From the Greek meaning 'heavy with wine'
A blog devoted to science and reason
Written after a glass or two of Pinot Noir.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Can Water Cure Cancer?


But here's a fellow who seems to think he can cure cancer with water.  A. U. Ramakrishnans is a homeopath.  

Homeopathy was based on the belief that "like cures like," that a substance that causes symptoms similar to a disease can cure that disease.  Many homeopathic remedies are diluted, and herein lies the problem I am addressing.

CREDIT: Welsh Conference of Homeopathy
In this sample of Ramakrishnans' book, A Homeopathic Approach to Cancer, he provides three case studies.  One thing these cases have in common is that they were treated with the remedy carsinosin diluted to 200C. Carsinosin was supposedly derived from the discharge from cancerous breast tumor.  I spent about an hour trying to find a source that told me what this stuff was, but not one homeopathic web site has a description as to its chemical makeup or its biological or chemical source.

For the mathematically inclined, the dilution scale is logarithmic.  For those not so inclined, an increase of 1C is hundred times more diluted.  Let's examine this in more detail.

A 1C dilution means that for every molecule of active ingredient there is 100 molecules of dilutant, usually water or alcohol, but sometimes it's sugar.  A shorthand way of writing this is 1 part per 100, 1/100, or 10^-2. So let's say we have 100 milliliters (3.4 oz) of remedy.  I picked this size since this is the size of a typical travel size liquid container.  The mass of water in this container is 100 grams.  The molecular mass of H2O is 18 grams/ml, so there will be 3.3 X 10^24 molecules of water.  At 1C, there are then 3.3 X 10^22 molecules of remedy.  Now if carcinosin happens to be a fairly typical protein, then there's probably about 2 grams of it in the mixture.

If we now make a 2C dilution there will be 1/100/100 = 10^-4 = 1 part in 10,000.  Now there's 3.3 X 10^22 molecules of remedy. How about 10C?  

Then 1/100/100/100/100/100/100/100/100/100/100 = 10^-20.  In this dilution, there is about 30,000 molecules of remedy, or an amount too small to bother to tell you the mass, but if you have to know, it's 2 billionth billionths of a gram.  Another way to look at this is if we took the original 2 grams of remedy and added water until the same concentration was reached, we would have to add 100,000 trillion liters of water.  That's approximately 1% of all the water in the world's lakes.

If we continue the dilution process to the 12C level, we would only expect just a couple of molecules to be present in the 100 ml of water. Dilute to 13C, and there will be on average no molecules in the remedy.

Now examine Ramakrishnans' book.  In each case study, he prescribes carsinosin diluted to 200C. For there to be a single molecule in a 200C remedy, it would take… Well it's just ridiculous.  We would need a spherical container of water with a radius 10^124 meter.  The observable universe is only 10^27 meters.

Homeopaths contend that water has a memory. I know of no known laws of physics or chemistry that would allow for such an effect.  Besides if water has a memory, then every glass of water you drink has the memory of nearly every human that has ever pissed.

One final note: in 2007, noted magician and skeptic, James Randi attempted suicide by swallowing thirty-two pills, a bottle, of Calm Forte, a homeopathic sleeping aid. Read The Amazing Randi's account of this event and the challenge that grew from it.

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