A Homeopathic Win for Consumers

Homeopathy is Not Medicine

Medical history is full of strange practices and beliefs. As scientific principles have become the framework for determining what works (and what doesn’t) in medicine, we’ve seen a steady progression towards more science-based, evidence-based care. Yet some unscientific practices still exist, even when we know they don’t work. It might surprise you to learn that some people believe sugar pills can prevent and heal disease. This belief system, called homeopathy, is a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide, and it’s growing. While there is no convincing evidence to demonstrate that homeopathic treatments are more effective than a placebo, many consumers and even some health professionals accept homeopathy as a legitimate health treatment, and its providers as legitimate health professionals.

Responding to the perceived consumer demand for these products, government regulators have had a difficult decision to make: They could ignore homeopathy as a health practice, treating it like we might think of astrology: firmly outside of medicine, and for entertainment purposes only. Or they could choose some form of regulation, targeting the providers (homeopaths) or the product (homeopathy), possibly with the goal of managing its use, or perhaps limiting harms to consumers. The risk of regulating nonsense is the perceived legitimacy that recognition and regulation implies. Regrettably, regulation in many countries has had that exact effect. What’s worse, regulation often seems to have prioritized the commercial interests of homeopaths (and manufacturers) over the public interest, leaving consumers with little understanding that homeopathy lacks any scientific credibility.

Given the lack of scientific credibility and the evidence it offers no medical benefit, homeopathy has attracted increasing criticism from health professionals, scientists, and science journalists over the years. This advocacy appears to be having an effect. Regular readers at the Science-Based Medicine blog will recall several posts over the past few weeks, describing the possibility of new regulation of homeopathy by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). And just recently, Health Canada announced two important changes to its homeopathy regulation, which may signal a new direction that prioritizes the consumer interest and public health. Are we witnessing the beginning of more sensible regulation of this prescientific practice?

Dilutions of grandeur

Homeopathy is considered a form of “alternative medicine” but it’s more accurately described as alternative to medicine, given homeopathic remedies don’t normally contain medicine or active ingredients. Homeopathy was invented in the 1800s based on the idea that “like cures like” (which is sympathetic magic, not science). Proponents of homeopathy believe that any substance can be an effective remedy if it’s diluted enough: cancer, boar testicles, crude oil, oxygen, and skim milk are all homeopathic “remedies”. But while they may have different labels, the products are all essentially the same. In the manufacturing process, remedies are diluted in water so dramatically that there’s mathematically almost zero possibility of even a trace of the original ingredient remaining. To homeopaths, this is a good thing, as dilution is claimed to make the “remedy” more potent, not less. These rules contradict core scientific principles as well as what we know about biology and medicine. In short if homeopathy works, the rest of medicine cannot work. And the best evidence shows that they do not work.

Homeopathy is not tested for safety or efficacy

Health Canada, Canada’s version of the FDA, has taken the approach of licensing homeopathic remedies (it does not regulate the practice of homeopathy) as part of an overall “natural health products” framework, lumping homeopathy in alongside supplements, vitamins and practices like Traditional Chinese Medicine. Health Canada states that this licensing framework benefits consumers:

Through the Natural Health Products Directorate, Health Canada assures that all Canadians have ready access to a wide range of natural health products that are safe, effective and of high quality.

The consequence, when it comes to homeopathy, has been the regulation of the absurd. There are now hundreds of indistinguishable homeopathic remedies that have been reviewed and approved by Health Canada, based what turns out to be an astonishingly low evidence bar. Health Canada will even allow references to homeopathy textbooks written in the 1800’s as “evidence” of a product’s efficacy. There is no requirement for any randomized controlled trial or any other form of evidence that could actually show efficacy. Health Canada’s bar is so low that when the “homeopathic insect repellent” Mozi-Q was approved, I questioned aloud if there was anything that Health Canada wouldn’t approve. As the television show CBC Marketplace discovered, the answer seems to be no.

A few years ago, Health Canada (and other regulators worldwide) undertook a safety review of cough and cold remedies marketed for children. While these products had a long history of use, there was scant evidence that they did anything beneficial. Given these products had some risks, most regulators concluded that the risks outweighed the benefits. Health Canada ordered that these products could no longer be promoted for use in children, and the products were pulled off pharmacy shelves. This was a sensible, science-based decision. The supplement and natural health product industry responded quickly, bringing products to market that took advantage of the special rules already created for homeopathy. Soon several homeopathic “cough and cold” products were on pharmacy shelves – not because they had any evidence of efficacy, but actually because they lacked any medicine at all. These were placebos, sitting on pharmacy shelves where the old cough and cold remedies used to sit, labelled as if they could treat coughs and colds. As Carly Weeks noted in a scathing column in the Globe and Mail earlier this year,

While a child’s life likely won’t be endangered by one of these treatments, the harm will come from the fact that Canadians are being misled by these companies, with Health Canada as a willing participant.

