scientific dialogue, where both partners come to the table with facts and figures, with truth as ultimate aim.

At the moment, we are in a situation similar to that of Galileo with his telescope; those who vehemently dismiss homeopathy because its workings cannot, yet, be explained, refuse to look precisely where the evidence could be found. Evidence which might, it is true, overthrow long established science; but is it not the desired aim of true science to be forever overthrowing itself?


*We asked Dr. Frenkel to comment on the issue of the statistics, or lack thereof, in his research paper: “The protocol followed the same research protocol done for initial investigation of any chemotherapeutic drug as practiced in any leading cancer research institute, prior to animal studies and clinical trials … The statistical analysis was done on each set of experiments; due to lack of space in the journal we could not have elaborated on all the details, but the results were significant and easily noticeable…“

Research paper: Cytotoxic effects of ultra-diluted remedies on breast cancer cells by Moshe Frenkel, Bal Mukund Mishra, Subrata Sen, Peiying Yang, Alison Pawlus, Luis Vence, Aimee Leblanc, Lorenzo Cohen, Pratip Banerji, Prasanta Banerji at: www.spandidos-publications.com/ijo/36/2/395

Categories: Editorials
Keywords: editorial


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Posts: 10
Let us look at the whole picture
Reply #7 on : Wed September 01, 2010, 21:57:14
In reviewing scientific research, consideration and reflection on all aspects of the study is essential. The fact is, it would seem difficult to discredit the results of a study which is looking at homeopathic remedies and their effect on cancer cells in a petri dish, which has been carried out under the exact same protocol used for testing of conventional chemotherapy drugs, unless the sceptic's are ready to discredit the trials performed on conventional chemotherapy drugs also. If a drug or protocol works for patients in the allopoathic world then it is firmly endorsed. Doctors and therapists use various treatment protocols on patients, which at best have only ever been trialed on rats or mice, but their use is continued because qualitative results reported by patients say it is effective. Anaesthetics are another area of medicine which doctors and scientists are still only hypothesising about how it works on the body, yet we continue to use it because we just know it works.
Why then such resistance to homeopathy? There are numerous qualitative studies out there which show that homeopathy works. We have hundreds and thousands of cases out around the world where homeopathy has significantly and permanently improved the status of an individual's health. We have trials, such as in Cuba, where homeopathy was given to millions to prevent Leptospirosis. The results were outstanding and unable to be disputed. The money tied up in the pharmaceutical companies is always going to fight the acceptance of homeopathy in today's society. We are a threat to their empire. As homeopaths we need to stand united as a profession, knowing we have good research and trials behind us to support homeopathy as a sustainable medicine for everyone. We are not proposing that homeopathy will eradicate the need for allopathy. Each has its benefits when used appropriately and when working together could achieve amazing things for mankind. Let us respond to criticism with the calm and enlightened intelligence that we all have as homeopaths. Let the results speak for themselves.
Last Edit: September 01, 2010, 22:22:03 by *  

Posts: 10
Reply #6 on : Wed September 01, 2010, 20:58:24
The variation among the parallels is reflected in the raw data obtained in each experiment. The standard deviation was included in all the bar graphs. The sample size is what is described in the paper. The sensitivity of the method to detect the residues should be self evident from the description provided. If people are looking for margin of error that was not calculated, that particular statistic applies to population sampling, which this wasn't. The data was collected from three separated experiments and data were presented as mean +/- SD as seen in the cell proliferation data, it is pretty obvious that reduction of cell proliferation by these remedies, especially Carcinosin and Phytolaca in MCF cell (Fig. 1B) is profound comparing to that treated with solvent alone. Claims that the solvent must have caused any effects—obviously based on the presumption that homeopathy can't work, therefore it must have been the solvent—whereas the study clearly distinguished between results of solvent alone and solvent with remedies added.

Posts: 10
science practice and contextuality
Reply #5 on : Wed September 01, 2010, 10:37:55

I would hope that those cancer studies could be complemented with research about the question, whether the remedies that have the power to do this are triggering the genetic enzyme reverse transcriptase into a self-healing that could be described on genetic levels as genetic repairing or else as repairing some faculty of the organism to read the salutogenetic message instead of the cancerogenetic message..

I guess that there is some way to show them that the earth is round and that the cell has self-healing intelligence that is homeoepathically triggered.

This would be good for the possibility to have other homeopathic research realised and thus to create more social contexts that can make it possible to have homeopathic practice better integrated into public health schemes.....

Ruth Luschnat

Last Edit: September 01, 2010, 19:54:48 by *  

Posts: 10
Reply #4 on : Wed September 01, 2010, 09:14:02
Dear Patricia,
Thanks for your elucidating contribution.
Nevertheless I would suggest that the principles of regular medicine and the truth that it revealed are not going to be "overruled" by non regular methods once they are proved.
There is a difference with Galilei; our homeopathic method once considered true will not overthrow regular medicine. It will only come to stand in a different context.
It (regular med.)only comes to stand in a different context.
Besides, using the word "overthrowing" can contribute to polarisation and war about what is true or truth. Current truth of regular medicine will remain true, independent of future new methods.
What has to be done is give methodical insight in the limitations of this regular method, which until now considers itself the ultimate king of truth, where it is in fact one method among others but more easily proved because of statistics.
Many regards,
Frank Beijering.
Last Edit: September 01, 2010, 19:35:30 by *  

Posts: 10
Reply #3 on : Wed September 01, 2010, 09:08:01
The fact that Frenkel says the results were significant and you believe this without even seeing them for yourself, would seem to suggest that you have too much personally invested in homeopathy to be able to take an objective view. 'Lack of space' is a flimsy excuse - if Frenkel wants to be believed by anyone who is justifiably sceptical about homeopathy, he has to provide this information. Until he does, his claims are worth nothing and there is no point in anyone wasting their time on trying to replicate them.

By the way, comparing the criticisms of qualified doctors and scientists to the persecution of Copenicus by the Church makes homeopaths sound even dafter than they do already.

Posts: 10
Reply #2 on : Wed September 01, 2010, 03:43:23
Link to Orac's reply

Last Edit: September 01, 2010, 20:54:31 by *  

Posts: 10
Lamest. Excuse. Ever.
Reply #1 on : Mon August 30, 2010, 21:24:43
"due to lack of space in the journal we could not have elaborated on all the details" -- this has got to be the worst excuse ever. Appropriate statistical analysis of results is an absolutely critical part of a scientific paper, especially in a case such as this. If the effects were "significant and easily noticeable" then mentioning that in the paper would lend much credibility to the work.

Why leave out something that strengthens your argument?