Action of dilute medicines

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How can such dilute medicines work?

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Conventional medical drugs can be described simply as chemicals which interact directly with the body’s biochemistry; as homeopathic medicines are too dilute to contain molecules of the original substances they are made from, we know that they don’t work in this biochemical way and must have an entirely different mechanism of action.

Current theories

The manufacture of homeopathic medicines involves two processes – dilution and ‘succussion’ (a specific form of vigorous shaking). The medicinal substance (e.g. plant material) is dissolved in water and alcohol, then diluted and succussed many times, often to the point where we would expect there to be no molecules of the original substance left. This has led sceptics to say that homeopathic medicines are ‘nothing but water’.

However current theories in physics suggest that water can store information about substances it has previously been in contact with. {1=Bellavite P, Signorini A. The Emerging Science of Homeopathy, 2e. 2002: North Atlantic, Berkeley} One such idea, based on quantum theory, has the potential to explain how ultra-high dilutions such as homeopathic medicines can work. {2=Preparata, G. QED coherence in matter. (World Scientific: 1995)} It is thought that the manufacturing process causes an interaction between molecules of the active ingredient (e.g.  plant material) and the water it is dissolved in, creating new structures called ‘quantum coherence domains’. This process effectively imprints information from the active ingredient into the water it is dissolved in, so that even when there are no longer any molecules of the plant left, its characteristics remain in the water. Find out more …

“Ultra-high dilutions of something are not nothing”

In 2009 Nobel prize winning virologist Professor Luc Montagnier (known for co-discovering HIV) published the results of a series of rigorous experiments investigating the electromagnetic properties of UHDs. {3=Montagnier L et al. Electromagnetic signals are produced by aqueous nanostructures derived from bacterial DNA sequences. Interdiscip Sci Comput Life Sci, 2009; 1: 81-90} His team took samples of biological material such as disease-causing bacteria and fragments of DNA and prepared them in a similar way to homeopathic medicines (i.e. serial dilution and agitation). At dilutions when you would no longer expect molecules to be present (e.g. 10 to the -12) equivalent to a 6c strength homeopathic medicine) the samples gave off specific electromagnetic signals. The researchers suggest that the electromagnetic signals are produced by ‘nanostructures’ created during the preparation process i.e. tiny new structures formed in the sample by an interaction between molecules of the biological material and the water it is being diluted with.

In an interview for Science magazine when asked, “Do you think there’s something to homeopathy…?” Montagnier replied, “I can’t say that homeopathy is right in everything. What I can say now is that the high dilutions are right. High dilutions of something are not nothing. They are water structures which mimic the original molecules.” {4=www.sciencemag.org, 6 January 2011}

  • Montagnier L et al . Electromagnetic signals are produced by aqueous nanostructures derived from bacterial DNA sequences. Interdiscip Sci Comput Life Sci, 2009; 1: 81-90 Abstract
  • To download a summary of the Montagnier paper in plain English: click here

Biological effects of ultrahigh dilutions

Experiments have also shown that substances at levels of dilution similar to homeopathic medicines can have biological effects in the laboratory. For example, when the body releases histamine it affects the activity of white blood cells called basophils; in research carried out by a group of European laboratories ultra-high dilutions of histamine added to isolated basophils were shown to affect the cells in a similar way. {5=Belon P, Cumps J, Ennis M, et al. Histamine dilutions modulate basophil activation, Inflammation Research, 2004; 53: 181-8}

Although this research is promising, as homeopathic medicines work in such a different way from conventional biochemical drugs, further research is needed to try to fully understand their mechanism of action.

To find out more go to our Basic Science page: click here

Can we use medicines we don’t understand?

Although we don’t yet know how homeopathic medicines work, homeopaths do know how to use them safely and effectively, which is what really matters to both patients and healthcare providers. We are simply at a stage when our clinical understanding of homeopathy is ahead of our theoretical understanding.

This situation is not unique to homeopathy; we still don’t know how a lot of commonly-used conventional drugs work. For example, aspirin was used for decades before scientists began to understand its mechanism of action in 1971 and by 2005 only a few of its biological effects had been investigated. {6=Dr. Karsten Schrör, Head of the Institute of Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacology, Heinrich Heine University, Düsseldorf. Medical News Today website Oct 2005 www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/31435.php}

Experts still don’t know how general anaesthetics work either. {7=Pleuvry B. Mechanism of action of general anaesthetic drugs. Anaesthesia & Intensive Care Medicine, 2008; 9(4): 152-3 } There are various theories, but none that can fully explain how the drugs bring about loss of consciousness. Despite this fact, anaesthetists do know how to use anaesthetics safely and effectively and no-one would want them to be withdrawn while scientists figure it out!

References:

1. Bellavite P, Signorini A. The Emerging Science of Homeopathy, 2e. 2002: North Atlantic, Berkeley 

2. Preparata, G. QED coherence in matter. (World Scientific: 1995)

3. Montagnier L et al. Electromagnetic signals are produced by aqueous nanostructures derived from bacterial DNA sequences. Interdiscip Sci Comput Life Sci, 2009; 1: 81-90

4.Enserink, M. Newsmaker interview: Luc Montagnier, Science, 24 December 2010; 330, 1732  [DOI:10.1126/science.330.6012.1732]. American Association for the Advancement of Science www.sciencemag.org

5. Belon P, Cumps J, Ennis M, et al. Histamine dilutions modulate basophil activation, Inflammation Research, 2004; 53: 181-8

6. Dr. Karsten Schrör, Head of the Institute of Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacology, Heinrich Heine University, Düsseldorf. Medical News Today website Oct 2005 www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/31435.php

7. Pleuvry B. Mechanism of action of general anaesthetic drugs. Anaesthesia & Intensive Care Medicine, 2008; 9(4): 152-3