“Highly diluted homeopathic remedies cannot possibly work beyond a placebo effect because there is nothing in them”. This is the argument, we often hear. It is, I think correct. But homeopaths have always disagreed. Hahnemann claimed that the healing power of his remedies was due to a ‘vital force’, and for a long time his followers repeated this mantra. Nowadays, it sounds too obsolete to be taken seriously, and homeopaths came up with new theories as to how their remedies work. The current favourite is the ‘nano-theory’.

This article explains it quite well: “… some of the most exciting findings have been in the world of tiny nano-particles.   Nano-particles are described as particles between 1 and 100 nanometers in size.  For an idea of scale, a nanometer is 1 billionth of a meter.  A single atom is one-tenth of a nanometer, and subatomic particles are still smaller than that.  Quantum mechanics (the study of these very small particles) has shown that these tiny particles can and do have impact our macro world, and can be useful in everything from medical PET scans to quantum computing. But the breakthrough that I’m most excited about is the latest study around nano-particles which has shown that at the very highest prescription strength dilutions of a homeopathic substance (50M) there are still nano-particles of the original substance that exist.  Further, not only did researchers discover that these particles exist, but they showed that they had demonstrable effects when tests were run on homeopathic dilutions versus a control substance…”


So, the claim is that, during the process of potentisation of a homeopathic remedy, nano-particles of the original stock are formed. Therefore, even ultra-molecular dilutions are not devoid of material but do contain tiny bits of what is says on the bottle. This is the reason why homeopaths now claim WE WERE RIGHT ALL ALONG; HOMEOPATHY WORKS!!!

I Have several problems with this assumption:

  • The nano-particles have been shown by just 1 or 2 research groups. I would like to see independent confirmations of their findings because I am not convinced that this is not simply an artefact without real meaning.
  • Even if we accept the ‘nano-theory’ for a moment, there are numerous other issues.
  • What about the many homeopathic remedies that use stock which is not material by nature, for instance, X-ray, luna, etc.? Do we need to assume that there are also nano-particles of non-materials?
  • And for remedies that are based on a material stock (like arnica or nux vomica, or Berlin Wall, for instance), how do the nano-particles generate heath effects? How do a few nano-particles of arnica make cuts and bruises heal faster? How do nano-particles of nux vomica stop a patient from vomiting? How do nano-particles of the Berlin Wall do anything at all?

If the ‘nano-theory’ were true (which I doubt very much), it totally fails to provide an explanation as to how homeopathy works. This explanation would still need to be identified for each of the thousands of different remedies in separate investigations.

If nano-particles are truly generated during the potentisation process, it proves almost nothing. All it would show is that shaken water differs from unshaken water. The water in my kitchen sink also differs from pure water; this, however, does not mean that it has healing properties.

My conclusion: there is no plausible mode of action of highly diluted homeopathic remedies.

14 Responses to Is homeopathy ‘nano-medicine’?

  • I always wondered what happened to nouvelle cuisine after its brief fashion during the Madness of Queen Thatcher.
    Now I know! It’s still around, only now the portions aren’t just small, they’re completely invisible to all but the more credulous diners.
    The restaurants charge the same price, and the diners leave, feeling smugly satisfied but without the’full’ feeling that real food so often causes, plus the wallet, being lighter, is easier to carry home!
    It’s a win- win situation for everybody!

  • Prof. Ernst, I really love studies like the one by Cartwright. The key sentences are:

    “Serially diluted and succussed solutions (homeopathic potencies) of a range of compounds, including glycerol 50 M, were obtained from Helios Homeopathy Ltd Tunbridge Wells, UK or Ainsworths Homeopathic Pharmacy, London, UK and were diluted 10 fold into 90%” and “Glycerol is serially diluted and succussed by hand up to the 200c potency.”

    As has been (likely unwillingly) demonstrated by several other papers and a case of poisoning by belladonna, homeopathic companies have problems with the succussion process. I.o.W. is paper is a quality control sheet rather than a scientific publication.

    However, the questions remain, did they measure glycerol nanoparticles ? Did they check the dilution/succussion process ? Apparently not – and that leaves a HUGE gap in their study.

    Aside that, there are nanoparticles in the water they use … so what ?Homeopathy violates so many scientific theories that this does not help one little bit – except for the marketing department.

  • No, quantum mechanics is not the study of nanoparticles. It operates on an even smaller scale. I would not trust anything published by the Homeopathy Research Institute (a tautology if ever there was one). The lead paper they refer to is `in press’, so can’t be checked, and of the other three two are in the journal `Homeopathy’. The remaining paper cited is available via ResearchGate, and begins:

    “Despite positive meta-analyses of hundreds of studies[1–4], the clinical efficiency of ultrahighly diluted substances, as used in the homeopathic practice, remains controversial[5,6].”

    So the authors are immediately exposed as biased in favour of homeopathy.

  • Calling it the ‘nano theory’ is, in my opinion, giving it too much weight. It might qualify as an hypothesis, but a theory is far more advanced that what is being proposed.

  • As ever, the materials and methods section in the paper tells you just about all you need to know:

    Homeopathic potencies

    Serially diluted and succussed solutions (homeopathic potencies) of a range of compounds, including glycerol 50 M, were obtained from Helios Homeopathy Ltd Tunbridge Wells, UK or Ainsworths Homeopathic Pharmacy, London, UK and were diluted 10 fold into 90% ethanol/10% ROW to ensure consistent solvent composition. Potencies are sold as made in 90% ethanol/10% ROW, but the above step was taken as a further precaution to ensure solvent equivalence with control solutions. Glycerol 50 M is a homeopathic potency prepared by the Korsakoff method. Glycerol is serially diluted and succussed by hand up to the 200c potency. Thereafter potentisation is performed mechanically. At each step a portion of solution is first diluted 100 fold, and then subjected to 10 succussion strokes. 50 M means the homeopathic medicine has gone through 50,000 such cycles. A total of 500,000 succussion strokes have therefore been imparted with an effective dilution factor of 10050000. ROW is used throughout the potentisation process.

