Western science has been marching towards the discovery of
increasingly smaller particles of matter for the past centuries,
from molecules and atoms to sub-atomic particles and quarks.
Likewise, the evolution of technology has witnessed the
miniaturisation of devices along with their increased
capabilities. "Nanotechnology" has become the popular term to
refer to the study and manufacture of devices of molecular
dimensions, of the range of nanometers or one-billionth of a
Dr. Neal Lane, former director of the US National Science
Foundation (NSF) said, "If I were asked for an area of science
and engineering that will most likely produce the breakthrough of
tomorrow, I would point to nanoscale science and engineering."
A 1999 report from NSF Technology Council predicted that
nanotechnology's impact on the health, wealth, and security of
the world's population is expected to be "at least as significant
as the combined influences of antibiotics, the integrated
circuit, and human-made polymers".
So far, research and development in nanotechnology in medicine
have been limited to devices that monitor or replace biochemical
processes in the body. But as yet, conventional scientists and
physicians have not considered using nanopharmacological doses of
Our conventional medical paradigm has tended to assume that
increasingly large doses of pharmacological agents will create
increasingly significant biological effects, even when it is well
recognized that large doses of pharmacological agents do not
necessarily lead to better or improved health.
In fact, increasing doses of most drugs generally lead to
increased side effects. Most drugs have primarily been developed
to replace, suppress, minimize, or interfere with specific
biochemical function, while the discovery of pharmaceutical
medicines to augment a person's own immune and defence system has
been an elusive and usually ignored goal.
Ironically, the few pharmacological agents that have been used in
conventional medicine today that do something to augment a person
's immune system are immunization and allergy treatments, both of
which are based on an ancient (and modern) pharmacological
principle of "similars." (Although there are obvious similarities
between these conventional medical treatments and homeopathic
medicines, there are also significant differences, including: the
homeopathic medicines are considerably smaller in dose and are
individualized to the person's total syndrome of symptoms, not
simply to a localized or defined disease.) This concept of
similars, that is, of using a medicinal agent in small doses
based on what it causes in larger, toxic doses, represents the
underlying principle of homeopathic medicine.
Largely as a result of the AIDS epidemic, it has made sense to
seek to discover drugs that strengthen a person's immune and
defence system rather than seek to minimize the various
individual symptoms that a person experiences. However, most
physicians and scientists lack a conceptual framework for
pharmacological agents that have this effect. And sadly, most are
also ignorant and disdainful of homeopathy, which they commonly
but incorrectly assume, uses such small doses that the medicines
cannot have any biochemical let alone clinical effect.
Nanopharmacology and Homeopathy
While this skepticism of the efficacy of small doses of medicine
is understandable from a strictly rational perspective, it
ignores the large body of evidence from basic science, controlled
clinical studies, epidemiological data, clinical outcomes trials,
and historical review of the field.
Before discussing this evidence, it is useful to understand that
homeopaths are the first to recognize that their medicines will
not have any biological effect or clinical result unless the
complex of symptoms that the sick person experiences are similar
to the complex of symptoms that the medicine has been found to
cause when given in toxic doses. It is not as though small doses
of simply any medicine will elicit therapeutic results; such
small doses can and will only initiate a healing response when a
person is hypersensitive to a specific medicine.
Basic principles of physics teach us that hypersensitivity exists
when there is resonance. Homeopathy is itself based on resonance
(commonly referred to as the "principle of similars"). Even the
word "homeopathy" is derived from two Greek words, "homoios"
which means similar, and "pathos" which means suffering or
Typically, homeopaths engage patients in a detailed interview to
elicit the various physical, emotional, and mental symptoms that
the sick person is experiencing. Homeopaths seek to find a
medicinal agent that has the capacity to cause in healthy people
the similar symptoms that the sick patient is experiencing.
Rather than treating localized symptoms or a specific disease,
homeopaths treat syndrome complexes, of which the symptoms and
the disease are a part. Once a conventional medical diagnosis is
determined, the homeopath then seeks to find the symptoms that
are unique to the patient, and then, a homeopathic medicine is
individualized to each patient's symptom complex.
