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Editorials Christmas 2009: Years Like This

Secret remedies: 100 years on

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 15 December 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b5432

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"Succussion" and "potentization" of homeopathic products.

Given the popularity of homeopathic medicine, and its strong Royal
support, absence of proof of efficacy should not be taken as proof of
absence of any therapeutic effect despite the irrationality seemingly
inherent in believing that such high dilutions of a medication could
really have a significant therapeutic effects other than of a placebo and
the elimination of toxic effects from orthodox medications.

We know from MRI in patients that the energy transmitted in a
millesecond pulse of radiofrequency (B1 field) alters the spin of the
hydrogen atoms in the strong magnetic field (B0 field) generated by the
scanner and that the original spin is restored when that energy is
released during spin-spin (T2)and spin lattice (T1) relaxation. Might the
preparation of homeopathic products be doing the same thing, energizing
hydrogen nuclei in the potions?

Hahnemann, who established homeopathy, insisted upon the application
of specific procedures during the preparation of his potions and these are
followed to this day. These procedures include most importantly
"succussion", the vigorous shaking of the diluted preparation [apparently
made in a mixture of alcohol and distilled water] and even banging it on a
hard surface. He required this for he had observed in the course of his
preliminary experiments that this greatly increased the potency of his
potions. Hence his term "potentization" to describe it (1). What then of
potential for "relaxation"? Does storage of a homeopathic preparation in a
dark glass bottle delay or prevent it? Do homeopathic products have a use-
by date?

In designing trials to test the efficacy of homeopathic products it
might be worthwhile considering the possibility that freshly "potentized"
potions might be more effective than older preparations. The loss of any
enrgy conferred by "succussion" could be very rapid. It might also be
worthwhile stratifying patients with the intent of identifying conditions
that might render a subset of patients the only responders. Might, for
example, there be inconsistencies in the manner in which "succussion" is
achieved? What of the ratio of alcohol to distilled water? Might that be a
relevant variable?

1. Andrew Locke. Encyclopedia of Homeopathy. DK, London, 2006.

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

09 January 2010
Richard G Fiddian-Green