I had never heard of Dr. Shantaram Kane, a chemical engineer in Mumbai, India. I don’t know how he heard of me, but he apparently knows I am critical of homeopathy. He e-mailed me out of the blue to tell me about a study he had published in 2010 in the journal Homeopathy: “Extreme homeopathic dilutions retain starting materials: A nanoparticulate perspective.” The full text is available online here. It was lauded in an accompanying editorial. Incredibly, it is an uncontrolled study.
Kane recognizes that a major objection to homeopathy is that, at high potencies, not a single molecule of the starting material is present. He says his study found nanoparticles of the parent metal in 200C dilutions of metal-based remedies. He says his findings represent a paradigm shift. In other words, there really is something there when we assumed there wasn’t.
They purchased samples of 6 homeopathic medications from market sources. The labels said they contained either 30C or 200C dilutions of gold, copper, tin, zinc, silver, or platinum. They analyzed these medications and found nanoparticles of the corresponding metals. They identified them with TEM (Transmission Electron Microscopy), SAED (Selected Area Electron Diffraction), and ICP-AES (inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectrophotometry). I don’t understand the technology, and the published pictures just look like meaningless blobs to me, but for the purposes of this discussion I’ll accept that they reliably identified the presence of the metallic elements.
How to explain the presence of nanoparticles? They speculate:
- Shearing forces could have produced them during the manufacturing process, both from mechanized lactose triturations and human-powered succussion.
- Acoustic cavitation during the manual succussion process could have produced localized bubbles with temperatures high enough to melt metal particles.
- The nanoparticle-nanobubble complex rises to the surface and forms a monolayer, and it is this top 1% that is collected and used for the next step in the dilutions.
- They didn’t really know what they were studying. They didn’t verify that the contents of the products they purchased actually conformed to the labels or were prepared by the methods they speculate about.
- They didn’t use any controls. Ideally, they would have used two kinds of control samples: one prepared by the same dilution methods but without any starting material, and one prepared with the same starting material but without succussion. And maybe another homeopathic remedy not based on metals.
- They didn’t rule out contamination of the original products during the manufacturing process or subsequently from something in their lab (airborne contaminants, improperly washed equipment, etc.).
Even if nanoparticles are found in homeopathic remedies, the amount is too tiny to expect any effect on human physiology, and the remedies have not been shown to have any therapeutic effect.
He Offers to Answer Any Question
In his e-mail, Dr. Kane said:
I will be deligted to answer any question.i do hope you forward this finding to both the eblievers and sceptics. [sic]
I did have some questions, and I asked them in an e-mail:
- Why no controls? Without them, can you be sure that there was not some contamination in the manufacturing process that would give the same findings for other homeopathic remedies or that some unrecognized contamination during your experimental preparation might give the same finding for non-homeopathic control samples?
- How do the amounts you detected compare to the trace presence of other contaminants, such as minute particles suspended in the air that might fall in?
- Even if your findings are replicated in other labs, what would that have to do with the claims of homeopathy to affect human health?
His Offer Retracted
It seems he had lied: he was not delighted to answer my questions. In fact, he flat out refused, saying
Yur response is typical of a sceptic who has a totally closed mind and refuses to see any new information. I have coe across many such and in my experience, it is best to leave them alone. [sic]
His attitude says it all. This is not the response of a scientist.
I asked Dr. Joe Schwarcz, McGill chemistry professor and science popularizer, to review the paper. He said:
It certainly doesn’t prove that homeopathy works…the question is …does it prove anything? Frankly I don’t believe the data. They found some sort of experimental artifact…
This is just another pathetic effort to validate homeopathy by showing the remedies are more than water, similar to the recent effort by Luc Montagnier. Such studies never seem to get confirmed in other labs or to build towards any coherent body of knowledge. Publishing an uncontrolled study like this says a lot about the editorial and peer-review standards of the journal. Anyway, whatever anomalies proponents might discover in homeopathic remedies, that’s a far cry from establishing that homeopathy has any clinical effects.
This article was originally published in the Science-Based Medicine blog.