Homeopathic Medicine: A Nanopharmacology
Homeopathic medicine presents a significantly different
pharmacological approach to treating sick people. Instead of
using strong and powerful doses of medicinal agents that have a
broad-spectrum effect on a wide variety of people with a similar
disease, homeopaths use extremely small doses of medicinal
substances that are highly individualized to a person's physical
and psychological syndrome of disease, not simply an assumed
Homeopathic medicines are so small in dose that it is appropriate
to refer to them as a part of a newly defined field of
nanopharmacology. To understand the nature and the degree of home
opathy's nanopharmacology, it is important to know the following
characteristics of how homeopathic medicines are made.
Most homeopathic medicines are made by diluting a medicinal
substance in a double-distilled water. It should be noted that
physicists who study the properties of water commonly acknowledge
that water has many mysterious properties. Because homeopaths use
a double-distilled water, it is highly purified, enabling the
medicinal substance to solely infiltrate the water. The medicinal
solution is usually preserved in an 87% water/alcohol solution.
Each substance is diluted, most commonly, 1 part of the original
medicinal agent to 9 or 99 parts double-distilled water. The
mixture is then vigorously stirred or shaken. The solution is
then diluted again 1:9 or 1:99 and vigorously stirred. This
process of diluting and stirring is repeated 3, 6, 12, 30, 200,
1,000, or even 1,000,000 times.
It is inaccurate to say that homeopathic medicines are just
extremely diluted; they are extremely "potentized." Potentization
refers to the specific process of sequential dilution with
vigorous stirring. The theory is that each consecutive dilution
in conjunction with the process of shaking/stirring infiltrates
the new double-distilled water and imprints upon it the fractal
form of the original substance used (fractal refers to the
specific consecutively smaller pattern or form within a larger
Some highly respected basic scientific research has begun to
verify the claims that homeopaths have made for 200 years, and
that various extremely low concentrations of biological agents
can exhibit powerful biochemical effects. Beta-endorphins are
known to modulate natural killer cell activity in dilutions of
10-18. Interleukin-1, an important agent in our immune system,
has been found to increase T-cell clone proliferation at 10-19.
And pheromones, which are externally emitted hormones that
various animals and insects are known to create, will result in
hypersensitive reaction when as little as a single molecule is
received (scientists have no way at present to assess the effects
of less than a molecule).
It is commonly observed that organisms experience a biphasic
response to various chemicals, that is, extremely small doses of
a substance exhibit different and sometimes opposite effects than
what they cause in high concentrations. For instance, it is
widely recognized that normal medical doses of atropine block the
parasympathetic nerves, causing mucous membranes to dry up, while
exceedingly small doses of atropine causes increased secretions
to mucous membranes.
In fact, many medical and scientific dictionaries refer to
"hormesis" or "the Arndt-Schulz law" (listed under "law") as the
observations that weak concentrations of biological agents
stimulate physiological activity, medium concentrations of agents
depress physiological activity, and large concentrations halt
There is also a significant body of research on hormesis
(hundreds of studies) conducted by conventional scientists, none
of whom even mention homeopathy. The journal, Health Physics
devoted an entire issue to this subject in May, 1987.
Despite this body of research on hormesis, none of it was devoted
to investigating the ultra-molecular doses used in some
homeopathic medicines. What is interesting to note is that
researchers find that the hormetic effects of small doses only
seems to influence biological systems when there is repeated
dosages of the noxious (or medicinal) agent, while homeopathic
clinicians find that the even smaller homeopathic doses have
longer lasting effects, and do not require repetition of dosages.
The Clinical Evidence
Homeopathy first became popular in Europe and the United States
primarily because of the astounding successes it had in treating
people during various infectious disease epidemics in the 19th
century. The death rates in the homeopathic hospitals from
cholera, scarlet fever, typhoid, yellow fever, pneumonia, and
others was typically one-half to even one-eighth that in
conventional medical hospitals.
Similarly results were also observed in mental institutions and
prisons under the care of homeopathic physicians as compared to
those under the care of conventional doctors.
A group of researchers at the University of Glasgow and Glasgow
Homeopathic Hospital conducted four studies on people suffering
from various respiratory allergies (hay fever, asthma, and
perennial allergic rhinitis). In total, they treated 253 patients
and found a 28% improvement in visual analogue scores in those
given a homeopathic medicine, as compared with a 3% improvement
in patients given a placebo. (The result was significant at P =
In the hay fever study, homeopathic doses of various flowers that
are known to create pollen that initiates hay fever symptoms were
used, and in the other studies, the researchers conducted
conventional allergy testing to assess what substance each person
was most allergic to. The researchers then prescribed the 30C
(100-30) of this allergic substance (House dust mite 30C was the
most commonly prescribed homeopathic medicine).
