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Can Water Possibly Have a Memory a Sceptical View - Texeira - Homeo 2007

Can Water Possibly Have a Memory a Sceptical View - Texeira - Homeo 2007

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Can water possibly have a memory? A scepticalview
Laboratoire Le´ on Brillouin (CEA/CNRS), CEA Saclay, 91191 Gif-sur-Yvette Cedex, France
Homeopathic medicines are currently used in medical practice, despite controversyabout their effectiveness. The preparation method is based on extremely high dilutionsof many substances in water, far beyond any detectable level. For this reason, it hasbeen suggested that water could retain a ‘memory’ of substances that have beendissolved in it before the successive dilutions. The paper stresses the fact that this ideais not compatible with our knowledge of pure water. If an explanation on physicalgrounds is to be found, research must focus in other aspects of the preparation, such asthe presence of other molecules and dissolved gases.
water structure; water dynamics; aggregation; metastability
Homeopathy and homeopathic medicines are wide-spread and well accepted by many doctors, pharma-cists and patients. It is officially recognised by healthauthorities and agencies authorities and at a politicallevel in many parts of the world. However, they arealso criticized and attacked by others. It is not mypurpose to participate actively in a complex debatethat includes not only scientific aspects but alsosociological and economic components. My contribu-tion will address only the arguments relying on theproperties of water and only from the physical view.Consequently, at best, it is a physicist’s view of the roleplayed by water in homeopathic solutions.To clarify this statement, I think that it is useful toremember that medicine is not only a science but also anart. A good doctor takes into account not only thesickness itself but also the patient, his environment andhis psychological aspects. As a consequence, theprescription of a medicine fortunately includes a largepart of empiricism. The goal is to restore a ‘normal’state. One must admit that the complete knowledge of all the parameters intervening in a real situation is totallyillusory and that this situation is unlikely to change inthe foreseeable future. Anyway, even when the activeprinciples and biological receptors are well known andidentified, the reactions of different patients are not thesame. To circumvent these inherent difficulties theperformance of drugs is established via statisticalanalysis of large numbers of cases with a randomiseddouble-blind methodology which implicitly recognizesthe hidden role of components which escape to thenormal scientific analysis of ‘exact sciences’.Modern pharmacological research is based on adetailed knowledge of physical and chemical interactionsbetween drugs and living cells. At the confluence of Biophysics and Chemistry, a more detailed and precisepicture of those interactions is steadily emerging. Still,many traditional medications and frequently-prescribeddrugs are currently used without such detailed knowl-edge of their action. For them, it is either difficult oruseless to define the exact ‘pathsfrom medicine tobiology, then to chemistry and physics.
Many traditional drugs, as for example those extractedfrom plants, are extensively used in medicine. In somecases one or more active principles have been identifiedbut even in such cases the exact action is usually not wellunderstood at the level of chemical reactions or physicalinteractions taking place within living organisms. Thissituation is very common but has never been a limitation
Correspondence: Laboratoire Le´ on Brillouin (CEA/CNRS), CEASaclay, 91191 Gif-sur-Yvette Cedex, France.E-mail:jose.teixeira@cea.frReceived 1 May 2007
Homeopathy (2007) 96,
2007 The Faculty of Homeopathy
doi:10.1016/j.homp.2007.05.001, available online at
to prescribing drugs that have shown their effectivenessthrough many years of practical use. Certainly, in othercases, the interactions are known in great detail leadingto the synthesis of well-defined drugs with specific andwell controlled applications. But we remain far from acomprehensive and detailed knowledge of the action of drugs on living organisms.Homeopathic drugs fall, at least partially, into the firstcategory. Their use has been validated by real orsupposed successes, the frontier of the two beingprobably irrelevant from the point of view of thepatient. But there is an essential difference betweentraditional or ‘natural’ medicine and homeopathy. Thelatter is much more recent and based in a quasiphilosophical concept (
similia similibus curentur
