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French Nobel Medicine Prize winner Luc Montagnier is pictured on October 6, 2008 at the presidential palace in Abidjan. Montagnier dedicated his award to AIDS sufferers and predicted results on a "therapeutic vaccine" for the pandemic within four years. Montagnier and Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, who shared the Nobel prize, discovered the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS by destroying immune cells, one of the scourges of modern times.
Issouf Sanogo / AFP / Getty ImagesFrench Nobel Medicine Prize winner Luc Montagnier is pictured on October 6, 2008 at the presidential palace in Abidjan. Montagnier dedicated his award to AIDS sufferers and predicted results on a "therapeutic vaccine" for the pandemic within four years. Montagnier and Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, who shared the Nobel prize, discovered the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS by destroying immune cells, one of the scourges of modern times. Every now and then, someone in the media falsely claims that there is little or no evidence supporting the practice of homeopathy. They either cherry-pick their references ? as Timothy Caulfield did in Tuesday?s National Post ? or lump homeopathy in with less well-established and non-standardized practices, such as ?faith healing? or ?energy healing,? implying it has less significance than it does. What most Canadians aren?t aware of is homeopathy?s true stature and importance worldwide ? and how fast it is gaining acceptance and both in Canada and abroad. Homeopathy is so well trusted that 300 million patients in more than 80 nations use it. In countries such as the U.K., Brazil, parts of India, Mexico and Cuba, homeopathy is integrated into the health system and covered by public health insurance. In Europe, three out of four people are familiar with it. In Cuba, mass dosing of preventive homeopathic medicines is now used routinely by the public health system for epidemic control. One of the world?s most popular over-the-counter flu medicines ? Oscillococcinum ? is a homeopathic remedy. Homeopathy is arguably the fastest-growing system of medicine in the world. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India reported in March 2011 that India?s market for homeopathy was worth approximately $5.35-billion, and growing by about 30% annually. In the U.S., where the FDA recognizes the 1938 American Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia as the official reference guiding the manufacture of homeopathic medicines, their use has increased fivefold since 1990. Homeopathy is now a regulated health profession in Ontario, and homeopathic medicines are classified by Health Canada. A massive study showing that homeopathy is more cost-effective than any other forms of medicine, traditional or alternative, was commissioned by the government of Switzerland and published in 2011. Perhaps other governments struggling with spiralling health-care costs should take heed. There are, in fact, many promising studies on homeopathy, across a broad number of fields. Of the meta-analyses ? studies measuring the number and results of existing studies ? that have been published, the majority show findings promising enough to recommend further research in the field. The largest single study of homeopathy ever published was conducted under the auspices of the Cuban Ministry of Health in 2007. The populations of the three provinces of Cuba most threatened by the hurricane-triggered disease leptospirosis ? a total of 2.3 million people ? were all given two doses of a preventative homeopathic medicine in advance of the time of worst danger. The result: ?The homeoprophylactic approach was associated with a large reduction of disease incidence and control of the epidemic.? There is no magic or witchcraft in homeopathy. Anyone of any (or no) religious or spiritual tradition can practise it with training, and the patient does not have to believe in it for it to work (else it wouldn?t affect infants, animals and microbes). In homeopathy, positive results require the use of standard and repeatable procedures based on consistent principles, which are the core of the curricula of homeopathic colleges. Homeopathy?s big stumbling block to acceptance is that its medicines are diluted so much that people outside of the field can?t understand how they can possibly have an effect. There are, however many scientists who do have that expertise. So many, that there is an entire journal devoted to the field, the International Journal of High Dilution Research. And they seem to be getting intriguingly close to providing definitive answers. Opponents of homeopathy claim that homeopathic medicines are ?just plain water? with no medicinal properties. But increasing numbers of scientific findings are making it harder to maintain such as stance. One study has found that solutions prepared in the traditional homeopathic way ? through repeated dilutions by mechanical shaking ? have properties unlike plain water, with elements of the dissolved material. Another study suggests the solutions have an affect on living cells in vitro. Yet another study shows that solutions can be distinguished from each other, using the right equipment to determine their contents. And emerging research suggests that homeopathic solutions actually contain nanoparticles of the original dissolved material. It?s not quacks or junk scientists researching high dilutions. Dr. Luc Montagnier, Nobel laureate and co-discoverer of the human immunodeficiency virus, presented at a national American homeopathic conference last year, discussing his work on the ability of DNA in high dilutions to emit electromagnetic waves. The question is: How do we tackle a phenomenon that defies our notion of reality and yet clearly shows promise? The scientific process knows how: Test it, investigate it, measure it with ever-more-sophisticated instruments ? while always staying open to the possibility that even widely-held notions of reality may be proven wrong. Rigorous open-mindedness ? being prepared to give up your preconceptions when evidence contradicts them ? is the core of science. And that?s how the rest of us need to approach this issue, if we are serious about using every option available to alleviate human illness in our health-care system. National Post Karen Wehrstein is the executive director of the Canadian Consumers Centre for Homeopathy (homeocentre.ca), an organization formed in 2011 to educate the public about homeopathy and advocate for freedom of choice in health care.