A homeopathic remedy made from arsenic oxide could ease the suffering of the hundreds of millions of people at risk from arsenic poisoning worldwide, suggests research published this week in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Arsenic contamination of groundwater is a major health problem for people from India, Bangladesh and at least 15 other countries, note the authors, and although chemical treatment can remove arsenic contamination of well water, the cause of rapid spread of skin diseases and liver damage, efforts to provide safe drinking water have not been widely implemented.
Seeking inexpensive treatments for arsenic poisoning that are easy to administer, effective in low doses and non-toxic, researchers from University of Kalyani, West Bengal, discovered the homeopathic remedy Arsenicum Album yielded positive effects in mice. They now believe the homeopathic treatment can reduce the liver damage in humans caused by arsenic poisoning.
"As supplying arsenic-free drinking water cannot totally rule out the chances of arsenic contamination from other sources, the problem of eradicating arsenic related diseases cannot be addressed through such efforts alone. The potentised homeopathic drug Arsenicum Album not only has the ability to help remove arsenic from the body, but these drugs in microdoses appear to have the ability to detoxify the ill-effects produced by arsenic in mice," write the authors.
Professor Khuda-Bukhsh, the research team leader, explained: "An early human clinical trial may be worth pursuing to verify the efficacy of the homeopathic drug on human volunteers living in arsenic infested areas."
Mice with and without arsenic poisoning were fed by the drop either distilled water, Arsenicum Album, or alcohol that had been through the same preparation procedure as the homeopathic remedy, three times a day. The research team then monitored the activity of two enzymes, ALT and AST, in the blood and liver of the mice, to assess the level of liver damage in these animals. As both enzymes are more active in mice with arsenic poisoning, their activity can be used as a marker of toxicity.
The researchers found that Arsenicum Album, at two different dilutions, could reduce the activity levels of the two enzymes within 72 hours. It maintained its positive effects for up to 30 days. Distilled water had no effect on either enzyme, and alcohol alone actually increased the activity of AST.
The authors write: "It is quite amazing that such microdoses of a potentised homeopathic drug which is produced by the dilution and succession of the toxic substance itself were capable of bringing about such spectacular enzymatic alterations in mice treated with a toxic dose of arsenic oxide. 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."
Furthermore, as the treatment worked in rodents, cynics will not be able to say that this homeopathic remedy works via a psychosomatic effect, said the researchers.
However they added: "Any attempt to explain the mechanism of action of the homeopathic drug would be highly speculative at the present state of our knowledge - although it could play a role in regulating genes."
The research is published today in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2003 3:7.