FTC debunks homeopathy; medical water on the way out

When I was in Hong Kong, I drove to the Literary Festival Dinner (a fantastic Chinese banquet) in a van with four educated, well-off, and well-traveled women who were on the Festival’s board of directors. Once on our way, they all proceeded to go after me for saying, in my conversation on faith versus science, that Chinese traditional medicine was largely bunk, as was acupuncture.  They were incensed, maintaining that Chinese medicine had been scientifically tested many times (as had acupuncture), and that my statement was simply “ignorant.”  I was shocked and taken aback, particularly because I was their guest. But I regrouped and tried to defend myself, citing the studies of acupuncture showing that it didn’t matter where the needles were inserted (there are specific points for specific ailments) or even whether the needles were inserted; sham and non-insertion acupuncture is no better than a placebo, which means the method doesn’t work as it’s supposed to. (Wikipedia gives a summary of the research with references; the upshot is that acupuncture is no better than a placebo, so the whole “system” with insertion points and so on is bogus.)  The women said I was simply wrong.

Those ladies also told me that Western medicine is largely a sham, that it overtreats patients (sometimes true, but irrelevant when compared to TCM), and that Western (I prefer “scientific”) doctors ignore real cures that work (e.g. dubious cancer treatments) because those doctors are committed to enriching themselves, and don’t want to use cheap but effective treatments.

Further, as I mentioned in an earlier post, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) was criticized by four young Hong Kong doctors in a conversation with me after my tale. The medics agreed that they often had to repair the damage caused by TCM because it was either harmful or (more often) delayed treatment, leading to the death of patients who could have been saved.

TCM involves all kinds of remedies that have not been tested and on first principles seem dumb, like using deer penises to remedy male sexual disorders, snake soup, the “cooling versus warming” effects of foods, and other products that are not only useless, but harmful to wildlife (bear paws, tiger parts, rhino horn, and so on). There may be some TCM remedies that do work (after all, a goodly percentage of scientifically tested drugs are derived from plants), but I know of none that have been tested the right way: double-blind research on patients. Even the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health—the woo-laden branch of the National Institutes of Health whose job is to test “alternative medicine”—and has not, so far as I know, found any of it useful—describes TCM like this (read the whole page):

Is It Effective?

  • For most conditions, there is not enough rigorous scientific evidence to know whether TCM methods work for the conditions for which they are used.

What I learned from that brief ride between bookstore and restaurant was that educated, cosmopolitan, and affluent Chinese people (I count Hong Kong residents as Chinese) can nevertheless fall prey to a form of faith: faith-based and untested medicine. This is something I didn’t deal with in Faith Versus Fact, and should have, for it’s another one of the dangers of faith—even if that faith isn’t religious.

This is all an introduction to another form of ineffective medicine: homeopathy. Most of us know the theoretical basis for this treatment (treat symptoms of illness with a substance whose ingestion can mimic the symptoms) and the “remedies” it inspires (pure water, said to contain some property inspired by the homeopathic substance, which has been diluted out completely). Both of these, as well as empirical tests, show that, like acupuncture, homeopathy is at best a placebo, and at worst can hurt people by delaying proper science-based treatment. Yet homeopathic medicines are sold in many places, including Whole Foods and Target, which should be ashamed of themselves. The Davis Food Coop in California, where I used to shop, is loaded with expensive, dumb, and useless homeopathic remedies. And, I’m told, you can even find some at CVS, though I haven’t seen them there.

Now, in a great move, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a statement on homeopathic remedies, an enforcement policy for how to deal with those remedies (see overview of enforcement policy here), and a 24-page brochure describing how homeopathic drugs are advertised and how consumers perceive this advertising. The upshot: homeopathic remedies, to be advertised and sold as useful for a condition, must have been scientifically tested, just like regular pharmaceuticals, to determine their efficacy. Here are a few statements from the overviews (emphases are mine):

The Federal Trade Commission today announced a new “Enforcement Policy Statement on Marketing Claims for Over-the-Counter (OTC) Homeopathic Drugs.” The policy statement was informed by an FTC workshop held last year to examine how such drugs are marketed to consumers. The FTC also released its staff report on the workshop, which summarizes the panel presentations and related public comments in addition to describing consumer research commissioned by the FTC.

