Junk science

Should the FDA Get Tougher on Homeopathic Remedies?

Homeopathy is nonsense. And yet...


Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources/Flickr

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may start regulating homeopathic remedies more closely. At public meetings this week, the FDA will evaluate whether current procedures to ensure the safety of homeopathic products are too lax. 

This news initially struck me as a positive development. Billions of dollars worth of homeopathic products sell each year in the United States, according to Bloomberg News. But the only thing empirically proven about homeopathic medicine is that it's nonsense. And it's nonsense that gives promising, research-backed natural or alternative remedies a bad name. 

And yet… 

"Millions of Americans use homeopathic medicines and want access to them," says John P. Borneman, chief executive of Hyland's Homeopathic and president of the industry association that publishes the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia. "These medicines are very effective, people like using them, [and] it's part of consumer choice in the United States."

Except for that bit about effectiveness—"Homeopathy is an excellent example of the purest form of pseudoscience," said Yale neurologist Steven Novella—Borneman has a point. The FDA needn't endorse homeopathy (and it doesn't), but shouldn't Americans be free to purchase whatever placebos they choose? 

Currently, the FDA allows homeopathic products—any substance listed in Homeopathic Pharmacopeia, a guide published since the 1800s—to be sold without premarket approval from the government. But it's not as if the FDA exercises zero oversight over the homeopathic industry. Per agency guidelines, over-the-counter homeopathic products can only be marketed for "self-limiting conditions," such as colds (i.e., not cancer), and must meet certain manufacturing-quality and labeling standards. Additionally, the FDA can investigate and prosecute homeopathic-product makers for impurity or making false health claims. 

Vitamins and supplements, like homeopathic remedies, are currently only loosely regulated by the FDA, a situation that most fans of limited-government and consumer choice see as positive. Opening the door to greater FDA oversight of homeopathic products could make it easier for the agency to step up supplement scrutiny next. 

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  1. Nah, the FDA isn’t worth much, anyway, so why give it more to do? Not that homeopathy isn’t fraud, because it most assuredly is.

  2. says John P. Borneman

    I’m going to admit that when I first read that I thought it was “John P. Bonerman”, which is either the best porn name ever, or the most accurate non-porn name ever.

    Opening the door to greater FDA oversight of homeopathic products could make it easier for the agency to step up supplement scrutiny next.

    That is entirely the point. During Obama’s presidency, the explosion of the attempted reach of these bureaucratic agencies has been appalling. *cough* FCC *cough*

    1. Someone needs some FDA-approved cough medicine!

  3. No, because like abortion, this is something the lefty Vashon Island crowd is down with.

    1. Is Vashon really like that? I got the impression it was more rural.

      1. Oh hell yeah. Covered from shore to shore with natural and homeopathic clinics. We had the only “evidence based” clinic on the island.

        And man did it get ugly when we got bought by the Catholics.

      2. I mean dude, vashon is like the number one non-vaccinated place in the nation. They’re always having whooping cough outbreaks there.

        Our clinic manager used to field calls from the national press.

        1. So my decision so far to not go there seems vindicated? I mean, I can go to Bainbridge instead!

          1. And you can drive off bainbridge. Once you’re on Vashon, no ferry, no leave-ee. Unless you’re a strong swimmer.

    2. One dollar spent on bullshit ‘medicine’ is one less for the Hillary campaign fund.

  4. No, let the idiots buy their fantasy nostrums in peace.

    1. I have a good pancreas. If you send me five hundred dollars, I’ll communicate my healthiness to you via the Internet.

      1. Only if I can make enough money to buy a Lexus after only a week.

        1. Of course! See, through my system, you can pass on healthy pancreas vibes to people in your group, who can form their own groups to enhealthify.

        2. more like a used Kia with an engine knock

          1. I have a friend who earned enough to win a pancreas-colored Cadillac.

    2. Exactly. If you’re stupid enough to believe that shit, I want you out of the gene pool.

  5. Why? If you sell poison to someone under the guise of medicine, isn’t that already a crime?

    1. A crime? Probably. But you, or your survivors, could sue under one of several theories of product liability.

  6. This news initially struck me as a positive development. Billions of dollars worth of homeopathic products sell each year in the United States, according to Bloomberg News. But the only thing empirically proven about homeopathic medicine is that it’s nonsense.

