It is an axiom of modern physiology that human blood plasma has similar biochemical and electrolytic composition as seawater.
Anyone with medical training has certainly heard this analogy. The idea was indelibly etched in the minds of countless school kids by, "Hemo, the Magnificent," a 1957 educational cartoon by Frank Capra. But few people can name the men who first described it. Fewer still recognize the clinical potential it represents.
The link between blood and seawater was first hinted at by Claude Bernard (1813–1878), the French biologist who formulated the concepts of "internal terrain" and homeostasis. Bernard, a rival of Pasteur, recognized that the body was largely water, and that the internal milieu was a self-maintaining marine environment. He voiced these ideas in his seminal work, Introduction a la Medicine Experimentale (1865).
But it was physiologist Rene Quinton (1866–1925), an ardent admirer of Bernard, who really dove into the details.
Quinton grew up at the height of European empiricism, when scientists were also philosophers and men of letters. Like his predecessors, Pasteur, Bernard and Darwin, Quinton challenged himself with big questions: Where did life come from? How did it emerge? What are the optimal conditions for supporting it?
"A Microcosm of the Sea Itself"
Fascinated by Bernard's concept of homeostasis, Quinton sought to understand the internal environment and the processes of sustaining it. This led him to the ocean, where, according to emerging evolutionary theory, all life began.
He reasoned that if life evolved in a marine environment, and if, as Bernard proposed, health is contingent on maintaining and conserving a constant biochemical, electrolytic and thermal milieu, then that milieu ought to be oceanic. His objective was to prove this, to define the constants, and clarify the mechanisms by which they are preserved.
Among his most profound findings was that blood contained the same minerals—15 were practically measurable at that time—as ocean water, and in similar proportion, though ocean water is more concentrated. Moreover, that mineral balance is tightly regulated. Quinton termed this concept the Law of Marine Constancy, and, along with the Law of Thermal Constancy outlining how organisms maintain constant body temperatures, it was part of his overarching theory that all organisms strive to maintain an interior milieu closely reflective of the original oceanic matrix from which they evolved.
"Everything in the human body responds to the condition of our extracellular fluid, our internal marine aquarium. Physiologically, it is a microcosm of the sea itself," Quinton wrote in his 1904 treatise, L'Eau de Mer; Milieu Organique.
Quinton realized that the ocean itself maintains mineral and pH constants, a vision of the marine world as a living system that predated Lovelock & Margolis' Gaia Hypothesis by almost 100 years. At the center of the equation are plankton blooms: periodic surges of phyto- and zooplankton that process inorganic minerals into assimilable organic forms, and form the base of the food chain.
Quinton studied waters obtained from massive plankton vortices, which can be hundreds of miles in diameter. He was convinced that the living waters obtained from these blooms, a substance he termed "Marine Plasma," were ideally analogous to mammalian blood plasma. In 1897, he set out to prove it in a series of somewhat brutal but compelling experiments at the Laboratory of Physiology, College de France.
He drained almost all of the blood from living dogs, and when the animals were on the verge of death, he infused cold-filtered marine plasma, diluted with distilled water to isotonic salinity. Not only didn't the animals die, but they quickly replenished the cellular components of their blood and after several weeks showed remarkable vigor.
The dog experiments ushered in the era of "marine therapy." Quinton and early French adherents like Jean Jarricot advocated marine plasma as blood plasma substitute, a practice that saved wounded soldiers' lives during WW I. They also tried IV marine plasma for everything from cholera to tuberculosis, applying the "terrain" theory: that pathogens cause disease because a person's internal milieu is dysregulated, rendering them susceptible.
Quinton argued that because marine plasma balances and normalizes the internal milieu, it strengthens the body's ability to fight infections. Though never subjected to modern clinical trial, hundreds of successful case reports suggest that there was something to this idea (for a fascinating review of Quinton's diverse therapies, and a window into early 20th century European medicine, read Jarricot's 1921 book, Le Dispensaire Marin, excerpts of which, in English, can be found at www.oceanplasma.org).
A Continuing Controversy
Rene Quinton and his ideas were highly controversial in their time. French medical orthodoxy, aligned with the Pasteur/Koch view that pathogenic microbes were the primary cause of disease, pushed anything based on Bernard's "terrain" concept to the margins (though Pasteur, himself, is alleged to have confessed on his deathbed that Bernard was correct in stating, "The germ is nothing, the terrain is everything.").
Undeterred, Quinton established a company to harvest marine plasma from pelagic plankton blooms, according to very specific methods. He continued developing protocols for intravenous and oral therapies. His approach has had adherents, largely in Europe and Latin America, throughout the last century.
The company, Original Quinton (www.originalquinton.com), now based in Spain, still harvests the plasma from specific ocean sites where plankton blooms occur reliably. In accord with Quinton's protocols, the water must be obtained between 10 meters from the bottom and 30 meters from the surface of plankton vortices, then cold-filtered (never heated or irradiated) to remove all organisms and algae.