) statedby Hahnemann, perhaps by analogy with the contem-porary first studies of immunization. With modernscience, it should, in due course, be possible to under-stand the mechanisms of action of natural substancesand of homeopathic drugs. For natural substances thesearch for the active principles has been successful insome cases; in others, it has been simply assumed thatthey are present but the level of interest of the drug oravailable resources has not justified further studies.With homeopathic drugs the situation is very differ-ent. Their method of preparation is based essentially ontwo steps: sequential dilution with ‘succussion’ or‘dynamisation’ (vigorous turbulent shaking). A molecu-lar view of the matter and a trivial calculationdemonstrates that, often it is extremely improbable thateven one molecule of the compound present in theoriginal solution persists in a vial of the final medicine.The role of succussion is not obvious, even less thediverse standards of methods of preparation.Under the pressure of criticism, the natural evolu-tion of researchers interested in finding acceptablescientific justifications of homeopathy has been to gofrom purely medical concepts of effective therapy tochemistry and finally to fundamental physics. Ulti-mately, schematically, the answer: if there is ‘only’water in homeopathic medicines, then the explanationof the therapeutic action must be in pure water, itself!This intellectual evolution is a paradox. While formany drugs, the action is known at a biological,sometimes at a chemical, but almost never at a physicallevel (that of the structure and energies defined withatomic resolution); for homeopathy, the discussionjumped directly into this microscopic sub-molecularphysics world. The mixture of the precise methodologycharacterizing research in physics and proceduresderiving from pharmacology in research in homeop-athy is striking. For example, several measurements of physical properties of diluted solutions have been donedouble-blinded. An extreme and provocative hypoth-esis is that water can retain a ‘memory’ of substancespreviously dissolved in it.
A critical analysis of several publications shows thatseveral issues remain open to question. Schematically,one can distinguish the following:(1)
How different from pure water are highly dilutedsolutions? In other words, is the simple calculationof the number of molecules of the ‘active principle’per unit volume of the solution sufficient to accountfor the composition of homeopathic medicines?
If succussion is an essential step in the preparationof homeopathic medicines, what is exactly its role?How does it influence the dilution procedure?
What is the behaviour of complex molecules (egbiopolymers, organic compounds, surfactants, etc.)during the dilution process?
A clear answer to these (and perhaps other)questions is a necessary and essential precondition toany study of ‘pure’ water. Indeed, the conditions of preparation and conservation of homeopathic medi-cines are far from respecting the simplest proceduresrequired in physical studies of pure water.Some issues should be controlled more system-atically:(1)
Pure water is a very powerful solvent of manysubstances. For example, it dissolves and formsspecific bonds with silica. In contact with the surfaceof quartz, water forms stable silanol groups(Si–O–H). With time, silica molecules and siliconatoms are solubilised and hydrated. The number of these ‘impuritiesis huge as compared with thecalculated amount of molecules of the startingsubstance in most homeopathic medicines.It may be useful to recall that the interaction of water with solid surfaces is so strong that studies of nucleation must be done with minute amounts of water kept in levitation, without any contact withsolid surfaces. The interaction with solid surfaces isso important that if a supercooled liquid freezes, itmust be heated up to temperatures higher than themelting point in order to be supercooled again. Lessimportant for water than for other liquids (eggallium), this effect is due to more favourablenucleation of the solid form at the solid surface.Another point deserving investigation is the storageof homeopathic solutions over long periods of time.This procedure is totally incompatible with achemical purity of water, even at a modest level.
The main consequence of succussion is the insertion of substantial amounts of air from the environmentwhere the procedure takes place. In a laboratory thatis not a cleanroom (such as those used for example inelectronics), the procedure brings into the solution notonly the gases present in the atmosphere (oxygen,nitrogen, argon,...) but also dust particles, micro-droplets of water, etc. Recent studies
show that theproperties of solutions are drastically modified whensuccussion is done under different atmospheres or atdifferent pressures, a fact which should encouragefurther studies in this direction.
Many substances, which contain pharmacologicallyactive principles, are not soluble in water. Some are
Can water possibly have a memory?
J Teixeira
previously diluted in alcohol suggesting the presenceof surfactant molecules that go spontaneously tointerfaces such as the free surface, the interfacebetween the solution and micro-droplets of gasesand the interface with the vial. Again, several verypromising and striking studies performed by theanalysis of the thermoluminescence of frozen solu-tions open new and exciting perspectives.
