16 February 2008

Homeopathy myths: It’s ‘just water’:2

The Homeopathy Research Institute  observes: ‘Opponents of homeopathy often refer to the simplicity of the water molecule as a key argument why homeopathy cannot work. “It’s just water!” they say’ and comment ‘It’s hard to realise just how complex a substance water really is’:

From London South Bank University “Water Structure and Science” by Martin Chaplin

Water Anomalies

Water is an apparently simple molecule (H2O) with a highly complex character. As a gas it is one of lightest known, as a liquid it is much denser than expected and as a solid it is much lighter than expected. Much of the behavior of liquid water is quite different from what is found with other liquids, giving rise to the term ‘the anomalous properties of water’. a

As liquid water is so common-place in our everyday lives, it is often regarded as a ‘typical’ liquid. In reality water is most atypical as a liquid, behaving as a quite different material at low temperatures to that when it is hot. It has often been stated (for example, [127]) that life depends on these anomalous properties of water. In particular, the large heat capacity, high thermal conductivity and high water content in organisms contribute to thermal regulation and prevent local temperature fluctuations, thus allowing us to more easily control our body temperature. The high latent heat of evaporation gives resistance to dehydration and considerable evaporative cooling. Water is an excellent solvent due to its polarity, high dielectric constant and small size, particularly for polar and ionic compounds and salts.b It has unique hydration properties towards biological macromolecules (particularly proteins and nucleic acids) that determine their three-dimensional structures, and hence their functions, in solution. This hydration forms gels that can reversibly undergo the gel-sol phase transitions that underlie many cellular mechanisms [351]. Water ionizes and allows easy proton exchange between molecules, so contributing to the richness of the ionic interactions in biology.

At 4°C water expands on heating OR cooling. This density maximum together with the low ice density results in (i) the necessity that all of a body of fresh water (not just its surface) is close to 4°C before any freezing can occur, (ii) the freezing of rivers, lakes and oceans is from the top down, so permitting survival of the bottom ecology, insulating the water from further freezing, reflecting back sunlight into space and allowing rapid thawing, and (iii) density driven thermal convection causing seasonal mixing in deeper temperate waters carrying life-providing oxygen into the depths. The large heat capacity of the oceans and seas allows them to act as heat reservoirs such that sea temperatures vary only a third as much as land temperatures and so moderate our climate (for example, the Gulf stream carries tropical warmth to northwestern Europe). The compressibility of water reduces the sea level by about 40 m giving us 5% more land [65]. Water’s high surface tension plus its expansion on freezing encourages the erosion of rocks to give soil for our agriculture.

Notable amongst the anomalies of water are the opposite properties of hot and cold water, with the anomalous behavior more accentuated at low temperatures where the properties of supercooled water often diverge from those of hexagonal ice.c As cold liquid water is heated it shrinks, it becomes less easy to compress, its refractive index increases, the speed of sound within it increases, gases become less soluble and it is easier to heat and conducts heat better. In contrast as hot liquid water is heated it expands, it becomes easier to compress, its refractive index reduces, the speed of sound within it decreases, gases become more soluble and it is harder to heat and a poorer conductor of heat. With increasing pressure, cold water molecules move faster but hot water molecules move slower. Hot water freezes faster than cold water and ice melts when compressed except at high pressures when liquid water freezes when compressed. No other material is commonly found as solid, liquid and gas.d

The anomalies of water appear as a heirarchy of effects with different bounds [169]. These are shown indicatively opposite as derived from modeling, not experimental data. The ‘Structural’ bounds indicate where water is more disordered when compressed, the ‘Dynamic’ bounds indicate where diffusion increases with density, and the ‘Thermodynamic’ bounds show where there is a temperature of maximum density; with the data from [169] shifted upwards 38 K to give the correct temperature of maximum density under standard pressure. As density always increases with increasing pressure, a similar relationship holds with pressure along the horizontal axis. Heirarchy of anomalies, based on SPC/E model of Ref. 169. This graph is indicative only and does not show experimental points

