Christophe R. Merville D. Pharm, joined Boiron, the world’s leading manufacturer of homeopathic medicines, in 1990. Since 2005, Dr. Merville has served as the pharmaceutical development manager at the company’s headquarters in Newtown Square, Pa. In this role, Dr. Merville has created educational training programs for pharmacists and retailers on homeopathy and Boiron’s medicines. He is a sought-after expert on homeopathy and its practical uses for consumers as well as medical experts. Dr. Merville is a frequent guest on radio programs across the U.S. Dr. Merville has also co-authored several published works including Fluorized Anesthetics. In addition to radio appearances and writing, Dr. Merville has presented homeopathic topics at scientific meetings including the alterability of medicines in experimental conditions simulating a tropical climate, and the economical and practical interest of an antiseptic solution of sodium hypochlorite in developing countries.
AS: How did you first become involved with homeopathy?
CM: As a teenager, I was plagued by hay fever and sinus infections. When I was 15, I consulted a physician who was skilled in homeopathy and also acupuncture, as it was common in France at that time. He was able to relieve my allergies, which went decrescendo, but also other problems like apprehension.
During my first internship in a Pharmacy, in 1981, I got more familiar with the Pharmacist’s counseling, and observed that she often used homeopathic medicines, because the patient already had an allopathic treatment for a chronic disease, or was a child or a pregnant woman. I was in charge of resupplying the shelves and cabinets with medicines, so I quickly got familiar with the names and forms of homeopathic medicines. All French pharmacies carry homeopathic medicines, and in each large city, there are one or two “Homeopathic Pharmacies”, where recommendations are almost only for homeopathic medicines.
In pharmacy school, I got 36 hours dedicated to homeopathy. It was an elective, but most students took it, because it was, and still is, considered a part of the pharmacist’s job, like mycology (study of mushrooms).
After 3 years of hospital pharmacy and my military service, I was hired by Boiron to supervise the activity (customer service, manufacturing and distribution) of one of their 33 branches. This was in 1990. This is also when I started to be involved in training. I designed a training module on computer for laboratory technicians, to help them learn and apply the do’s and dont’s of homeopathic manufacturing (no perfumes, use of laminar flow enclosures, double control of ingredients, etc.). I also started to train pharmacists on counseling. Boiron was (and still is) number two in OTC medicines in France.
After 18 months, I joined a larger branch, supervising 60 people and supplying about 1000 pharmacies in western France (Nantes), increasing the teaching activity. I had interns and was able to create continuing education programs for pharmacists and directly teach to students and nurses. We organized cycles of conferences in the nearby cities, with up to 400 pharmacy employees attending.
In 1994, I went to the Boiron USA West Coast facility in Simi Valley California.
AS: Sounds like you really enjoy the teaching aspect. I’m glad there’s another generation learning the proper techniques. Quality control must be a big part of Boiron’s operation. I’m wondering if there is any method of determining if a pellet is “potentized” or has lost its frequency imprint or been neutralized?
CM : Boiron being a pharmaceutical company, Quality Control is required from the start of the manufacturing process to the finished medicine. It is independent from Production and has the power to release or quarantine a batch that would not conform to our own procedures, the good manufacturing practices, and the pharmacopoeia guidelines. For instance, fresh plants arriving at the laboratory are not touched until the Quality Control Department has identified them and done basic controls of their conditions and origin. If you gave me a Boiron medicine lot number, I would be able to tell you the weather on the day the plant used was harvested.
Since homeopathic medicines are often diluted to the point where the current technology cannot detect the presence of the original substance, Quality Control is even more important in our industry. Once a process has been validated (often using fluorescent molecules in low dilutions) and we are certain that it does what it should be doing, it is extremely important that it is repeated exactly the same way, and in the same conditions of operations (air quality, water quality, temperature, air pressure and humidity, etc.). This is so far our only way to make sure that the final product is manufactured properly. For instance, the dilution process, or the medication process needs to be extremely well validated, because they are essential to the quality and reliability of the final medicine.
I am not aware of any reliable test that could yet routinely be used to measure the clinical, physical or biological action of a highly diluted homeopathic medicine. This would be a complete revolution! Maybe in a few years? When such a test exists, all the factors that could influence the homeopathic effect would be studied in detail, and not only by homeopathic laboratories!
AS: Manufacture of remedies is clearly a very precise and highly controlled process. In airports in the U.S. there is a lot of X-raying of people and baggage. Do we know if this affects remedies that are subjected to that radiation?
CM: Of course there are no tests, at least to my knowledge, that would solve the issue once and for all. We know that the energy received during an exposure to an airport scanner is around 0.01 millirem, during 12 seconds in average. This is to be compared to the 310 millirem/year of exposure to natural ionizing radiation (cosmic rays, gamma rays, X rays). Even for frequent flyers, I would say that the increased dose is not significant. We receive a higher dose during the flight itself.
Also, we do not know the exact structure of the homeopathic signal, and whether it is susceptible to be affected by ionizing radiations, or any kind of radiation. If the radiations are powerful enough to affect the structure of the inactive ingredient (sucrose, lactose, alcohol, water) then there’s some reason to think that the medicine’s effect has been changed. Such doses would be of course harmful to living beings.
In general, water solutions, containing alcohol, are less stable than solid forms. Practically, it looks like we shouldn’t be concerned. I regularly use Cocculus and Nux vomica for jet lag, and they go under the scanner for objects when I fly.
