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Homeopathy and Nanoparticles

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.

The Study

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.

The Speculation

How to explain the presence of nanoparticles?  They speculate:

  1. Shearing forces could have produced them during the manufacturing process, both from mechanized lactose triturations and human-powered succussion.
  2. Acoustic cavitation during the manual succussion process could have produced localized bubbles with temperatures high enough to melt metal particles.
  3. 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.

Problems

  • 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.).

Biggest Problem

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

Another Opinion

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…  

Conclusion

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.

Posted in: Homeopathy

Leave a Comment (34) ↓

34 thoughts on “Homeopathy and Nanoparticles

  1. PJLandis says:

    I think the bigger question is whether homeopathy was ever intended to cure anything or is it a subterfuge designed to infect the weak-minded with nanotechnology? Is Kane even a real doctor, or better yet he is the real Dr. Kane?

    I’m not pointing at anyone who isn’t infected and screaming, but I think that’s where all this is heading.

    I for one welcome our new Indian masters, and I’m pleased to see that they’re at least playing at being doctors.

  2. The well know paid homeopathy advocate Dana Ullman tends to bang on about this paper as if it is quality science that proves something.

    I have asked him several times how the ‘nanoparticle’ theory explains homeopathic dolphin sonar, as sold by Prince Charles’ favourite homeopathic pharmacy, Ainsworths.

    He ignores the question.

  3. Borg homeopathy. “Must assimilate!” I surprised that after Dr. Hall asked him a few essential questions he didn’t start shouting “medicine kills 125,000 people each year!!!”

    I honestly always just assumed anything published in Homeopathy was fraud.

  4. dbaptista says:

    I never believe it when “scientists” say they have not done any controls. It is simply implausible for any scientific mind, no matter how inferior, to think controls are not necessary.

    What is the most likely scenario was that the controls WERE done – they just didn’t show what the investigators had hoped to see, and was simply brushed under the carpet.

    This is a very nice post by the way. Easily understandable.

  5. DugganSC says:

    Homeopathic dolphin sonar… does that involve heavily diluted dolphins? Or is it dolphin sonar that’s a very small part of a large sample of white noise? To me, that’s one of the more vexing aspects of homeopathy, how rapidly the target keeps moving. There are a lot of “homeopathic” remedies out there which don’t involve dilution and are indeed merely herbal remedies.

  6. chaos4zap says:

    LMAO, I almost died laughing when I read his response. What question(s) did he expect you to ask? “Whats the address that I can send money to fun your ground-breaking research” ? How is dismissing the legitimate questions anything but close minded? He didn’t even make an attempt.

  7. I think Dr. Gorski worded it rather well: “We should all be open minded, but not so open minded that your brain starts oozing out of your skull.” I’ve been called closed minded by many CAM practitioners. I always say “I’m not closed minded, I’m just not gullible.”

  8. ccbowers says:

    I’ve always wondered how homeopathy doesn’t work.

  9. I love that this esteemed scientist immediately reverted to “text speak.”

    Y u no believe homeopathy? la~? imho fyi it so good and make ppls helthy!

  10. David Gorski says:

    Ah, an oldie but a goodie for demonstrating the utter intellectual bankruptcy of homeopaths. As my good “buddy” put it, this is almost certainly a case of finding heavy metal contaminants from the manufacturing process, being amazed, and citing it as evidence for a “mechanism” by which homeopathy “works”:

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/11/measuring_contaminants_and_concluding_th.php

    I can’t believe homeopaths are still flogging this “study.”

  11. MissMarnie says:

    “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]“

    That may be true, but your work is typical of a homeopath who has no evidence to support his claims and is ignorant of the scientific method.

  12. dchamney1 says:

    One important phrase on the last page of the original publication caught my attention; “How this translates into change in biological activity with increasing potency needs further study”. In other words they’ve done nothing to show any medicinal qualities to the solutions studied. I can’t see how a couple of nanoparticles of a metal are going to have a medicinal effect once ingested.
    The authors also added details, such as how the succussions were made and where the solution was extracted for the next dilution, without actually seeing the manufacture of the solutions they purchased. All they did was buy remedies off the shelf without seeing them manufactured so there is no justification for any statements on the manufacturing processes.