Water phase anomalies e

  1. Water has unusually high melting point. [Explanation]
  2. Water has unusually high boiling point. [Explanation]
  3. Water has unusually high critical point. [Explanation]
  4. Solid water exists in a wider variety of stable (and metastable) crystal and amorphous structures than other materials. [Explanation]
  5. The thermal conductivity of ice reduces with increasing pressure. [Explanation]
  6. The structure of liquid water changes at high pressure. [Explanation]
  7. Supercooled water has two phases and a second critical point at about -91°C. [Explanation]
  8. Liquid water is easily supercooled but glassified with difficulty. [Explanation]
  9. Liquid water exists at very low temperatures and freezes on heating. [Explanation]
  10. Liquid water may be easily superheated. [Explanation]
  11. Hot water may freeze faster than cold water; the Mpemba effect. [Explanation]
  12. Warm water vibrates longer than cold water. [Explanation]

Water density anomalies

  1. The density of ice increases on heating (up to 70 K). [Explanation]
  2. Water shrinks on melting. [Explanation]
  3. Pressure reduces ice’s melting point. [Explanation]
  4. Liquid water has a high density that increases on heating (up to 3.984°C). [Explanation]
  5. Pressure reduces the temperature of maximum density. [Explanation]
  6. There is a minimum in the density of supercooled water. [Explanation]
  7. Water has a low coefficient of expansion (thermal expansivity). [Explanation]
  8. Water’s thermal expansivity reduces increasingly (becoming negative) at low temperatures. [Explanation]
  9. Water’s thermal expansivity increases with increased pressure. [Explanation]
  10. The number of nearest neighbors increases on melting. [Explanation]
  11. The number of nearest neighbors increases with temperature. [Explanation]
  12. Water has unusually low compressibility. [Explanation]
  13. The compressibility drops as temperature increases up to 46.5°C. [Explanation]
  14. There is a maximum in the compressibility-temperature relationship. [Explanation]
  15. The speed of sound increases with temperature up to 74°C. [Explanation]
  16. The speed of sound may show a minimum. [Explanation]
  17. ‘Fast sound’ is found at high frequencies and shows an discontinuity at higher pressure. [Explanation]
  18. NMR spin-lattice relaxation time is very small at low temperatures. [Explanation]
  19. The refractive index of water has a maximum value at just below 0°C. [Explanation]
  20. The change in volume as liquid changes to gas is very large. [Explanation]

Water material anomalies

  1. No aqueous solution is ideal. [Explanation]
  2. D2O and T2O differ significantly from H2O in their physical properties. [Explanation]
  3. Liquid H2O and D2O differ significantly in their phase behavior. [Explanation]
  4. Solutes have varying effects on properties such as density and viscosity. [Explanation]
  5. The solubilities of non-polar gases in water decrease with temperature to a minimum and then rise. [Explanation]
  6. The dielectric constant of water is high. [Explanation]
  7. The dielectric constant shows a temperature maximum. [Explanation]
  8. Proton and hydroxide ion mobilities are anomalously fast in an electric field. [Explanation]
  9. The electrical conductivity of water rises to a maximum at about 230°C. [Explanation]
  10. Acidity constants of weak acids show temperature minima. [Explanation]
  11. X-ray diffraction shows an unusually detailed structure. [Explanation]
  12. Under high pressure water molecules move further away from each other with increasing pressure. [Explanation]

Water thermodynamic anomalies

  1. The heat of fusion of water with temperature exhibits a maximum at -17°C. [Explanation]
  2. Water has over twice the specific heat capacity of ice or steam. [Explanation]
  3. The specific heat capacity (CP and CV) is unusually high. [Explanation]
  4. The specific heat capacity CP has a minimum at 36°C. [Explanation]
  5. The specific heat capacity (CP) has a maximum at about -45°C. [Explanation]
  6. The specific heat capacity (CP) has a minimum with respect to pressure. [Explanation]
  7. The heat capacity (CV) has a maximum. [Explanation]
  8. High heat of vaporization. [Explanation]
  9. High heat of sublimation. [Explanation]
  10. High entropy of vaporization. [Explanation]
  11. The thermal conductivity of water is high and rises to a maximum at about 130°C. [Explanation]

