Homeopathic Research Matters: How Does Homeopathy Work in the Body?
New model says “electromagnetic resonance” between remedy & nervous system
by Christopher Johnson
Water LeafWhen we pop a homeopathic pellet into our mouths, what happens in our bodies? The question of how homeopathy works has perplexed homeopaths and non-homeopaths alike for two centuries. In recent years, people have been suggesting that it works via “frequencies” or “resonances,” but no one had shown precisely how this might be, or supported it with rigorous scientific evidence, until now. Late 2012 and early 2013 saw the publication of two different but equally compelling new scientific models that seek to explain how homeopathic remedies might act in the body:
• Researcher Iris Bell, MD, and colleagues at the University of Arizona propose that the interaction of remedy nano-particles with various systems in the body initiate a cascade of events that move the body in the direction of increased resilience and homeostasis.1,2 If you attended the 2013 Joint American Homeopathic Conference in Reston, VA, in April, you had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Bell explain her fascinating theory when she presented “The Power of Small: Understanding the Modern Science of Homeopathy as Adaptive Network Nanomedicine.” [You can purchase a CD or DVD of Dr. Bell’s presentation at http://www.egamitapes.com or 817-577-2564 .]
• Immunologist/researcher Shahram Shahabi and his team at Urmia University in Iran also propose a systemic, body-wide response to the remedy, but they suggest the action is triggered instead by electromagnetic signals from the remedy, which are detected by the sensory nerves and then transmitted from the brain through the body’s neural network.3 In the rest of this article, we’ll focus on Dr. Shahabi’s model.
Background: building on the work of pioneers
In the 1950s-60s, physicist and medical biophysics pioneer Robert Becker began looking for ways that the body might respond to threats and otherwise restore and regenerate itself—other than through immune cell function. In experiments that began with salamanders and eventually progressed to humans, Becker demonstrated that bone healing could be stimulated with electrical current, which was transmitted in the body via nerve sheaths.4,5 He proposed that the nervous system and adjacent cells function as an electronic communications system that regulates functions such as regeneration and healing.6
In the late 1980s, famed French immunologist Jacques Benveniste along with teams at multiple universities across Europe and Canada demonstrated that human immune cells responded to homeopathically-prepared histamine.7 Benveniste’s findings and the subsequent debate became probably the most public controversy in the history of homeopathy. What is less well known is that Benveniste continued to experiment and eventually developed an electromagnetic model to explain his results. In 2006, a paper published by colleagues who had worked with Benveniste until his death in 2004 demonstrated that electromagnetic signals could
1) be recorded from certain types of cells,
2) be transmitted through water, and
3) cause effects in distant cells similar to those that occur from direct material contact with the initial cells.8 Benveniste hypothesized that this was how homeopathic remedies worked.
In 2009, Benveniste’s ideas were confirmed and extended by the work of fellow French scientist (virologist and Nobel Laureate) Luc Montagnier, who demonstrated electromagnetic properties of homeopathically-prepared bacterial and viral DNA as well as the ability for these electromagnetic waves to transmit information through water.9,10
Meanwhile, in a number of papers published between 2006 and 2009, Shahram Shahabi and his team demonstrated a seemingly unrelated and novel phenomena they termed “post-heat shock tolerance.” In experiments, they observed that by exposing the outer edges of burned skin to mild heat, pain was reduced and the progression of the burn-induced injury was inhibited. The authors were struck by the similarity of this paradoxical phenomenon to the homeopathic idea of “like curing like” and hypothesized that the effects were modulated through the nervous system—specifically, the applied heat was picked up by sensitized sensory neurons (nerve cells) in the burned skin and transmitted to the brain, which responded by sending signals through anti-pain and anti-inflammatory pathways to increase healing and reduce pain of the initial injury. The applied heat was mild enough not to cause further injury but sufficient to stimulate the healing response. (Sound familiar?)