    Caveat Emptor, Liz. Also, do we now not have a right to engage in nonsense? Or must the government approve of our nonsense before we do it?

    1. If you’d read on, like, two sentences you’d have seen me conclude exactly that

      1. The FDA needn’t endorse homeopathy (and it doesn’t), but shouldn’t Americans be free to purchase whatever placebos they choose?

        This is an open-ended question, not a conclusion.

        1. There are these things called “rhetorical questions”.

          1. Rhetorical questions are a bit like public masturbation.

            Your name should be on a list for doing it.

      2. You missed an important part of the story- in independent chemical analysis, all the homeopathic remedies were found to be spiked with oxidane, which has been linked to millions of deaths. There was just a case this week of over a thousand people near Italy dying from oxidane exposure.

        1. What we really need to worry about is this hydroxyl acid. I hear it’s contributing the greenhouse effect.

    2. If I sell you burger meat adulterated with ground glass and sand, should you not be able to sue because “Caveat Emptor! It’s your own fault for not doing extensive lab testing on all your food before you eat it.”

      1. The FDA != the courts

      2. Prog concern troll purposefully misses point….

        News at 11.

  7. If you want to blow your money on snake oil there’s no way for the government to stop you. The snake oil salesman will just come up with some new load of horseshit and the idiots will buy that instead.

    I was researching a chiropractor because he provided services to a plaintiff in a lawsuit the firm I work at was defending. He used something called ‘cold laser therapy’ and a host of other techniques that immediately struck me as utter bullshit. Basically, he’d have people sit beneath strobe lights and shine low energy lasers at them (I suspect he just used laser pointers) and claimed this would help with the therapeutic healing process.

    Anyone who will fall for that will get conned out of their money by quacks. It’s wrong for the government to take money from intelligent taxpayers in order to desperately and futilely attempt to ‘protect’ people so incompetent that they cannot be protected.

    1. Oh, that Chiropractor was also a serious believer in this shit – http://www.pulstarcare.com/Research.html

      Go read the research on that page. All of the supposed ‘scientific research’ proving that this technique works are from highly dubious studies which used like 20 college students as their only subjects.


      “This paper presents a comparative study of the results of x-ray analysis and Computerized Fixation Imaging (CFI) analysis of the cervical spine. Twenty-five patients seeking chiropractic care at a private clinic were randomly selected to participate in the study.”

      Twenty five subjects with no control group.


      And one of the studies is from the ‘Journal of Vertebral Subluxation Research’ which is just hilarious since there’s no evidence that chiropractic subluxations even exist. Subluxations are a totally undefined term that chiropractors use to mean whatever they want.

      Anyone who falls for this will fall for anything.

      1. I’m not sure what to make of Chiropracty (or whatever they call it). It seems like their bone cracking stuff does some good for a lot of people. But then most of them seem to be into obvious quackery like what you describe.

        1. I think much of the “benefit” people see from chiropractic techniques come more from it being sort of like a weird massage equivalent. And massages are relaxing.

          1. Chiropractic doesn’t really mean anything. Some chiropractors are basically massage therapists, and some are healing-crystals-and-vaccine-denial morons. A good one is really helpful for a tweaked back, though.

            1. I looked into a few mainstream medical reviews on chiropractic awhile back to see if there was anything of value offered by the field. The articles generally concluded that chiropractic can be effective for relieving mid and lower back pain, but essentially nothing else. A few of the studies recommended chiropractic as a cost-effective treatment for spinal pain. All the stuff about fixing digestion, etc. is a load of crap that makes no sense given what we know about how the body actually works.

            2. You can usually tell a decent chiropractor from a shitty one if they give you a set of core exercises to do in conjunction with whatever back cracking they’re doing. The “see me 3-5 times weekly for the rest of your life” types are assholes.

              There are a LOT of assholes in the field.

              1. Chiropractic is fraud. Plain and simple fraud. Studies that show it to be modestly effective for low back pain do not show it to be more effective than the control. And back pain is way in the minority of things claimed to be amenable to chiropractic treatment. They claim subluxations cause everything that ails you, and an adjustment will treat basically all conditions.

