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From the Townsend Letter
December 2006


Three Years of HCl Therapy (Part 1)
as recorded in The Medical World
with introduction by Henry Pleasants, Jr., AB, MD, FaCP (Associate Editor)
Originally published by W. Roy Huntsman, Philadelphia, PA

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Part II is also online
The entire 50-page article is online as a 516KB .pdf.

Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

To continue reading from where the article ended in the print Townsend Letter, begin at page 3.

To present the essential features of the articles and case reports reprinted in this volume, revisions have been made and sections not directly related to the subjects have been omitted.

The use of hydrochloric acid therapy for the purpose of strengthening key components of the immune system is such an important and inexpensive treatment that the whole of this wonderful booklet from the 1930s is hereby reproduced. We know that hydrochloric acid therapy works. We know nothing of the effectiveness or desirability of other therapies reported in this booklet, and so we cannot recommend consideration for any other treatment herein reported, other than that of the clinical use of hydrochloric acid against invasive microorganisms.

Part I

The demand for reprints and previous issues of The Medical World containing articles by various contributors on the subject of hydrochloric acid therapy exhausted the supply of material available. In order to meet this increasing demand, we have collected, in one volume, the original articles and minor comments which have been published in this magazine during the past three years.

This collection of reprints is a unique feature of medical journalism and should be of valuable aid to any physician who desires to review the literature on this subject. It must be remembered, however, that this volume covers but three years ending early in the summer of 1935 and that some extremely important contributions have been published since that date. It is to be hoped that this volume will fill a long-felt need and that it will stimulate further individual research on this most interesting development in therapeutic procedure.

The awakening of interest on the part of the medical profession in the use of dilute hydrochloric acid intravenously, intramuscularly, orally, and locally in the treatment of many disease conditions warrants a condensed outline of the principles upon which this therapeutic measure is based; a resume of our own experiences with it in certain cases; a frank discussion of its limitations; and a general outline of its possibilities. The fact that this agent is so inexpensive, that it is not an exploited compound put out by pharmaceutical manufacturers, and that its usefulness was developed by two practicing physicians, working independently along entirely different theoretical lines, brings this remedy into a position of economic importance that should not be disregarded.

Since the days of Hippocrates, medicine has been seeking a remedy that would be efficient in stimulating the resistive forces of the human body to combat disease. Even following the discovery of the bacteria as the cause of most of the diseases to which human beings are susceptible, the efforts to stimulate personal resistance went hand-in-hand with the effort to discover a germicide that would destroy the bacteria without producing harmful effects on the patient. Metchnikoff, in the early years of this century, presented his theory that the resistance of the body to disease depended upon nuclear leucocytes. It was not long after this that Ehrlich announced his discovery of "606," an arsenical preparation that would destroy the spirochete of syphilis. He believed that it was possible, through chemistry, to evolve remedies that were of tremendous sterilizing power. Without attempting to explain the intricate features of the "opsonic theory" of Metchnikoff and the "side-chain" theory of Ehrlich, the fact remains that the scientific workers of the profession split into two groups, each supporting one of these theories, although granting the logical importance of the other. In 1931, however, the theory supported by Ehrlich was allowed to pass into discard as being untenable.

During World War I, a practicing physician, Dr. Burr Ferguson, of Birmingham, Alabama, entered the service of the United States Army Medical Corps, rising to the ranks of Lieutenant-Colonel and seeing much surgical work in the hospitals of France. After the war, he volunteered his services with the Red Cross in Siberia, later being sent to Albania in the Balkans, where he studied typhus fever in association with Colonel Hans Zinsser. Returning to America, he entered the Public Health Service for a few years. After active military and public health work, he had given much thought and attention to the effect of many of the powerful war wounds. One of the first of his observations was the recovery of a long-standing case of osteomyelitis following shrapnel wounds immediately after the administration of intramuscular injections of salicylate of mercury. In this particular case, there was no history of syphilis, and the Wassermann was negative. He studied the blood of this and other similar patients and noted a remarkable increase in the polynuclear leukocytes following each injection. He continued his studies both during and after the service and discovered that the same increase of polynuclear leukocytes was noted following the administration of most of the so-called specific remedies, such as arsphenamin, bismuth, and others. He presented two papers on this subject, which appear in the British Medical Journal and the Lancet around 1925, while he was doing public health work in England. His findings were commented upon most enthusiastically by Sir Arbuthnot Lane, who stated that he believed that Ferguson had made a most important contribution to science, but that his work would be ridiculed by most of his colleagues in America. He advised him to continue his investigations.

From this time on, Dr. Ferguson studied the influence of various drugs on phagocytosis. The effect of the intravenous injection of mercurochrome was particularly powerful as a phagocytic stimulant, but its toxicity was dangerous. The same was true of other remedies. His observations showed that alcohol was an active phagocytic stimulant, but the ability of the phagocytes to combat the bacteria was lessened. He also found that nearly all of the physiotherapeutic measures, from mustard plasters and cantharides blisters to the most modern raido-thermic appliances, were of very definite value in producing a marked leukocytic and phagocytic response. The same was true of bleeding, transfusion, injections of whole blood, injections of sterile milk, leukocytic extracts, bacterins, and other similar measures. Their value in certain cases was unquestioned, but their action depended solely upon the principle that was old as Hippocrates, namely the stimulation of individual resistance.

