Homeopathy is no fad

MONTREAL - Joe Schwarcz has nothing good to say about homeopathy in his opinion piece of Aug. 31, “Lots of people rely on homeopathy. Can they all be wrong? Yes.”
I say in response to Schwarcz: Sometimes many people making the same choice are actually right.
First of all, let’s look at the history of homeopathy.
Conceived in Germany in the late 1700s, homeopathy quickly grew throughout Europe, then spread to the Americas and India via British colonization. It waned in North America in the early 20th century due in part to progress in conventional medicine, and due in part due to persecution. But it began its current resurgence in the late 20th century as a result of consumer demand. In the rest of the world, its growth has been relatively constant from the 1800s on.
Homeopathy is now arguably the fastest-growing form of health care both in Canada and the world. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India reported in March 2011 that the world market for homeopathy was worth approximately $5.35 billion — and growing by about 30 per cent annually. Homeopathy is part of the health-care system of many nations. Somewhere between 300 million and 500 million people use it worldwide. This is no fad.
The claim that homeopathy has no scientific basis is simply false. Homeopathy began with experimentation on the part of its founder, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) and has been grounded in empiricism ever since. There are many high-quality studies on homeopathy that speak favourably of it in peer-reviewed journals across a broad number of medical fields — as a simple search on the medical-reference website Pubmed will show.
The largest single study of homeopathy ever published was funded by 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 preventive homeopathic medicine in advance of the time of worst danger. As stated in the resulting paper: “The homeoprophylactic approach was associated with a large reduction of disease incidence and control of the epidemic.”
A comprehensive study showing that homeopathy is more cost-effective than any other form of medicine, traditional or alternative, was commissioned by the government of Switzerland and published in 2011.
Of the meta-analyses on homeopathy that have been published, the majority show findings promising enough to recommend further research in the field.
Homeopathic medicines are diluted so much that most people can’t understand how they can possibly have an effect. But the International Journal of High Dilution Research is looking at this question and researchers seem to be getting close to providing answers. Two testable hypotheses have been proposed this year and are awaiting closer analysis.
These are not quacks or junk scientists doing this work. Dr. Luc Montagnier, Nobel laureate and co-discoverer of the HIV virus, made a presentation last year at a national American homeopathic conference relating to his work on the ability of DNA in high dilutions to emit electromagnetic waves.
Homeopathy detractors who dismiss all this science as bunk are generally not qualified to evaluate it, let alone dismiss it. Scientific progress requires that an observed phenomenon that defies our notion of reality not be dismissed out of hand. The role of science is to investigate properly and objectively, with an open mind to the possibility that widely-held notions of reality may be proven wrong in the process. It has happened many times in the history of science.
 Opinion: Homeopathy is no fad

Karen Wehrstein is executive director of the Toronto-based Canadian Consumers Centre for Homeopathy (www.homeocentre.ca).