The policy statement explains that the FTC will hold efficacy and safety claims for OTC homeopathic drugs to the same standard as other products making similar claims. That is, companies must have competent and reliable scientific evidence for health-related claims, including claims that a product can treat specific conditions. The statement describes the type of scientific evidence that the Commission requires of companies making such claims for their products.

. . . You’ll want to read the Enforcement Policy Statement for the full story – it’s short, but packed with detail – but it boils down to this: “Efficacy and safety claims for homeopathic drugs are held to the same standards as similar claims for non-homeopathic drugs” and there’s no basis for treating them differently under the FTC Act.

What are those standards? We’re thumbnailing it here, but according to the FTC’s Advertising Substantiation Policy Statement, if a company conveys that it has a certain level of proof, it must have “at least the advertised level of substantiation.”

If there’s no express or implied reference to a particular level of support, the FTC considers “the type of claim, the product, the consequences of a false claim, the benefits of a truthful claim, the cost of developing substantiation for the claim, and the amount of substantiation experts believe is reasonable.” For health, safety, or efficacy claims, companies need “competent and reliable scientific evidence,” a phrase defined in many recent cases. For claims that a product can treat a disease or its symptoms, that generally means well-designed human clinical testing.

For most OTC [over the counter] homeopathic drugs, the case for efficacy is based solely on traditional homeopathic theories, and not on studies applying current scientific methods. So claims that they have a therapeutic effect lack the reasonable basis required by FTC law, and therefore are likely misleading.

This, I think, is the death knell of homeopathic drugs, and perhaps we should start holding our pharmacies and ripoff companies like Whole Foods accountable if their homeopathic “remedies” are advertised as useful.

Is there any way out for the homeopaths? Can such remedies still be sold? The Enforcement Report gives only one way, but it requires severe qualification:

For the vast majority of OTC homeopathic drugs, 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. Accordingly, marketing claims that such homeopathic products have a therapeutic effect lack a reasonable basis and are likely misleading in violation of Sections 5 and 12 of the FTC Act.14 However, the FTC has long recognized that marketing claims may include additional explanatory information in order to prevent the claims from being misleading. Accordingly, the promotion of an OTC homeopathic product for an indication that is not substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence may not be deceptive if that promotion effectively communicates to consumers that: (1) there is no scientific evidence that the product works and (2) the product’s claims are based only on theories of homeopathy from the 1700s that are not accepted by most modern medical experts.15

But even that comes with restrictions—restrictions that may ultimately make the marketing of homeopathic remedies illegal. See especially the bit in bold below:

Perfunctory disclaimers are unlikely to successfully communicate the information necessary to make claims for OTC homeopathic drugs non-misleading. The Commission notes:

• Any disclosure should stand out and be in close proximity to the efficacy message; to be effective, it may actually need to be incorporated into the efficacy message.

• Marketers should not undercut such qualifications with additional positive statements or consumer endorsements reinforcing a product’s efficacy.

• In light of the inherent contradiction in asserting that a product is effective and also disclosing that there is no scientific evidence for such an assertion, it is possible that depending on how they are presented many of these disclosures will be insufficient to prevent consumer deception. Marketers are advised to develop extrinsic evidence, such as consumer surveys, to determine the net impressions communicated by their marketing materials.

• The Commission will carefully scrutinize the net impression of OTC homeopathic advertising or other marketing employing disclosures to ensure that it adequately conveys the extremely limited nature of the health claim being asserted. If, despite a marketer’s disclosures, an ad conveys more substantiation than the marketer has, the marketer will be in violation of the FTC Act.

