Mr C.P., a 36-year-old soldier, came to see me eight months ago with a diagnosis of lymphoedema - extensive puffiness and swelling of his legs. He told me it had begun as a mild swelling of the right foot that had gradually extended to the entire leg, even his genitals, while the other leg also started to swell up. He told me it was aggravated by prolonged standing and warm weather, but seemed to improve if he slept with the foot of his bed raised, wore elastic stockings and took moderate exercise regularly. Light massage in the direction of the lymph flow (towards the heart) also helped. His GP had prescribed thiazide diuretics, and he had to stop eating salty or spicy foods as these increased his thirst. He also avoided clothing that restricted his groin.
Mr C.P. had been stationed in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo during the recent wars there. I was intrigued to hear that he had passed through the same places that Dr Samuel Hahnemann had observed the effects of ague (now called malaria) and the Cinchona (quinine bark) used to cure it, which led the doctor to discover the historical drug-to-disease similarity principle of homoeopathy.
Malaria, as we know, is transmitted by mosquitoes, and some Balkan areas are still infested with mosquitoes to this day.
The patient described to me how his legs had steadily and inexorably become more and more swollen. He also told me of his many expensive treatments, including some involving hot stones and oils, all in an attempt to rid himself of the lymphoedema in his legs - but to no avail. We discussed various possibilities and he underwent tests, the results of which were all normal.
I then remembered something from my time in Mozambique -Bancroft's filarial worm (Wuchereria bancrofti). This parasite has only one final host - humans - and causes 'filariasis'. The adults resemble cream-coloured lengths of coarse sewing thread and live in the lymphatic vessels that conduct lymph from body tissues, through the lymph nodes and into the blood. As they grow in numbers, they eventually clog up the lymph nodes, leading to a condition called 'elephantiasis', the distressing and crippling enlargement of various parts of the body, if left untreated. It is found, among several other places, in the Balkans and on the east coast of Africa.
The adult worms lay tiny larvae - microfilariae - which pass from the lymph into the bloodstream, where they circulate near the skin's surface in the peripheral circulation, but only at night when the victim is asleep. This is when the microfilariae are sucked up together with the victim's blood by mosquitoes, in which these microfilariae then go on to develop into the infective larval stage.
So, I began to suspect that Mr C.P.'s lymphoedema was actually filariasis, but testing for that was difficult since the blood samples had to be taken at night, immediately upon his being woken up from sleep, if any microfilariae were to be found. On discussion, Mr C.P. expressed his willingness to go through the process, and the laboratory later confirmed the presence of the parasite.
Meanwhile, I had found a report of a study - albeit in dogs and, therefore, not necessarily applicable to humans - in which a 50 per cent ethanol-water extract of the root of Zingiber officinale (common ginger) had shown a markedly beneficial effect in treating the disease when injected daily for three four-day cycles, with seven days in between (J Helminthol, 1987; 61: 268-70).
Mr C.P. undertook this same regime for six four-day cycles, with intervals of three weeks, and his microfilarial count was reduced by 98 per cent. His lymphoedema gradually subsided, and his blood became microfilariae-free after cycle number four. Now, six months after the end of the treatment, he remains worm-free, and all traces of his lymphoedema are gone.
Harald Gaier is a registered naturopath, osteopath, homoeopath and herbalist. He can be contacted at The Diagnostic Clinic, London, tel: 020 7009 4650