Homeopathy: A 200-Year Old Nanomedicine – Part 2
New evidence is emerging on the nature and properties of homeopathic medicines, or remedies. These findings indicate that the science of homeopathy is a form of nanomedicine, with the medicines capable of initiating changes in the physiological and biochemical dynamics of the animal as a complex adaptive system.
Part 1 of this article (from the Summer 2013 issue of IVC) discussed the main principles of homeopathic practice. These concepts include finding the single substance (simillimum) whose associated symptom pattern from testing best matches the total clinical picture of the individual person or animal. Giving a low dose of the simillimum to an animal already exhibiting these signs of illness will trigger the system to mount compensatory responses to counteract effects of the medicine and thereby reverse the overall disease pattern. In physiology, the capacity for a reversal of symptoms and signs when exposed to a stressor different from the original stressor is known as cross-adaptation or cross-resistance.
Understanding adaptation, cross-adaptation and hormesis
In the fields of pharmacology-toxicology, the capacity of a low or mild stressor to generate responses in the opposite direction of what it can cause at higher levels or amounts is termed hormesis. Hormesis has now been documented in over 8,000 different scientific studies of stressors known as “hormetins”, which include many different drugs and chemicals as well as physical and psychological stressors. In formal terminology, hormesis is a nonlinear adaptive dose-response relationship in which low, typically non-toxic doses stimulate, whereas higher doses of the same agent inhibit a particular effect. In general, understanding how a drug acts is not simple. The direction of a drug’s effects depends partly on the dose level. Conventional medicine tends to use large doses of drugs, expecting molecules to bind to specific cell receptors or enzymes. As a result, conventional pharmacology does not take advantage of hormesis for clinical treatment.
In contrast, researchers in hormesis believe the phenomenon is an organismwide, adaptive response to prepare for or counteract biological stress. For example, if a person or animal is first exposed to low temperatures and given time to adapt, he will later exhibit a cross-adapted tolerance for exposures to high altitudes, even though he may not have previously encountered the altitude as a stressor. If the level of the initial stressor is too high, too prolonged, or too frequent for his ability to adapt, the effects would end up damaging his health rather than promoting resilience.
In homeopathy, the remedy that is administered is the hormetin. It is not the same stressor as the original cause of the disease. Rather, whatever disturbances the remedy can trigger in the adaptive stress response networks of the body rely on similar pathways that the original cumulative stressors (biological, physical and/or emotional) already mobilized. In essence, the well-chosen homeopathic remedy works with the pre-existing condition and the unique features of the individual’s adaptive processes to set the reversal of adverse manifestations into motion. The correct homeopathic remedy is a mild salient (i.e. relevant) stressor for the organism as a whole.
Living systems are complex adaptive networks of interconnected, interdependent parts. Change in one part can lead to a cascade of additional changes in parts far from where the stressor first impacted. Once the organism receives the hormetic signal, the body’s adaptive defenses swing into action across the biochemical and cellular networks of the stress response pathways. Immune, endocrine, autonomic, metabolic and central nervous system mediators signal and inter-regulate one another, making adjustments for what is going on elsewhere in the larger system.
Thus, a properly timed and positioned signal, even though small, can disrupt the unhealthy dynamics of disease – and allow the system to reorganize toward a new and healthier dynamic pattern. The new pattern allows the possibility for continuing changes to evolve across the organism over time.
Unlocking the mystery of homeopathic remedies
For many years, homeopathic researchers have suspected hormesis might provide an explanation for how the remedies, which involve low doses given at widely spaced intervals, work. However, no one had shown an experimentally demonstrable stressor in remedies that could be an individually relevant hormetin to set hormesis into motion.
Most of the debate was focused on the assumption that “higher” potencies – that is, more serially diluted medicines greater than 12C or 24X – would eventually leave no plausible amounts of the original remedy material in solution. Skeptics have long argued that homeopathic remedies can only be elaborate placebos without any capacity for initiating biological effects. Defenders of homeopathy arrived at a focus on what came to be called “the memory of water” hypothesis.
In turn, critics of a water-structure based model for homeopathic remedies pointed out various limitations and flaws in the argument. One obvious challenge is that low potencies of certain homeopathic medicines are made without water or other liquid by crushing the source material in lactose, and even higher liquid potencies are often sprayed or dried into lactose or lactose-sucrose pellets for easier storage and administration. Clinicians still report that such dried pellets work; and many, though not all, clinical research studies in people and animals using those dry delivery forms for remedies have been positive.
