‘Harmless’ Homeopathy Horror?

October 20, 2016

Skeptics often dramatize the uselessness of homeopathic remedies by taking large doses to prove their point. That may be unwise in light of a recent FDA warning.

As FDA spokesperson Lyndsay Meyer told BuzzFeed News’ Leticia Miranda (Oct. 12, 2016), homeopathic teething gels and tablets—sold by companies like CVS Pharmacy, Hyland’s Homeopathic, and Orajel—are being investigated. The alarm comes in the wake of 400 reports of infant seizures and vomiting, in addition to 10 deaths, that may have been caused by such products over a six-year period.

Homeopathy was created by Samuel Hahnemann in Germany in 1796 based on his belief that “Like cures like” (that is, that a substance capable of causing disease symptoms in a healthy person can cure similar symptoms in a sick person). Moreover, Hahnemann advocated “homeopathic dilution”—by which the supposedly curative substance was diluted and re-diluted—in water or alcohol—to an extreme degree.

Scientists observe that the remaining doses are so infinitesimal that they cannot have any effect; in fact not a single molecule of the original substance remains. (See “Homeopathy,” online at skeptiseum.org.)

Typically, homeopathic products contain only water. However, several brands of the teething products additionally contained belladonna (also known as “deadly nightshade”). It is used, allegedly in trace dosages, in the remedies, supposedly to help ease inflammation. But laboratory analysis showed some of the homeopathic teething products contained varying amounts of the potentially toxic ingredient.

The relatively unregulated $6.4 billion U.S. homeopathic business is facing increasing scrutiny from federal drug overseers. An earlier BuzzFeed article (by Dan Vergano, Nov. 9, 2015) quoted CSI fellow Edzard Ernst (emeritus professor of complementary medicine, Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter and Plymouth in the UK): “Consumers are constantly being misled about homeopathics. They believe that they are natural, safe, and effective—none of this is true.”