A homeopathic remedy based on arsenic oxide can reduce liver damage in mice poisoned by arsenic, Indian scientists have found. They hope the research will lead to an inexpensive treatment to alleviate the suffering of the millions of people worldwide poisoned by arsenic-contaminated groundwater.
A.R. Khuda-Bukhsh and his team from the University of Kaylani, West Bengal, found that the homeopathic remedy Arsenicum Album could remove arsenic from mice as well as reducing its ill-effects. The research was published this week in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Arsenic contamination of groundwater, largely a result of the drilling of boreholes over the past 20 years, is a major health problem in Bangladesh and India as well as 15 other countries, including Chile and China. Symptoms include skin disease and liver damage.
The scientists are keen to see whether the drug has the same effect in human volunteers living in arsenic-contaminated areas. Such a trial would be exciting, says George Lewith of the University of Southampton and a member of the UK government's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency advisory board for the registration of homeopathic products.
He adds that similar work with arsenic has been done in animals in the past. “Animal models are one of the very few reproducible observations in homeopathy, but they are generally ignored by a sceptical establishment due to a lack of clinical trials – you can’t intentionally poison people with arsenic,” he says. “A trial using volunteers from such areas would be extremely interesting.”
Although chemical treatment can remove arsenic contamination, efforts to provide safe drinking water have not been widely implemented. Khuda-Bukhsh and his colleagues were therefore searching for a cheap and easy-to-use treatment that is effective in low doses.
A central tenet of homeopathy is that water can retain a 'memory' of substances dissolved in it. Practitioners believe that the higher the dilution of such medicine, the more potent it becomes — a claim that inspires much of the scepticism surrounding homeopathy.
The scientists monitored the activity of two enzymes in mice poisoned with arsenic after feeding them drops of either the homeopathic remedy, water or alcohol. These enzymes are more active in mice with arsenic poisoning, and can therefore be used to indicate levels of toxicity. The researchers found that the homeopathic remedy reduced the activity of the enzymes within 72 hours and was effective for up to 30 days. Water had no effect on either enzyme, and alcohol increased the activity of one of the enzymes.
"It is quite amazing that such microdoses [of the homeopathic drug] were capable of bringing about such spectacular enzymatic alterations in mice treated with a toxic dose of arsenic," the researchers write. "This is more fascinating because the dilution at which the drug appeared to be effective was so high that the chances of even a single original molecule being in them was theoretically almost impossible.”