The Scientific Basis of Homeopathy: A Review of My Contribution

Professor Nirmal C. Sukul presents summaries of homeopathic research studies that he conducted. This important research covers everything from biological effects of remedies to molecular changes triggered by potencies

Homeopathy is a unique therapeutic system because it uses drugs at ultra high dilutions which do not contain the original drug molecules. Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), an MD in mainstream medicine, first published his idea in 1796. From then onwards homeopathy flourished gradually but not smoothly. Now it has spread all over the world because of three main factors. It is cheap, effective and has little side reactions. Had it not been effective it could not have survived for more than two hundred years. During this period allopathy has improved considerably because of continued research funded by multinational pharmaceutical companies. However, homeopathy has never enjoyed liberal funding for scientific research. Scientists in general are not interested because research on homeopathy is neither glamorous nor lucrative.

Hahnemann made a significant contribution to health science through homeopathy. He observed that a drug at material doses produces some symptoms in healthy individuals. The same drug at ultra low doses would alleviate or cure a patient showing similar symptoms. Since the dose is extremely low it would not produce any adverse reaction. The second major finding is that the drug is diluted in successive steps, and in each step the dilution is mechanically agitated or succussed. This adds to the efficacy of the drug. So, dilution of a drug followed by succussion increases its efficacy, prolongs its effect and reduces its side reactions.

Different dynamized dilutions are called potencies. The higher the potency, the stronger and more durable is its therapeutic effect. This does not follow the fundamental principle of pharmacology where dose response is an important factor and the higher the dose the stronger the effect. So, here we find a conflict between homeopathy and allopathy. The 12th centesimal potency of a homeopathic drug crosses the Avogadro number, and is therefore, devoid of original drug molecules. How does a drug without any drug molecules produce specific biological effects? These two aspects make homeopathy seem scientifically unsound. If homeopathy is to enter the arena of science it must address these questions properly.

Problems of scientific research: clinical

Homeopathic medicines act on patients when the symptoms of the patient match those produced by the drug on healthy individuals. The symptoms of homeopathic drugs are recorded in the homeopathic materia medicas1,2. An experienced homeopath can make the selection of the right remedy and there is usually no fixed medicine for a disease. Thus different patients suffering from the same disease, say influenza or diarrhoea, may need different homeopathic remedies. It is very much a personalized medicine. For this, clinical studies using a single remedy for a particular disease on a number of patients very often yield anomalous results. Control should be without any drug or with placebo. It is extremely difficult to get 10 patients showing similar symptoms of a disease thereby requiring a single remedy for the particular disease. Clinical investigations can be designed in another way. A group of patients suffering from a particular disease can be divided into two groups. While one group is treated with homeopathic remedies selected on the basis of their individual symptoms, the other group is treated with placebo. Although this design agrees with the homeopathic principle, its success depends on the expertise of the homeopath.

There are a fairly large number of publications depicting clinical studies, but very few of them satisfy the fundamental principle of homeopathy. What is the way out? One has to collect and compile the case records of expert homeopaths, and analyze the treatment procedure followed in each case. Only then can the therapeutic effect of homeopathic potencies be properly assessed. However, this type of clinical study does not involve any control. However, control may include the same patients before their treatment.

Here I can say that a clinical study involving allopathic medicines and one with homeopathic remedies are totally different. Homeopathic potencies can never be equated with allopathic drugs. Since the two systems are different, the methodology of research for them is bound to be different. However, the analysis of results and statistical treatment are same for the two systems. I have been practicing homeopathy since 1962 and have been observing the therapeutic effect of potencies on my patients almost every day. I was a Professor at Visva-Bharati University with adequate funds and facilities for research in my laboratory. For this, I know both sides of homeopathy, its clinical aspect and research possibilities.

Experimental studies

Scientists, who have no practical knowledge of the therapeutic effect of homeopathy, would be skeptical about the effect of drugs without original molecules. Many believe that homeopathy is not researchable, but it is very much researchable. The only thing scientists have to do is to devise techniques suitable to homeopathic principles. Otherwise they would meet with constant failure, and equate homeopathy with a sort of black magic. But there are good experimental studies which clearly demonstrate beyond a doubt that homeopathic potencies produce biological effects in animals and plants. We developed some animal and plant models which satisfied both the homeopathic principles as well as rigorous tenets of science. In spite of the fact that homeopathy is symptom-based, there are certain remedies which are fixed for specific pathological conditions. We developed our models on these remedies with successful results.