  13. mousethatroared says:

    @HH – It’s kinda funny that Dr. Shantaram Kane sent his paper to you. I wonder if he genuinely believed that you would be amazed and converted by his evidence of homeopathy or if getting shot down by a skeptic is helpful in building credibility in the homeopathy community.

    Are you the Doc Holiday of the medical world?

  14. fledarmus1 says:

    I think we might be missing the bigger picture here. Gold has been found in solutions which have been diluted far past the point where you would expect a molecule of gold to occur, and it was found simply be evaporating the water in which it was diluted. Not only that, the concentration of the gold plateaus as the dilution increases. So according to table 2, all we need to do is take 1L of the 6C solution (at ~80 pg/ml, that’s ~80 ug of gold), dilute it to 200C (I’m not sure I understand homeopathy math – that gives 33.3 L, right?) at ~100 pg/mL (total is ~3330 ug)… Whatever problem the alchemists were trying to solve, the homeopaths seem to have answered.

  15. DugganSC says:

    In defense of the doctor’s spelling, we get typos even in articles on this site. Once you send out an email, you can’t pull it back to fix errors. It’s not really fair to take one excerpted example and conclude he’s using “text speak” from that.

  16. Always Curious says:

    Actually they haven’t answered the alchemists’ question. For the ICP-AES, they dissolved all their samples in nitric acid or a mixture of hydrochloric acid & nitric acid. For example, nitric acid from Fisher (7697-37-2) has upwards of <300,000 pg/ml (0.3 ppm) of gold, tin, zinc and <50,000 pg/ml (0.05 ppm) copper.

    So what they don't state is now hugely important:
    It's unclear the exact amount & purity of acid used;
    They don't really state whether they evaporate & acid treat their blanks or not;
    They don't have a positive control to verify that the instrument is calibrated properly for what they are measuring.
    It's unclear whether Table 2's columns are completely independent measurements or somehow related (ie. are these repeat measures of the same extract or completely different extracts of the same starting materials?)

    Given all this, it's not hard for me to imagine them "finding" metals in their samples–they are already present in unknown quantities in the acid they used to treat the samples. Without details about replicates at varying steps, it's impossible to say if the wide ranges they observe are due to experimental performance rather than the manufacturer's processes. While I'm inclined to believe that manufacturing is loosey-goosey, their data actually demonstrates little to this effect.

    All in all, they try to tackle too many different approaches while allowing too many variables to escape control. (Mixing manufacturer's batches together is a HUGE red flag for me; doing it for some solutions and not others is an even larger red flag) It reminds me of some of my early experiments in college–a valiant effort with many fancy machines, but ultimately missing/misunderstanding the full scope of variables involved.

  17. Josie says:

    He apparently admits that ‘not a single molecule of the starting material is present’ in homeopathic preparations…yet he claims to find nanoparticles in it? As far as I know nanoparticles are bigger than single atoms/molcules of the substance.

    Seems like he contradicts himself out of the gate in an effort to use a sciencey high tech sounding word.

  18. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    The standard way of preparing homeopathically diluted remedies in case you are dealing with non-watersoluble substances such as sand or charcoal or chalk or petroleum or most metals, is that the stuff in powder form (if it is solid) is mixed with 10 or 100 parts of milksugar and then rubbed vigorously in a mortar. A portion of the remaining mixture is then ‘diluted’ with 99 parts milksugar and the whole thing is repeated, and repeated. Look it up in the Organon of Hahnemann, section 270.

    So it is not very strange that the airborne dust in the factory where they make it contains all kind of metal particles.

  19. qetzal says:

    There’s also the very real possibility that the manufacturers didn’t bother to do 30 or 200 dilutions. Of course, that assumes they actually started with detectable amounts of metal to begin with….

  20. trrll says:

    I read the paper. Brief summary: commercial homeopathic preparations are contaminated with un identified dirt.

  21. MerColOzcopy says:

    @SkepticalHealth

    Hey, that was my line “medicine kills 125,000 people each year!!!”

    Here, you guys like links to… stuff.

    SkepticalHealth’s website:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J834KH43YgE

    So essentially what you’re saying here is that Homeopathic is water with a little bit of crap. Hmmm, sounds like tap water. So, if you take your doctor prescribed medication with water, and the effects are favourable, how do you know if it is the medication or the “Homeopathic” water that is curing you??? Hey, hey?

    Remember, sometimes laughter is the best medicine!!!!