I’m not sure when this enforcement policy will take effect, but I think we should start pointing out this stuff to the purveyors of these ridiculous remedies.

Here’s a homeopathic “pain remedy” sold at Target. This packaging will soon be illegal:


h/t: Stephen Barnard


  1. rickflick
    Posted November 19, 2016 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    If you get a chance at a second edition of Faith vs Fact, you should be able to expand it to include a critique of faith in untested medicine.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted November 19, 2016 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      I think there’s probably enough material for a whole new book, which I for one would buy.

      There are a lot of people I’d like to give a such a book as well.

      • jknath1
        Posted November 20, 2016 at 10:12 am | Permalink

        This is an older book and could probably use some updates but it lays out very well the problems with alt medicine.
        Trick or treatment : the undeniable facts about alternative medicine. by Simon Singh

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted November 20, 2016 at 10:59 am | Permalink


  2. DrBrydon
    Posted November 19, 2016 at 11:29 am | Permalink


  3. Ken Elliott
    Posted November 19, 2016 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    I wonder the backlash, only because there are billions of dollars being made and that kind of money tends to have distorted effects when threatened, generally speaking.

  4. Posted November 19, 2016 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Wow, that’s the best political news I’ve heard in a long time. Next maybe something will be done to force astrologers and psychics to back up their claims.

  5. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted November 19, 2016 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    “sham and non-insertion acupuncture is no better than a placebo”

    This is of course what you would expect, but what I think you mean to say is that sham and non-insertion acupuncture work as well as the real thing, showing that real acupuncture is no better than a placebo.

  6. Merilee
    Posted November 19, 2016 at 11:44 am | Permalink


  7. GBJames
    Posted November 19, 2016 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    I doubt that this will be enforced under the incoming administration.

    • colnago80
      Posted November 19, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      Enforced hah. It will undoubtedly be rescinded.

      • Achrachno
        Posted November 19, 2016 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

        I’m betting within 60 days from Jan. 20. If people are buying it, and money is being made, it’s obviously good. The market is never wrong, especially not from the POV of a swindler.

  8. James Flynn
    Posted November 19, 2016 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Why do people bother with such dubious medicines when they could take claridryl. I hear it acts immediately and lasts indefinitely.

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted November 20, 2016 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      What the hell is Claridyl? I googled it and found a very weird website that looked like a spoof advert, but contains a spooky game where you wander around an empty house. Is there such a thing as Claridyl? Help – now I’m stuck in the spooky house and I can’t ge…

  9. Jenny Haniver
    Posted November 19, 2016 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    After reading this post, I went to this previous WEIT post,
    https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/10/01/the-new-york-times-touts-alternative-medicine-disses-science/, and found this quote re the author of the article in question:

    “To his credit, Asma admits that the benefits of feng shui may be placebo effects. I’ve long thought that doctors should study placebos more, because if you can get beneficial effects without the side effects of more dangerous medicines, that’s worth knowing. Studies of placebo effects—including sham surgery on knees!—have shown that they can work (as in the case of antidepressants) with nearly the efficacy of “real” drugs. (That doesn’t hold, by the way, for antibiotics!) But the effects of placebos must be studied using the methods of modern science. There’s no “demarcation problem” here: psychology can affect well-being and perhaps healing, but we won’t know that without the proper blind tests.”

    What I don’t understand about all this is that if placebos are to be effective, the basic premise is that patient must not be aware that what he or she is given or instructed to do is a placebo. Consequently, it seems to me that the use of placebos, however effective, is dependent on ignorance and will simply reinforce and compound that ignorance and foster pseudoscience because of the fundamental mis-attribution of cause and effect. I guess if it takes the pain away, the principle “Ignorance is bliss” triumphs over fact and science.

    And sadly, I agree with GBJames above and his respondents. If anything, there’ll be more pseudoscience.