The consumer advocacy show, CBC Marketplace, having previously described how homeopathic remedies lack any medicine at all, decided to test Health Canada’s own licensing process for themselves. They applied for approval to market a homeopathic remedy they named “Nighton” (an anagram of “nothing”) they claimed could be used to treat fever and pain in infants and children. For evidence, they submitted a few pages photocopied from an old homeopathy textbook. No trials were conducted and no safety data was provided. Just some forms, a few photocopies and they payment of a fee. Perhaps not surprisingly, their product was approved and licensed. Here is the listing, still active, on the Health Canada website. As subsequent focus groups revealed, parents do assume that Health Canada’s approved products had been thoroughly tested by Health Canada for both safety and efficacy.

Health Canada has now announced that it is strengthening the rules for homeopathic cough and cold products. It will no longer allow specific health claims for homeopathic cough, cold and flu products for children 12 and under, unless those claims are supported by scientific evidence. That’s a significant change from accepting photocopies from textbooks written in the 1800s. One wonders why this rule isn’t being applied to all homeopathic remedies that are marketed. It’s especially curious given a remarkable statement Health Canada published on its website when the new requirements were announced:

Health Canada regulates homeopathic products as a type of natural health product. Health Canada reviews homeopathic products to make sure that they are safe and that the health claims (what the product claims to do) are supported by textbooks and other references used in the practice of homeopathy (e.g., pharmacopoeia, Materia medica). These products are not supported by scientific evidence.

Emphasis added.

In putting new limitations on claims made by manufacturers, Health Canada is finally acknowledging what scientifically is known as fact.

Nosodes are not vaccines

The second change recently announced by Health Canada relates to homeopathic “nosodes”. In late 2014, CBC Marketplace used hidden cameras to record reporters asking homeopaths about vaccines. The show sent young mothers (with their babies) to speak with homeopaths about immunizations and vaccines in Toronto and Vancouver. They found homeopaths were giving advice that often contradicted scientific evidence. Rather than endorsing vaccines, some homeopaths promoted homeopathic “nosodes” which they believe offer vaccine-like immunity from products that are, like all homeopathy, inert sugar pills. A “nosode” is a homeopathic remedy that starts with infectious material, like polio, measles or smallpox, and then it’s diluted sequentially until mathematically, there’s nothing left but water. Unbelievably, Health Canada has approved hundreds of homeopathic “nosodes” for sale over the years. Two years ago advocacy group Bad Science Watch launched a public campaign against nosodes, and succeeded in getting Health Canada’s agreement to force commercial manufacturers to place a label on their products stating “This product is not intended to be an alternative to vaccination.” Many felt this didn’t go far enough. This year, the Canadian Paediatric Society issued a strong statement on nosodes:

Nosodes are approved for human use in Canada under Health Canada’s Natural Health Products Regulations. At the time of writing, there were 179 distinct products approved for sale, including 82 with labels stating that they can be used to prevent common and important infections. However, as stated previously, there is no scientific or medical evidence that nosodes are effective in preventing infectious disease.

It is important that Canadian parents are provided with the best available evidence to make informed decisions about their children’s health. Current regulations stipulate that labelling on nosodes must include the following statement: “This product is not intended to be an alternative to vaccination”. The Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) does not believe this proviso fully captures the fact that nosodes are clearly not a safe or efficacious alternative to vaccination. The CPS recommends that labelling on nosode products should be changed to read: “This product has not been proven to prevent infection. Health Canada advises that your child receive all routine vaccinations even if they take this product”.

In July 2015, Health Canada responded with a new warning for the label, clearly modeled on the CPS recommendation:

This product is neither a vaccine nor an alternative to vaccination. This product has not been proven to prevent infection. Health Canada does not recommend its use in children and advises that your child receive all routine vaccinations.

While this is a welcome change, it won’t help all consumers, particularly the ones that see homeopaths for treatment. Health Canada doesn’t appear to require the warning when the remedy is produced by the homeopaths themselves, but only when the products are commercially prepared. So while the labelling change is an improvement, it’s somewhat of a hollow (homeopathic?) success. It doesn’t appear to apply to homeopaths with their own remedies, like the ones Marketplace filmed with hidden cameras. Nor does it remove the license of the 121 products already approved, or commit to removing these medically useless products from the market. But it’s another acknowledgment of the lack of evidence supporting homeopathy, which hopefully will continue to raise questions about the entire licensing system that has been put in place for homeopathy.

