As valuable as clinical studies are, laboratory research is able to show biological activity of homeopathic medicines that cannot be explained as a placebo response, a common accusation of skeptics. Laboratory research is also capable of shedding some light on how the homeopathic medicines may work.
Distinct from clinical research which seeks to measure improvement in the health of a person or an animal, laboratory research seeks to assess changes in biological systems (cells, tissues, organs, viruses, etc.). Typically, animal research can fit under either clinical or laboratory research, depending on the goal of the study. If the study seeks to test the efficacy of a treatment on the health of an animal, it can be considered an animal clinical study. If the study seeks to test the effects of a treatment on animals so that researchers can apply the information for human health or to understand biological phenomena, it can be considered a laboratory study.
Admittedly, while some of the animal studies discussed here are humane, others are not. Reference to these studies is not meant to suggest that this author condones all such research. Rather, discussion of these studies is intended to verify the benefits of homeopathic medicines, both to animals and to humans, and to encourage wider use of homeopathic remedies.
Some of this section is somewhat technical, though an effort has been made to describe the studies in a user-friendly manner.
Earlier in this chapter, reference was made to some important double-blind clinical research with homeopathic medicines conducted as far back as 1941. There were also some high-quality scientific laboratory studies investigating homeopathic microdoses as that time. One extensive and meticulously controlled study was performed in 1941-42 by a Scottish homeopath/scientist, W.E. Boyd.30 This work showed that microdoses of mercuric chloride had statistically significant effects of diastase activity (diastase is an enzyme produced during the germination of seeds). This research was so well designed and performed that an associate dean of an American medical school commented, "The precision of [Boyd's] technique exemplifies a scientific study at its highest level."31
There have been over 100 studies evaluating the prophylactic and therapeutic effects of homeopathic doses of normally toxic substances. A collaborative effort of scientists from German research institutions and from America's Walter Reed Hospital performed a meta-analysis of these studies.32 Like the meta-analysis described earlier on clinical trials using homeopathic medicines, most of the studies were flawed in some way. However, of the high quality studies, positive results were found 50% more often than negative results.
What was particularly intriguing was that researchers who tested doses in the submolecular range (potencies greater than 24x) were found to have the best designed studies and more frequently found statisticially significant results from these microdoses. Specifically, several researchers gave, usually to rats, crude doses of arsenic, bismuth, cadmium, mercury chloride, or lead. The research showed that animals who were pretreated with homeopathic doses of these substances and then given repeated homeopathic doses after exposure to the crude substance, excreted more of these toxic substances through urine, feces, and sweat than did those animals given a placebo.
Several studies noted that pretreatment and treatment with potentized doses of substances different from those to which the animal was being exposed did not provide any benefit.
As horrible as this research may be for the animals tested, animal researchers claim that it can have considerable benefit for treating animals and humans exposed to toxic substances. Such studies cannot be performed humanely on human subjects, and because of the newness of the research, no computer models to simulate the effects of homeopathic medicines are presently possible. While public health measures must primarily focus on preventing exposure to toxic substances, medical treatment must be developed for healing if and when exposure takes place. The research suggests that homeopathic medicine may play a significant role in the treatment of toxicological exposure.
Homeopathic research has also explored the benefits of homeopathic medicines to protect against radiation.33 Albino mice were exposed to 100 to 200 rad of X-rays (sublethal doses) and then evaluated after 24, 48, and 72 hours. Ginseng 6x, 30x, and 200x and Ruta graveolens 30x and 200x were administered before and after exposure. When compared with mice given a placebo as treatment, mice given any of the above homeopathic medicines experienced significantly less chromosomal or cellular damage.
Albino guinea pigs were exposed to small doses of X-ray that cause reddening of the skin. Studies showed that Apis mellifica 7c or 9c had a protective effect and a roughly 50% curative effect on X-ray-induced redness of the skin.34 Apis mellifica (honeybee) is a homeopathic medicine for redness, swelling, and itching, common symptoms of bee venom.
In one very intriguing study, Thyroxine 30x (thyroid hormone) was placed in the water of tadpoles.35 When compared to tadpoles who were given a placebo, the study showed, morphogenesis of the tadpoles into frogs was slowed for those who were exposed to the homeopathic doses. Because thyroid hormone in crude doses is known to speed up morphogenesis, it makes sense from a homeopathic perspective that homeopathic doses would slow it down.
