Breakthrough scientific research helps explain why homeopathy, a 200-year-old modality works when used to help heal animals.
As someone who wants holistic or integrative care for your furry friend, you probably know a bit about homeopathy. You may have used homeopathic medicines for your own dog, observed their results, and yet wondered how this modality actually works. What does “like cures like” actually mean, and how can something that’s so diluted have a healing effect?
Homeopathy has been around for over two centuries, but its acceptance into widespread use has been hindered by our inability to scientifically explain its mechanism of action. Until recently, that is. Advances in modern technology are now overturning the assumptions made by conventional medicine that homeopathy can’t possibly work.
Like cures like
Homeopathy is based on one unifying principle: like cures like. The medicines are first tested in healthy humans in a process known as provings or pathogenetic trials. The test subjects record their symptoms, paying special attention to what makes each symptom or the subject feel better or worse.
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 are analyzed and he is given the medicine that most closely matches the symptoms experienced by the provers.
For example, in the proving of Arsenicum album, a medicine derived from arsenic (with no toxic arsenic effects when homeopathically prepared), the provers reported frequent thirst for small sips of water, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness with severe weakness, with all symptoms worse after midnight. Likewise, when a dog wakes his family at 1AM with an urgency to go outside, and his diarrhea and vomiting are accompanied by pacing and thirst, Arsenicum album may help.
Why the controversy?
Preparing homeopathic medicines 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 Pharmacopeia. 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.
It would seem that after a total of 24 “X” dilutions or 12 “C” dilutions, no particles of the original substance should theoretically be present in the medicines. Yet most homeopaths use dilutions in the magnitude of 30C, 200C and beyond – way past the point where any starting materials should be present. To further confound the situation, according to homeopathic principles, the higher the dilution, the more “potent” the remedy!
Homeopathy’s failure to secure a major role in modern medicine is therefore partly attributed to what many refer to as its “implausibility.” Simply stated, the argument claims that the high dilutions used in making the medicines means they contain nothing but water. In other words, the claims of tens of thousands of homeopaths and their patients, and the observed convalescence of animal patients, can be nothing more than placebo.
Homeopathy and Nanoparticles
As skeptical voices have been claiming homeopathy is nothing more than placebo, ordinary chemical analyses of these dilutions have supported these claims. Conventional and even some integrative practitioners hesitate to use homeopathy for fear of being labeled unscientific. Yet homeopaths claim to cause significant reversals in the health of their patients –including animals, which are not susceptible to the placebo effect. So what’s going on? How could something so diluted possibly have such individualized properties?
The answer is that homeopathic medicines contain small but detectable quantities 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 are similar in size to viruses, and can enter the body and its cells very easily.
The properties of nanoparticles are very different from the 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.
Here’s how this discovery was made. In 2010, Dr. Jayesh Bellare and colleagues at the Indian Institute of Technology noted that during the early stages of manufacture, many homeopathic medicines are often ground up or milled for hours in lactose. 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 medicines 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 – but it was.
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-art scientifi c instrumentation. (Another group from India later found nanoparticles in samples of three different plant medicines 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 the solution. 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.
Although more research is needed to confirm and extend these original observations, the discovery of nanoparticles in homeopathic medicines is only the beginning. Homeopathy is now positioned to use the vast and growing field of modern nanoscience to understand and improve medicine manufacturing and optimize healing action. In classical homeopathy, the overall goal is to cure rather than palliate by stimulating the organism as a whole to recover from health problems; it’s 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.