In the late sixties I adapted a standard animal model to experiments with homeopathic potencies. This is a catalepsy model which has long been used in Neuropharmacology to study the action of drugs on different neurotransmitter systems as well as the relationship and interactions among the systems. For example, the cholinergic system promotes catalepsy and the dopaminergic system antagonizes it. Catalepsy is a transitory state of immobility where the animals fail to correct the imposed posture. It is a central nervous system phenomenon involving several neurotransmitter systems that has been observed in invertebrates and vertebrates, including man.

A number of homeopathic drugs are listed in Kent’s Repertory of Homeopathic Materia Medica under the rubric ‘catalepsy’3. Catalepsy can be induced by drugs, forced restraint on the movement and extreme fear. We induced catalepsy in albino mice by drugs as well as by restraint, and tested several homeopathic potencies on the animals. The results were positive4-7. A catalepsy test is a simple non-invasive, non-sacrifice animal model where the same animals could be repeatedly used to serve as controls as well as tests. Catalepsy tests were conducted in my laboratory and also at Texas A and M University, USA.

Again there are a number of homeopathic medicines which counter the short-term and long-term effect of alcohol on man. Nux vomica is one of these medicines. The short-term effect includes loss of righting reflex which is observed in intoxicated persons. Righting reflexes maintain the normal erect posture of man and animals, and operate through a series of responses which are integrated mostly in the nuclei of the mid brain. Receptors involved in mediating the responses are otolithic organs, muscle spindles, exteroreceptors and eyes8. There are standard biological tests by which we can correctly measure the degree of loss of righting reflex in a test animal9-11. We tested the anti-alcoholic effect of potentized Nux vomica on the alcohol-induced loss of righting reflex in mice and toads12,13. Potentized Nux Vomica and also its mother tincture significantly reduced voluntary ethanol intake in rats14. From my clinical experience I can say that potentized Nux vomica counters alcohol addiction in regular binge drinkers. But here the medicine should be continued for a long time. The most interesting part of this experiment is that the main active principle of this mother tincture, strychnine is not effective in this regard14.

Chronic alcoholism leads to automomic dysfunction in patients with peripheral neuropathy. Degenerative changes in the vagus and sympathetic nerves occur in alcoholic patients15. Since the autonomic nervous system is centrally regulated in the hypothalamus of the brain the effect of prolonged alcohol consumption and also of an antialcoholic drug, such as Nux vomica can be observed in the hypothalamic neurons. Using standard electrophysiological techniques, we demonstrated the effect of potentized Nux vomica, on lateral hypothalamic neurous in cats and rats. While potentized Nux vomica produced an excitatory effect on the neurous, ethanol and distilled water had an inhibitory effect. The effect was instantaneous and observed as soon as the drug or control was applied on the tongue of the animal7,16. The effect was observed both on a single neuron as well as a group of neurous. Evidently the drug effect is transmitted from the mouth to the brain through afferent nerves.

In another study we observed that prolonged alcohol consumption led to the degeneration of adrenergic nerve plexuses in atrio-ventricular valves of rats. Treatment with potentized Nux vomica restored the condition to a great extent16. The work was carried out in my laboratory as well as in the laboratory of Leningrad State University, Russia. Potentized Agaricus significantly increased dopamine (DA) and serotonin (5-HT) and their metabolites DOPAC and 5-HIAA in the hypothalamus of rats17. Homeopathic medicines are effective on patients suffering from arthritis. We demonstrated that potentized Aurum metallicum and Colchicum could ameliorate adjuvant arthritis in albino rats18.

Cina is a well known drug for worm infection or infection with nematodes. Street dogs are mostly infected with heart worm, Dirofilaria immitis. Nematode larvae could be observed in the blood of infected dogs. In one study we demonstrated that Cina could significantly reduce the larval population in dogs naturally infected with D. immitis19. We further observed that Cina 30cH and Santonin 30 cH significantly reduced the larval population of a nematode parasite Trichinella spirals in mice20. While Cina is prepared from the crude extract of the plant Artemisia nilagirica, santonin is an active principle of the same and is potentized from that compound. Adult worms of T. Spiralis live in intestinal mucosa, but the larvae migrate to muscles and get encysted there. Cina in combination with Thuja and Calcarea fluor is most effective on the parasite7.

