One of the world's most widely used alternative healing practices may hold the key to treating people exposed to environmental poisons.
That's the news out of the University of Kalyani in West Bengal, India, where researchers recently reported 'highly promising results' from homeopathic treatment of arsenic poisoning -- a common problem in the region. As reported at newscientist.com (Oct. 22, 2003), the Web site of the British magazine New Scientist, researchers treated five infected mice with a remedy derived from highly diluted form of arsenic called arsenicum album. The homeopathic treatment reduced toxicity in the livers of the mice, as measured by, among other indicators, reduced levels of the liver enzymes ALT and AST. (Skin disease and liver damage commonly occur in humans who are poisoned by arsenic.)
According to a coauthor of the study, Anisur Khuda-Bukhsh, the remedy 'can very well ameliorate the toxicity produced by arsenic oxide in mice.' If these results could be reproduced in humans, he added, it would provide a cheap and accessible treatment for millions plagued by arsenic-tainted groundwater in Bangladesh, India, and other countries. Their study is available on the Web at BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine (www.biomedcentral.com).
The results should not be surprising, says Dana Ullman, author of The Consumer's Guide to Homeopathy and founder of the Berkeley-based Homeopathic Educational Services. He argues that homeopathic treatments could be an important tool in the battle against many environmental toxins. Conventional medical treatments are often limited to alleviating symptoms, Ullman says, while 'homeopathic medicine offers some potentially valuable and even potentially vital therapeutic benefits.'
Ullman points to a 1994 study by Klaus Linde and Wayne Jonas, who later became head of the Office of Alternative Medicine at the U. S. National Institutes of Health. (It's now called the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.) Jonas and Linde analyzed more than 100 previous studies of how well homeopathic remedies worked for animals affected by various environmental poisons. According to Ullman, of the 40 studies researchers rated as 'high-quality,' 27 showed positive results from homeopathic treatment. 'The research [in these studies] showed that animals who were pretreated with homeopathic doses of these substances and then given repeated homeopathic doses after exposure to the crude substance excreted more of these toxic substances through urine, feces, and sweat than did those animals given a placebo,' Ullman writes.
Based on the premise that 'like cures like,' homeopathy treats illnesses with minute doses of the substance believed to be causing the disease, with the idea of stimulating the body's own defenses. Despite 200 years of practice throughout the world, the mechanics of homeopathy remain a mystery to scientists.
Andreas Gescher, a toxicologist at Leicester University, told New Scientist that the recent findings from India were interesting, though he remains skeptical, largely because the 'curative' doses are so small. 'It comes down to the same old dilemma,' he concludes. 'This kind of study uses a dilution so high there is hardly anything there. . . . Is it really possible?'