In addition to practical experience and clinical studies, several research groups had already published well-done laboratory experiments on homeopathic remedies compared with control solutions of water or ethanolwater prepared either with or without succussions. Despite the debates over dilution in homeopathy, a key procedural step in preparing remedies in liquids is also to succuss or intensively agitate the solution in its container multiple times. Succussion breaks larger molecules into smaller ones. Using objective tools to measure heat release, electrical conductivity, thermoluminescence (light emission) and certain spectroscopy patterns, all experiments found that homeopathically-prepared remedies were different from control solutions. In some studies, the remedy solutions even seemed to retain the physical chemistry “fingerprint” properties of the original source material.
How could something so diluted possibly have such individualized properties? The answer is that remedies contain small but detectable amounts of nanoparticles (NPs). Nanoparticles are simply extremely small particles of the original source material. A nanometer is 10-9 meter in length in any dimension. NPs can be similar in size to viruses, and can enter the body and its cells very easily.
The properties of nanoparticles are very different from their bulk forms of the “same” material. When “down-sized”, NPs can acquire new electromagnetic, optical, thermal, biochemical and even atom-like quantum mechanical properties that their bulk forms do not possess.
The discovery of nanoparticles in homeopathic remedies
In 2010, basic scientific research on homeopathic remedies made major strides toward understanding the nature of the medicines. First, Dr. John Ives and colleagues from the Samueli Institute reported finding measurable amounts of silica in solutions succussed in glass containers. The silica and its precursors dissolve or break off from the inside walls of the glassware during agitation in solution.
Of course, even with silica and nano-silica in homeopathic remedy solutions, it would be present in every glass-made remedy and could not account for individually specific effects. Nonetheless, newer research has shown that silica has remarkable properties of its own as a drug- or herb-delivery vehicle, and an immune amplifier of the effects of even small amounts of antigens in vaccines or natural treatments like snake venoms in cancers. For high potency remedies, silica might serve as a carrier and amplifier.
But what else could be present in remedies even at very low potencies made in lactose? Dr. Jayesh Bellare and colleagues at the Indian Institute of Technology published a startling new finding in 2010. They noted that many homeopathic remedies are often ground up or milled (originally with a mortar and pestle) for hours in lactose during the early stages of manufacturing. Extensive grinding or milling of the original bulk form material is currently one of many well-known modern techniques for manufacturing nanoparticles.
The Bellare group investigated six different commercially made homeopathic metal remedies from two different well-known Indian manufacturers. Using sophisticated electron microscope methods and other confirmatory laboratory tests, they showed the presence of the original remedy source material in nanoparticle forms at 6C, 30C and 200C. At dilutions above 12C, no source material should have been present.
Quantities varied from batch to batch and from manufacturer to manufacturer, and they were estimated as quite small. But they were there for the eye to see using state-of-the-scientific instrumentation. Another group from India later found nanoparticles and demonstrable amounts of silicon/silica in samples of three different plant remedies they studied at potencies from 1C to 15C.
Further research by Dr. Bellare’s group demonstrated that succussions will cause the nanoparticles to accumulate unevenly in layers toward the top of solutions. When a remedy maker then samples the last bottle in order to put a fraction of the succussed material into the next bottle of solvent, they are actually carrying the nanoparticles from bottle to bottle. The bulk form may be diluted out of solution past 12C or 24X potencies, but the remedy nanoparticles remain.
A third research team at a different university in India performed a series of studies in which they were able to use four different homeopathic plant mother tinctures to biologically synthesize silver nanoparticles from silver precursors in solution. Years before, conventional researchers had already discovered that certain plants and sponges can also biologically synthesize silica nanoparticles from their precursors.
The discovery of nanoparticles in homeopathic remedies is only the beginning. More research is needed to confirm and extend the original observations. Homeopathy is now positioned to use the vast and growing tools of modern nanoscience to understand and improve homeopathic remedy manufacturing and optimize remedy actions. In classical homeopathy, the overall goal is to cure rather than palliate the condition by stimulating the organism as a whole to recover from health problems. The field is now poised for major advances in both basic and applied clinical research to help more people and animals in more effective ways than ever before.