Homeopathy: A 200-year-old Nanomedicine (Part 1)

By: Shelly Epstein, DVM, CVH
From IVC Issue: V3I3

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Homeopathy has been around for over two centuries and is the second most utilized form of complimentary and alternative medicine in the world. The acceptance into widespread use for humans and animals has been hindered by the inability to scientifically explain its mechanism of action. Recently, old assumptions about the lack of particles in high dilutions have been overturned by advances in modern technology. As conventional medicine evolves, veterinarians find themselves in possession of more tools to help patients. But with these tools, like fourth generation antibiotics, joint prosthesis and even kidney transplants, come concerns for drug resistance, adverse events and of course impossible price tags. Fortunately, this 200-year-old system of medicine that many veterinarians find safe, effective and inexpensive is experiencing a resurgence.

Pathogenetic trials

Homeopathy is based on one unifying principle: like cures like. The medicines, referred to as remedies, are fi rst tested in healthy humans in a process known as provings, or by the contemporary term pathogenetic trials. The test subjects record their mental, emotional and physical symptoms, paying special attention to the modalities, or what makes each symptom or the person feel better or worse. The most peculiar symptoms are of special importance.

The symptoms experienced by all the provers are then collated and organized into searchable books known as materia medicas and repertories. When a patient is sick, his symptoms (signs in animals) are analyzed and the remedy that most closely matches with the symptoms experienced by the provers is given to the patient to cure him.

For example, in the proving of Arsenicum album, a remedy derived from arsenic (with no toxic arsenic effects when homeopathically prepared), the provers reported frequent thirst for small sips of water, nausea, vomiting of blood, diarrhea, restlessness with severe weakness, with all symptoms worse after midnight. Likewise, when a dog wakes his owners at 1AM with an urgency to go outside, and diarrhea and vomiting are accompanied with the dog pacing around all night and wanting to drink water, the remedy that may help is Arsenicum album. Homeopaths often fi nd in such a case that the dog will make a full recovery by morning.

Many applications

In practice, veterinarians use homeopathy for a wide range of conditions. In fi rst-aid situations, remedies can be used for conditions such as trauma, bite wounds, abscesses, musculoskeletal injuries and bee stings. Homeopathy is also used successfully for a wide range of chronic conditions in animals. These include infl ammatory bowel disease, allergies, cancer, seizures, mastitis and behavioral problems. With limited training, veterinarians can learn the indications of a small number of remedies for the most commonly encountered acute conditions (see sidebar on next page). With comprehensive training, almost any condition can be treated with homeopathy.

Homeopaths do not aim for merely a disappearance of clinical signs in their patients. Rather, the goal of homeopathy is to cure the patient, and in the least harmful way. To a homeopath, cure means:

• The symptoms are gone with no future relapses.

• No more medications or remedies are required.

• The patient’s level of health has been raised so that she feels better overall, has more energy and is more resistant to diseases and other physical and emotional infl uences.

In other words, there is something special about a remedy that does not simply suppress a symptom, but rather causes the entire body to heal itself – and become healthier.

What’s causing the controversy?

Since its founding as an empirically-derived system of medicine in the late 19th century, homeopathy has suffered from an extreme lack of respect among practitioners of conventional medicine. The founder of homeopathy, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), based his theories of practice on meticulouslydocumented experimentation and observation, and initiated the fi rst system of drug testing. Unfortunately for homeopathy, Dr. Hahnemann was no diplomat, and the medical method he founded was markedly less interventional and expensive than the prevailing treatments of the time (bloodletting, leeches, mercury, etc.). His disparaging writings about these mainstream treatments had the net effect of a negative response toward his new system of medicine by the “regular” medical community.

Three years after the American Institute of Homeopathy was founded in 1844, the American Medical Association was founded in reaction. A clause in their charter prevented members from consulting with practitioners “whose practice is based on an exclusive dogma, to the rejection of the accumulated experience of the profession.”2 Allopathic doctors risked expulsion from the society if they talked to homeopaths. This clause remained in medical society applications until the 1920s.