Water physical anomalies

  1. Water has unusually high viscosity. [Explanation]
  2. Large viscosity increase as the temperature is lowered. [Explanation]
  3. Water’s viscosity decreases with pressure below 33°C. [Explanation]
  4. Large diffusion decrease as the temperature is lowered. [Explanation]
  5. At low temperatures, the self-diffusion of water increases as the density and pressure increase. [Explanation]
  6. The thermal diffusivity rises to a maximum at about 0.8 GPa. [Explanation]
  7. Water has unusually high surface tension. [Explanation]
  8. Some salts give a surface tension-concentration minimum; the Jones-Ray effect. [Explanation]
  9. Some salts prevent the coalescence of small bubbles. [Explanation]

Anomalies of water graph


Some of the anomalies of water related to temperature.

The graph uses data that have been scaled between their maximum and minimum values (see original data).

a   Whether or not the properties of water are seen to be anomalous depends upon which materials water is to be compared and the interpretation of ‘anomalous’. For example, it could well be argued that water possesses exactly those properties that one might deduce from its structure (see for example, [402]). Other tetrahedrally interacting liquids, such as liquid Si, SiO2 and BeF2 have many similar ‘anomalies’. Comparisons between water, liquid sodium, argon and benzene appear to Franks [112] to indicate several of the properties given above as not being anomalous. However, these materials are perhaps not the most typical of liquids. My list gives the unusual properties generally understood to make liquid water (and ice) stand out from ‘typical’ liquids (or solids). See [242] for a review concentrating on the non-anomalous properties of water; that is, those that are the ‘same’ as for other liquids. [Back]b    It is therefore very difficult to obtain really pure water (for example, < 5 ng g-1). For a review of aqueous solubility prediction, see [744]. Note that ice, in contrast, is a very poor solvent and this may be made use of when purifying water (for example, degassing) using successive freeze-thaw cycles. [Back]c    Some scientists attribute the low temperature anomalous nature of water to the presence of a second critical point; an interesting if somewhat unproductive hypothesis as a sole explanation (as the attribution mixes cause with effect). Water’s anomalies do not require this as an explanation. [Back]d    The temperature range of ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ water varies in these examples; see the individual entries for details. [Back]e    The anomalies of water are divided into groups but, clearly, some anomalies may be included under more than one topic and there may not be universal agreement for the groupings shown. [Back]Re skeptic comments: links to and brief summaries of peer-reviewed articles or reasonable blogs discussing the above will be accepted. H4H.  


13 February 2008

Homeopathy myths: it’s ‘just water’

The Homeopathy Research Institute  (aims: ‘To perform and promote innovative research of the highest scientific standard in the field of homeopathy.  To enable and encourage communication between the scientific community, the medical profession, professional homeopaths, the media and the public at large’)

reports in its February newsletter:


It’s not ‘just’ water

“It’s hard to realise just how complex a substance water really is.  Water is everywhere; it covers 2/3 of the earth’s surface and makes up 60-70% of the human body.  In our daily life, we only know water as either a liquid, ice or vapour. However upon closer inspection, scientists have catalogued 15 different types of ice1, which can be admired in the intricate designs of snow flakes and the amazing pictures of water crystals taken by Dr Imoto2This complexity is due to the precise structure of the water molecule, making water one of the most complex substances known to science3.

Opponents of homeopathy often refer to the simplicity of the water molecule as a key argument why homeopathy cannot work. “It’s just water!” they say.  However this is not the case as has now been shown by several fields of science outside of homeopathy4.

In the field of toxicology there is a known and documented phenomenon known as ‘hormesis’4A substance showing hormesis has the property that it has the opposite effect in small doses, than in large doses.  This supports the use of tautopathy, where homeopathic doses of a toxin are given to accelerate the detoxification of that same toxin (e.g. Arsenic).