The problem before Dr. Ferguson now was to find some remedy that would be successful in stimulating phagocytosis, yet non-toxic. In 1927, he heard Dr. Granville Hanes, a noted proctologist, and studied this surgeon’s technique in treating pruritus ani by injections of 1-3000 hydrochloric acid without any evidence of toxic effect, yet with uniformly good results. Dr. Ferguson attributed this absence of toxicity to the fact that hydrochloric acid is one of the very few inorganic acids that are normal constituents of the human body, and he determined to experiment upon himself to discover whether it could be used safely by intravenous injection. Upon his return home, he instructed his technician to take several leukocyte counts, then give him an intravenous injection of 10 cc 1-500 solution hydrochloric acid. There was no severe reaction, as in the cases that had received arsphenamin, mercurochrome, and donor's blood, and the leukocyte count increased very considerably, with a definite increase of polynuclear percentage. With this encouragement, he gave several doses of this preparation to some of the most seriously ill patients who had failed to respond to other forms of treatment. The effect was so spectacular that he continued his efforts and reported his observations in Clinical Medicine and Surgery.

Considerable skepticism was expressed by the leaders of the medical profession, not only as to the value of such a simple procedure, but also as to the veracity of the reports of clinical improvement. Strong criticism was voiced against intravenous injection of such a powerful acid, even in dilute form. Many doctors refused to give it clinical trial on this ground, and on several occasions, Dr. Ferguson was refused permission to publish articles on the subject or to discuss the matter before medical gatherings.

The Medical World gave honest support to Dr. Ferguson and permitted the publication not only of articles submitted by him, but also by other physicians, including Dr. Walter Bryant Guy, of St. Augustine, Florida, who was approaching the same subject of hydrochloric acid therapy from a somewhat different angle, and whose research was of equal importance. His work deserves a brief description at this point.

Dr. Guy formulated a theory that most disease conditions, acute infections, anemias, metabolic disturbances, and malignant cell overgrowths are direct results of changes in the hydrogen-ion content of the lymph of the body, which produces blockage of the lymph channels. In his studies of the growth of corn and other forms of vegetable life, Dr. Guy had been able to demonstrate that the absence of sufficient potassium salts in the soil would result in stunted growth and evidence of precipitation of minute particles of iron and other substances in the stalks. When potassium was added, the growth proceeded normally. When dilute hydrochloric acid was also added, the growth was further stimulated. He studied the lymph of a large number of patients suffering from carcinoma and found that these cases showed a hydrogen-ion content much higher than that in normal individuals. He also found that by administering the salts of potassium in combination with dilute hydrochloric acid, either orally or by the intravenous route, these patients made remarkable clinical improvement, and the hydrogen-ion content of their lymph became normal. The publication of his series of articles in The Medical World was followed by a large number of case reports by participating physicians who greeted the new therapeutic procedure with great enthusiasm. Dr. Guy published his first book on this subject in 1934 and a revision in 1935.

Having thus far presented a brief summary of the prodigious work of Ferguson and Guy, it may be well to call attention to the fact that Ferguson was approached by one of the largest pharmaceutical houses and offered a large sum of money to cease his efforts to place his discovery before the medical profession, except through the medium of products of this concern. Although in actual financial distress, he refused this offer and continued in general practice, thereby exemplifying the spirit of the Hippocratic Oath as few men have done. Similarly, Guy presented to the profession all the results of his research, including his formulae, and continued his work in general practice. These two instances of utterly unselfish devotion to the interest of humanity are an object-lesson to every practitioner.

While no attempt has been made to claim that hydrochloric acid therapy use intravenously produces the effect described by Ehrlich as "Therapia Sterilisans Magna" which he claimed for his original compound "606," it is interesting to note that laboratory research showed very definitely the actual germicidal properties of dilutions of this acid. Cultures of staphylococci and streptococci and other organisms were destroyed within a few minutes when mixed with dilutions 1-1000. This observation led to the use of the solution as a local application in pustular skin affections. The effect was so spectacular that its importance is no longer questioned. Ferguson demonstrated its efficacy as urethral antiseptic in gonorrhea by being able to obtain negative smears in from two to three days and alleviate the distressing symptoms of burning and tenesmus in even less time. Even bladder irrigations of solutions as strong as 1-500 were tolerated satisfactorily by the patients, and there was no evidence of the destruction of normal tissue cells which often attended the use of other antiseptic solutions, such as the silver salts, potassium permanganate, and the like. Most interesting of all was the report by Ferguson of his success in the treatment of a most aggravated case of pustular syphilides (secondary stage).

The attitude of the medical profession toward the work of Ferguson and Guy has been highly amusing and deserves a word of comment. Many research leaders, whose observations coincided with the clinical results obtained by practitioners, refused to allow their names to be used in connection with the work done. Others openly ridiculed the whole theory as preposterous and refused to allow this simple therapeutic measure to be employed in their clinics. However, it has been found that the makers of sterile ampoules admitted frankly that the demand for ampoules of hydrochloric acid dilutions vastly exceeded the demand for all other preparations -- and the largest consignments were delivered in the city where most of the open criticism and ridicule was heard! In other words, the leaders of the profession in many places were giving the measure a full trial and finding it efficacious, yet were unwilling to admit the fact.

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