Homeopathy Update

Homeopathy, the elaborate placebo system, is having a rough time in 2011. While homeopathic products are deemed “safe and effective” by Health Canada’s Natural Health Products Directorate, the awareness that homeopathic products contain no active ingredients and have no medicinal effects is becoming more well known. Here’s a roundup of what’s happening worldwide:

United States
Two class action lawsuits have been filed against homeopathy manufacturer Boiron. Boiron is being sued in California for fraud and unfair competition over their product Coldcalm. (A summary of the product can be found here). Here’s the case [PDF]. The intro summarizes the plaintiff’s argument:

Defendants are defrauding Californians by claiming that a tablet called “Children’s Coldcalm” pellets will provide relief from: sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, sinus pain, headaches, and sore throat.

These assertions would be welcomed by many if they were accurate, but the claims are absolutely false. The product is nothing more than a sugar tablet. Plaintiff brings this lawsuit to enjoin ongoing deceptions and to recover the profits generated by the false and misleading claims.

Boiron has attempted to quash this action, but that has been thrown out.

A second class action lawsuit has been filed against Boiron, this time for their product Oscilliococconium. The full document is here. Some highlights:

From the advertising done by Defendants regarding Oscillo, it would appear to be the perfect product to combat the flu. According to Defendants, Oscillo will take care of the flu within 48 hours with no possibility of any side effects or drug interactions and without making the patient drowsy. … Unfortunately, Defendants fail to inform consumers of the truth regarding Oscillo and its purported active ingredient. The truth is that the listed active ingredient in Oscillo, Anas Barbariae Hepatis et Cordis Extractum, is neither active in combating the flu nor is it actually an ingredient in Oscillo. Anas Barbariae Hepatis et Cordis Extractum is a fancy way for Defendants to hide the truth from the general public. The truth being that Anas Barbariae Hepatis et Cordis Extractum is actually Muscovy Duck Liver and Heart.

Defendants claim that the active ingredient in Oscillo, Anas Barbariae Hepatis et Cordis Extractum, is diluted to 200CK. This dilution indicates that for every part of Anas Barbariae Hepatis et Cordis Extractum in Oscillo, there is 1^399 parts of the inactive ingredient, sugar. Written out in long form, this results in a ratio of
1:10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.

Both of these lawsuits will be interesting to watch. Can legal action force homeopathy manufacturers to make clear, unambiguous statements about the contents and efficacy of their products?

Also in the United States, a group of veterinarians that practice homeopathy is suing the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) over their decision to refuse continuing education credits for the group’s conference. Brennen McKenzie, a veterinarian who blogs at Science-Based Medicine, made the following observation:

Alternative medicine providers are often better at treating psychological aspects of a medical incident an owner is dealing with, and there’s no doubt they are caring and compassionate, but it’s just not scientific. This lawsuit is just a way for AVH to sway RACE to approving CE without proving their medicine through science. This is a marginal approach to veterinary medicine and these therapies are not taught in veterinary schools.

Of note the European Board of Veterinary Specialties also does not allow CE credits for homeopathy.

Boiron is using bully tactics in Italy and is threatening legal action an Italian blogger regarding blog comments he made about Oscillococcinum, claiming such posts are “defamatory”. Here’s his blog, translated into English. In yet another example of the Streisand Effect, this has created significant media interest and traffic to the site. See Steven Novella’s post at Science-Based Medicine for more on this case. There’s also an interesting discussion here, including some comments from the blogger in question, on the merits of Boiron’s action.

In response to Boiron’s action, the Center For Inquiry has issued a bold challenge:  Boiron, Please Sue Us:

Boiron lists the purported active ingredient for Oscillococcinum on its package. Because both CFI and CSI unambiguously assert that Boiron’s stated claim that “Anas barbariae hepatis et cordis extractum 200CK HPUS” is an “active” ingredient is false and deceptive, we invite Boiron to take us to court in the United States. (For those not up on Latin and homeopathic verbiage, “Anas barbarie.” etc. is duck liver and heart—which, as indicated, is then diluted to or near the point of nonexistence.)

We are inviting Boron to litigate not because we think their suit might have merit; quite to the contrary, such a suit would have absolutely no merit. If sued in any American court, we are confident we will prevail. Homeopathy has no scientific basis. Instead, we are inviting litigation because we do not believe Boron should be able to silence critics by picking on isolated bloggers.

If Boiron has confidence in its product, then it will take us up on this invitation. If not, then we will have further confirmation that Boiron does not have the evidence to support the claims that it makes for its product.

This is an update from earlier this year, but just came to my attention recently. Television advertising of the Heel homeopathic product Traumeel, has been prohibited. The report notes:

The Health Ministry’s pharmaceutical division will prevent further TV advertising of an unregistered homeopathic preparation, called Traumeel, that makes illegal therapeutic claims. According to the law, only registered drugs can claim to provide medical benefits.


Packages of homoeopathic preparations sold in pharmacies must by law carry a printed disclaimer stating “This is a homeopathic preparation without an approved medical indication; This product is approved by the Health Ministry only from the safety aspect.” The disclaimer is required, Haran said, “because homeopathy’s medical efficacy has not been proven scientifically as are registered medications.” The TV ads did not bear any disclaimers, yet the product’s presenters claimed they treated medical conditions effectively.