Homeopathy has suffered the lingering effect of the poor relationship between homeopaths and allopaths. Although it was the fi rst system of medicine to stress experimentation at a time when unfounded ideas about the origin of disease abounded, its failure to secure a major role in modern medicine is likely attributed to what many refer to as its “implausibility”. Simply stated, the argument claims that the high dilutions used in the making of remedies means these medicines contain nothing other than water. In other words, the claims of tens of thousands of homeopaths throughout the world, the purported claims of healing by patients, and the observed convalescence of animal patients can be nothing more than placebo. The suggestion has been taken one step further to imply that administration of homeopathic remedies is therefore unethical.

Remedy sources Homeopathic remedies are made from substances in the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms.

• Animal kingdom remedies are made from products such as venom of the bushmaster snake (Lachesis), whole ground honeybee (Apis) and bitch’s milk (Lac caninum).

• Plant remedies include poison hemlock (Conium maculatum), pot marigold (Calendula) and leopard’s bane (Arnica montana).

• Mineral remedies are made from any element of the Periodic Table as well as any of their salts. Sodium chloride (Natrum muriaticum), phosphorus, and calcium carbonate (Calcarea carbonica) are three commonly used remedies.

The preparation process

The preparation involves successive dilution steps. The first three steps entail grinding the starting material in milk sugar, typically using a mortar and pestle, or making a tincture following precise instructions in the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia3. The remaining steps entail dilution in ethanol and then water. Of major importance is the process known as succussion, which is the rigorous shaking or agitation of the solutions between each dilution step.

Dilutions are performed in either a 1:9 or 1:99 series until the desired potency is reached. For example, a dilution of 1:9, first in milk sugar and then in ethanol, carried out 12 times, would be designated as a 12x dilution, where the “x” designates the “1 to 10” dilution. A dilution in the 1:99 series carried through 200 steps of dilution would be designated a 200c dilution, where the “c” designates the “1 to 100” dilution.

According to “Avogadro’s constant”, after a total of 24 “x” dilutions or 12 “c” dilutions, no particles of the original substance should theoretically be present in these preparations. While it is possible to practice homeopathy using low dilutions that theoretically should contain the starting material, most homeopaths use dilutions in the magnitude of 30c, 200c and beyond – way beyond where Avogadro’s constant says any starting material should be present. To further confound the situation, according to homeopathic principles, the higher the dilution, the more “potent” the remedy!

New evidence shows homeopathy is plausible

Up to now, the nature of homeopathic remedies has been a major sticking point. Skeptical voices have claimed that homeopathy is nothing more than placebo, and ordinary chemical analyses of these dilutions have supported these claims. Conventional practitioners and even some integrative ones are hesitant to use homeopathy for fear of being labeled unscientific. Yet by using these medicines, homeopaths claim to cause signifi cant reversals in the health of their patients, including in animals which are not susceptible to the placebo effect.

Exciting new research in diverse fi elds of science is providing insight into potential mechanisms for the action of homeopathic remedies in the body. In Part 2 of this article (Fall issue of IVC Journal), we will explore some of the latest research that shows the following:

• Homeopathic remedies, even at high dilutions, contain nanoparticles (NPs) of the starting substances under transmission electron microscopy.

• These NPs are super-potent forms of their source material with multiple properties distinct from those of their original bulk forms. NPs can penetrate membranes easily to enter the blood and lymph nodes and can even pass through the blood-brain barrier.

• The cells perceive very low doses of these NPs as hormetins, mild or low intensity stressors that stimulate a cascade of adaptive responses in the cells and across the entire organism. The emergent result is a self-organized healing response.

• This healing works best for the individual as a whole when mobilized according to the principle of like cures like. This principle involves matching the complex pattern of symptoms that the source material can cause in healthy people with the cross-adapted pattern of symptoms that the patient experiences as his/her “disease.” The nonlinear dose-response relationship of hormesis and endogenous metaplasticity leads to self-organized reversal of disease symptoms and recovery.

• The body integrates this healing response dynamically throughout all its biological systems as an interconnected complex adaptive network.