    I feel a cold coming on. Think I need to take some Oscillococcinum (“le joli grand canard”.)

    • Posted November 19, 2016 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      At least in the U.S., it’s illegal for doctors to prescribe placebos, although I believe it used to be legal. But a lot of the effects of drugs like antidepressants are placebo effects, as you can see in controlled trials, though there has to be a significant marginal effect of the drug before it’s approved.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted November 19, 2016 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

        I can actually see the utility of placebos in some cases, where the patient is a hypochondriac and basically visits the GP for the attention (even if they don’t fully realise it) and where, if just told ‘go away there’s nothing wrong with you’ they might well self-medicate.

        Mostly lonely old folks, and it probably happens more in less-religious countries with affordable (subsidised) doctors fees than in the US where they would trot off to a church instead.


        • somer
          Posted November 19, 2016 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

          I can sort of see your point though i don’t have much sympathy for hypochondriacs – as long as whats recommended is not given some official support and can not actually cause harm which I suppose is the rub

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted November 20, 2016 at 12:41 am | Permalink

            It’s easy to despise hypochondriacs – and quite justified I think if it’s mere egocentric self-indulgence.

            OTOH I can readily imagine that for some old folks, living alone, a visit to their GP might be the only occasion when anyone shows any interest in them. Besides, it may not be good policy to discourage them from seeing the GP in case they stay away when they really do have significant symptoms.

            (As an aside, it’s often hard to distinguish responsible caution from hypochondria. Suppose you do have an odd pain that’s appeared, apparently from nowhere. Should you bother your GP with what may be nothing or ignore what may be a symptom of something serious? No use searching on the Internet, that will just give you a list of 150 fatal disorders that you might have).


            • somer
              Posted November 20, 2016 at 1:27 am | Permalink

              Fair enough

              • somer
                Posted November 20, 2016 at 1:35 am | Permalink

                Three are the manipulative types but I suppose a lot of people feel ignored and abandoned. Also (and probably even more common) a lot of people who have a chronic condition or old age condition have no clue what sort of things to look for on the net and where to begin on what their symptoms might mean, what to concentrate on for monitoring so they can describe something meaningful to their doctor. The doctor hasn’t a clue consequently, and they feel ignored so they keep wanting the doctor to look into it further on no meaningful feedback.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted November 19, 2016 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

        Hope this isn’t a duplicate, I tried to send but the comment disappeared, so am trying again.

        the use of antidepressants (SSRIs and other drugs) as placebos opens up a big can of worms, especially given that it’s my understanding that they don’t really know how SSRIs work. I’ve read that there is a real benefit in some people, but with others, the benefit comes from the placebo effect. Furthermore, I’ve also read that the tests conducted for efficacy are flawed for a variety of reasons, and no long-term studies that I know of. With homeopathic concoctions the only harm done is the dilution delusion; whereas there are numerous dangerous, sometimes permane and even deadly consequences when one takes antidepressants. Because of this, I think it would be patently unethical for any health professional to prescribe an antidepressant simply as a placebo. I was once prescribed Zoloft for depression. I might have recounted this before in another context but one day, not long after I’d begun taking Zoloft, I was was hit by a sudden, extremely powerful, almost irresistible urge to kill my cats. It was only because I was aware that an urge to harm oneself or others was a (supposedly rare) side effect of such drugs that I was able to realize what was happening, and ride it out. The dr. who prescribed this drug never troubled to mention any of the numerous serious side effects, but I took it upon myself to be informed. In any event, I think there’s wild over-prescription of SSRIs and other antidepressants, as well as downplaying side effects, and they’re being prescribed to people of all ages without a diagnosis of clinical depression and that’s not right. Now also frequently prescribed as “maintenance” drugs, which is ominous. “They” just want to drug us into quiescence and submission. And much adjunct “talk therapy” these days is all about pacification; so it’s quite complementary.