New model: biological effects of homeopathic remedies
In January 2013, Shahabi and colleagues published “Like cures like: A neuroimmunological model based on electro magnetic resonance” in the journal Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine. Densely referenced, this paper draws on scientifically confirmed phenomena to explain, step by step, how subtle electromagnetic signals from homeopathic remedies could have their effects in the body. In a nutshell, the authors suggest that nanoparticles in homeopathic remedies give off subtle electromagnetic waves; when these waves interact and resonate with the body’s intrinsic electromagnetic waves, nerve cells are stimulated that send messages to the brain; the brain responds by sending signals back to the body to regulate immune functions and restore homeostasis. Below is a more detailed explanation.
Cells and tissues generate and respond to electromagnetic waves
In making their case, the authors cite scientific data demonstrating that all objects, whether living or non-living, produce electromagnetic (EM) fields. They specifically point to the relevance of “extremely low frequencies” (ELF).
Living cells are also affected by electromagnetic waves in their environment—but only if the waves are similar in frequency and amplitude characteristics to the waves emitted by the cells. When such similar waves come in contact, the cell is affected in a process called “resonance.” The authors cite numerous studies demonstrating this phenomenon.
Although extremely low frequency electromagnetic (ELF-EM) waves have been demonstrated to affect many types of cells and tissues, the sensory nerve cells are more sensitive than other cells. These sensory neurons pick up signals from the environment, which we perceive as sound, taste, odor, heat, touch, pain, etc. They are present in the sensory organs (eyes, nose, ears, etc.) as well as in skin, mucous membranes, and other tissues of the body.
All objects, whether living or non-living, produce electromagnetic (EM) fields.
Homeopathic remedies produce ELF-EM waves
The authors cite Montagnier’s 2009 papers as evidence that homeopathically-prepared substances can produce ELF-EM and that nano-structures must be present in these preparations to produce the EM signals. Additionally, Montagnier suggested that these nano-structures only produced the EM waves in the context of surrounding EM fields—and that when not in the presence of the correct environment, they would not produce signals. It is important to note that these nanostructures are formed by elements of the water itself and are distinct from nanoparticles of the source substance that may or may not be present.
How this explains homeopathy
Dr. Shahabi and colleagues say that the model explains three homeopathic phenomena—proving effects, the law of similars (therapeutic effects), and therapeutic aggravations:
• Proving effects
Homeopathy founder Samuel Hahnemann was not the first to test medicinal substances on healthy people (giving repeated doses until symptoms appeared), but he was the first to do so with the idea that symptoms produced in these experiments (or “provings”) could guide practitioners in selecting appropriate medicines for patients—based on the idea that like cures like.
According to Shahabi’s model, when a homeopathic remedy is put into the mouth, it makes contact with saliva, and the specific nano-structures of that remedy are “induced” (brought into form). This is similar to the process that occurs when remedy pellets are put in a glass of water—the water takes on properties of the remedy (in other words, remedy nanostructures re-materialize in the water). This process should not be confused with simple material distribution of nanoparticles of the source substance. Rather, as soon as the nanostructures are induced in the saliva, they are immediately induced throughout all fluids in the body—where they are exposed to the unique EM fields of different cells, tissues, and organs.
As noted earlier, among cells and tissues of the body, the nervous system is most sensitive to ELF-EM waves. The authors cite research demonstrating that exposure to low-level stimuli that is undetectable by the nervous system when applied once or for a short time, can result in stimulation of the nervous system when applied repeatedly or for longer duration. So the idea that multiple remedy doses may be needed in a successful homeopathic proving seems to be supported by scientific evidence.
About provings, the authors say: “Many symptoms and signs can result. For example stimulation of the somatic sensory neurons [neurons in the skin and skeletal muscles] may result in symptoms like pain, itching and disturbances in vision, hearing and taste…stimulation of the vagus nerve may also result in emotional and mental disturbances.”
