The Federal Trade Commission issued a statement this month which said that homeopathic remedies have to be held to the same standard as other products that make similar claims. In other words, American companies must now have reliable scientific evidence for health-related claims that their products can treat specific conditions and illnesses.
In the US and UK, drug manufacturers have to show that their products are effective by performing double-blind scientific studies with control groups. These show whether the drug is superior to a placebo at treating a condition or not.
The new policy statement called the Enforcement Policy Statement on Marketing Claims for Over-the-Counter (OTC) Homeopathic Drugs states that “the case for efficacy is based solely on traditional homeopathic theories and there are no valid studies using current scientific methods showing the product’s efficacy.”
Therefore, if no such evidence exists, companies must state this fact clearly on their labelling, and also state that claims are based only on ancient 18th-century theories that are rejected by the majority of the scientific community. Failure to do this will be considered a violation of the FTC Act.
“This is a real victory for reason, science, and the health of the American people,” said Michael De Dora, public policy director for The Center for Inquiry in a statement issued in response to the new act. “The FTC has made the right decision to hold manufacturers accountable for the absolutely baseless assertions they make about homeopathic products.”
Homeopathy dates back to the 1700s and works on the theory that “like cures like.” Basically, if you had a rash, then you would treat it with minute doses of a natural substance that causes rashes, like poison ivy.
Many homeopathic products are so diluted that they no longer contain detectable levels of the initial substance though, which homeopaths dismiss with the claim of something called “water memory.” This idea relies heavily on the work of Jacques Benveniste and a controversial study that was published in the journal Nature, whose results have never been replicated.
Studies have repeatedly shown that homeopathic remedies work no better than a placebo. Studies that show the homeopathic product being superior are often published in the journal Homeopathy, have no control group, or are not blinded — i.e.: the patients knew whether they were getting the real treatment or the placebo.
However, if you take a medicine and you feel better, the inclination to believe that it was the medicine that made you better is strong. That’s why users of homeopathy keep going back. Unfortunately, it’s usually just the placebo effect, or the body naturally healing itself over time.
With the new regulations, customers will be informed explicitly about whether the product they pick up at the pharmacy has any scientific basis not. This is important because homeopathic remedies aren’t just ineffective, but they can be dangerous too. The FDA is currently investigating the deaths of 10 babies who were given homeopathic teething tablets that contained deadly nightshade.
“Consumers can’t help but be confused when snake oil is placed on the same pharmacy shelves as real science-based medicine, and they throw away billions of dollars every year on homeopathy based on its false promises,” said De Dora. “The dangers of homeopathy are very real, for when people choose these deceptive, useless products over proven, effective medicine, they risk their health and the health of their families.”
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