Homeopathy Update

The ingredient in your favourite homeopathic remedy

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 now 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.

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 Dunlop 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.

What’s been the response from the manufacturers of homeopathy to all of these developments? From Boiron’s Twitter feed: #MommyMonday time is here! Follow & RT 2 win #healthy #homeopathic goodies!

Photo from Flickr user bcphoto70 under a CC licence.

9 Responses to “Homeopathy Update”

  1. Gary Greenfield says:

    I watched the CBC series on homeopathy and noted that there was no presentation of the science on which homeopathy is based. A clarification should have been made revealing that Allopathic medicine is based on biochemistry which deals with only the physical aspects of matter. Einstein stated that all matter is basically energy. Matter is simply the visible and physical manifestation of energy which is invisible. An example would be human life in that the physical part of a human being is the flesh, bone and guts and the invisible part of a person is his spirit and soul which is really the energy that animates the body and when this invisible energy leaves the body it is no longer functional. The body is merely a container for the energy which enables it to function. Can a Biochemist measure any aspects of the soul and spirit? No, because their instrumentation isn’t oriented to do that but just because they can’t measure it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Because biochemists deal only with the physical neither they nor their instruments are even looking for the energetic presence therefore it is invisible to them and their instruments. This is not the case with Biophysicists in that their specialty is dealing with energy and it’s physical manifestation. A Biophysicist would tell you that every plant, animal and mineral has it’s own unique energetic signature which determines it physical characteristics. There is indeed instrumentation that can measure the frequency signature of any living or inanimate object and if those vials of homeopathic sugar water were to be measured for the presence of energy what would be found would the particular invisible energetic signature reflecting the name on the label. With the advent of the computer age digital homeopathic technology has now emerged which can capture, record and store the energetic frequency of any substance on a computer sound card or file which can then be listened to by the patient to treat their particular problem. As bizarre and far-fetched as that seems it is just this sort of science that is going to change the future course of medicine. As with any topic a person will find what they seek after and if you are truly open to the truth in whatever form it presents itself to you then perhaps you can indeed come to understand the wonders and mysteries of nature as manifest in homeopathic medicine.

    • Greg Smith says:

      Great news, Gary! So, we can do this simple test now?
      Someone can bring six vials of six different homeopathic ‘remedies’ with labels removed and coded, and their energy can be measured on this machine, and the operator can tell us which one is Arnica, which is Nux Vomica, which is Panthera Tigris, etc.

      Surely if there’s any point at all in even making and stocking all these things, there *must* be a different energy to each, and it must be consistent for any one product. Thus, you should be able to reliably tell which, is which simply by comparing their energies to a set of reference samples. So, they just need to let us know when they are ready for the test, which six remedies they want to bring, and what potency (20C at least, of course). Can you find this out for us all?

    • philip james says:

      >Einstein stated that all matter is basically energy.

      No, he proved that there is a energy mass relation.

      >Matter is simply the visible and physical manifestation of energy which is invisible.

      I don’t know what you mean by energy. Light is certainly visible. Heat (in the form of vibration) is also visible.

      My point being that these nebulous terms such as “spirit force, energy, Qi, chi, prana, brahma, soul” are meaningless.

      >There is indeed instrumentation that can measure the frequency signature of any living or inanimate object

      A frequency of what? What exactly is doing the oscillating?

      Homeopathic medicine has no plausible physical mechanism, and has repeatedly failed to perform better than placebo in all double blind trials.

      This is more than slightly embarrassing, so what have manufacturers done? They’ve said that double-blind testing is “not an appropriate method for evaluating the efficacy of homeopathic medicine”!

      This is exactly the same as what high-end hi-fi manufacturers claim when they sell you a speaker cable for thousands of dollars per meter. They at least have a physically plausible mechanism for how their cabling improves sound. The trouble is is that any difference is imperceptible when tested rigorously.

      Physics and by extension chemistry and biology have undergone several important revolutions in the last two hundred years.

      Homeopathic medicine is still exactly the same, but it’s clinging onto the coattails of legitimate science to try and validate itself.

    • Locklin says:

      When Einstein referred to energy, he referred to a measurable, material quantity (heat, electrical charge, etc), not some nebulous “spirit.” He could define what he was talking about when he used the word energy, and could give examples of how to measure it. Stop appropriating him for something totally foreign to his discoveries.

    • DR says:

      Energy is physical, my friend. So when you say that “allopathic” medecine (a.k.a medicine) only deals with the physical aspects of matter, you are saying that it deals, in fact, with ALL aspects of matter. “Can a Biochemist measure any aspect of the soul and spirit”? Define “soul” and “spirit” in a way that can be tested, and I’ll guarantee that a biochemist can find a way to measure it. Problem is, you can’t do that. Because “soul” and “spirit” are meaningless words used to refer to “a something something which I can’t put my finger on; I’m sure it has to exist, but I can’t describe it or define it”. In other worse, “soul” and “spirit” are bunk-words.

      As for “frequency signatures”: if they are “measurable” as you say, then produce the equipment you say can do so, and let’s put it to a real, double-blind test, no? But not one of your quack buddies has the balls to put their assertions to the test, whereas real scientists do so every single day. It’s really a question of courage: if you think something really has a repeatable, real effect, then the methods of science are certainly capable of demonstrating that effect. The only reason one would refuse to submit their ideas to full double-blind testing is if they don’t really believe it’s real.

  2. xtaldave says:

    A biophysicist writes…

    “A Biophysicist would tell you that every plant, animal and mineral has it’s own unique energetic signature which determines it physical characteristics.”

    I’m afraid that this is nothing more than new-age nonsense, dressed up with a bit of science to make it more palatable to the credulous.

    Do you want to know what *really* determines the physical characteristics of every plant animal and mineral?

    The atoms and molecules that they are made up of. (The same atoms and molecules of active ingredient that are diluted away when homeopathic remedies are made).

  3. drazzag says:

    “…there was no presentation of the science on which homeopathy is based”? Of course there wasn’t. There is no scientific basis for it. Nor is there any in this screed of nonsense that lamely attempts to find one. It does however once again demonstrate a time-hnoured maxim: “There’s one born every minute.”

  4. Composer99 says:

    Gary Greenfield:

    Energy. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.


  1. [...] the most recent posting in Skeptic North’s ongoing coverage of homeopathy’s trials and tribulations (e.g., the [...]

  • Scott Gavura

    Scott is passionate about improving the way drugs are used. A pharmacist by background, Scott has a professional interest in improving the cost-effective use of drugs at the population level, while helping consumers make more informed decisions about their health. He blogs about pharmacy practice and questionable science at Science-Based Pharmacy and Science-Based Medicine. All views expressed by Scott are his personal views alone, and do not represent the opinions of any current or former employers, or any organizations or associations that he may be affiliated with. All information is provided for discussion purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for consultation with a licensed and accredited health professional.