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As clarification we're talking about those common fantasy healing potions that recover health over time and their scientific plausibility. Here are some results from my research on the subject:

Modern medicines are pathetic compared to even the weakest of health potions. Medicines reduce the amount of external influences such as bacteria from slowing down healing process unlike health potions which directly increase the regenerative performance.

Law of conservation is rather problematic. Potions could carry construction materials into body, but larger wounds would require tremendous amounts of matter not obtainable from small dozes. This matter could be drawn from surrounding tissues, but would require obscene amounts of food to maintain physical mass and constant drain would cause serious health problems later in life.

Main problem however would be regeneration. I've never heard of anything which would hasten regenerative speed aside from stem cells but even them wouldn't survive digestion and make it into bloodstream intact.

So to summarize: ...if healing potions were scientifically plausible how would they work?

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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps you might be specific about what is is you're trying to heal exactly. A slight cut on a finger is going to have different requirements from E-Bola or say, decapitation. That may stop the question getting closed for being too broad. $\endgroup$ – We are Monica. Apr 4 at 23:32
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    $\begingroup$ The question uses the word "regenerative" twice. This should be clarified. Humans (and mammals in general) do not regenerate at all. But, on the other hand, there is nothing impossible in assuming that a healing potion contains nanomachines programmed to induce regeneration into the affected tissues and organs, or some sort of hormonal blueprint to aim the immune system at a pathogen, or a crafty retrovirus designed to boost the efficiency of the healing process, or whatever else. As for the obscene amounts of food -- the human body has reserves stashed around for use in times of need. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 4 at 23:52
  • $\begingroup$ fast healing - like few hours/few days - scientifically plausible; being fully functional in a few seconds - scientifically plausible(some sort of mesh material in a body which "stitches"/closes wounds, joins vessels, form right shape plug for later healing); just magical water/soup/whatever - not so much - any matter(composition of a food) and energy source are enough for a system to work. One may need intake - but it more symbolic gesture - forgotten technologies/some key, like special dna sauce to activate the system, but it gets into total freedom of imagination territory $\endgroup$ – MolbOrg Apr 4 at 23:57
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    $\begingroup$ "Modern medicines are pathetic compared to even the weakest of health potions." You've certainly never taken a painkiller to cure the migraine debuff. $\endgroup$ – Renan Apr 5 at 1:50
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    $\begingroup$ Is a blood transfusion a healing potion to cure blood loss? $\endgroup$ – Thorne Apr 5 at 3:24
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The common misconception with healing potions is that you have to drink them. The better way would be to directly pour the healing potion on the wounded area to allow it to directly interact with the wound and begin the healing process. Otherwise you will need to wait 30+ minutes for a potion to take effect because it will need to survive through the stomach and get digested before it takes effect.

So your healing potions are basically stem cell and nutrient soup. When it gets into contact with a wounded area, causes the bodies natural regenerative abilities to speed up and the cells feed of the nutrients included in the potion to allow them the grow quickly and beyond the capabilities of the human body.

If you want more high tech, you could throw in a bunch of nano bots into the potion and they will help reassemble the damaged body part stitching your body back together using stem cells and whatever other nutrients and flesh you decide to throw into the potion to give it a nice rich red color.

Drinking a potion is too old school. Apply potions directly to wounds for best effects.

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    $\begingroup$ Potion comes from Latin potio "a drink" from the verb poto "I drink", from which in English we have potable "drinkable". A potion is by definition something which is drunk. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 5 at 7:29
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    $\begingroup$ Some substances can get into the bloodstream in well under 30 minutes. e.g., When I'm hypoglycemic, I can eat glucose tablets and see my blood sugar start to rise within 5 minutes or so. As I understand it, this is due to the sugars being absorbed through the gums and other soft tissue of the mouth. This same capability could likely be designed into purpose-built nanobots or at least some types of chemical healing agents. (But I do agree that applying it directly to the wound is likely to be simpler and more effective.) $\endgroup$ – Dave Sherohman Apr 5 at 7:30
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Nanites

You swallow, inject or even pour them into the wound and they go to work sealing off the damaged areas and rebuilding the damage.

To prevent potential problems, they have a limited battery life once activated and no self replication ability so they heal for a short time and then stop.

See nanites healing

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Stem cells

Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in the body during early life and growth. In addition, in many tissues they serve as a sort of internal repair system, dividing essentially without limit to replenish other cells as long as the person or animal is still alive. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential either to remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell. (ref)

The magic part hasn't panned out, but the hope with stem cells is that there will someday be a method of using them to regenerate damaged cells in a targeted way. So far there have been doctors and clinical trials which have showed promise. "There are over 5,000 registered clinical trials involving stem cells research on ClinicalTrials.gov, with new clinical trials in this field being offered every day." A list of trials for Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine is available.

Perhaps the most important potential application of human stem cells is the generation of cells and tissues that could be used for cell-based therapies. Today, donated organs and tissues are often used to replace ailing or destroyed tissue, but the need for transplantable tissues and organs far outweighs the available supply. Stem cells, directed to differentiate into specific cell types, offer the possibility of a renewable source of replacement cells and tissues to treat diseases including macular degeneration, spinal cord injury, stroke, burns, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. (ref)

The potential is there but we don't yet know how to really make them work. It's reasonably to think it's scientifically possible though. Will this be a "healing potion"? Probably to some degree (to a small extent, stem cells already are). Will we have the magic potion you allude to? Probably not, but it's easy to imagine a future where it happens.

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