So here we see that reception of ELF-EM waves by nerve cells results in both local and body-wide symptoms. Further, different remedies will produce different effects since each remedy produces a signature ELF-EM wave set, and different types of cells will respond to these waves. Therefore, different remedies produce effects in different organs and localities in the body; and further, even within the same organ, different remedies will produce different qualities of sensation (e.g., a burning pain versus a pressing pain).
• Therapeutic effects of homeopathic remedies
So, if homeopathic remedies cause symptoms in healthy people (provings), how is it that they can cure the same symptoms in the sick?
The authors point out a number of aspects of disease that are critical to their model: 1) in disease, cells produce not only their normal EM waves, but additional pathologic EM waves, 2) these pathological EM waves produce inflammation, and 3) the presence of inflammation lowers the activation thresholds of sensory neurons—especially those that trigger the body’s regulatory (healing) response.
When a person takes a homeopathic remedy that has EM waves matching those of their diseased tissues and cells, resonance occurs—a phenomenon that amplifies the particular EM wave signals making them strong enough to be perceived by the sensory neurons. And unlike in a proving, where repeated exposure to the remedy EM waves is needed (because the sensory neurons are not particularly sensitive), the therapeutic effects of remedies in disease requires much less exposure because the activation thresholds of the sensory neurons is lower. The higher the level of inflammation (as in acute disease) the lower the activation threshold of the sensory neurons and, therefore, the more quickly and dramatically the regulatory (healing) responses occur.
Finally, the authors note the different symptoms and therapeutic effects that occur when different neural pathways are involved. They place particular emphasis on the vagus nerve, which runs from the brain to many locations in the chest and abdomen; researchers have found it to be the primary neurological pathway involved in triggering reduction of inflammation, both systemically (throughout the body) and locally (at the site of injury or infection). For this reason, homeopathic remedies with symptom pictures that match those of the vagal pathways (i.e., the mental/emotional symptoms) are more likely to produce the sort of system-wide effects needed to alter the course of chronic disease.
• Homeopathic aggravations
The authors note that in states of disease, the immune system becomes adapted to the emission of pathological EM waves produced by the tissues, and as a result, becomes less sensitized and does not respond as much to the waves. This is a sort of self-suppression that occurs as the body attempts to find a stable (though less-than-optimal) state.
When the correct homeopathic remedy triggers the regulatory pathways that restore homeostasis, the immune cells regain their natural sensitivity and react to the remaining pathological waves that are still present—producing a strong (and unpleasant) immune reaction. Since the pathological EM waves are reduced (by the remedy) not too long afterwards, the aggravation is transient.
Testing the model
Though this model is based on phenomena that have been scientifically demonstrated in other fields, the concepts have not been tested in comprehensive fashion in the context of homeopathy, the authors acknowledge. Therefore, it is necessary to design experiments to confirm or refute their hypothesis. This testing would require 1) investigating whether “proving of a homeopathic remedy leads to stimulation of somatic and/or autonomic nervous systems,” and 2) “whether comparing and matching the proving-induced changes in the pattern of stimulation…with that of a patient helps to choose an appropriate homeopathic remedy for the patient.”
Dr. Shahabi and colleagues note that one way to accomplish this might be through measuring heart rate variability patterns—“which is widely considered as a marker for the balance between parasympathetic and sympathetic [nervous system] tone/stimulation.” In fact, preliminary research of this sort has already been performed.11
The ramifications of confirming this model could be immense both for homeopathy and medicine in general. If specific patterns of remedy-induced nervous system changes could be accurately mapped, it could bring much greater precision and efficiency to the process of choosing a correct remedy for patients. Potentially of even more significance, clarifying the electromagnetic aspects of the body could completely change our understanding of health and disease—perhaps giving us a more fundamental or at least broader framework.
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3. Shahabi S, Kasariyans A, Noorbakhsh F. Like cures like: A neuroimmunological model based on electromagnetic resonance. Elecctromagn Biol Med 2013 Jan 23.
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