To summarize, it is striking that in publicationsconcerning highly diluted solutions, chemical ‘purity’ isassumed, solely on the basis of a calculation based onthe dilution procedure itself. In fact most of thesamples studied are far from being ‘pure water’. Itwould be interesting to perform to a real analysis of thecomposition of the solutions with physical methodssuch as mass spectroscopy.
As stated above, many experiments with homeo-pathic medicines assume the purity of the highlydiluted solutions and attribute its therapeutic actionto modifications of the structure and dynamics of thepure liquid itself due to the past presence of a solute.
Such a strong hypothesis would imply not only generalor random changes but also a large variety of changes,specific to each solute. The main purpose of this paperis to recall that this hypothesis is totally incompatiblewith our present knowledge of liquid water.Water, in all its forms (crystal, liquid, gas andamorphous forms) is certainly the most studied of allsubstances. All its properties have been measured withextremely high accuracy in very different conditions,including metastable states and ‘extreme’ conditions.This is due to the central role of water in manyscientific domains in physics, chemistry, geophysicsand, of course, biophysics. Essentially all knownexperimental techniques and computer simulationshave been used to precise details of the behaviour of water at scales extending from hydrodynamics to thenuclear and electronic levels. In other words, water isnot an unknown substance!However, do we know ‘everything’ about water?Certainly not: several puzzling questions are open todiscussion. In brief, the main open question about purewater concerns the supercooled (metastable) state (ieliquid water at temperatures below its freezing point)and its relation with different amorphous (glassy)states. The structure of liquid water, at atmosphericpressure, is not known in a large temperature rangeextending from the vicinity of the temperature of homogeneous nucleation of ice (
C) down to thetemperature of the glass transition (
C). Thisproblem is the object of debate and speculation mostlybased in extrapolations of simulations of moleculardynamics performed by computer.
Another important domain of research is ‘confinedwater’, ie water occupying extremely small volumes, forexample, in porous materials, in thin layers or in smallpools formed at hydrophobic sites of bio-molecules. Inthis case, there is a large variety of situations thatdepend essentially on the nature of the substrate and onthe relative importance of the number of molecules atthe surface and in the bulk of the small volume.However, pure water at ambient conditions is wellunderstood. Let us review some of its main propertiesthat may be related to the subject of this paper.Water is a simple molecule containing three atoms:one of oxygen and two of hydrogen strongly bound bycovalent bonds. Because of the hybridisation of themolecular orbitals, the shape of the molecule is a Vwith the oxygen occupying the vertex of an angle of 104
; the O–H distance is almost exactly 0.1nm. Whentwo water molecules are sufficiently close, they orientone against the other to establish a chemical bond,called hydrogen bond. In this bond, one hydrogenatom is shared by two neighbouring molecules(Figure 1). The bonding energy is about 10 timeslarger than the kinetic energy but the bond is ‘fragile’due the vibratory motions of the hydrogen atomparticularly in the direction perpendicular to the lineO–H
O. It is possible to measure accurately thetypical time for which the three atoms are aligned (thelifetime of hydrogen bonds): it is of the order of 0.9ps(9
s) at room temperature.Because of its geometry, a water molecule can easilyform four hydrogen bonds with four neighbouringmolecules. This corresponds to the structural arrange-ment in common ice (I
or hexagonal form). The angleof 104
is sufficiently close to the tetrahedral angle(109
) to impose this very open structure where eachmolecule is surrounded by four others at the apex of atetrahedron (Figure 2). In liquid water this localgeometry exists partly: on average a water moleculehas 4.5 neighbours but this number decreases withdecreasing temperature because the average number of ‘intact’ bonds increases. Incidentally, it is this decreaseof the number of first neighbours that explains why thedensity of water decreases at low temperatures. At4
C, which is the temperature of maximum density,this effect compensates that of thermal expansion.
0.18 nm0.1 nm
Figure 1
Schematic representation of a hydrogen bond inwater. The large circles represent two oxygen atoms ofneighbouring molecules; the small circle is the hydrogen atomattached to the oxygen on the left hand side by a covalent bond.The length of the hydrogen bond is 0.18nm.The hydrogen atomvibrates in all directions. Vibrations perpendicular to the bond aremost likely to break the bond.
Can water possibly have a memory?
J Teixeira

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