Another nemotode parasite Wuchereria bancrofti causes lymphatic filariasis in man. The disease manifests itself in the form of lymphoedema and elephantiasis. We demonstrated that potentized Cina significantly reduced the microfilarial population in the blood of infected people in an endemic zone of West Bengal. The drug also reduced lymphedema in the filarial patients without any side reaction21. This shows that potentized homeopathic drugs could ameliorate diseases caused by metazoan parasites. In this connection it may be mentioned that these drugs do not produce any lethal effect on the parasites. Obviously the drugs produce therapeutic effect here by modulating immune reaction of the host to parasitic infection. In one study patients suffering from lymphatic filariasis were treated with individually selected homeopathic potencies like Sulphur 30cH and Natrum mur 200cH. Salivary proteins of the patients were isolated and quantified before and after treatment. There was significant repression of the detected salivary proteins after treatment. In eukaryotes regulation of genes at both transcriptional and translational levels takes a long time. In the present case, repression of proteins might have occurred at the translational level, and the initiation factors involved phosphorylation, resulting in general depression of translation in the cells. Potencies are thought to initiate their action on the water structure covering the cell surface proteins22.

Plants

Besides man and animals, nematodes also attack plants, causing considerable loss in yield in crops. Using the same drug Cina we were able to reduce root-knot nematode infection in vegetable crops23,24. Chemical nematicides and other pesticides are indiscriminately used to control nematode and other pests of crops. All these cause environmental pollution, contaminate ground water, disrupt agroecosystems and leave undesirale residue in edible parts of crops. Homeopathic medicines provide an effective solution to all these problems. Continued research is needed to explore the full potential of Agrohomeopathy and its application to plant pathology. Crops suffer significant loss in yield in saline soil all over the world, and there is no effective remedy to counter the situation. Salinity affects germination of seeds and growth of plants. Natrum mur, a well-known homeopathic remedy, is used for the treatment of patients, who crave for salty food and show symptoms due to excessive consumption of salt. We demonstrated that potentized Natrum mur could improve germination and growth of seedlings in cowpea25. This homeopathic potency can be profitably used on a commercial scale on crop plants grown on brakish soil. Treatment of plants with Cantharis 200cH induced expression of small heat-shock like proteins in those plants26.

In order to improve plant growth, tons of chemical fertilizers are used on farm lands all over the world. Continued use of fertilizers affects the quality of the soil and interferes with the life of beneficial soil organisms. Plants can produce their own food through photosynthesis. We developed a drug, prepared according to the principle of homeopathy, that could enhance photosysthesis and thus improve plant growth. Plant growth inhibitors are mostly used to control weeds in farm lands. We observed that these inhibitors at ultra high dilution produced the opposite effect, i.e. enhancement of plant growth. One of these inhibitors, (2 –chloroethyl) trimethyl ammonium chloride (CCC) was used in a field trial. Here potentized CCC significantly increased growth of two varieties of rice and also their yield. This drug is cheap, non-pollutant and can be applied on a commercial scale in farm lands all over the world27. We also made other experiments on plants and observed positive effects of homeopathic potencies on them.

So far we have discussed the effect of homeopathic potencies on the whole organisms, particularly multi-cellular organisms like man, animals and plants. Do the potencies influence bacteria? We made a series of experiments on bacterial cultures in our laboratory and none of them was successful. This does not mean that homeopathic medicines are ineffective on bacterial cultures. It may be that the standard methods of microbiology we applied did not fit in with the principles of homeopathy.

The next question is whether homeopathic potencies are effective on isolated organs. The answer is yes. We tested different homeopathic potencies like Lycopus v and Aurum met on isolated rat aorta kept in Krebs-Henseleit solution following standard techniques. The aorta piece was precontracted with nor-adrenalin. Both of the drugs produced significant relaxation of the aorta as compared to the control28. Homeopathic potencies also produce effects on the isolated ileum of rats29. Besides isolated organs we also tested homeopathic potencies on isolated cells in test tubes. We observed that Merc cor 30cH and Nux vom 30cH facilitated water permeability in erythrocytes of catfish. Here the potencies were dropped into distilled water in a test tube containing red blood cells freshly collected from the fish30. Other scientists also worked on isolated organs and reported positive results with homeopathic potencies31.