        • somer
          Posted November 20, 2016 at 1:40 am | Permalink

          Antidepressants need to be used with caution i think – they often have side effects and are very hard for a lot of people to get off.

  10. Posted November 19, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Here in Germany homeopathy is legally exempted from normal medical testing standards, and there is a campaign by homeopath lobbyists for the EU to grant the same exemption while granting them full medical status.

    I always note this for the 50% of the time that homeopaths claim that it has “been proven” by proper studies. (The other 50% of the time the same homeopaths, usually in the next sentence, say that “it can’t be tested”.)

    This is all largely thanks to the Nazis, who initially considered homeopathy as a possible replacement for “Jew infested medical establishment”. However, unlike modern homeopaths the Nazis tested the stuff first, carrying out the largest examination of homeopathy ever carried out. (The results were unfortunately “lost” as soon as the war started.)

    My guess is that at around 50% of GPs here practice homeopathy (and or TCM), and those who don’t practice it generally are sympathetic to it. Say anything against it here in a small group of people and you will get your head bitten off. (As will probably happen with this comment too…..)

    • somer
      Posted November 19, 2016 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Thats simply appalling – thought Germany was so high tech and efficient – not in some areas obviously.

      • Posted November 19, 2016 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

        Quite like what PCC wrote about his Hong Kong opponents. Which shows once again that fallacies rooted in a culture are very difficult to uproot.

        • somer
          Posted November 20, 2016 at 1:56 am | Permalink

          yes there’s that side of the German tradition that’s very keen on metaphysics

    • CFM
      Posted November 19, 2016 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

      I agree with your guess concerning the percentage of German GPs at least open to homeopathy.

      Pharmacists are even worse, most pharmacies have signs in their windows “allopathy/ homeopathy”. I have repeatedly been pressurized to buy homeopathic products, especially where my children were concerned. Sometimes they do not even tell you that the medicine they recommend is homeopathic, and when you complain and ask for real medicine, they get really angry..

      In my opinion the case of Germany also shows that making it illegal to claim that homeopathic drugs work against certain health problems without providing evidence, does, unfortunately, not sound the death knell for them.

      Both homeopathic drugs and anthroposophical ones carry disclaimers in Germany along the following lines “registrated homeopathic/anthroposophical drug, therefore without any specifications concerning therapeutical indications”. Not only are they still sold in vast quantities – many if not most people use and buy them. I am always fascinated how many highly educated people (mostly women), even with university degrees in science, use homeopathy, TCM and the like.

      • Posted November 19, 2016 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

        Anthroposophical “medicine” is also exempted by the same legally empowered doctors’ committee from normal testing. Probably not entirely coincidental that Anthroposophy also has a disgraceful and entirely denied and hidden past with the Nazis, with the Weleda company supplying chemicals to Nazi doctors for use in experiments, and Bio-dynamic agriculture being planned for farming in the newly won Lebensraum. (And Dachau concentration camp had its own BD farm.)

        • Jenny Haniver
          Posted November 19, 2016 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

          Good old Rudolf Steiner. Didja know that biodynamic agriculture is alive and well in the Calif. wine country, Napa and Sonoma? They do all sorts of mumbo jumbo burying cow horns full of manure and probably performing incantations at sunrise, who knows what, then sell this wine for mucho bucks. Did not know about the Weleda Nazi connection.

          And I agree with CFM about “how many highly educated people (mostly women), even with university degrees in science, use homeopathy, TCM and the like.” I’m female, sad to agree; but men are by no means exempt.

          • somer
            Posted November 20, 2016 at 12:03 am | Permalink

            Biodynamics is a big thing here too. Some cattle farms, but particularly big in wineries. That said, biodynamic wine is supposed to be good presumably because the crops are spared excessive spraying, and the farmers probably pay more attention to manuring the soil etc rather than throwing on superphosphate, but not because of the horn burying nonsense. Steiner schools are a big thing here too

  11. bluemaas
    Posted November 19, 2016 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    I am heartened to read thus, “But I regrouped and tried to defend myself, citing the studies of … … ,” Dr Coyne.