AS: Some years ago I read that manufacture of nosodes was forbidden in France. How did that come about? Was this issue ever resolved?
CM: In the 90’s, with the emergence of prion-induced diseases, there was a general concern about the potential transmission of BSE or other diseases through homeopathic medicines prepared from animal tissues (nosodes and sarcodes). The French Agency for Medicines, dependent from the Ministry of Health (the equivalent of our FDA), required that the sales of all nosodes be discontinued until their mode of preparation was validated for safety. So, for a period of a few months, Boiron and all French based labs stop distributing the nosodes. Boiron presented the validated manufacturing processes to the ministry of health and progressively, the nosodes were available again. The last one was, if I remember, Luesinum (Syphilinum), which is quite difficult to obtain. Please note that the manufacturing modes were such that the medicines had always been safe. The Ministry wanted a validation of these processes to demonstrate that no contamination was possible. So, there was no misunderstanding of homeopathy, but just the request for additional controls to be certain that all homeopathic medicines were safe and could not be considered as agents for the propagation of prionic diseases.
AS: I’m relieved to hear that was resolved. If you were making a water potency for a patient with liver problems, or a recovering alcoholic, and you didn’t want to preserve with alcohol, how could you preserve the remedy?
CM: Traditionally, very good brandy was used, mixed with water, to prepare the dilutions… Today, we use 70% alcohol, and the final dilution is prepared in 20% alcohol, which is still high. Dilutions can be delivered in water, but they are not stable. Alcohol acts as a preservative to decrease the contamination, once the bottle has been opened. Dilutions in water must always been kept in a cold place, but not frozen, once they are opened.
The alternative is to use the solid forms: pellets and tablets. They offer many advantages: they are more affordable, much more stable, alcohol free, more convenient to take, easy to store, and they taste better. Tablets and pellets contain lactose and sucrose, but not in such quantities that blood sugar levels are changed, or lactose intolerance symptoms are triggered.
For infants, or people that really cannot take pellets or tablets, I recommend to dissolve them in 2 oz of pure water and drink it. This preparation is not stable because it contains sugar and water, so it must be either prepared when needed, or renewed every day. There is no need to succuss this mix, because we are not preparing a higher dilution. It works very well for infants.
AS: How does Boiron decide what new materials to turn into remedies? How do they locate and obtain raw materials for remedies?
CM: Boiron focuses on researching the activity of existing medicines, rather than experimenting on new ones. So, very few new strains have been added this last 20 years. Additionally, each new strain needs to be registered and Boiron is focusing in France on the existing ones. But I can tell that we would try to find a stable and reliable source of new raw material if needed. To harvest or get the raw materials, Boiron relies on professional harvesters, botanists and zoologists. They must respect a long list of specifications in order to make sure that the plant is harvested from the wild, is healthy, genetically diverse (no GMOs!!), exempt of parasites, and has grown far away from sources of pollution. We prefer harvesting after a few dry days to avoid too much humidity. And sometimes, the harvesters bring us back only a fraction of the quantity requested, because they feel picking more would jeopardize the plant survival. We gather in protected areas, such as national parks (we have special permits), and we ship the plants in refrigerated trucks, so they arrive in the lab 24 hours at the most after harvesting. Sometimes, circumstances force us to change suppliers. In 1986, our thyme supply from eastern Europe was immediately rejected, due to its radioactivity from the Chernobyl accident.
Zoological strains are now usually sent in jars with a little bit of alcohol, to kill and preserve the animal (usually insects). Once a shipment of black widow spiders arrived in a broken box in the lab… the spiders escaped. You can easily imagine the ambiance in the laboratory!
For mineral strains, either they need to be pure (like histamine hydrochloride) and so they are purchased from chemistry suppliers, or they need to be as close as possible to the original substance described by Hahnemann. I was in charge of buying a nugget of California gold to replenish our stock. We preferred the native gold, with its impurities, to pure refined gold, because Hahnemann was not using extra pure gold.
AS: Is homeopathic treatment reimbursed by the national health system in France?
CM: The most common homeopathic strains in C or X dilutions are reimbursed by the health care system (35% of their cost). Additional coverage picks up the difference when chosen. All homeopathic prescribers are MDs, and the consultation is reimbursed according to the same rules as allopathic treatments and consultations.
AS: Clearly France is way ahead of the U.S. in official acceptance of homeopathy. In France, what is the public’s attitude toward homeopathy?
CM: Based on an Ipsos poll February 23, 2012 * :
56% of French people are using homeopathic medicines (+3% vs. 2010, +17% vs. 2004).
36% of French people are regular users of homeopathic medicines (+15 % vs. 2004). The regular use is larger in women (46%) and people not living around Paris (42%).
70% of French people think that the use of Homeopathic Medicines will increase in the next 5 years.
Since 2011, 18% of French people say they are more confident in homeopathic medicines, whereas it has decreased for some allopathic categories in similar proportion: (24% for antibiotics and antidepressants, 14% for pain medicines).
Finally, 77% of people who answered, stated that they trust homeopathy the same way they trust pain medicines, vs. 68% for medicines such as antibiotics or antidepressants.
You will find homeopathic medicine in every one of the 23,000 pharmacies in France (they are solely dispensed in pharmacies).
AS: It seems the future looks bright for homeopathy! Thank you very much Christophe, for sharing with us today!