Up till now we discussed the effects of homeopathic potencies on the whole organism or parts thereof. Does a potency act on a cell-free medium in a test tube containing only an ezyme in a buffer solution? It does so. We demonstrated that potentized Merc cor and Merc iodide could promote the activity of a – amylase on soluble starch, releasing higher amounts of the break-down product maltose as compared to the control32. This shows that homeopathic potencies behave just like a chemical in a cell-free, gene-free medium in a test tube. There are other scientists who also observed the same phenomenon. In this study we further observed that homeopathic potencies prepared in pure water, instead of the traditional medium of aqueous ethanol, would lose their efficacy in a very short time. This shows that water can carry the information of the original drug but could not retain it. In order to retain the efficacy for a long time, water must be mixed with ethanol. Ethanol (CH3 CH2 OH) has a large non-polar tail (CH3CH2) and a polar head (OH). The large non-polar tail of ethanol can preserve or promote the water structure which actually carries the information of original drug.

Water as carrier of information of the original drug

In order to verify that water is the real carrier of information of the original drug, we conducted several experiments. Practising homeopaths have long known that a potency given to a nursing mother could cure or ameliorate the ailment of her new-born baby. It is thought that water structure in a potency could convert the structure of water in the body of the mother including her breast milk into such a form that it behaves like the same potency. Thus the baby gets the medicine from the milk of its mother. We designed several experiments to verify this phenomenon. We connected the leaves of two groups of plants grown in pots with capillary water maintained in sterile cotton threads covered with polythene tubes. We then treated the leaves of one group of plants with a homeopathic potency and found the specific effect of this potency in both the groups of plants33. We also observed the transfer of the anti-alcoholic effect of Nux Vomica 200 cH from one group of toads to another through capillary water34. Using the above mentioned cell-free model we demonstrated the transfer of the effect of potentized Merc cor on a amylase from one test tube to another through capillary water35. Through these experiments we have confirmed that water structures carry the specific information of the original drug.

Our next step was to decipher the exact nature of water structures specific to a potency. In a water ethanol solution, both water and ethanol tend to preserve to some extent the pattern of hydrogen bonds they have prior to mixing36. Hydrogen bonds break and reform continuously at about 10-8 to 10-10 sec. Hydrogen bonding is strengthened by chemical compounds present in alcoholic beverages37. In a homeopathic mother tincture there are one or many chemical compounds which would strengthen H-bonds. It is known that ethanol and water do not make an ideal solution of randomly mixed molecules. Most of the water molecules remain as small hydrogen bonded strings and clusters around close-packed methyl groups of ethanol. Water clusters bridge neighboring alcoholic OH groups through hydrogen bonding. Thus, mixing of the two components is incomplete at the molecular level and there is retention of remnants of the three-dimensional hydrogen-bonded network of bulk water38. A homeopathic potency is prepared by succussive dilution of the original mother tincture with aqueous ethanol 1:100 followed by succussion. Depending on the compounds present in the tincture, hydrogen bonds would be strengthened. They would be further strengthened by mechanical agitation or succussion. During successive dilution original drug molecules would be progressively depleted leaving a potency, say 12cH, virtually free from those molecules. Mechanical agitation would also make a potency more homogeneous and compact compared to unsuccussed aqueous ethanol39. Thus a potency would assume the hydrogen bond pattern and strength which has been induced by the original drug molecules and also by successive dilution and succussion. All these aspects confer identity of a potency specific to the original drug and its scale of potency.

Spectroscopic studies on potencies

All homeopathic potencies from 6cH to CM are in aqueous ethanol. So, chemically they are same consisting of ethanol and water. The percentage of ethanol in a potency is usually around 90. But they behave as different drugs when applied to patients. The inherent difference in different potentized drugs could be detected by spectroscopic studies. Using electronic spectroscopy we demonstrated distinct differences among different potentized drugs40. We further observed that these differences are maintained even when the potencies are exposed to as high a temperature as 700C and as low a temperature as 40C. This shows that homeopathic potencies could retain their structural identity in a wide range of temperatures.

