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In the past week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that it’s planning to further crack down on alternative homeopathic remedies. Homeopathic remedies are commonplace at your local pharmacy, often claiming to be “all-natural” cures to common ailments such as colds. There are even websites devoted to how you can make your own homeopathic remedies for conditions such as chicken pox, ear infections, and kennel cough for your dog. However, what even is homeopathy? Does it work, and why is it that the FDA is choosing now to crack down on it?
Homeopathy is a medical technique that was invented in Germany in the 1700s (NIH). The basic idea of homeopathy is that the body can heal itself and that it does not need too much medical intervention for the body to be well again (WebMD). However, the medicine used to help the person goes off of two different principles. The first principle is that, “like cures like” (NIH). To cure the symptoms of a disease in a sick person, one must use a natural substance that causes the same symptoms in a healthy person. The second principle is the law of minimum dose. This is the idea that the smaller the dose, the higher the strength of the dose. Homeopaths tend to use natural ingredients to cure people. These natural ingredients can be as harmless as red onion or plantains or as deadly as arsenic or nightshade (NIH and NCH). The natural product is diluted and then given to the sick person. According to a survey in 2012, 5 million adults and 1 million kids used this kind of medicine within that past year, and homeopathy has grown into a 3 billion dollar industry (NIH and CBS).
According to the National Institute of Health, a 2015 study from the Australian Government’s health council there is not evidence that any homeopathic remedy is able to cure or help any health condition effectively. In American pharmacies, homeopathic remedies have been allowed to be on the shelves without FDA approval since 1988 due to the Compliance Policy Guide (FDA). However, that does not mean that homeopathic remedies have been reviewed by the FDA to be able to help any of the diseases these remedies claim to help. Since 2015, the FDA has started to examine homeopathic remedies a lot more closely. While poisons in homeopathic remedies are supposed to be diluted, there have been times that there were still measurable amounts of poison within these medicines, causing health problems within consumers. In one infamous case last year, the FDA warned consumers about homeopathic teething tablets that were tied to the seizures and deaths of young children (CBS News). It was later found that these tablets had lethal doses of deadly nightshade. Back in 2009, the FDA forced Zicam to stop selling three of its products after consumers started to report that they were losing their sense of smell. The FDA is currently attempting to focus on remedies that either claim to cure serious diseases or contain high amounts of poisonous materials. This does not necessarily mean that homeopathic remedies are being removed right now. While the FDA can prosecute any product that violates food and drug laws, they are currently attempting to prioritize testing and cracking down on the remedies that pose the most danger.
Homeopathy has been a very controversial medical method. While it is technically legal to sell homeopathic remedies in pharmacies, the FDA is currently cracking down on the more dangerous medicines. Scientists and medical practitioners have applauded this change. The FDA will open up the new changes to the guide for public comment before solidifying them in the next year. Hopefully, these changes will help people when they are at their most vulnerable—when they’re sick.