The Strange Case of the Homeopathic Sex Enhancer

A recent retraction of a paper in the International Journal of Impotence Research leads down a rabbit-hole of pseudoscience.

The paper in question was published in 2013. In this article, authors Chu et al. studied the effectiveness of a compound called “Impaza,” which they hoped would enhance erectile function in male rats. They reported that it did.

So far, so usual — drug experiments on rats are extremely common. The Chu et al. paper was only cited 4 times from 2013 to 2020, indicating that it made little impact on the field.

But then, on 21st May 2020, Chu et al.’s paper got slapped with an Expression of Concern by the journal. On 23rd June, the paper was retracted. The editor’s stated reasons were as follows:

The editor has retracted this article because there are concerns about the scientific validity of the study. Specifically, the reagent is diluted beyond the point to which any active molecules are expected to be present and there is no molecular analysis to support the presence of molecules at these dilutions. These concerns have caused the editor to lose faith in the reliability of the findings.

This is where things get interesting. When the editor states that “the reagent is diluted beyond the point to which any active molecules are expected to be present”, this sounds very much like they are saying that the reagent (meaning the “Impaza” compound) was a homeopathic treatment.

Homeopathy is a branch of alternative medicine based on the belief that the more dilute a remedy is, the more powerful it becomes. Notoriously, most homeopathic remedies are so dilute that they no longer contain even one molecule of the original ingredients. They are just water.

So was Chu et al. a homeopathy paper? Chu et al. did not introduce their “Impaza” treatment as homeopathic, instead calling it “A compound stimulating endothelial nitric oxide synthase,” which makes it sound very much like a conventional drug.

However, they did use the H-word once, in the Methods section, where they say that Impaza was:

produced according to homeopathic technology. The actual concentration of the antibodies is not known, but the solution used here is identical to the one used in clinical practice.

So, I think it’s fair to say that Chu et al. were not exactly emphasizing the homeopathic nature of Impaza, but they didn’t hide it entirely.

This raises the question of how the Chu et al. paper passed peer-review in the first place. I suspect the reviewers just didn’t spot the single reference to homeopathy and rubber-stamped the (otherwise quite unremarkable) paper. So what happened in 2020 to cause the paper to get retracted? I’m not sure, but I’d bet that someone tipped the journal off about the homeopathy that had slipped into their pages. And I further suspect that this person was Alexander Panchin, author of a number of recent articles criticizing Impaza and other similar homeopathy-in-disguise products.

As Panchin has exposed, Impaza is just one of the products sold by the Russian company OOO “NPF ‘Materia Medica Holding’ “. Of the 7 authors on the Chu et al. Impaza paper, 5 were affiliated with this company, who produce a number of hyper-diluted therapeutics.

Materia Medica refer to these products as Release Active Drugs (RADs), but as far as I can see, “homepathy” would be an equally accurate title. Materia Medica have already suffered the retraction of a number of papers on another one of their products, Ergoferon, e.g. this one and this one.

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