Why do the electronic spectra show differences in different homeopathic potencies? In order to address this question we conducted various experiments. We prepared homeopathic potencies with four different media, pure water, pure absolute ethanol, pure lactose and the traditional aqueous ethanol. We observed that only aqueous ethanol made an effective and durable potency, and the three other media did not serve the purpose. I proposed a new theory to explain the process by which aqueous ethanol carries the information of drugs at dilutions beyond the Avogadro number. According to this theory original drug molecules form molecular complexes with aqueous ethanol. Molecular complex formation results in electron transfer interaction. For this charge transfer interaction, electronic configuration of the hydration shell of ethanol at higher dilution of the drug bears some resemblance to that of the original drug molecules. During the process of dynamization, the original drug molecules are progressively depleted and replaced by hydrated ethanol molecules. From this stage, electron transfer and also proton transfer occurs between fresh molecules and agitated molecules of the aqueous ethanol medium during successive dilution and succussion. Succussion or mechanical agitation increases the hydrogen bond strength and makes the water ethanol mixture more compact and homogeneous. All these factors make a potency capable of carrying the information of the original drug and producing specific biological effects39,41.

This theory of electron transfer interaction is based on the electronic spectra obtained from two selected potentized drugs, Nux vomica and Iodum. The mother tincture and the 30th potency of both the drugs were prepared in aqueous ethanol and an inert solvent, carbon tetrachloride CCl4. UV absorption spectra of the mother tincture and the potencies of the two drugs show differences indicative of electron transfer interaction with aqueous ethanol preparation and not with CCl4 preparations41. In the molecular complex, the electron of one molecule absorbs a quantum of visible radiation and is excited, not to a higher energy level of the same molecule, but to one of the vacant high energy levels of the neighbouring molecules. This is charge transfer interaction. The energy needed to transfer the electron is related primarily to the ionization potential. In case of I2 CH3CH2OH the charge transfer bond occurs at 240 nm. Here the charge transfer involves the transfer of an electron from a neighbouring base molecule to one of the high energy empty orbitals of the neighbouring I2 molecules. Since the unagitated dilutions of Iodine from 1cH to 30cH show comparable spectral pattern and absorbance intensities as with agitated or sonicated potencies, it can be concluded that the retention of the molecular memory of the solute, here Iodine by hydrated ethanol, is independent of mechanical agitation like sonication or succussion41.

We further observed that homeopathic potencies could be differentiated by Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. We tested 33 potencies including an ethanol control. The differences relate to the chemical shifts and spin lattice relaxation time (T1 values) of naturally abundant deuterium (zH) in the 4 chemical groups (CH3, CH2 OH of ethanol and OH of water) present in different homeopathic potencies and their diluent medium, aqueous ethanol. The difference in chemical shift values in between potentized drugs and their diluent medium aqueous ethanol may be due to varied shielding effects on the deuterium nuclei. Paramagnetic electronic circulations about atoms such as carbon and Oxygen contribute to the shielding of adjacent protons. The degree of electronic shielding depends on the electron density around the proton. The higher is the electron density around the proton, the higher is the shielding effect, and this results in higher field (t value) at which the proton absorbs. The hydroxyls (OH) of ethanol and water take part both in self as well as intermolecular association by hydrogen bonding. Protons in hydrogen bonding show a very marked deshielding. So, variation in chemical shifts between homeopathic potencies and their medium relating to deuterium nuclei can be attributed to different types of self and inter-molecular association in water and ethanol molecules. T1 values are related to the molar volumes of the substances involved. Since aqueous ethanol is a non-ideal solution, molecules of the two components either attract or repel one another more than molecules of the same type. So, the mixing either increases or decreases the average distance between the molecules which results in the difference in molar volume. Hydrogen bonding would also undergo a change. Mechanical agitation like succussion or sonication would further bring about a change in this molar volume and make the solution more compact and homogeneous. All these factors contribute to a change in this T1 values39.