  22. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    fledarmus1 wrote:

    take 1L of the 6C solution (at ~80 pg/ml, that’s ~80 ug of gold), dilute it to 200C (I’m not sure I understand homeopathy math – that gives 33.3 L, right?)

    You don’t understand homeopathy math. 200C is not 6C diluted 33.3 times it is 6C diluted 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times (that is 388 = (200-6)x2 zeroes) .

    At about 120 zeroes you have roughly the number of proton-sized balls that fit inside the visible universe. I suspect that lots of homeopaths also don’t understand homeopaths math. Avogadro to them is just the name of an Italian guy from about 200 years ago, so his science must be superseded. Actually the first determination of the Avogadro number is closer to the end of the 19th century. Avogadro merely conjectured that equal volumes of gasses at the same pressure and temperature contain the same number of molecules.

  23. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    Drat! the zeroes run off my page. Here they are reformatted
    (30 to a line, so you can count them better)
    10,
    000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
    000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
    000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
    000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
    000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
    000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
    000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
    000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
    000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
    000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
    000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
    000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,
    000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

  24. mousethatroared says:

    MerColOzcopy “So essentially what you’re saying here is that Homeopathic is water with a little bit of crap. Hmmm, sounds like tap water. So, if you take your doctor prescribed medication with water, and the effects are favourable, how do you know if it is the medication or the “Homeopathic” water that is curing you??? Hey, hey?”

    …Or maybe, if you start having shortness of breath, headaches and fatigue it’s actually a side effect from your “homeopathic” tap water, or bottled water for that matter (or the water in your morning latte, etc). Except people seldom come to that conclusion. Because when you start considering every nano particle you take a medication, particularily to the exclusion of more obvious causes (like checking you heater for a carbon monoxide leak)….that way lies madness.

  25. Mouse – great point. Maybe it is the water – or even the Homeopathic Vodka (http://www.homeopathicvodka.com) – that is “curing” people.

    I sometimes wonder if the water I drink remembers the statin and if me actually taking the statin with water is reducing (negating?) the benefit.

  26. Mojo says:

    @Jan Willem Nienhuys

    Avogadro to them is just the name of an Italian guy from about 200 years ago, so his science must be superseded.

    I don’t see how they could possibly use that reasoning. After all, Hahnemann is just the name of a German guy from about 200 years ago.

  27. peicurmudgeon says:

    No matter how many times you dilute, there is the possibility of finding a few molecules of the original product in some of the end dilutions, especially if the mixing is incomplete. So in some studies some small amount of molecules may be found in the final product. The number of pills that would have any of these molecules would be extremely small and have no influence on any treatment regimen.

    Of course, even if a molecule or two found their way into the final product it says nothing about the concept of ‘like cures like’ or anything else about the efficacy of homoeopathic treatments.

  28. Always Curious says:

    Tap water is safer (and cheaper)! At least tap water is regulated by the EPA and regularly tested for hazardous contaminants!

    I continued reading about the techniques in the rest of their paper–it looks like there is at least one chemist’s work that they (heavily “borrowed”. They lifted the entire vocabulary & explanations of the physical chemistry behind ultrasound applications and applied it lock, stock, and barrel to explain homeopathy. One simple problem: homeopathy isn’t run under ultrasonic conditions. Those dust pictures sure look nice–sorta spendy though.

  29. Jan Willem Nienhuys says:

    Mojo writes:

    I don’t see how they could possibly use that reasoning. After all, Hahnemann is just the name of a German guy from about 200 years ago.

    I hoped someone would say that. Homeopaths are extremely selective. Not only Avogadro is discarded, all science that came after him is ignored as well, except when it can be used to obfuscate the issue (homeopathy is energy medicine / some kind a quantum entanglement is working here / basically it is hormesis / stimulate the immune system … )

  30. mousethatroared says:

    @sarniaskeptic- Homeopathic Vodka? I just realized can make my own homeopathic martini’s (In my shaker) and OMG they must be right about dilution causing the opposite effects of the original ingredient, because when I drink homeopathic martini’s I get the opposite of drunk.

  31. Ken Hamer says:

    “Seems like he contradicts himself out of the gate in an effort to use a sciencey high tech sounding word.”

    That’s ’cause he’s actually a scientician.

  32. Mojo says:

    @Jan Willem Nienhuys

    Basically, anything that Hahnemann didn’t know about can be ignored, unless it suits them.

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