What makes this study more interesting is that additional investigations resulted in the same effect when a glass bottle of the homeopathic doses of thyroid hormone was simply suspended in the water with the lip of the bottle above the water line. This research was replicated at several laboratories, and results were consistent.
The implications of this study are somewhat significant, not only for verifying biological effects of homeopathic doses but for showing that these medicines have some type of radiational effect through glass. Some types of unconventional approaches to homeopathy have been developed over the past decades in which pupil reflex, pulse, muscle strength, and skin conductance have been changed as the result of simply holding on to a bottle of an individually indicated homeopathic medicine. While this approach may seem strange to classically oriented homeopaths, the above research provides some basis for its application.
One other interesting experiment dealing with water is worthy of mention. This study used nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), also called magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to determine whether high potencies of homeopathic medicines placed in water had any measurable effects.36 Without getting into the details of this highly technical study, the researchers found that high potencies of Silicea did, in fact, show a distinct difference as compared with placebo-treated water.
There have been several studies investigating very high dilutions of histamine (above 30x) on isolated guinea pig hearts, showing that this remedy increases blood flow through the heart. What is particularly interesting about these studies was that this effect was completely neutralized if the very high dilutions were exposed to 70 degrees Centigrade for 30 minutes or exposed to magnetic fields of 50 Hz for 15 minutes.37 Needless to say, it is unlikely that these microdoses could have only a placebo effect when known physical stresses to the medicine can halt its activity.
A professor of hematology at the School of Pharmacy of Bordeaux has carried out eight years of research on the effects of acetylsalicylic acid (the active ingredient in aspirin) on blood.38 It is known that crude doses of aspirin cause increased bleeding, while this research showed that homeopathic doses of acetylsalicylic acid shorten bleeding time in healthy subjects.
Two Dutch professors of molecular cell biology recently completed a significant body of experimentation which not only provided evidence of the effects of homeopathic microdoses on cell cultures but that also suggested that these microdoses are only effective when homeopathy's principle of similars is followed.39 Specific reference to the body of studies cannot be provided in this chapter, both due to the space necessary to describe this work and due to its highly technical nature.
A now famous study by respected French physician and immunologist Jacques Benveniste tested highly diluted doses of an antibody on a type of white blood cells called basophils (basophils increase in number when exposed to substances such as antibodies which cause an allergic reaction). This work was replicated at six different laboratories at four different universities (the University of Paris South, the University of Toronto, Hebrew University, and the University of Milano). Although the prestigious journal Nature published this study,40 it also published concurrently an editorial stating that they did not believe the results.41 The editor insisted on going to the primary researcher's laboratory at the University of Paris South to observe the experiment conducted in his presence along with two known experts in scientific fraud (one of whom was a magician).
The details of what followed require more detail and technical information than is appropriate for this book. In summary, the experiment did not show significant results, leading the Nature editor to pronounce in his journal that the original study was a fraud.42 The problem, however, was that the editor and the fraud experts were not immunologists, and thus, they did not seem aware that many studies in immunology require considerably more replication than could be done in the couple of days that the Nature team visited.
Another problem was in the study itself, which was very difficult to do. The researchers later simplified it, provided even greater scientific controls, and found significant results. Nature, however, chose not to publish these results, and this study was published instead in the Journal of the French Academy of Sciences.43
Evidence of the bias that "defenders of science" have against homeopathy is their refusal to publish or even comment on the increasing body of research accruing to homeopathic medicine.
Science is supposed to be objective, though both physicists and psychologists teach us that objectivity is impossible. Science's long-term antagonism to homeopathy is slowly breaking down but not without significant reaction, fear, anxiety, and sometimes downright attack against homeopaths.
Change is difficult, and significant change is even more difficult. Even though science grows from new knowledge, it tends to be resistant, often very resistant, to perspectives and knowledge that do not fit contemporary paradigms and scientific theories. The information presented in this chapter and in this book is not meant to overthrow science but to enlarge its perspective so that it more broadly and accurately describes and accepts many presently unexplainable phenomena of nature.