Health Canada Approves… for September 15th

Welcome to Health Canada Approves… where we ask you to determine which products have been licensed by Health Canada’s Natural Health Products Directorate.

Here are the results from last week’s poll.

  • Homeoslim: Homeopathic remedy that helps weight loss. (54%, 21 Votes)
  • The Mighty Qi: Tonifies and vitalizes The Seven Qi's for complete alignment. (46%, 18 Votes)
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It was a dead heat this week, with Homeoslim just edging out the evocative — and fake — Mighty Qi.  Homeslim can be found on your pharmacist’s shelf boasting Natural Health Product Number 01965158 as proof of its safety and efficacy.

When I started looking into this treatment, I was suspicious for two reasons.  First, OTC weight loss products are the ultimate “sell the dream” scenario — after all, who doesn’t want weight loss in a pill, especially from a natural source with no side effects?  It’s a compelling proposition and invites hucksterism. The NHPD database also listed some wonderfully amusing elements for Homeoslim — like the fact that it’s not actually a pill but a spray.  I pictured people spritzing their ass and thighs with the stuff before a hot date.  Also, the warning: “Consult a health practitioner if the symptoms persist or worsen.”  Seriously, since when does “I’m still fat” count as a symptom?

The second reason I was suspicious was that it’s billed by Health Canada as a homeopathic remedy, and there’s just no plausibility or evidence behind homeopathy.  It’s a sympathetic magic system that’s belied by what we know about how the body works.  Except that Homeoslim, it turns out, is not actually a homeopathic product, at least not entirely.  It contains quite low dilutions of many of its ingredients.  That doesn’t, it turns out, make them any more effective, but it does raise pretty material safety concerns.

Homeopathic doses are easily evident in three ingredients — Lycopus virginicus 6X (one part in a million), Anacardium orientale 8 X (one part in a hundred million), and Antimonium crudum 12 X (one part in a trillion).  Yes trillion.  So far so useless.  But five of the ingredients are at lower dilutions, two of them as low as 2X, or one part in a hundred.  Let’s take a look at those two in more detail, since at such dilutions, they may actually have pharmacological effects — though since the NHPD doesn’t list the actual (or even pre-dilution) dose, it’s impossible to say for certain.

Berberis vulgaris is a plant also known as European Barberry.  The Health Canada record does not indicate whether Homeoslim contains the fruit or the bark, which is surprising since they seem to be used for different things.  Most of them are organ-related ailments: GI, urinary, kidney, liver, spleen, and lung, and the only connection to weight loss is that it’s claimed to be a treatment for loss of appetite.  There’s no evidence of this from what I found on PubMed, though the plant has been well studied for other uses.  Perhaps in a homeopathic “like cures like” world, a substance that cures loss of appetite also causes it, leading to weight loss — though I’d expect a much higher dilution for the magic to be most effective.

But that’s not the worrying part.  Although it’s generally well tolerated (the berry is used for jams), the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database — which provides science-based, independent evaluations of the data on natural health products — indicates that there have been adverse effects (fatalities) for use by pregnant women, as well as serious interactions with some immunosuppressive drugs.  The closest the NHPD gets to informing the consumer of this fact is a generic statement to “Consult a health practitioner before use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.”

Fucus vesiculosus, a seaweed known as Bladderwrack, also appears in a 2X dilution, low enough to have possible pharmacological affects.  While Wikipedia notes that it has been used as a weight loss remedy since the 1860s,  a PubMed search pulls up no hits related to this use.  As with Barberry, there are material safety concerns.  The seaweed contains high concentrations of iodine and can cause hyperthyroidism.  It may also contain known heavy metals such as arsenic and cadmium, and there have been reports of heavy metal poisoning.  The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database calls it “possibly unsafe” for regular use, and “likely unsafe” for use during pregnancy & lactation.  Health Canada provides no such warnings.

Homeoslim is a great example of what’s wrong with the NHPD.  An herbal product with actual pharmacological effects has been allowed to to be labelled as homeopathic, just because the manufacturer said so and used a bunch of X’s when listing their formulation.  The dosing is vague and incomplete.  Potential safety concerns identified in the literature are left out of the database.  If a pharma company tried this, or if Health Canada approved a pharmaceutical under these conditions, the lawsuits would be piling up.

Where’s the patient protection, Health Canada?  Where’s the consumer protection?  Let’s hope they do better this week…your choices are below.  And remember, the real product “has been assessed by Health Canada and has been found to be safe, effective and of high quality under its recommended conditions of use.”

  • Buzzardskill 22: Anishinaabe remedy for cough and cold relief (67%, 36 Votes)
  • Plumbum 4CH: Homeopathic remedy (33%, 18 Votes)
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Answers next week…naturally!

3 Responses to “Health Canada Approves… for September 15th”

  1. Mike says:

    These blogs are my favourite on Skepticnorth. Keep it up. I was wondering however, do you send copies of your assessments to your MP or to Health Canada?

  2. Paul says:

    Well written, informative, and wickedly funny. Me likey.

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  • Erik Davis

    Erik is a technology professional based in Toronto, focused on the intersection of the internet and the traditional media and telecommunications sectors. A reluctant blogger, he was inspired by the great work Skeptic North has done to combat misinformation and shoddy science reporting in the Canadian media, and in the public at large. Erik has a particular interest in critical reasoning, and in understanding why there’s so little of it in the public discourse. You can follow Erik's occasional 140 character musings @erikjdavis