    Because whenever, at least over 22 years’ time, I, clearly and with bookoo expert witnesses and other evidences, all of it scientifically backed up, pointed out similar wrong to academic department chairmen and / or to state district court and appellate judges x24 of them altogether, all I ever got was i) either fired and shown the staircase leading out of the laboratories’ front doors or ii) the complete loss of biologically self – grown babes — times three — without recourse for my times with any one of them — ever — via telephone calls or in – person, face – to – face visits … … but, of course, with my monthly (and never – missed, always – early and in – full) payments x81 given over to the kiddos’ Sperm Source, himself a community pillar as one of its specialist – physicians … … for each child through each one’s first college degree.


  12. Posted November 19, 2016 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I figure they’ll find a way around this with labeling like “FTC regulations don’t allow us to make claims about our products effectiveness in alleviating headaches” or “Contains Ibuprofen (one part per 10 million) which has been shown to…”. In neither example are they making claims about the products effectiveness.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 19, 2016 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

      Here in New Zealand – regrettably – advertising of medicines is legal. I can’t help noticing how many ads hedge their bets with “*may* be effective for….” (my emphasis) – which of course is claiming nothing.

      Don’t even get me started on rip-off diet supplements and ‘sports drinks’…


  13. Eli Siegel
    Posted November 19, 2016 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Westerners who take Chinese medicine very seriously will completely shun the use of animal parts. If TCM is valid what intellectual basis is there for accepting the herbs and not the bones, horns, etc?

  14. Posted November 19, 2016 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Around here, there seems to be a fuzzy connection between homeopathy and naturopathy. You have rightly denounced selling distilled water as homeopathic medicine. But are you sure that “homeopathic” remedies are all extremely-diluted? I know that extreme dilution (to zero parts per million) is the theory of homeopathy, but if naturopaths are describing their practice as homeopathy, then they may be administering not-very-diluted herbal potions.

    • Posted November 19, 2016 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I think MOST homeopathic medicines are highly diluted for the active substance, but I believe some of them also contain other stuff. The NIH’s alternative medicine institute says this:

      While many homeopathic remedies are highly diluted, some products sold or labeled as homeopathic may not be highly diluted; they can contain substantial amounts of active ingredients. Like any drug or dietary supplement that contains chemical ingredients, these homeopathic products may cause side effects or drug interactions. Negative health effects from homeopathic products of this type have been reported.

      But they still say that homeopathic medicines have not been proven effective. Of course regardless whether they’re diluted or not, any such remedies must be scientifically tested for effectiveness.

      Naturopathic medicines may not be diluted, but they’re still, as far as I know, completely worthless aside from any placebo effects.

    • somer
      Posted November 20, 2016 at 1:51 am | Permalink

      According to sciencebased.org “naturopathy is an alternative medicine practice that encompasses a variety of modalities including homeopathy, herbal medicine, and Traditional Chinese Medicine. “Vitalism” is the belief that living beings have a “life force” not found in inanimate objects; as a concept vitalism was disproved by Wöhler in 1828. Despite this, the idea remains the central dogma of naturopathy and informs much of its practice. Naturopathic treatment ideas are all grounded in the idea of restoring this “energy”, rather than being based on objective science.” In Australia naturopathy and chiropractise are allowed to be taught at some universities. None of it is covered by the national health but many private health schemes cover chiropractic and other alternative medicine in certain circumstances -which feeds back into fees.

      Naturopathy, chiropractise and other alternative medicines are very popular with professionals, but also people with chronic conditions often turn to them in desperation, often at the expense of proper treatment and they are very expensive. Chemists have some naturopathic products and often visiting naturopaths.