Homeopathy still has nothing to offer

The evidence is overwhelming and unequivocal: Homeopathy is a belief system, not medicine, and consequently has nothing to contribute to the practice of medicine. Despite this reality, regulators have struggled to find licensing frameworks that prioritize consumers and public health above those of homeopaths and homeopathic manufacturers. Recent changes in Canada are a modest but hopeful sign for change.

Image based on a photo by Philippa Willitts, used under a CC licence.

16 thoughts on “A Homeopathic Win for Consumers

  1. A crumb of comfort.
    Who are the people who actually make the decisions, and what is their competence?
    Could it be that Health Canada is actually staffed by alternative reality medicine advocates? Could it be that they actually have no medical or science qualifications, and consequently no actual competence to do the job? Are their qualifications a matter of public record?

    Also, someone should inform the Canadian Government that “natural” isn’t a qualitative adjective, and that “natural health” is a marketing term.

  2. Among your comments please consider this:

    As to Science Based Pharmacy:

    In a June 2010 report in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, study authors said that in looking over records that spanned from 1976 to 2006 (the most recent year available) they found that, of 62 million death certificates, almost a quarter-million deaths were coded as having occurred in a hospital setting due to medication errors.

    An estimated 450,000 preventable medication-related adverse events occur in the U.S. every year.
    The costs of adverse drug reactions to society are more than $136 billion annually — greater than the total cost of cardiovascular or diabetic care.

    Prescription drugs taken as prescribed in hospitals are the fourth leading cause of death in the US and Canada, after cancer, heart disease and strokes. They cause about 10,000 deaths a year in Canada and about 106,000 deaths a year and over two million serious injuries in the US. As many as another 10,000 deaths a year in Canada are thought to occur outside hospitals due to the wrong drug, dosage errors and adverse reactions. One out of four admissions to internal medicine in Canadian hospitals is related to prescription drugs, of which 70% are preventable. Canadians now spend more on prescription drugs ($24 billion) than we do on doctors ($18 billion).

    Adverse drug reactions cause injuries or death in one of five hospital patients.

    All of the above originated from US FDA or Health Canada approved “Safe and Effective” drugs. About 2 years ago one of your posts referred literature which stated totaled 400 deaths associated with Homeopathy over time. Not caused by Homeopathic medicine but people who chose to use Homeopathic Medicine instead of seeking Medical treatment. The number is paltry compared compared to OTC NSAI drug deaths annually (about 240).

    Merck, Baxter, and Pfizer between the three companies have paid 6.8 billion in judgements and fines for FDA approved safe and effective drugs. Merck’s Vioxx, caused 60,000 deaths before its recall had been completed.

    As to either Health Canada or the US FDA (4 stages of Clinical Drug trials) for approval as safe and effective drugs, history is on the side of alternative medicine as to comparative safety. Your crusade and bias against “the dangers of homeopathy” or any other natural seems to be a tempest in a teapot when compared with the fatalities caused by “Science Based Pharmacy.”

    Just to put things into proper prospective.

    FYI The FDA has decided to finally look at Homeopathic Regulations after more than 25 years. Since homeopathic drugs were never addressed in 1972 when FDA established the OTC Drug Review, they are currently not under any official regulations. (my comment actually Homeopathic Medicine was grandfather in as exempt from FDA over site in the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act when the current FDA was established) Although there have been some guidelines for homeopathic products, FDA has not approved any homeopathic drugs (prescription and nonprescription) due to enforcement policies set forth in FDA’s Compliance Policy Guide (CPG) 400.400 entitled “Conditions Under Which Homeopathic Drugs May be Marketed” (see 53 FR 21728, June 9, 1988). The FDA is seeking alternatives and clarity to the current enforcement policies in the CPG, how current homeopathic companies evaluate their products and how other countries regulate homeopathic products.

    The FDA hasn’t approved any homeopathic drugs as no one had to file a New Drug Application under the 1938 Act.

    As to an adverse reaction to a Homeopathic Medicine as the cause of death, do you have any factual data.

    Have a Nice Day

    • I must respectfully bring up the fact that 450000 adverse events due to prescription drugs divided by 4 billion presciptions filled each year in pharmacies in the US (if you included hospital Rx, the number would be even high) equals 99.9% safety. I think thats pretty good when you factor in human error. I agree that more should be done to prevent these adverse events and its good that you bring it up. However, to quote large numbers without proper context is simply a scare tactic. Having said that perhaps to dismiss the entire field of homeopathy is a rush to judgement. Cheers to an educated respectful debate!

