Mar 24 2014

Homeopathic Products Recalled for Containing Actual Drugs

Homeopathy is bunk. It is 100% pure unadulterated pseudoscience. That is – unless it is adulterated with actual working medicine.

The FDA recently put out a safety alert warning the public that certain homeopathic products may contain measurable amount of penicillin, enough to cause an allergic reaction in those who are sensitive:

Terra-Medica, Inc. is voluntarily recalling 56 lots of Pleo-FORT, Pleo-QUENT, Pleo-NOT, Pleo-STOLO, Pleo-NOTA-QUENT, and Pleo-EX homeopathic drug products in liquid, tablet, capsule, ointment, and suppository forms to the consumer level. FDA has determined that these products have the potential to contain penicillin or derivatives of penicillin, which may be produced during the fermentation process. In patients who are allergic to beta-lactam antibiotics, even at low levels, exposure to penicillin can result in a range of allergic reactions from mild rashes to severe and life-threatening anaphylactic reactions. See the press release for a complete listing of products affected by this recall.

One has to wonder if the company was aware that their product contained penicillin.  That’s a pretty good scam. In the US homeopathic products do not require testing or any FDA approval process. They are essentially pre-approved by law. While this is a shameful scam, at least homeopathic remedies are completely inactive – nothing but water placed on sugar pills. However, some specific products have been found to have functional levels of active ingredients, so they are not truly homeopathic. For example, some Zicam products were found to contain active levels of zinc, and was linked to anosmia (a loss of smell) in some cases.

In this way a company can market a drug that has actual pharmacological activity, but market it as a homeopathic product that requires no testing and is automatically approved.

This is obviously a dangerous situation. Drugs need to be carefully regulated because they can cause allergic reactions, they are not safe to use in certain condtions, and they can interact with other drugs. In this case there is also the issue of overuse of antibiotics resulting in increased bacterial resistance.

For background, homeopathy is a two century old form a medicine that is pre-scientific. It was invented out of whole cloth by Samuel Christian Hahnemann (1755-1843), a German physician who had become dissatisfied with the medicine of his day. Hahnemann lived in a time before the rudiments of modern medicine had been developed, before the germ theory of infectious disease, before the first antibiotic, before systematic testing of drugs for safety and efficacy, before surgical procedures were performed with anesthesia or sterile technique. In his century, it is fairly safe to say, conventional medicine was more likely to do harm than good, and hospitals were a place people went to die, rather than get well. It is no surprise, therefore, that Hahnemann sought for an alternative to the classical approach of his day.

His ideas, however, turned out to be wrong. He thought that substances could be diluted far beyond the dilutional limit for their chemical properties, but that the resulting potion would retain the “essence” of the original substance. He developed an elaborate system in which each patient’s illness was defined by a host of quirky symptoms and personality traits, and then they were matched to their optimal “remedy” which was then diluted out of existence. The process has more in common with witchcraft and magical potions than modern medicine.

Despite this, homeopathy took a cultural foothold (although never a scientific one) and limped along into modern times. Our recent fascination with alternative medicine, combined with the deceptive practices of modern marketing and the failure of regulation, has resulted in a resurgence of homeopathy.

Still, it is not taken seriously by the scientific community, and with good reason. There have been many clinical trials using homeopathic products and despite years of study and hundreds of trials, homeopathy has not been shown to be effective for any indication.

Further, when all of the evidence is reviewed and all sides are allow to make their best case, it becomes clear that homeopathy is worthless and its supporters are not basing their opinions on a valid assessment of the evidence. One such review was conducted by the British government. They concluded that homeopathy’s principles are not valid, that homeopathy does not work, and that no more resources should be wasted on either using or researching homeopathy.


It is dangerous to rely on completely inactive products as if they were real medicine. Homeopathy provides no value to the world. It was an incorrect idea dreamed up in a time before modern science. It should have died along with alchemy, phrenology, and the notion of an ether. However cultural inertia has kept it alive. The result is that we have collectively wasted billions of dollars and limited resources of health care dollars and for research proving what scientists knew all along – that homeopathy is pure nonsense. We can now say that it is pure nonsense with the backing of modern scientific rigor.

Apparently, however, even this is not enough to finally put homeopathy away. Belief is just too strong a thing.

The recent recall of homeopathic products adulterated with actual drugs is just one demonstration that the potential harm of homeopathy comes from more than just its utter uselessness. Industrialized homeopathy contains all the risks of any modern industry, such as unintended, or perhaps intended but deceptive, practices.

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