                Most chiropractic offices offer other alternative therapies and supplements. Generally speaking, these will be fraudulent as well. There is no such thing as chiropractors without fraud.

                Most of the things they are known for involve conditions with subjective end points and self-limiting disease progression. The perfect ground for placebo to operate.

                If the government is going to do anything on the consumer front, rooting out fraud should be at the top of the list. They should all be trundled off to prison, and Walgreens and Whole Foods et. al. should be right behind them with all of their equally fraudulent homeopathic remedies and herbal supplements.

                This low-hanging fruit they’ve got no time for. But search engine algorithms and fake designer bags, that they’ve got time for.

          2. True story: In 1973, Congress passed a law saying that Chiropractors could get medicare/medicaid funds to treat ‘subluxations’ if that subluxation could be found through objective testing.

            Unfortunately, subluxations were nonsense invented by Daniel David Palmer, the Father of Chiropractic who believed treating subluxations could cure cancer and paraplegia and all this other crazy stuff. So they didn’t actually exist and certainly couldn’t be found via objective testing.

            So Chiropractors had a conference where they redefined subluxations to include actual medical issues like pinched nerves and stuff.

            They actually redefined a term in order to get access to Medicare money because what they were doing previously was total pseudo-science. That’s chiropractic for you.

            1. Viscount Irish, Slayer of Huns|4.20.15 @ 3:20PM|#
              “True story: In 1973, Congress passed a law saying that Chiropractors could get medicare/medicaid funds to treat ‘subluxations’ if that subluxation could be found through objective testing.”

              I’m pretty sure we taxpayers are still funding a whole agency of quacks:

            2. Subluxation is a real phenomenon you’ve experienced if you’ve ever helped someone who’s dislocated a shoulder pop it back into place. However, the bones of the spinal column are held too tightly to ever be subluxed. If one of them is dislocated, you ain’t popping it back into place!

        2. It’s called “chiropractic” and traditionally, chiropractors are supposed to believe that chiropractic cures disease.

          1. “Straight” chiropractic has largely fallen out of vogue. You’ll still find people who strongly identify as straight chiropractors but most look at them funny. There’s a passage in Breakfasts with Scot that plays with that idea.

            1. Chiropractic today exists 90% as a loophole to help get around the monopoly on the practice of medicine. Most chiropractors are well aware of what they can & can’t accomplish. The old theory is just an excuse, a medical-legal fiction.

      2. Sometimes it is okay not to have a defined control group and to just use the population at large as the control. This is not one of those times.

  8. Homeophobia?

    Isn’t that against the law or something?

  9. Anyone seeing expansion of FDA power as a positive development should probably be committed.
    For the safety of everyone else.


  11. Look, for the overprotective hypochondriac mothers who simply WON’T leave the office without SOMETHING for their kid’s cold, homeopathic remedies are a hell of a lot better than a scrip for antibiotics which is what the science based doctors do to make the old biddy go away.

    1. “Here, take this. It will flush out the toxins from your system.”

      1. You see Warty, we live in a very toxic environment. The food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe…. all toxic.

        1. A coworker had a room detoxifier spray… I shit you not, I started walking around with it, spritzing it at random screaming “I CAST THEE OUT TOXINS! FLEE BEFORE THE HOLY MIGHT OF THE DETOXIFIER SPRAY”

          She stopped bringing that smelly shit to work.

          1. You, sir, are a genuine hero.

    2. This is a point. And the placebo effect is a real thing. A lot of people probably do actually feel better after taking their sugar pills.
      There are plenty of people out there debunking the homeopathic nonsense for anyone willing to listen.

      1. Yes, but the placebo effect works even if the patient knows it’s a placebo:


        So the placebo effect still doesn’t jusify fraud.

      2. About a year ago they found that Tylenol was no more effective than placebo for back pain.

        Tylenol is quite a bit more hepatoxic than sugar pills.

    3. I know a few people who work in a medical setting with me who get z-packs for every goddamned thing that is wrong with anyone in their family even if it’s been diagnosed as viral. I just mutter angry things about gut biomes and antibiotic resistant strains.

      I’d be 100% in favor of a prescription strength Placebin. 200% in favor of it if I’m allowed to patent it and make a shit-load of money off of doctor’s prescribing it.