      • Those are reported events, the actual number would be substantially higher. Of the numerous adverse reactions in my family alone only one has been medically documented because it happened in a hospital setting.

  3. Dear Scott
    I discovered your blog a few days ago while researching blood pH; I was impressed to read an article that was articulate, well written and even educational to me. I was intrigued enough to take a closer look at your blog.
    Over the following days, I returned many times, consuming a good deal of content written by you and other contributors. It was easy to see that you’re a well-educated professional, successfully obtaining two professional degrees and, I assume, operating as a licensed pharmacist. I also made note of your position on evidence based documentation, skepticism, and critical thinking.
    I watched your video presentation for Center for Inquiry Canada and see that your writing has been published and recognized by professional trade associations, which for many people speaks volumes in terms of credibility.
    However, after many days review and considerable reflection, I have concluded that you’re also extremely biased against anyone who holds differing beliefs when it comes to an individual’s right to make their own healthcare decisions.
    You make it very clear in multiple locations on your blog that your position is based on scientific research and accumulated evidence. You often site published research and articles from the industry recognized publications. You make clear distinction that only products which have received approval are safe and effective treatments. You make clear that your overall goal with the blog is to improve education and regulation in the retail pharmacy industry so as to protect the consumer from injury caused by unregulated alternative treatments and products. Most who read your blog will leave with the impression that you’re motivated from a position of morals and ethics, so your efforts appear noble.
    You’re brutal in your attacks on alternative treatments, often using aggressive language and name-calling as if you’re trying to insult those individuals who have differing beliefs. As far as I’ve seen you have given absolutely no recognition to the fact that many of the treatments you ‘warn’ against have been used successfully for thousands of years, are currently helping millions of people, and in truth, most are far safer for human consumption and the environment in terms of side effects, injury and death.
    You almost give the impression that you have a vendetta against practitioners or supporters of alternatives to what you have been trained as the only acceptable form of treatments. All the while, completely failing to mention any of the multitudes of short-comings of modern healthcare, which according to an article http://journals.lww.com/journalpatientsafety/Fulltext/2013/09000/A_New,_Evidence_based_Estimate_of_Patient_Harms.2.aspx in the Journal of Patient Safety is the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer.
    Before I go any further, let me state clearly for the record that I am not a healthcare provider, my experience is in a totally different industry and for that matter I do not even hold a college degree. But as the saying goes, “it doesn’t take a rocket scientist” and with that in mind, I will elaborate on what is only one man’s opinion of your blog and who I feel is really doing more harm to the health of mankind.
    Let’s start where you claim is the foundation of your position; scientific and evidence based research and evidence. While I do not deny the benefit of research and some advancements of science such as sterilization, pasteurization, and the advent of antibiotics such as penicillin, I do feel a good deal of new pharmaceuticals are based on fraudulent research and is motivated by greed.
    For example, former Pfizer Vice-president and author of “The Whistleblower, Confessions of a Healthcare Hitman” explains in this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrCizlAOBAo
    “Universities, health organizations, everybody that I have encountered … are out there …. begging for money. (Big Pharma corporations) use that money to basically buy influence … (Big Pharma provides) grants for various kinds of research … make sure they (scientific researchers) became beholden … Everyone obviously knows this is how things work.”
    “They (scientific researchers) are not going to continue to get money unless they’re saying what you (i.e. Big Pharma) want them to say. They know it, you know it, and it’s only maybe the public that doesn’t know it.”

    Then look at what Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of the esteemed New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), had to say about the pervasive fraudulent scientific research:
    “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines … I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.”
    Dr. John P.A. Ioannidis, a professor of disease prevention at Stanford University, published a study http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124 in a PLoS One paper entitled “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”. He found that research conclusions are less likely to be true when study samples sizes are too small, when effect sizes are even smaller, and when there are major variances in study designs, definitions, outcomes and analytical modes. He highlighted the corrupting influence of Big Pharma and concluded that:
    “There is increasing concern that most current published research findings are false … it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true.”
    Let me not forget to mention the revelations brought forth by John Virapen, author of “Side Effects: Death. Confessions of a Pharma-Insider”, and who admitted to bribery in order to enhance the registration of Prozac in Sweden https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8ZFUq5hr7E; or Gwen Olsen’s confession, she quit her job as a big pharma sales executive after losing a family member to suicide brought on by the very drugs she was pushing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICnKzBMkV9Q
    While there are others like CDC researcher William Thompson who admitted to suppressing relevant information related to the MMR vaccine and autism in black males; we’ll leave his example aside since there is still some ‘doubt’ as to his honesty (according to your mentor site ‘science-based medicine’) and the fact that he received immunity against prosecution in exchange for congressional testimony.
    Nonetheless, It becomes more apparent the research you so heavily depend on to support your claims is being called into question by insiders, regulators, and advocates of reform and alternative options. Perhaps this is what’s fueling the growth of these alternative treatments, more so than slick and deceptive marketing as you and other contributors have alluded to in your attacks.