  15. Posted November 19, 2016 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    There is of course the great Frank Zappa song about spiritual healing — Cosmic Debris*

    *Parental Advisory Notice: explicit content (aka 1980s talk for “trigger warning”)

  16. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted November 19, 2016 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Although good news, right now I think that this will not remove them from the shelves of OTC products at local drugstores. Seems to me that the manufacturers just have to insert a label, in small print, alongside descriptions of what it is ‘meant’ for (in larger print): ‘This product has not been shown to be effective for treatment of xxxxx.’ To me that technically fits the requirement for a disclaimer on the products. As long as this is not near the info about dosage and safety precautions, not many will accidentally read it. And those that do will probably not be dissuaded by it.

  17. Steve Pollard
    Posted November 19, 2016 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    Homeopathy in the UK is just about on its last legs, except among self-medicating hypochondriacs. This is partly thanks to a rigorous approach by the NHS over the past few years, notwithstanding the attempted interference of Prince Big-Ears, but also down to a lengthy campaign by the Nightingale Collaboration ( http://www.nightingale-collaboration.org/ ), in cooperation with the Advertising Standards Authority, to stamp out any claims whatever by the homeopathic industry to medical effectiveness. Pseudo-wholefood stores and the like are still allowed to sell homeopathic “remedies”, but they aren’t allowed to claim any therapeutic effects for them.

    The question of how far the placebo effect is genuine is, I think, still open. There is of course a fair bit of anecdotal evidence. I have a friend who suffers now and again from eczema. She says that her GP’s remedies (steroid creams etc) don’t work, whereas her homeopath’s sugar pills do. This looks like placebo to me. But a lot of what is claimed to be the placebo effect may simply be, as Ben Goldacre points out in Bad Science, regression to the mean.

    • Posted November 21, 2016 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Is the homeopathic hospital in London closing?

  18. jaxkayaker
    Posted November 19, 2016 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    I’ve seen homeopathic “remedies” on sale at Walmart and Walgreens, to add to your list.

    Dr. Felsenstein makes a good point that many so-called homeopathic products aren’t homeopathic in the traditional sense, but are called such out of semantic sloppiness, ignorance, or as a marketing ploy aimed at those for whom the term “homeopathic” has cachet. Some products are diluted in alcohol, and thereby may even have some small medicinal effect, though not by the claimed mechanism or ingredient.

    That said, I agree with Jerry that it will be good to have to have claims supported by evidence.

  19. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted November 19, 2016 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    doctors ignore real cures that work (e.g. dubious cancer treatments) because those doctors are committed to enriching themselves, and don’t want to use cheap but effective treatments.

    Further to Steve Pollards comment above about the UK having a diluted (and not getting stronger – I really hope!) homeopathic corpus of practitioners, I’d like to add a killing blow to this particularly bogus argument.
    Here in the UK, unless you’re one of the “get one but pay twice” people who uses private medicine, your doctor isn’t massively well paid. Not paupers, certainly, but compared to the reported income levels I’ve head for US doctors they’re not rich. That may be because they have no part at all in the dispensing of the medicines that they prescribe. (The manufacturing pharmacists and dispensing pharmacists are separate professions, separately governed.)
    Further, the choice of which medicines (surgical treatments, physiotherapy, etc) to put on the “accepted” list falls to civil servants (often ex-doctors) who are also separate from the dispensing and manufacturing branches of the pharmaceutical industry. That’s a quango (Quasi-Autonomous Non-Government Organisation) caled “NICE”, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence. Their criterion for accepting a treatment onto the “we’re not going to argue about this one” is sufficient good quality evidence for a value of treatment of around £20,000 per QALY (Quality-Adjusted Life Year) for the patients dispensed with this particular treatment. Higher cost treatments may be funded – particularly as part of research programmes, for example – but as the price per QALY goes up, the likelihood of acceptance goes down. If you want to pay for your own medicines, feel free. But if you want to spend tax-payer’s money, there are your criteria.
    I don’t see the average UK GP getting rich off prescribing bullshit treatments to their patients.
    I do remember one trainee medic from my student days whose plan was to make himself very, very rich from being a doctor. He was sharing a flat with me for most of a year, and his general plan was to get a state-funded medical training, then go to work in the USA to rip off his patients for as much as he could, while squirrelling his money as far away from any tax man as he could hide it. I felt glad that I wasn’t likely to have him treating me in the future. I’ve had no contact with him since leaving that flat. Strangely, coincidentally, he was “Dr Nick” too. I wonder if Matt Groaning met my former flat-mate.

