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The mysteries of ultra-low doses
The mysteries of ultra-low doses

Many secrets remain in the world around us. One such riddle of nature is the phenomenon of highly diluted solutions of biologically active substances, also called 'ultra-low doses of substances'. According to the findings of research, such solutions acquire abnormal properties due to the repeated reduction in a substance's concentration.

Previous levels of scientific and technological progress did not make it possible to study the physicochemical properties of highly diluted solutions. Therefore, most experiments were focused on merely studying their effects on biological systems. In recent times, the number of published scientific articles about ultra-low doses has increased significantly. Nevertheless, the findings cannot yet be fully explained with the help of existing theories.

Ultra-low dose studies are being conducted worldwide.  Professor Elena Borisovna Burlakova is one Russian scientist who, it is worth noting, has made a significant contribution to research in this field. In a review paper, she noted the anomalous dependence of the effects of biologically active substances on the administered dose. With a decrease in concentration, the intensity of the effect first weakened to a minimum, and then increased, reached its maximum, and disappeared again. This pattern was manifested in the effect of ultra-low doses of substances on various biological systems whether cells, tissues, organs, or whole organisms. In addition to enhancing the effects of biologically active substances, some of the resulting solutions acquired new properties owing to the decrease in concentration. For instance, at standard concentrations they could have a stimulating effect; at ultra-low concentrations – an opposite (inhibitory) effect. Moreover, the use of such solutions reduced their toxicity and the number of adverse events.

In the review, Prof. Burlakova also noted the work of scientists who had referred to the effects of co-administering ultra-low doses with other (or the same) substances in therapeutic doses (Prof. Burlakova uses the term 'high doses' in her articles). According to some studies, the use of ultra-low doses of substances led to an increase in the sensitivity of biological objects to substances used in high doses.

Professor Elena Borisovna Burlakova 

Photo: Professor Elena Borisovna Burlakova, Doctor of Biological Sciences. Source: On the birthday of Elena Borisovna Burlakova. Radiation Biology. Radioecology, 2014, 54, No. 5, pp. 555-557.

What could cause all these features of highly diluted solutions to manifest themselves? It is logical to assume that, at such low concentrations, the solvent (most often water) plays an important role. Scientists offer many theories regarding the organisation of such systems.  Prof. Burlakova categorised them into two main groups:

1. Long-lived structures exist in the water by virtue of intermolecular hydrogen bonds. When biologically active substances are dissolved in water, certain 'defects' form in these structures.  Such a change in structure, according to the researchers, may cause new properties to emerge in the resulting solutions. According to other publications, a coating of long-lived structures may form around the molecules of the introduced component. With a decrease in a substance's concentration, such structures are preserved, and the resulting solutions acquire new properties.

2. When dissolving biologically active substances in water, their molecules form long-lived structures. They correspond new properties to highly diluted solutions by 'aligning themselves up' around the substance molecules.

There is currently no consensus as to the organisation of such solutions.  It is quite possible, however, that both hypotheses are correct, and that the ideas put forward in the research are part of a general theory that has yet to be formulated and confirmed.  According to Prof. Burlakova, such a theory would allow the range of application for many biologically active substances to expand significantly.


1. Burlakova E. B., Kondratov A. A., Maltseva E. L. The effect of ultra-low doses of biologically active substances and low-intensity physical factors (in Russian) //Chemical physics. – 2003. – Vol. 22. – №. 2. – P. 21-40.