Homeopath threatens public health with fake flu clinic

Sugar pills won't protect you from Influenza - or anything else.

Sugar pills won’t protect you from Influenza – or anything else.

As pseudoscience goes, homeopathy takes the cake for absurdity. It is an elaborate placebo system,  based on nonsensical ideas about biology, biochemistry and medicine. A decision to use homeopathy is a decision to do nothing at all, because homeopathic “remedies” have no medicinal ingredients in them at all. They are inert. Homeopathy is based on the idea that “like cures like” (which is simply a form of magical thinking) involving successive dilutions of products in water. The dilutions are believed to increase, not decrease, the potency of the final product. And these are serious dilutions. Think of putting one drop of a substance into a container of water. Only that container is 131 light-years in diameter. That’s the “30C” dilution used by homeopaths. Homeopaths believe that the water molecules retains a “memory” of the original substance (while conveniently forgetting all the other products it has come in contact with.) The final remedy is diluted so so completely that most “remedies” don’t contain a single molecule of the the original substance you started with.

A homeopathic nosode is a homepathic “remedy” made from infectious material. Unbelievably, Health Canada approves homeopathic “nosodes” for sale in Canada, despite a lack of any evidence they can do anything. Due to lobbying by groups like Bad Science Watch, Health Canada eventually agreed to force products to label nosodes with the caution “This product is not intended to be an alternative to vaccination”.   While this was better that the status quo, there was the fear that homeopaths and other alternative health providers (like naturopaths) would continue to promote homeopathy to prevent or treat communicable disease. And the skeptics were right.  Homeopath Sylvia Collins recently advertised a flu clinic precisely as feared:

Sylvia Collins Homeopathic Practitioner is providing this clinic as a safe and effective alternative to the conventional flu vaccinations.

Her “clinic” was featured yesterday in the Barrie Examiner, (h/t Bad Science Watch):

When it comes to flu immunization, most of us choose the needle over the pill. While few enjoy the prick of a needle, most Canadians would rather suffer that injection with all the science of Western medicine behind it, than trust the less intrusive melting naturopathic pellet alternative.

“The homeopathic solution is made from the same three influenza viruses decided by the World Health Organization each year,” said Sylvia Collins, a homeopathic doctor who runs a flu clinic in Barrie and surrounding area each fall. “My own empirical evidence is that people aren’t getting colds as often, and if they do, it’s not as severe,” Collins said.

Her patient, Angela Hubbard, herself an occupational therapist, said she has a chronic illness that has been relieved by Collins homeopathic ministerings. Hubbard said she’s been taking the pellets-under-the-tongue method of flu vaccination from Collins clinic for at least a decade.

“Since I’ve been taking these flu remedies, I’ve never had the flu,” Hubbard said. She was trained as a therapist in the U.K. and said they studied anatomy, sociology and psychology as part of their training. She said it’s not about Western medicine versus homeopathy, but rather sourcing an alternative that was “cleaner”.

“(Vaccinations) are filtered through the liver and the kidneys, so the least I can put through my body, the better off I am,” she said.

Concerns that Health Canada approved influenza vaccination injections contain Thimerosal (mercury) and formaldehyde, leave many people – like Hubbard – searching for cleaner alternatives.

There’s so much wrong here it’s difficult to know where to start. Anecdotal claims of of evidence, like that offered by Collins, are just that – anecdotes. A review of the actual scientific evidence confirms what basic science literacy and public-school mathematics would suggest: homeopathic products are chemically indistinguishable from a placebo – and just as effective. Frustratingly, regulators in Canada and in other countries have given legitimacy to homeopathy by registering both the medication and their purveyors – giving consumers the perception that homeopathy may in fact offer some sort of medicinal value. It does not.

Collins then lists some of the usual tropes about the flu vaccine. Mary Ann Holmes is a public health nurse that’s quoted for “balance” against the homeopath. Holmes accurately refutes these concerns with facts. Thimerosal has been a preservative in vaccines for decades. It is metabolized into ethylmercury and excreted by the kidneys in the urine. It’s not methylmercury, the mercury form that can be harmful. There is no relationship between thimerosal and autism. And while there’s no reason to avoid thimerosal, many of the flu vaccines on the market in Canada don’t contain any thimerosal at all – they are single-use vials and don’t require any preservative.