The researchers called this type of prescribing "homeopathic
immunotherapy," and they conclude from their research that either
homeopathic medicines work or controlled clinical trials do not.
Technically, this research may be more precisely called
"isopathy" because the medicines used were not the "similar" but
the "same" ("iso") substance that was known to cause the specific
symptoms of illness. However, the medicines were made in the
typical homeopathic pharmacological process, and legally
recognized homeopathic medicines were used in these trials.
In addition to this body of clinical evidence, an independent
group of physicians and scientists evaluated clinical research
prior to October, 1980. They reviewed 186 studies, 89 of which
met their pre-defined criteria for their meta-analysis. They
found that on average patients given a homeopathic medicine were
2.45 times more likely to have experienced a clinically
beneficial effect. When reviewing only the highest quality
studies and when adjusting for publication bias, the researchers
found that subjects given a homeopathic medicine were still 1.86
times more likely to experience improved health as compared with
those given a placebo. The researchers have also noted that it is
extremely common in conventional medical research for more
rigorous trials to yield less positive results than less rigorous
The most important question that good scientists pose about
clinical research (whether it deals with homeopathy or not) is:
have there been replications of clinical studies by independent
Three separate bodies of researchers have conducted clinical
trials in the use of a homeopathic medicine (Oscillococcinum
200C) in the treatment of influenza-like syndromes. Each of these
trials involved relatively large numbers of subjects (487, 300,
and 372), and all were multi-centered placebo-controlled and
double-blinded (two of the three trials were also randomized).
Each of these trials showed statistically significant results.
One other body of research in the use of Galphimia glauca in the
treatment of hay fever was replicated successfully seven times,
but this research was conducted by the same group of researchers,
and thus far, not by any other researchers.
It would be inaccurate and biased to report only on studies that
have shown positive results with homeopathic medicines. There are
numerous clinical trials that have shown patients given a
homeopathic medicine didn't experience beneficial results. The
meta-analysis described earlier verifies this, but it also
suggests that the weight of evidence still suggests that
homeopathy is more than just a placebo effect.
How Does Homeopathy Work?
How homeopathic medicines work is presently a mystery. And yet,
nature is replete with striking examples of the powerful effects
of extremely small doses of active agents.
It is commonly known that certain species of moths can smell
pheromones of its own species up to two miles away. Likewise,
sharks are known to sense blood in the water at large distances.
I stress again that nanopharmacological doses will not have any
effect unless the person is hypersensitive to the specific
medicinal substance. Hypersensitivity is created when there is
some type of resonance between the medicine and the person.
Because the system of homeopathy bases its selection of the
medicine on its ability to cause in overdose the similar symptoms
that the sick person is experiencing, homeopathy's "law of
similars," as it is called, is simply a practical method of
finding the substance to which a person is hypersensitive.
The homeopathic principle of similars makes further sense when
one considers that physiologists and pathologists now recognize
that disease is not simply the result of breakdown or surrender
of the body but that symptoms are instead representative of the
body's efforts to fight infection or adapt to stress. Fever,
inflammation, pain, discharge, and even high blood pressure are
but a small number of the common symptoms that the organism
creates in order to defend and to try to heal itself.
Over 200 years of experience by homeopathic physicians have found
that a homeopathic medicine acts longer and deeper when it is
more potentized. Although no one knows precisely why this
happens, it is conjectured that highly potentized
nanopharmacological doses can more deeply penetrate cells and the
blood-brain barrier than less potentized medicines. Although
there is no consensus on why these ultramolecular doses work more
deeply, there is consensus from users of these natural medicines
that they do.
One cannot help but sense the potential treasure-trove of
knowledge that further research in homeopathy and
nanopharmacology will bring in this new millennium.
Dana Ullman, M.P.H. has written seven books, the latest,
Homeopathic Family Medicine, reviews and describes the various
clinical trials using homeopathic medicines to treat common acute
and chronic ailments (see www.homeopathic.com). He advises or
teaches in alternative medicine institutes at Harvard, Columbia,
and University of Arizona schools of medicine, and has developed
the curriculum in homeopathy for the University of Arizona's
Program in Integrative Medicine.