    Speaking of deceptive marketing… Let’s take a look at the pharmaceutical industries practices, shall we? In recent years GSK (http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/news/200/glaxosmithklein-to-pay-105-million-to-settle-deceptive-ad-charge/), Johnson & Johnson (http://consumerist.com/2013/11/04/johnson-johnson-to-pay-2-2-billion-to-settle-deceptive-marketing-claims/), AstraZeneca (https://www.oag.state.md.us/Press/2011/031011.html), Pfizer (http://www.mmm-online.com/channel/pfizer-pays-23-billion-for-deceptive-marketing-practices/article/148031/), Eli-Lilly (http://www.insiderexclusive.com/justice-in-america/eli-lilly-pays-utah-24-million-for-deceptive-marketing-of-zyprexa), and a host of other major pharmaceutical companies have been exposed and fined billions of dollars for deceptive marketing practices. This Wikipedia page lists ‘Off-label promotion settlements’ under the False Claims Act where pharmaceutical companies knowingly promoted their products for uses not approved by regulators. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_off-label_promotion_pharmaceutical_settlements) Why is it that you fail to ever mention these revelations?
    Moving on…let me address my point-of-view regarding products since you make a clear distinction that only those that are approved and backed with ‘scientific evidence’ are suitable for treating illness. You claim “Science-based pharmacies don’t sell questionable products that are implausible or have no evidence of benefit.”
    However, there is ‘evidence’ to prove otherwise… according to this article published by Harvard University Center for Ethics; (http://ethics.harvard.edu/blog/risky-drugs-why-fda-cannot-be-trusted)
    “Prescription drugs are the 4th leading cause of death…. American patients also suffer from about 80 million mild side effects a year, such as aches and pains, digestive discomforts, sleepiness or mild dizziness.”
    “The bar for “safe” is equally low, and over the past 30 years, approved drugs have caused an epidemic of harmful side effects, even when properly prescribed. Every week, about 53,000 excess hospitalizations and about 2400 excess deaths occur in the United States among people taking properly prescribed drugs to be healthier. One in every five drugs approved ends up causing serious harm, while one in ten provide substantial benefit compared to existing, established drugs. This is the opposite of what people want or expect from the FDA. “
    Another Harvard University Center for Ethics article states: (http://ethics.harvard.edu/blog/new-prescription-drugs-major-health-risk-few-offsetting-advantages)
    “Few people know that new prescription drugs have a 1 in 5 chance of causing serious reactions after they have been approved.”
    “Few know that systematic reviews of hospital charts found that even properly prescribed drugs (aside from misprescribing, overdosing, or self-prescribing) cause about 1.9 million hospitalizations a year. Another 840,000 hospitalized patients are given drugs that cause serious adverse reactions for a total of 2.74 million serious adverse drug reactions. About 128,000 people die from drugs prescribed to them.”
    And this article, “Death by Medicine” goes into even greater detail explaining: (http://www.webdc.com/pdfs/deathbymedicine.pdf)
    “Until now, Life Extension could cite only isolated statistics to make its case about the dangers of conventional medicine. No one had ever analyzed and combined ALL of the published literature dealing with injuries and deaths caused by government-protected medicine. That has now changed.

    A group of researchers meticulously reviewed the statistical evidence and their findings are absolutely shocking. These researchers have authored a paper titled “Death by Medicine” that presents compelling evidence that today’s system frequently causes more harm than good.

    This fully referenced report shows the number of people having in-hospital, adverse reactions to prescribed drugs to be 2.2 million per year. The number of unnecessary antibiotics prescribed annually for viral infections is 20 million per year. The number of unnecessary medical and surgical procedures performed annually is 7.5 million per year. The number of
    people exposed to unnecessary hospitalization annually is 8.9 million per year.”

