The Pharmacological Context Of Homeopathy

Words: Dr Paul CALLINAN

Ask a pharmacologist about the biological effects of very low concentrations of common substances on living organisms and the answer will be that there is typically very little, or zero, response. Ask for some theoretical backup, and in short order you will find yourself confronted by one of the pharmacological tools of trade, the Dose-Response Curve. In brief, the curve illustrates one of the rules of thumb in drug use: that an increased dose of a drug will give an increased effect, while a lowered dose of a drug will give a reduced effect, and a very low dose will give no effect at all.

The pharmacologically recommended dose of a drug lies in the area of the effective dose [ED50] — the dose which produces 50 per cent of the total, or maximal effect. The homeopathic area of interest, on the other hand, lies at the very start of the ED curve, in the area of the so-called threshold dose.

The area of the threshold dose is usually avoided in standard pharmacological drug testing, for two reasons. The first is that the threshold dose lies some distance from the area of the ED50, so investigating this area for drug reaction is basically a waste of time. But, the other reason is far more interesting. The threshold dose is an area where paradoxical and contradictory results are obtained, and not easily explained in conventional terms. Again, the easy answer is to simply avoid it in experimentation. The bottom line is that for many years the pharmacologists have known of the strange results obtained in the threshold dose area, but have simply chosen to ignore them. In doing so, they have unwittingly withdrawn orthodox support for an entirely different field of medicine.

Arndt-Schulz Law 

It is interesting that one of the earliest laws of pharmacology, known as the Arndt-Schulz Law [named

after Rudolf Arndt and Hugo Paul Friedrich Schulz], had already expressed the homeopathic effect. Formulated by Arndt in 1888, and restated by Ferdinand Hueppe, a few years later, the law set the groundwork for what should have been a side-by-side development of allopathic and homeopathic medicine in the following century. It states: for every substance, small doses stimulate, moderate doses inhibit, large doses ‘kill.’

Allopathic medicine, with its emphasis on moderate drug doses, works in the inhibitory part of the scale. The result is seen in the typically inhibitory medicines produced: antihistamines, antibiotics, antacids, cough suppressants, and so on, laying the basis for the so-called ‘suppressant’ effect of drugs.

Homeopathic medicine, on the other hand, begins at the stimulatory end of the curve, and moves to the left, into the smaller and smaller dose range. Its emphasis is on the stimulation of the body’s natural balancing mechanisms, as seen in its philosophy of the natural regeneration of the body through rebuilding of vitality, a concept also in close agreement with naturopathic thought.

Pioneering Results 

The pioneering work of William Boyd bound the worlds of homeopathy and Arndt-Schulz together in the early 1940s with a series of tightly controlled experiments, and set the stage for work much later on as to how homeopathic medicines may work. Boyd worked with the enzyme malt diastase, which was already known to be inhibited by crude doses of the salt mercuric chloride, and measured its speed in the hydrolysis of starch. He also used a number of homeopathically prepared dilutions of mercuric chloride, including a batch at 61X, where there was no likelihood of any of the original salt remaining — it was pure water. He also worked with distilled water as a control. He showed that crude doses of mercuric chloride inhibited diastase activity, as was already well-known, and that distilled water had no effect. But, he also showed, with statistically significant results, that mercuric chloride 61X accelerated diastase activity.

Now, this experiment had a number of ramifications, besides supporting the Arndt-Schulz Law. If there was no mercuric chloride in the 61X potency, it should have reacted the same as distilled water. If, on the other hand, there was a contamination of mercuric chloride, somehow in the test doses, then the activity of the enzyme should have decreased. Instead it did neither, but increased it, from the laboratory point of view. Homeopathic medicines were not only shown to work according to the Arndt-Schulz Law, but also to affect enzyme action.

Hormesis: The Breakthrough 

Look up the Arndt-Schulz Law in a modern textbook of pharmacology, and you will be lucky if you find

it mentioned, let alone discussed. It died out of the textbooks as the allopathic interest moved further into the inhibitory part of the Arndt-Schulz curve, and as the pharmacological Dose-Response curve avoided the area of the threshold dose. It appeared that, for all its promising origins, theoretical support for homeopathy had died a natural death.

Recently, however, support for homeopathic medicine has come from a most unlikely direction: the field of toxicology, or the action of poisons. Beginning in 1960, data began to accumulate that poisonous substances were having two effects on living organisms. At high doses they inhibited metabolism and ultimately caused death, as was well-known. But, at low doses they exerted a stimulating effect, a response totally unexpected and not explainable by current medical science. Recently, the trickle turned to a torrent, as toxicologists turned to examine the new phenomenon of hormesis, the name given to the stimulatory effect of low levels of usually poisonous substances.

The Arndt-Schulz Law had not died: it had simply resurfaced with a new name. The research results are incomplete, but the trend is inescapable. Evidence from experiments, both human and animal, shows hormesis as an effect occurring in all biological domains tested, with growing research support. It demonstrates that all substances [including pesticides and carcinogens] which show an inhibitory effect at high concentrations, have a stimulatory effect at low concentrations.

Alpha & Delta Credo 

The alpha curve is the most expected pattern, and is assumed to describe the actions of drugs in humans as the concentration moves from low concentrations to progressively more inhibitory ones. This curve is a tentative one, and is assigned to those conventional drugs which have not yet been fully tested for a stimulatory response.

The beta curve was the most frequently observed pattern; it accounted for the human reactions to the bulk of the drugs tested. It shows a typical curve as predicted by the Arndt-Schulz Law, but [understandably] was not tested in toxic and lethal dose ranges.

The two other curves, the gamma and delta forms, were recorded where data was available for biological response at lower dose ranges. However, data points for these ranges are generally less available, so the validity of these curves will be unknown until further data are available.

Homeopathic research has consistently produced results showing the basic curve structure of hormesis and the Arndt-Schulz Law. But, the research goes further: as the drug substance is progressively diluted, the biological reaction alternates between stimulation and inhibition, as given by the hormesis gamma and delta curves.

This periodic behaviour is called rhythmicity by homeopaths; it represents one of the several great phenomena in homeopathic medicinal action.

Dr PAUL CALLINAN, MSc, ND, DHom, is a homeopath, biophysicist and researcher who specialises in providing scientific support for natural medicines. He has proposed scientific models for the mechanism of homeopathic medicinal action in research literature, including international seminars. A contributing editor with Australian Wellbeing magazine, author of a host of books on homeopathy, and lecturer in homeopathic medicine, Dr Callinan lives and practices clinical medicine in New South Wales, Australia. This article is ©Dr Paul Callinan.

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