Cell cultures don't manifest placebo effects.
Moshe Frenkel, MD, and colleagues at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, treated two different human mammary cancer cell lines with homeopathic preparations of Carcinosin (an ultra-dilute preparation of cancerous tissue), Phytolacca (poke weed), Conium (Poison hemlock) and Thuja (a cedar-like evergreen). Outside the US, these remedies are used for cancer care, often in conjunction with conventional treatment.
All four remedies—diluted well beyond the point where one would expect a biochemical effect—none the less showed pronounced cytotoxic effects, arresting cell growth, inducing apoptosis, and altering expression of genes that regulate cell cycles. There were no such effects when the remedies were applied to non-neoplastic breast epithelial cell lines. Carcinosin and Phytolacca had the strongest cytotoxic effects (Frenkel M, et al. Int J Oncol. 2010;36(2):395-403).
The authors note that the effect size for Carsinosin and Phytolacca was on the order of what one sees with paclitaxel (Taxol). They concluded that, "the ultra-diluted natural homeopathic remedies investigated offer the promise of being effective preventive and/or therapeutic agents for breast cancer and worthy of further study." The trial was funded exclusively by MD Anderson, with no commercial support.
Dana Ullman, MPH, author of The Homeopathic Revolution, and a popular Huffington Post blog on homeopathy, said the Frenkel study, "verifies the power of homeopathic medicines. This trial is one of several hundred basic science trials that strongly suggest that the placebo response is inadequate for explaining how homeopathic medicines work."
A New Possibility
"This study raises the exciting possibility of a window of therapeutic opportunity for preferentially eliminating breast cancer cells with minimal damage to the surrounding normal mammary tissue by using homeopathic remedies," Mr. Ullman suggested.
Dr. Frenkel's study is definitely not a cancer treatment trial, so it is a far leap to claim that homeopathy "cures" cancer. But the data clearly indicate that these remedies are bioactive, and that their actions are specific and measurable.
That fact will likely rankle the modality's nay-sayers as much as it is delighting physicians like Elena Klimenko, MD, an integrative internist in New York City, who believes homeopathy warrants a place at the therapeutic table. "Homeopathy is so safe. It can be used in children, pregnant women, the elderly."
Dr. Klimenko received her MD at the Moscow Academy of Medicine. In Russia, homeopathy is not as marginalized from allopathic medicine as it is in this country. While classical homeopathy as defined by Samuel Hahnemann in the 1700s is arcane, time intensive and requires years of study, modern approaches like those taught by the Center for Education & Development of Clinical Homeopathy (www.cedhusa.org) are simpler to master, and designed for integration with conventional medicine.
Remedies Reflect Reaction Patterns
In her own practice, Dr. Klimenko has found homeopathic remedies often augment the efficacy of drug therapies. She routinely gives diabetic patients homeopathic Thuja, and finds they respond better to their prescription meds. "If we can help the body move closer to its balance, everything starts to work better."
Proficiency in homeopathy, like any other medical discipline, does require considerable practice to obtain, but Dr. Klimenko said primary care doctors can begin by learning to use a few simple remedies for minor conditions.
Using the example of cold and flu symptom patterns, she noted that the patient who has high fevers or fever alternating with chills, sweats, and prominent thirst fits the pattern of Belladonna, and will likely respond to homeopathic preparations of Belladonna. In contrast, someone who manifests with less fever but a lot of dry coughing, laryngeal symptoms, and earaches will likely respond to homeopathic Ferrum phosphoricum.
Someone with red eyes, profuse nasal secretions and a lot of congestion will probably respond to Allium cepa (onion). The patient with deep congestion, heavy cough, fatigue and lots of body aches is practically crying out for Kali bichromicum (potassium). "Even though the allopathic diagnosis might be the same, we have different homeopathic remedies for different symptom patterns and different stages in the illness," she explained.
She has had great success with the popular flu remedy called Oscillococcinum, a homeopathic preparation of duck liver. The theory is that duck livers are a major reservoir for influenza A type viruses. Based on the homeopathic principle of "like cures like," the ultra-dilute preparation is thought to down-regulate symptom patterns that would be caused by exposure to the non-dilute substance.
Though the precise mechanism of action has never been proven, there are several clinical trials suggesting that Oscillococcinum can attenuate flu symptoms in humans.
"It only works if the symptoms are caused by Influenza A virus types. It is very specific," said Dr. Klimenko who added that she routinely takes the remedy as prophylaxis every time she gets on a plane. "One dose before take-off." Though it is not promoted as preventive or therapeutic for H1N1, she said she has given it to many of her patients and very few got the flu this past winter.
"I do a lot of clinic work with indigent, homeless people. I never took the flu vaccine, but I did use Oscillo. I was exposed to a lot of sneezing, coughing, very sick people, but I never got sick this year."
The clinical effects of homeopathic remedies and the mechanisms by which they produce these effects certainly warrant more research. Trials like the one just published by Dr. Frenkel's group show clearly that these remedies are capable of producing measurable effects, and that this field of medicine—extremely popular around the world—should no longer be categorically dismissed.