      1. I’d invest in your company. Just don’t make it sugar pills. Sugar pills actually affect me negatively, as I’m sure they do for Sugarfree also. Might I suggest Vitamin C as the main component of Placebin? It couldn’t possibly hurt.

        1. Will I be in direct competition with Airborne then?

          1. I think Airborne has zinc in it also. If we put Vitamin C and potassium iodide in Placebin, then it’ll be good for the gout as well.

      2. Make sure you charge a lot for the Placebin. Expensive placebos work better than cheap ones:


        1. Yeah, clearly, there’ll also be a lot of restrictions on what you can and can’t have while taking it, which will line up neatly with things you should be doing anyway.

          Make sure to drink plenty of water with Placebin
          It is vital to avoid excess sugar while taking Placebin as significant side effects may occur (small amounts of honey or fresh fruit are ok)

          Things like that.

    4. send them away with a pack of SPIRIN tablets.

  12. Homeopathy = sympathetic magic

    It’s completely and utter BS, but people should be allowed to buy it.

    Although making claims about a product that are false should open people up to litigation. If you’re saying your water can cure cancer and it doesn’t, then people who bought it, believing it would, should be able to sue for false advertisement.

    1. According to the article, the FDA does prohibit marketing homeopathic medicine for non-self-limiting conditions like cancer.

      1. No, they prohibit only nonprescription dispensing of such products. They’e still allowed by prescription, which could for instance be from a homeopathic physician.

        1. “marketing” is a bit unclear, but I took it as “advertising” rather than “selling”

  13. I overdosed on a homeopathic medicine. I didn’t take it.

  14. “whether current procedures to ensure the safety of homeopathic products are too lax.”

    If homeopathic medicines don’t do anything, how can they be unsafe?

    1. They can contain oxidane. That shit’s dangerous.

      1. I know. I accidentally drank some this morning instead of coffee and it totally ruined my caffeine buzz.

  15. Although these days homeopathic provings are done on dilutions beyond Avogadro’s #, once the drug makes into the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the US, versions of it can legally be marketed in interstate commerce at much lower dilutions?for instance, dilutions at which it can be expected to have conventional pharmacologic effects. Ralph Fucetola coined the term “1Xing” for this strategy of getting a drug licensed. “1X” means 1:10, a dilution which according to homeopathic theory would be a prep of the lowest potency, but which in conventional terms of course would be more potent than those of higher dilution.

  16. A libertarian mag taking on homeopathy? What’s next, an expose on colloidal silver?

    1. I only vote for blue candidates.

  17. Just to clarify, homeopathic provings these days are done by comparison to a supposedly inert placebo. The comparison product is prepared similarly to the test product, but starting with no “mother” material, i.e. diluting nothing instead of diluting something. Theoretically at least, at the dilutions used now for provings (according to my cx at the American Medical College of Homeopathy), neither the placebo nor the test material would have any of the original material in it, but if a difference in effects is seen in the clinical test subjects (who are normal, not sick), that difference is what is being sought. The observers as well as subjects are blinded, and the results are analyzed for statistical significance. I believe a p=.01 or less is taken as a positive proving, which is pretty darn stringent.

  18. As usual, there’s an xkcd for this

    1. If there’s anything to the law of similes as well as that of dilution, 30X semen would be a contraceptive. Or maybe abortifacient.

      1. An *acausal* abortifacient. You have a miscarriage before you have sex.

  19. . . . research-backed natural or alternative remedies . . .

    If its *research backed* – its NOT an ‘alternative’ remedy, its full on ‘allopathic’.

  20. Also – homeopaths never can seem to explain why their solutions only work with the specific substances prepared but never have any side-effects from the bajillion other things the water has been in contact with (fish poop!).

    1. Presumably it works on intentions, i.e. as a result of mind. When the other things were in contact w the water, nobody was intending it to produce a homeopathic prepar’n, so it didn’t happen. Sometimes intentions do matter.

      People conducting intentionality research sometimes invoke homeopathy as a precedent or example of this type of mechanism.

  21. Homeopathic medicine certainly isn’t dangerous. And it may actually be reasonably effective, not because of the hare brained theories behind it, but because of the placebo effect.

    What possible justification is there for regulating it? What possible reason could a libertarian site have for suggesting regulation?

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