United Kingdom
Earlier this year, the Advertising Standard Agency (ASA) began regulating web web advertisements. Consequently, hundreds of complaints were made about UK-based homeopaths and vendors of homeopathy. The Agency recently responded, indicating that homeopaths are no longer permitted to indicate that their products are effective:

We’ve told marketers of homeopathic treatments and services about whom we’ve received a complaint to remove marketing claims that refer to, or imply, the efficacy of homeopathy for treating or helping specific health conditions. This is because the ASA considers there is insufficient robust scientific evidence to support these claims.


It seems the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, an advisory body, is poised to publish a policy very critical of homeopathy, says Rachael Dunlap writing in Cosmos:

The NHMRC’s position is … it is unethical for health practitioners to treat patients using homeopathy, for the reason that homeopathy … has been shown not to be efficacious.

Did I miss any recent news about the regulation or sale of homeopathy? Please let me know.

10 thoughts on “Homeopathy Update

  1. In the UK there is one other thing putting homeopathy under pressure. A petition to the government on the HM Government website has begun. The petition calls on the government to act on the recommendations of it’s House Of Commons Science and Technology Committee report which concluded “Homeopathy should not be funded on the NHS and the MHRA should stop licensing homeopathic products.”

  2. Scott,

    Just wanted to add a bit about the AVH lawsuit against the AAVSB. The VPN article was solidly pro-homeopathy, and though I was the lone skeptic quoted for “balance,” my positions were not very clearly represented. But in terms of the VPN article, it is true that I stated homeopathy was not scientific (obviously) and that it is not part of the mainstream veterinary curriculum. However, I was also quoted as saying that, “Alternative medicine providers are often better at treating psychological aspects of a medical incident an owner is dealing with, and there’s no doubt they are caring and compassionate…”This is only partially correct in that I did acknowledge that alternative practitioners are undoubtedly as caring and compassionate as other veterinarians, but it misrepresented the point I was making, which is that the reason methods like homeopathy are popular with a small percentage of the pet-owning public is not because they actually work but because of the psychological effects, essentially a placebo-by-proxy, that the interaction with the practitioner has on the owner.

    I have written a couple of posts discussing the lawsuit and subsequent media coverage in more detail for anyone interested.



  3. Homeopathy is the second most used system of medicine in the world today, and its use grows around the world by at least 10% every year. The reasons for this are that homeopathy is efficacious, safe, inexpensive and green. Its efficacy and safety are proven by 100’s of studies published in 82 respected, peer-reviewed national and international journals. One recent study done by the respected M.D. Anderson Cancer Center shows that four homeopathics kill breast cancer cell lines and the mechanism of action. It is the second study done by M.D. Anderson to show that homeopathy kills cancer cells.


    There are certainly studies showing the efficacy of Boiron’s Oscillococciunum and plenty of repeat purchases by thousands of satisfied customers.

    Homeopathy is also proven safe and efficacious by vast volumes of documented clinical cases.

    • Christy, the notion that sales of something indicate that it works is hogwash. The popularity of homeopathy has nothing to do with whether it is effective. We have centuries of evidence that people will seek out treatments that do nothing, or cause harm.

      While clinical trials are a good start, if they are poorly done and unblinded they count for naught, and even a few positive findings from clinical trials are meaningless if the effect disappears in meta-analysis and with replication. Run enough studies and you’ll get false positives.

      Homeopathy is nonsense. Hopefully we’ll see a similar backlash in Canada soon, with homeopaths being charged for fraud, and company websites that make unverified claims pulled down.

    • Wow, I can’t wait for this treament to make it into actual clinical trials. Imagine, getting diagnosed with breast cancer and being offered an exciting new treatment! Standard care vs. homeopathy … hmmm., how on earth would I choose, if it were me?

      On second thought, haven’t placebo-controlled trials in oncology been deemed unethical? Guess we won’t be seeing those clinical trials make it through ethics anytime soon.

  4. I use homeopathy for everything that I had for over 18 years .If the med is a correct one for that illness its going to work fast . My daughter had bladder infection and it happened on a week end we could not go to a doctor so I went and gave her homeopathy Newtons Bladder-Kidney it worked so fast in 40 minutes she stop screaming with pain ,she was 6 years old that time,I gave her few more doses and she was fine . The reason I gave her this med because I used it myself and it works fast. You could actually feel how it works . Every time someone in my family is sick I treat them with homeopathy, I noticed the illness goes away faster than other peoples . I only wish that people like you not going to make this choice of safer medicine go away ,because of your articles ,I just wish you could try it ones . My sister had a very bad case of eczema she was covered all over , the doctors wanted to give her a very strong medicine that would make it go away , but ruin her liver , so my mom started to look for other way and she found homeopathic doctor ,that doctor started treatment and at first my sister got worst ,my mom wanted to quit but the h.doctor said it happens some times ,after few months of treatment she was fine . We use that doctor for serious stuff only now ,like when my father who is diabetic had a gangrene on his foot and the doctors in USA wanted to amputate it .We send him back to Ukraine to our h. doctor and after two months he was back home with two legs intact .

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