    The evidence against pharmaceuticals continues to mount in this article written by Terence Young, Member of Parliament for Oakville, Ontario, and the founder and Chair of Drug Safety Canada, a research and public advocacy organization based in Oakville. Mr. Young states;
    “All drugs cause adverse effects. The only difference between a drug and a poison is dosage. Many drugs are marketed at dosages that are risky for many patients, referred to as a narrow therapeutic index. Sixteen major drugs have been pulled off the North American market since 1997 for injuring or killing patients including the drug that killed Vanessa Young – Prepulsid. Vioxx alone may have killed 55,000-65,000 patients before being withdrawn by the manufacturer, Merck, in 2004.
    Over-the-counter drugs also cause many deaths. Every year, more than 15,000 patients die in North America from ordinary aspirin and Ibuprofen. Tylenol is the cause of thousands of hospital admissions and hundreds of deaths annually in North America.
    Patient information leaflets are dangerous because they create a false sense of security, listing only minor adverse reactions. Drug labels are 30-50 pages of fine print, written by lawyers. Very few doctors ever read them. Those who do are often confused. Instead, they get their drug information from commissioned ‘detail reps’ who exaggerate the effectiveness of the drugs and play down the risks.”
    Not to mention how OTC drug products available to anyone and often sold to minors are increasingly being abused as described in this brochure. (http://medicineabuseproject.org/assets/documents/getting_high_prescription_drugs_otc_cough_meds_dangerous.pdf)
    Now you may refer to regulation at this point, so let’s discuss that issue too. Because you advocate only the use of approved and regulated products as overseen by the US FDA or Health Canada, I’d like to note the problems between the regulated and the regulators.
    This internet article (http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2015/02/fda_inspections_fraud_fabrication_and_scientific_misconduct_are_hidden_from.single.html) published at slate.com references a study (http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2109855&resultClick=3) published in JAMA (Journal American Medical Association) by Charles Seife, a journalism professor at New York University. Mr. Seife states;
    “It’s not just the public that’s in the dark. It’s researchers, too. And your doctor. As I describe in the current issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, my students and I were able to track down some 78 scientific publications resulting from a tainted study—a clinical trial in which FDA inspectors found significant problems with the conduct of the trial, up to and including fraud. In only three cases did we find any hint in the peer-reviewed literature of problems found by the FDA inspection. The other publications were not retracted, corrected, or highlighted in any way. In other words, the FDA knows about dozens of scientific papers floating about whose data are questionable—and has said nothing, leaving physicians and medical researchers completely unaware. The silence is unbroken even when the FDA itself seems shocked at the degree of fraud and misconduct in a clinical trial.”
    More evidence of collusion between government regulators and drug companies is highlighted in this web article published at mercola.com.(http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/08/02/merck-flu-vaccine-conflicts.aspx) While the focus is on vaccines and the relationship with vaccine makers and the CDC, it still details many improper relationships between those who are charged with public safety and those who rake in record profits selling their products. Giving many examples where the regulators changed sides to become yet another well-paid executive shill for big pharma.
    While this New York Times article tells a story of deception and cover-up.(http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/13/health/policy/13avandia.html?_r=0)
    I could continue with example after example of how ‘science-based, evidence-based’ modern medicine has repeatedly been proven harmful. For example, I have yet to cover the ethics matter and I didn’t even mention the effects of municipal water contamination from drug residue (http://www.foxnews.com/story/2008/03/10/study-finds-traces-drugs-in-drinking-water-in-24-major-us-regions.html), environmental degradation (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1299201/), drug-resistant viruses brought on as a result of over-prescribed antibiotics (http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/issue/feb2014/feature1), the use of the toxic industrial waste product sodium fluoride (http://fluoridealert.org/articles/50-reasons/), cytotoxins (http://www.ecori.org/public-safety/2012/11/19/chemo-drugs-pose-serious-public-health-risks.html) [2] (http://commonwealthmagazine.org/health-care/003-secondhand-chemo/) and their effect on patients, their families and the environment and the ever expanding threat to fish reproduction due to the over-use of estrogen in human birth control. (http://lakes.chebucto.org/INFO/EDC/NEWS/2007/Estrogenthreatensminnowmanhood2007may22.pdf)
    In my personal opinion, I could debate toe-to-toe with you that your blog is as more detrimental to public health and personal freedom than the alternative treatments you rally so hard to discredit. In fact, I’d like to challenge you to provide even one bit of documented evidence to support that all alternative treatments combined have caused as much harm in the same period of time as just one modern science/evidence based drug (VIOXX) which is estimated to have killed as many as 65,000 people. Of course, I will expect you to document your citations.

    • A few comments.
      “You make clear distinction that only products which have received approval are safe and effective treatments.” and ” Because you advocate only the use of approved and regulated products as overseen by the US FDA or Health Canada,”
      Wrong. See here and here and here, to start. Approval by any regulator does not imply effectiveness. Look at virtually everything approved by Health Canada’s Natural Health Products Directorate, which approves sugar pills and deems them to be safe and effective. What matters is the scientific evidence.