Formaldehyde is another anti-vaccine zombie that refuses to die. Formaldehyde is found in fruit and vegetables. Our bodies naturally produce it as a consequence of metabolism – at much higher levels than any amount in vaccines. There is no evidence that the tiny amounts of formaldehyde in a vaccine pose any risk.

The challenge presented by homeopaths (and alternative medicine advocates in general) is they promote the idea that what they offer is a valid “alternative” to reality-based medicine. It’s called “false balance” and reflects undue attention to ideas that lack credibility. The need for false balance is usually driven by a “manufactroversy” – a manufactured controversy. In this case, the concerns that the flu vaccine is ineffective or harmful are actively promoted by those that have an alternative to sell. Create unwarranted fear, and offer an alternative. In this case, it’s sugar pills.

Do you need the vaccine at all? It remains the most effective means of protecting yourself and the community from influenza.  Influenza can kill, and can be devastatingly deadly. In 1918/19 an influenza pandemic killed 50 million people worldwide (5% of the population). Much has been written at this blog and at Science-Based Medicine on the efficacy and safety of the flu vaccine. The vaccine is effective for both individual and population-level protection, but only modestly so, and its effectiveness varies based on its match with circulating strains. And despite widespread use for decades, there are real limitations with the current vaccine beyond efficacy, including the need to repeat the shot annually.

Homeopath Sylvia Collins may genuinely believe her homeopathic “remedies” are effective. Visitors to her “clinic” are being given the impression that what she’s offering is a legitimate alternative to the influenza vaccine. It is not. Choosing homeopathy over the vaccine is a decision to forsake immunization, something her customers may not realize. It’s yet another example of how homeopaths are putting public health, and individual lives, at risk.


13 thoughts on “Homeopath threatens public health with fake flu clinic

  1. WOW. What shocks me most is that these are being allowed in Zehr’s stores where Loblaws pharmacies are located. How can Loblaws promote the flu vaccine so heavily and allow this to happen?

  2. Something that struck me…

    “The homeopathic solution is made from the same three INFLUENZA viruses …” said Sylvia Collins, “My own empirical evidence is that people aren’t getting COLDS as often…” (caps by me)

    Influenza is responsible for the flu.
    Rhinoviruses, Coronaviruses, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) are responsible for colds.

    They are not the same illness.

    So, what Ms. Collins is saying, is that if people take her homeopathic remedy for the flu, they’ll actually be protected against the viruses that cause the cold. Uh huh. Sure. For someone who is supposed to be medically literate, that alone would make me doubt her claims.

  3. Zehrs has allowed this presentation in their Barrie area stores since at least 2009. I called the pharmacist who really didn’t care much. She said something like, “Oh yeah, she’s been doing this for years. Like what’s the big deal”. So, I called the Zehrs’ head office to complain. Of course, it’s Health Canada who really needs to shut this operation down because this homeopath is recommending a product that she says is made from 3 flu viruses. Unfortunately HC will do absolutely nothing to stop the manufacturers. Quackery is tolerated and even supported by our government officials, both Federal and Provincial. No consumer organization is capable of doing anything. The Competition Bureau that regulates false advertising will not stop people who practice quackery, and they will not go after companies that use this same tactic to flog their junk. Unlike the UK where there ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) is very active in shutting down homeopathic marketers, our Advertising Standards Canada has no interest in doing anything. I want each and every one of you to contact the Minister of Health for your Province, and Health Canada to demand that something be done. You might also want to contact your MP and MPP.