Furthermore, in the field of material sciences, there is a phenomenon known as ‘epitaxis’.  This phenomenon is used in the industrial manufacture of semiconductors for microprocessors.  Epitaxy refers to the transfer of structural information from one substance to another, which can happen at the interface between the two substances.  This transfer of structure information can remain after the original substance has disappeared from the system.  This is very similar to the theory of homeopathic dilutions, the only difference being that epitaxy is known to happen in crystaline materials but not in liquids such as water5.

More recently, experiments using the light emission spectrum (Raman and Ultra-Violet-Visible spectroscopy) of homeopathic water vs normal water have shown that homeopathically prepared water has a different molecular structure than normal water6.  Although these are preliminary results they do indicate that homeopathic remedies are not ‘just water’, something has remained of the originally diluted substance.

Finally I want to return to the work of the late Dr Benveniste (1935-2004).  Benveniste’s original publication in 1988 in Nature7 – science’s most prestigious journal – created outrage in the scientific community all over the world.  It showed that dilutions beyond Avogadro’s number (behond which there is no trace of the original substance left in the solution, corresponding to –12C) have a reproducible biological effect onliving cells.  The scandal eventually let do Benveniste having to resign from his position as director of the CNRS, France’s main governmental science agency.  It is reassuring that his results have since then been reproduced and confirmed, showing that indeed highly (homeopathically) diluted substances retain a biological activity akin to that of the substance in its crude form8-9.

In this brief overview of the science of water I hope I have managed to convey some of the strong scientific arguments that support the theory of homeopathic dilutions and thus the validity of the homeopathic principle of potentisation.”

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ice

2. http://www.masaru-emoto.net and his books such as ‘Messages from water’.

3. http://www.lsbu.ac.uk/water/anmlies.html 

4. Mastrangelo D., (2007) ‘Hormesis, epitaxy, the structure of liquid water, and the science of homeopathy’. Med Sci Monit 13 (1):SR1-8.

5. Roy R. (2005) “The Structure of Liquid Water; Novel Insights from Materials Research; Potential Relevance to Homeopathy.” Material Research Innovations. 9 (4), pg 577-608.

6. Rao ML (2007) “The defining role of structure (including epitaxy) in the plausibility of homeopathy”. Homeopathy. 96 (3); 175-82

7. E Davenas & J Benveniste (1988). “Human basophil degranulation triggered by very dilute antiserum against IgE” Nature 816 – 818

8. Belon P. (1999) “Inhibition of human basophil degranulation by successive histamine dilutions: results of a European multi-centre trial.”, 48 Suppl 1: S17-8

9. Belon P etal (2004). “Histamine dilutions modulate basophil activation”. Inflamm Res. 53 (5):181-8

More discussion on water memory here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_memory

Interesting description of hormesis here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hormesis ‘The biochemical mechanisms by which hormesis works are not well understood. It is conjectured that a low dose challenge with a toxin may trigger certain repair mechanisms in the body, and these mechanisms, having been initiated, are efficient enough that they not only neutralize the toxin’s effect, but even repair other defects not caused by the toxin.’

18 January 2008

Homeopathy myths: It’s a drop in the ocean

A response to my explanation today by Jeff Garrington:

“In homeopathy each succussion takes place in the small environment of a closed test tube and involves a relatively very small amount of water.” Surely this isn’t the case with Helios, Nelsons and other manufacturers of Homeopathic Water.
Or am I mistaken, are thousands employed shaking test tubes.

My reply:

“JG: You are mistaken.

Remedies were laboriously handmade but now many homeopathic pharmacies use Korsakoff machines where ONE vial is emptied (the small residue in the bottle being considered the ‘one drop’) and refilled and succussed to the required potency over hours or days.”

Here is Helios’s page: http://www.helios.co.uk/Helios%20Potentising%20machine.html

Here is a picture of the machine:

Helios Homoeopathy High Potency Korsakoff Machine

No swimming pools or oceans required.

More myth-busting at http://www.homeopathyworkedforme.org/

It continues to amaze me how skeptics are ignorant of the facts of the therapy they love to hate (although to be fair to Jeff he isn’t too bad).

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