by Pratap Ravindran
The emergence of homoeopathic medicines as over-the-counter (OTC) products
in India coincides with the presentation of a paper by Swiss chemist
The paper, which is to be published in the reputed Physica A
journal shortly, says even though they should be identical, the structure of
hydrogen bonds in pure water is very different from that in homeopathic
dilutions of salt solutions.
This view assumes significance in the context of the fact that scientists
reject the theory that water retains a memory of substances dissolved in it
- a theory central to homeopathy, the practitioners of which treat their
patients with formulations so dilute that they may not contain even a single
molecule of the active compound.
In fact, the proposition that water has
"memory" had cost one of France’s top allergy researchers, Dr.
Jacques Benveniste, his funding and his reputation in 1988.
Dr Rey has now revived the "memory of water" theory with his findings based
on the use of thermo-luminescence to study the structure of solids and
technique involving bathing a chilled sample with radiation. When the
temperature of the sample increases, the stored energy is released as light
in a pattern that reveals the atomic structure of the sample.
The Swiss chemist, in order to test the basic tenet of homoeopathy that
patterns of hydrogen bonds can survive successive dilutions, tested samples
diluted to a notional 10-30 grams per cubic cm - far beyond the point at
which any ions of the original substance could remain.
When he compared the
ultra-dilute lithium and sodium chloride samples with pure water subjected
to the same process, he found that the difference in their
thermo-luminescence peaks was still present. According to Dr Rey, this
finding proves that the networks of hydrogen bonds in the samples were
But not all are convinced. Some experts on water and hydrogen bonding argue
that Dr Rey’s rationale for water memory is not very persuasive as most
hydrogen bonding in liquid water rearranges when frozen and that the thermo-luminescence peaks observed by the Swiss chemist occurred at about
the temperatures where ice is known to undergo transitions between different
phases. Others, however, believe that Dr Rey’s findings fall well within the
parameters of good physics.
The last time homoeopathy received a fillip from mainstream science was in
2001 when a research team in South Korea made a chance discovery that
challenged the conventional wisdom that dissolved molecules may not spread
farther apart as a solution is diluted and that they may, in fact, come
together, initially as clusters of molecules and then as bigger aggregates
of those clusters.
A German chemist, Dr Kurt Geckeler, and his colleague, Dr Shashadhar Samal,
chanced upon this wholly counter-intuitive effect when investigating
fullerenes at the Kwangju Institute of Science and Technology in
They reported that the football-shaped buckyball molecules formed
untidy aggregates in solution.
This finding caused a lot of excitement among chemists as they believed that
it provided the first scientifically valid insight into how some
homoeopathic remedies work. Homoeopaths dilute medications several times
over as they believe that the higher the dilution, the more potent the
remedy. Some dilute to "infinity" - that is, until no molecules of the
They maintain that water holds a memory, or "imprint" of the
active ingredient which is more potent than the ingredient itself.