Arsenicum Album as Prophylactic and Treatment for Covid-19
Hype or Hoax?
In January 2020, when the authorities in Wuhan, China identified the novel Coronavirus that infected thousands of people, Indian nationals began returning home. The government of India developed prevention and treatment protocols to contain the spread of the virus. According to an article published in The Scientist, the Indian Ministry of AYUSH (Health), which promotes alternative medicine systems in the country, released a health advisory that included the use of a homeopathic preparation called Arsenicum album 30C and two drops of sesame oil in each nostril each morning for prevention. Recently Kerala and other state governments have been distributing the homeopathic preparation, Arsenicum album through local governments and community organizations. This paper analyzes current findings from the literature to examine whether Arsenicum album is beneficial as a preventative measure for Covid-19 and whether it offers therapeutic benefits to those infected. My conclusion: At best, Arsenicum album may have a placebo effect; it does not possess prophylactic properties that will protect a person from contracting COVID-19 or therapeutic properties that will cure.
The basic premise of homeopathy is that a medicine, which produces a set of symptoms when given to a healthy person under controlled settings, can be prescribed in a highly diluted form to a person who shows the same symptoms. In homeopathic jargon, this is known as similia similibus curentur, a Latin phrase that means, “Like cures like.” The therapeutic dosage of the active ingredient in allopathic medications is at a much higher level than the molecular level found in the super-diluted homeopathic preparations. Dr. Anil Khurana himself a homeopathic practitioner is the Deputy Director of the Central Council for Research in Homeopathy (CCRH) in India, In an article published in The Scientist, he is quoted as saying, “We don’t claim 100 percent protection with Arsenicum album. Just taking the medicine alone will not work; all general measures for airborne infections have to be taken.” Dr. Khurana further adds, “If people get infected, they should promptly seek medical care.” In an interview, he gave to Govindraj Ethiraj of BOOM, an independent digital platform in India, the doctor concedes that homeopathic medicines will not produce an antibody against a virus, but it will enhance the cellular immunity at the basic level.
Presence of arsenic in water and food: Arsenic, mainly the inorganic form is a deadly poison and a known carcinogenic. Its presence has been detected in well water in several areas of the United States. In addition to cancer, heart disease and strokes have been linked to the drinking of water contaminated with arsenic. In the tube wells of Bangladesh and West Bengal, three to four times the permissible level of arsenic (150 ppb to 200 ppb) has been detected and millions of people suffer from arsenic toxicity. Rice accumulates more arsenic than other food crops and is the biggest source of arsenic. It is a staple food item among South Asians and Indian Americans from the South Indian states and they consume the grain regularly. On August 6, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration has issued new guidelines that establish a limit of 100 ppb for inorganic arsenic in infant cereal. The potential for arsenic toxicity exists for Indian Americans and South Asians because of the presence of arsenic in water and rice.
Studies on Arsenicum album to relieve arsenic toxicity: In a 1998 study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine by Khuda-Buksh, Pathak, Guha, et.al. Arsenicum album-30 has been found to ameliorate arsenic-induced genotoxicity and cytotoxicity in mice. In a follow-up study published in 2011, the researchers investigated the effect of Arsenicum album at high dilution on the arsenic accumulation in different tissues. Their results were encouraging indicating that administration of Arsenicum album 200C considerably ameliorates symptoms of arsenic toxicity on a long-term basis. The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 is a highly contagious respiratory virus and it has no connection to arsenic. Arsenicum album has not been proven to be an effective treatment for Covid-19.
Placebo Effect: The concept that your brain can convince your body that a fake treatment is the real thing and thus stimulate healing has been around for at least a thousand years. This phenomenon is called the placebo effect. As reported in Harvard Men’s Health, there is scientific evidence that under the right circumstances, a placebo can be just as effective as traditional treatments. A placebo, while not a cure for a condition can make the person feel better. In a double-blind randomized study, some who received a placebo may not get sick (in the case of a vaccine) and some may report that they are free of symptoms (in the case of a therapeutic). As of now, neither WHO nor CDC recommends the use of Arsenicum album for COVID-19 as a prophylactic or treatment. Taking a sugar pill or a super-diluted tincture of the homeopathic preparation may not harm the person. However, if it gives false hope and a sense of security to those who take the preparation, it can have disastrous consequences. If a person taking the preparation experiences any of the symptoms of COVID-19 such as high fever, chills, cough, and difficulty breathing, take Dr. Khurana’s advice and seek immediate medical care at a hospital that treats Covid-19 patients.
There is a much-touted story from the state of Gujarat in India where Arsenicum album 30 was given to 1,199 individuals who were quarantined after coming into contact with a COVID-19 positive person to boost their immunity. According to the Principal Secretary of Health for the state, none of them was infected with the Coronavirus. This is just a story and it is not based on a scientific study. A story cannot prove that the people did not contract COVID-19 because they all took the homeopathic preparation. It could have been the placebo effect. Perhaps all of them obeyed strict quarantine guidelines, stayed isolated for the whole period, been practicing hand hygiene, wore face coverings, and maintained physical distancing. I know of Malayalee and other Indian communities in the state I live in the U.S., many of them seniors, and have not heard of any COVID-19 infection among them. Members of these communities strictly practice safety guidelines. If Arsenicum album has been widely provided as a prophylactic, can someone claim the absence of the disease in these communities is the result of taking the homeopathic preparation?
Young people now constitute the majority of new COVID-19 cases. Most infected persons remain asymptomatic and recover. You do not have to spend money on Arsenicum album to boost immunity to ward off the Coronavirus. Sleep, exercise, and a balanced diet are three simple ways to boost immunity. Traditional Indian cuisine, cooked in oil and ghee with unique spice mixes and yogurt, whether it is vegetarian or non-vegetarian has the right combination of grains, protein, fat, fiber, and essential nutrients to provide a balanced meal. Nutritional supplements such as vitamin D, vitamin C, and zinc have been recommended to boost immunity to prevent COVID-19. Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D. Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of vitamin C. Meat, mushrooms, cashew nuts, and chickpeas contain more than enough zinc needed for our body. There is no known and effective prophylactic for COVID-19. Wash hands with soap and water, wear a mask when in public, and stay at least six feet (two meters) apart. Those are the only known preventive measures that have been proven effective. Arsenicum album has neither a prophylactic nor a therapeutic effect and it will not protect a person from contracting COVID-19.