  4. I consider myself to be firmly in the skeptic camp, but your mention of the dilution being equivalent to one drop of water in a container 131 light-years in diameter, while probably correct, makes it seem like it would be impossible to achieve these levels of dilution. I’d hate pro-homeopaths to draw the conclusion that your comparison doesn’t make sense, therefore the homeopaths are right. I wish there were some other way of stating it. I’d like to know how many bottles of homeopathic pills I’d need to buy to get even one molecule of the substance. I recently emailed the manufacturers of No-Jet-Lag to say I didn’t understand the package label about the active substance and could they tell me how much–say in milligrams–of the substance was actually present in each pill. They replied that they couldn’t because it wasn’t the usual method of dilution–a funny way of saying there’s nothing there.
    And the idea of nosodes is just plain gross; just what you need when you’re sick: pus, snot or blood from a sick person in pill form. Luckily it’s so dilute that it’s unlikely to be there.

    • It’s a serial dilution.
      1 part active whatever in 99 parts water, thump it on a leather cushion, and take a drop of that into 99 parts, repeat 30, 60, 90 times. (” By the time the homeopathic remedy has been potentised to the stage of 12C or 24X it is impossible to detect any molecular trace of the original substance within it. It has become a”sub-molecular” medicine free of chemical side effects”)This explains it better http://homeopathyplus.com.au/tutorial-4-three-scales-of-potency/

      • Forgot to add, it’s “magic ” that makes it work, as even they admit it’s diluted to the point that it’s just magic memory water.

  5. I received this response from one of their senior people. What total bullshit!!! I think that an email, call or letter to her would be in order.

    Dear Mr. Polevoy,
    Thank you for taking the time to write to us.

    At Loblaw Companies, one of our 5 pillars of Corporate Social Responsibility is to “Reflect our Nations Diversity”, and we take this commitment very seriously. Loblaw recognizes the diversity of Canada as a source of national pride and strength and we strive to reflect this in the products we sell, the people we hire, the customers we serve and the workplace culture we create. The unique part of this commitment is that it touches several aspects of the business, and affects both customers and colleagues alike. The rich diversity of our customers is something that we embrace at Loblaws.

    We work very hard to reflect the diverse customers we serve at all levels of the business and create an inclusive, respectful work environment that values the range of perspectives, backgrounds, abilities, orientations, and skills that our colleagues bring to the Community.

    Thank you again for your e-mail.

    Michele Crites
    Senior Customer Service Representative Loblaw Companies Limited
    Représentante principale du service à la clientèle Les compagnies Loblaw Limitée

    1 President’s Choice Circle | Brampton | ON | L6Y 5S5
    T: (905) 459.2500 x.621804 | F: (905) 861.2387 | michele.crites@loblaw.ca

    Toll-Free 1.877.525.4762 x. 621804

    • What nonsense! This isn’t a diversity issue at all. It’s a public health issue. I don’t believe this person is part of their pharmacy team, but that’s who we need to contact. I will try and get you a name, since this happens to be the large chain that employs me.

  6. There are now numerous papers that support homeopathy based on the memory of water and nanotechnology. Your arguments against homeopathy only hold true if one is to stick to the Newtonian viewpoint and ignore all of quantum physics. When it comes to actual evident please look into the study done on 2lherp herpes nosodes which benefited 82 percent of herpes patients. This is way past any placebo. Flu vaccines on the other hand did not reduce chances of catching the flu and are therefore ineffective !

    • Oh Iam, don’t talk about quantum physics unless you are a physicist. It has no relevance to homeopathy and you clearly do not know what you are talking about. You also conflate ‘memory of water’ with nanotechnology which makes absolutely no sense at all!!

      You talk about a ‘2lherp’ study, This study was performed by 3IDI, clearly an Institute of Quackery. Just go check out their website. (If you don’t speak French Google will translate for you.) They advocate Micro-Immunotherapy, a discipline so robust and widely accepted that Wikipedia doesn’t have any reference to it!! :-)) In fact it is just another form of homeopathy. So the value of the study is a big fat zero.

      Oh and by the way, what is your evidence that flu vaccines don’t reduce the chances of catching flu?

      • If water remembers everything it’s been in contact with, I’m protected from virtually every disease and then some. Instant homeopathy… straight from my tap 🙂

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