    So, they acquired some commercial grade, unlicensed and unregistered homeopathic products that had been produced (partially) by the Korsakoff method. They were aware of contamination issues while conducting the tests they did, but they don’t seem to have checked or even considered the implications of the ‘purity’ of their main test samples. They seemed to have assumed rather a lot. The results they found may have more prosaic explanations.

    Their reasons for choosing glycerol are also worth noting:

    Glycerol is a low molecular weight compound that can be obtained at very high purity levels, is pharmacologically inactive in material doses and is fully miscible with both water and ethanol. In addition it is very closely related structurally to both water and ethanol. It was therefore considered that glycerol may be more likely than most substances to produce results that represent the potentisation process itself, free of any specific homeopathic effects that might have derived from the starting material, especially where that substance is chemically reactive or pharmacologically active.

    So, even if their results were correct, it’s difficult to see how they thought they could extrapolate to products with ‘specific homeopathic effects’ (whatever they meant by that). Bizarrely, they say:

    Although results given are with glycerol 50 M only, a large number of homeopathic remedies in different potencies have been tested and their effects found to be similar to those presented here.

    Yet they do not provide the results… so presumably expect us to take it on trust?

    • Alan, The paper also stated:

      Time course experiments were performed to investigate how the changes in spectra evolved over time. The effect of Glycerol 50M on the dyes was found to build steadily over time, reaching a maximum effect after 1 to 2 hours, and was then lost over the following 12 to 18 hours.

      I shall refrain from writing a suitably sarcastic comment on those “time course expeiments”!

  • The three problems of homeopathy are:

    1. There is no reason to suppose it should work, as like does not cure like;
    2. There is no way it can work, as no property of matter is consistent with homeopathic doctrine;
    3. There is no proof it does work, as all results are consistent with placebo.

    Studies like this aim to wave away all three by suggesting a slim possibility of something that might at best rise to the level of a caveat in the second item.

  • Nanoparticles are not the same as “a few molecules.” Nanoparticles are a whole lot of substance X that behaves as many independent particles or clumps, as opposed to something like a brick–or even a speck of brick dust, where physical properties are influenced by the billions of interacting molecules.

    Shaking and diluting will not turn normal particles into nanoparticles. Even if the remedy does contain nanoparticles, the laws of chemistry remain the same. A tiny few of remaining particles can cause no more than a tiny action, and a tiny few nanoparticles can no more than a different but still tiny action.

    • Exactly. Even wikipedia article says – The term “nanoparticle” is not usually applied to individual molecules; it usually refers to inorganic materials.

  • “If the ‘nano-theory’ were true (which I doubt very much), it totally fails to provide an explanation as to how homeopathy works.”
    It does not work. There is nothing to explain and any attempt at explanation is meaningless in the first place.

  • Homeopathic Remedies Will Be the Pharmacological Means of Evidence for Informational Medicine Journal of
    Pharmacology & Clinical Research ISSN: 2473-5574

    • LOL! That is as ignorant and ill-informed as any I’ve read.

      Let me quote a quantum physicist:

      Let me make this very clear: if you think QM allows for homeopathy, psychic phenomena, ESP etc then you’d better take a proper course in QM

    • @Mordeniz Cengiz

      If you cite a publication it would be most kind of you to give at least a short indication of why you think it’s important or significant. To save others the bother of looking, the article you refer to is an opinion piece (a.k.a. cherry-picking short review) that is a marvellous example of someone using sciency-sounding words to explain something that, as Halvard Heggdal already pointed out, doesn’t need explaining in the first place.

      Here’s the summary. “Homeopathy follows the rule of similar and uses potentated substances called remedies carrying information. Although some empirical evidence exists, there is little academic research and lack of a theoretical model to explain its effects. Homeopathy uses two instances of generalized entanglement: one between the remedy and the original substance (potentiation principle) and one between the individual symptoms of a patient and the general symptoms of a remedy picture (similarity principle). The remedy, itself is one entangled state and the homeopathic method is another entangled state between the symptomatology of the patient and the remedial substance. The homeopathic remedy is the substance which is not present and would become a kind of receptacle which ‘absorbs’ symptoms the whole symptom picture is also coherent.

      Homeopathic treatment acts on the information level, but no physical explanation is given yet for the nature of the energy changes. Quantum mechanics seems to be a way to understand the success of homeopathic medicine in a physical context. To explain the therapeutic mode of homeopathic action, both ‘local’ bio-molecular mechanisms, such as the memory of water and ‘non-local’ macro-entanglement, such as patient-practitioner-remedy (PPR) can be imagined as interacting quantum-like fields; patients and practitioners in terms of quantum matter-type fields, and remedies and diseases as quantum interaction-type fields. Since quantum properties can be physical without being observable, a similarity could exist between homeopathy and quantum theory which could be useful for modeling the homeopathic process.”

      The paper falls into the category of “if it mentions quantum anything in the context of pseudo-medicine, it is almost certainly bunk.

      For regular readers of this blog, the paper contains the following fascinating explanation (novel to me) for why randomized controlled trials are no use for testing something like homeopathy. “Blind RCTs are an inadequate research tool for testing complex therapies such as homeopathy. The negative effect of blinding on the success of homeopathy trials and the ‘smearing effect’ (‘specific’ effects of homeopathy medicine occurring in the placebo group) are described by quantum-like probabilities. Besides the ‘classical’ hypothesis of local causality, other authors used concepts derived from quantum physics, such as non-locality and entanglement.” So there!

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