Homeopathic potencies can also be differentiated by infra-red (IR) spectroscopy. In a potency there exist two types of molecules, water (H2O) and ethanol (CH3 CH2 OH). Molecules undergo two kinds of vibrations, stretching and bending. In stretching, the distance between two atoms increases and decreases in the same bond axis. In case of bending the position of the atom changes in relation to the bond axis. We have already mentioned that water carries the information or imprint of the original drug, and ethanol with its large non-polar tail simply preserves the water structure. At first we observed O-H stretching and bending vibrations and also C-O stretching and C-H bending vibrations of Nux vomica 30cH, succussed and unsuccussed, and its medium 90% ethanol12. The OH stretching band comprises hydroxyl of both water and ethanol. There was no variation in peak position between the OH bands of the ethanol control and Nux 30cH (succussed). However, the OH band of Nux 30 (unsuccussed) showed a shift to the lower frequency region. The OH bending vibration around 1400 cm-1 (v2 band) is exclusive to water and shows variation in peak position with Nux 30, succussed and unsuccussed and also the ethanol control. Peak position of the CO stretching and CH bending bands also showed variation between the drug and the control12,39.

We also obtained Fourier transform infra-red (FTIR) spectra of 90% ethanol, Ethanol 30cH, Nux vom 30cH and Lycopodium 30cH. Here also we found distinct variations in peak position and width of v2 band in the potentized drugs and the control42. All these data indicate a variation in hydrogen bonding between the control and potentized drugs. Later we focused our attention on the OH stretching band and obtained FTIR spectra of the potentized drugs Natrum mur 8cH, 32cH, Cantharis 8cH, 32cH and ethanol control. The drugs and the control had 0.03 molar fraction of ethanol. We analysed the data and found that the potentized drugs and the control had different levels of free and bound water molecules. Moreover, they also differed from each other with respect to the hydrogen bond network and H-bond strength43. We also analysed FTIR spectra of Natrum mur 30 cH, 200 cH, 1000 cH. Here also we found distinct variation in free and bound water molecules and H-bond strength between different potentized drugs and also different potencies of the same drug44.

In a recent study we obtained Raman scattering spectra of the same three potencies (30cH, 200cH, 1000cH) of Natrum mur and Sulphur. Raman spectroscopy is complementary to IR spectroscopy. Here we have demonstrated differences not only between different potentized drugs but also differences between potencies of the same drug exactly in relation to the potency ranks. The higher the potency, the more abundant are the free OH groups. Further, the lower the potency, the stronger is the hydrogen bond of the OH groups (unpublished data).

From my clinical experience I can say that lower potencies like 6cH or 12cH administered repeatedly, at least twice every day for 1 or 2 months, cure many chronic cases which are highly refractory to conventional potencies like 200cH or 100cH. This shows that the strength of hydrogen bonds of the OH groups in the potencies plays a major role in curing chronic cases. Chronic diseases I cured with lower potencies include tumours, eczema, rheumatoid arthritis and diseases of kidneys and liver. In this connection I should mention that remedies must be well selected according to the principles of homeopathy. Miasmatic problems, if any, should be removed with appropriate drugs during the course of treatment. Higher potencies like 1000cH and above produce a prolonged effect with a single dose. Here repetition of doses at short intervals would not give the anticipated therapeutic effect. Moreover, high potencies applied frequently cause aggravation of symptoms. Repetition with high potencies very often destroys the path of recovery. Thus we can say that abundance of free OH groups in a high potency is likely to produce a chain reaction in the morbid biochemical condition of a patient, and repetition of doses would disturb the favourable reaction initiated by the single dose.

About the author

NC Sukul

NC Sukul

Professor Nirmal C Sukul isPresident, Sukul Institute of Homeopathic Research, Santiniketan, West Bengal, India. He is the former Head, Department of Zoology and Dean, Faculty of Science at isva-Bharati University, Santiniketan. He has published 180 research papers, including 70 papers on Homeopathy. His three books include ‘High dilution pharmacology and homeopathy’, ‘High dilution effects: physical and biochemical basis’ and ‘Soil and Plant Parasitic nematodes’. Prof. Sukul has participated in seminars around the world and is recipient of the Dr. G.D. Bhalerao Memorial Gold Medal, B.B. Sarkar Memorial Medal and the Joy Gobinda Law Memorial medal. http://www.sukulhomeopathy.com/

1 Comment

  • This is an astonishing body of work that will further the cause of homeopathy. A man of such talent and dedication is to be revered by the community.

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