      “As far as I’ve seen you have given absolutely no recognition to the fact that many of the treatments you ‘warn’ against have been used successfully for thousands of years, are currently helping millions of people, and in truth, most are far safer for human consumption and the environment in terms of side effects, injury and death.”
      Citation required. This is an argument from antiquity. A long history of unmonitored, unevaluated gives little evidence about medicinal effects.

      I am regularly accused (as I am here) by those that favour “natural” health products and supplements that I give pharmaceutical regulation a pass. The bulk of your comments point out the problems with the approval and regulation of medicine (many of which I have discussed before, like here and here and here and here to start). I support firm, robust regulation of pharmaceuticals and even more transparency than what’s currently offered.

      It is important to note that much of your argument (and the statements you have cut and pasted from other web sites) seem to suggest the acceptance of a dichotomy. To be clear, there no such thing as alternative medicine. Chemicals don’t care if you call them a “pharmaceutical” or a “supplement”. You’re putting a chemical into your body and expecting some sort of effect. Medicine does not fail to work from a “pharmaceutical” sense yet work from an “alternative” sense. Alternative medicine that works is simply medicine. The rest is either not proven effective or proven ineffective. Many of the problems with pharmaceuticals that you cite were identified as a consequence of a regulatory structure that demands evidence of safety and effectiveness. Can it be improved? Absolutely. Yet surprisingly, given your criticism of licensed pharmaceutical drugs that are studied, monitored and regulated, your argument then seems to be that less regulation and scrutiny, like what currently exists for supplements, is superior.

      If you look at the facts of the natural products industry you can see the consequences of weak, ineffective regulation. Unsubstantiated claims, poor quality control, and no means by which consumer can be assured that the product has been tested, is effective, and actually contains what’s labelled on the bottle. There are few clinical trials conducted, and no long-term systematic safety monitoring. It’s not clear to me how this supports consumer choice, or autonomy.

      Overall you seem to be arguing that prescription drugs are bad, and therefore untested, unregulated supplements that are marketed in some cases based on prescientific ideas (and in other cases are completely inert) are preferable. I disagree.

      • Scott
        Sorry you missed my actual point.
        All I’m saying is that while you’re so busy beating the drums of warning against alternative treatments, ‘science-based’ approved and accepted medicine is rife with fraud, corruption, and greed. It seems you’re being the cheerleader for the obvious greater evil with far more documented harm. After all, no alternative treatment is ranked the number three cause of death in the United States…modern medicine carries that distinction all by itself.

        Simply put, you’re “calling the alternative ‘pot’ black, while the big pharma ‘kettle’ is pretty damn charred”. Until the problems with scientific fraud, negligence, corruption, and greed are addressed in big pharma, maybe you should back off the rhetoric against alternatives that a growing number of people accept as legitimate, whether you and your big pharma golden goose agree or not.

        While you say there is nothing to gain from alternative treatments, there are many people, like myself, who have found relief from such treatments (studies or not) with fewer side effects and amazing results. For example, I suffered for years with a skin condition, doctors and pharmacists recommended creams, pills, and shots as treatment; NOTHING WORKED. After several years of discomfort and hundreds (maybe thousands) of dollars wasted, it was cured without side effects…simply by a week of showering with raw apple cider vinegar with the mother ($3). It was an alternative practitioner that made that recommendation where many ‘science-based’ doctors and pharmacists had failed.

        If you’re truly motivated by concern, why not be an advocate for freedom of choice and use your skills, knowledge, and education to guide people who choose alternative treatments safely through the process rather than ridicule their choice. Experience has shown me that when a person has decided on a specific course of action, you’re not going to change their mind by insulting them. If you really care about their well-being you should accept the fact they have made a conscience-based decision and do what you can to support them, while providing advice and encouragement. In the end, you may discover some of those amazing results and use the knowledge to help others benefit too. After all, the goal is to help people, right?

      • You speak of citation in your comment and in your article you suggest the evidence is overwhelming and unequivocal that homeopathy is merely belief based but as a reader I do not feel you have provided citations which are in anyway convincing to me. Correct me if I am wrong but I do not see medical research results or clinical data regarding efficacy cited in your article. Your writing is highly biased and it is your emotions which are convincing your readers not the narrow spectrum of facts you offer. This is merely an opinion piece. A really good opinion writer will provide a modicum of unbiased information that challenges the underlying position of the article to provide context to the reader. Scientific research into traditional and alternative medicines is still in its infancy, why don’t you dabble into that research with a critical but open eye.