Over the 80-plus years since Quinton's death, marine plasma given orally has been used in treatment of everything from atopic dermatitis and acute diarrhea to chronic fatigue. Canadian researcher, Marc Francois Paya, MD, has found that 40 ml of hypertonic Quinton per day, reduced fatigue, improved endurance and shortened recovery time in a cohort of high-performance distance cyclists.
Quinton Plasma is available only through physicians. The Original Quinton company produces it for oral use in isotonic and hypertonic concentrations, in 10 ml sterile glass ampules. It is harvested from the same plankton vortices discovered by Quinton more than 100 years ago.
A Non-Specific Stimulus for Homeostasis
Quinton and his therapies remain controversial. Creationists bent on debunking evolutionary theory refute his idea that blood is analogous to seawater. Some mainstream physicians contend that Quinton himself had no formal medical training, and there are no placebo-controlled clinical studies to support Quinton Plasma as therapy for any disease. The entire field of marine therapy begs for modern, controlled clinical studies.
Part of the difficulty in understanding Quinton's approach is that, as Jean Jarricot wrote, "Marine Plasma is not a serum against such and such illness but is designed for the living cell." In other words, it is not a narrow-focused therapy in the sense that physicians have been trained to think of drugs. Rather, it is a non-specific stimulus for healthy homeostatic balance.
This idea is clearly foreign to mainstream medical thinking, but it certainly fits with emerging holistic views, to say nothing of ancient medical concepts like Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine.
"The whole idea of the ocean having therapeutic properties was nothing new to me. As an osteopath, I treat the fluid system of the body, particularly the fluid system within the CNS and the spinal column, which is like a little ocean inside the body," said Harry Friedman, DO, in an interview with Holistic Primary Care.
Dr. Friedman, co-founder of the San Francisco International Manual Medicine Society (www.sfimms.com), is one of a growing number of American clinicians using Quinton Plasma with his patients. He believes that, among other things, the substance has direct effects on what osteopaths call the primary respiration, the ebb-and-flow movement of cerebrospinal fluid through the spinal column.
Primary respiration was initially described by William Garner Sutherland, DO (1873–1954), an early student of osteopathy's founder, A. T. Still. In 1899, Sutherland discovered that the central nervous trunk moves. He described an "inhalaton phase," a shortening of the cranial-caudal length, and an "exhalation" in which the spinal column returns to its maximal length. The process is rhythmic and pulsatile, creating palpable movements of the cerebrospinal fluid. Sutherland's ideas form the basis of craniosacral therapy, a modality popularized in the 1970s by John E. Upledger, DO.
Dr. Friedman said that, after he first tried a 10 ml vial of Quinton, "It made me feel a lot like I do after someone treats me. I'd never experienced anything that has that effect, other than an osteopathic craniosacral treatment. It was almost as if the plasma was replicating the treatments that we do."
Primary Respiration: Slow is Good
Normally, in day-to-day states of busy consciousness, the ebb and flow of the CNS fluid runs at 6–12 cycles per minute. In states of deeper relaxation, as following a craniosacral therapy session, this primary respiration slows down to around 2–3 cycles per minute. Quinton Plasma seemed to induce this.
"Slow is good," says Dr. Friedman. People who meditate a lot or work with brainwave biofeedback can induce theta brainwave states, and this typically slows down the primary respiration to the 2–3 cycle range. It is analogous to the sympathetic-parasympathetic shift one can measure with heart rate variability when someone goes from agitation to relaxation. "Quinton does seem to have a direct effect on the biorhythm of fluid systems in the body."
How, is another question, Dr. Friedman admitted. It may be, in part, a mineral effect. Quinton Plasma actually contains all essential minerals and trace elements, something Quinton himself surmised but could not measure at the time. "I think of it as a little bit of the Mother Fluid. From a biological perspective, the ocean is the foundation of life. The whole system of life came from the ocean, and I think that at some level, our bodies recognize that."
Dr. Friedman has used Quinton with many patients, suffering from a range of different conditions. Perhaps the most dramatic response was in a woman with steroid-dependent disfiguring rheumatoid arthritis. Quinton, 40 ml hypertonic daily, helped to the point where she was able to travel, to teach, and often without needing steroid injections. "It seems to have an anti-inflammatory effect." For the most part, though, he recommends it for general health maintenance, and as an adjunct to manual and nutritional therapies.
The only side effects he has seen are occasional sleeplessness, particularly in patients taking the hypertonic plasma at night, and headache. An obvious concern is the sodium content, which in theory might be detrimental for patients with hypertension or cardiovascular risk.
Dr. Freidman said it is wise to be cautious with high-risk patients, but added that the doses of Quinton Plasma are small. "The protocols specify that one should not take more than four 10-ml vials per day. So it is very small volumes, not like drinking an IV bag full of saline."