  4. Jim
    No more than I expect you excuse modern medicine for the multitudes of documented fraudulent evidence. Besides, does the efficacy of treatment even matter if the right to choose is denied?

    • Your question is entirely hypothetical. I’m not sure what you are arguing. Is it your point that the failings of approval processes invalidate and outweigh any benefits of modern pharmacology or only that as helpful as it is, there is room for improvement?

  5. Jim
    The question isn’t hypothetical when blogs like this fuel the drive for limiting the individual’s right to choose for themselves. Government uses such rhetoric to propagandize and justify their “there outta be a law” mentality and actions of enforcement. One such example is Medical Marijuana, safer than Tylenol, has been PROVEN safe and effective for many diseases; still it is marginalized and access is denied to millions. Not what I’d call hypothetical…

    Regarding my point, I’d say the corruption and fraud of the approval process do not invalidate ALL the benefits, but raises the question of what can be trusted and what cannot…so yes, I’d say there is room for improvement, removing the constraints on choice would be a good place to start. Would you agree?

  6. Homeopathy promises far reaching relief rarely with more than antidotes to back them up. I’d rather evidence based treatment

  7. How a culinary experiment just so happened to disprove homeopathy (well, half of it at least); needless to say the homeopathic journal I submitted to was somehow offended – so much for being objective! Moving on, here’s basically what happened: The potentization concept and principle of homeopathy (if true and actually real) “should” hold true in the culinary setting. After all, our ability to taste and detect spice relies on how a chemical (such as those in spices and herbs) interacts in our body – particularly on the surface of our tongue. I fancy myself an amateur chef and I figured the homeopathic potentization principle was my ticket to win the “hottest chili cook-off” for once; and finally I could watch Barry from accounting loathe in defeat! The potentization concept of homeopathy “claims” that a substance becomes more potent as it is diluted, therefore, if true, then multiple dilutions (each followed by the succession procedure) of cayenne, chili, and chipotle pepper should eventually become so ridiculously potent that no mortal being could withstand. So there I was, diluting, diluting, diluting; facilitating the transfer of more and more water “memory” of the capsaicin from the peppers. After 30 successive dilutions of 1 drop into 100mL (30C) of distilled water I finally had what I needed to win the hottest chili cook-off! After preparing my chili, I poured in the 30C concoction so the memory in the water would do its job! After a bit of stirring, I grabbed a spoon and scooped up a very small amount to test for myself. When the chili hit my palate I expected to be blown away by spice and flavor, but to my surprise, it was pathetic – bland! It was as if I hadn’t added any spice (or spice memory) to my chili? I was dumbfounded. I did everything exactly as outlined by homeopathic remedy preparation. Then, I decided I need a control! I went back to my first solution of pepper and placed a couple of drops in a clean spoon and then let it hit my tongue. Wow! Boom! The first dilution knocked my socks off from the heat, spice, and favor. As I was coughing and dying to wash away the heat off my tongue, I wondered why the “memory” of these spices did not transfer to the chili? Maybe it was the temperature of the chili – perhaps it erased the memory. Maybe the meat and veggies in the chili somehow disturbed the water memory? What was I to do? Then it hit me, I should go back to the 29C solution I still had sitting on my countertop and use one drop to make another 30C solution! After my careful preparation of the new 30C solution, I placed two drops onto another clean spoon and braced as I let the drops splash onto my tongue. I cringed in anticipation of the spice and heat, but seconds went by and nothing! No spice. No flavor. No heat. Not even a little bit. It was indistinguishable from regular bottled water. How could this be? How could a fairly popular and old procedure be wrong? Maybe I did something wrong. So I went to the local supplement and natural products store and asked for their strongest homeopathic preparation of capsaicin. They pointed me towards a 30C preparation which costed me roughly $21 USD. I couldn’t even wait to taste it. I broke open the packaging and carefully let a few drops trickle onto my tongue. Again…nothing? No flavor. No spice! Why was I unable to detect the water memory of capsaicin in the “professionally” prepared concoction? Was something wrong with my taste buds? I remembered my anguish after tasting my own 1C concoction, so I knew it wasn’t my own gustatory perception. Then it hit me! What if the potentization concept was actually not true. How could so many homeopaths be wrong? I wondered what experiments were done to provide evidence of this concept. I searched text after text, journal after journal, and realized that the potentization concept has never been shown to be real by using good, quality science. Amazing! I knew I was in for a big award; perhaps my discovery in the kitchen would lead me to receive a Nobel prize! Unfortunately, I missed out on this year’s nominations but there’s always next year! I am currently revising my manuscript for submission to another homeopathic journal. Maybe, just maybe, they will find some reviewers that are objective!

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