  20. Brujo Feo
    Posted November 19, 2016 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    “And, I’m told, you can even find some at CVS, though I haven’t seen them there.”

    You’re correct, Jerry. See http://www.cvs.com/shop/health-medicine/allergy-asthma/asthma-treatment/safecare-asthmacare-prodid-887167?skuId=887167.

    To the credit of the pharmacist who was on duty at my local CVS when I asked him where I could find this product, he (rather angrily, in fact) told me that he had to advise me against buying it. He was greatly relieved when I told him that I only wanted to confirm that it was there, so that I could write a letter to corporate HQ to protest their selling this horseshit.

  21. Charlie Jones
    Posted November 19, 2016 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    I’ve seen many cases where the term “homeopathic” seemed to be used in some vague sense of “natural” or “herbal”. I suppose they can now just call actual homeopathic medicine natural or herbal?

    How can homeopathic medicine be in solid form, as in the pills show in this post? Does the patient have to do the dilution?

    • loren russell
      Posted November 19, 2016 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

      Sugar pills — the non-existent magic ingredient is pulsed against a bible through a few dozen 100:1 dilutions, and some random amount of water or ethanol with not a molecule of the starting agent is squirted onto the pill and allowed to evaporate.

    • Diane G.
      Posted November 20, 2016 at 2:16 am | Permalink

      “How can homeopathic medicine be in solid form, as in the pills show in this post? Does the patient have to do the dilution?”

      Ha ha, good point! 😀

      • steve
        Posted November 20, 2016 at 6:06 am | Permalink

        The scam company does the dilution to almost zero or sometimes actually zero, then takes a drop of that and puts it on a sugar pill and puts these pills in a jar (that is a quick summary of what actually occurs).

        • Charlie Jones
          Posted November 20, 2016 at 7:15 am | Permalink


          It is amazing they would bother drying down all of that water. That’s a lot of water energy for a fraud business. Does this suggest homeopathic medicine companies are run by sincere people?

          The homeopathic pill suggests that the homeopathic “memory” can be maintained by the water even when it’s completely gone! Why, if this effect is so robust, every drop of water on Earth must be a potent homeopathic elixir able to cure every ill!

        • Diane G.
          Posted November 20, 2016 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

          Thanks, Steve. Just when you think you’ve heard it all…

  22. jeffery
    Posted November 19, 2016 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    It would be nice if these bullshit “remedies” were made illegal, but it won’t solve the problem of human nature, ignorance, and gullibility: what will happen is the emergence of a lucrative “black market” in these worthless cures…..

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted November 19, 2016 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

      I hope you’re not suggesting that possession of homeopathic substances should be outlawed. What possible good would that serve?

      What should be illegal is making unsubstantiated claims about their efficacy — which seems to be exactly what this new FTC is policy is about.

  23. Brenda
    Posted November 19, 2016 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    Surely people have the right of choice. R u trying to brainwash people by telling them your way is the only way. I am 50 + and never resort to alopathy, except on two occasions when it was literally forced upon me by people with your idealogy. For two whole days thereafter I suffered with nausea, dizziness and headache, as a result of this. Homeopathy on the other hand has served me very well for 50+ years. Thank you.

  24. RPGNo1
    Posted November 20, 2016 at 1:53 am | Permalink

    Germany is a big center for so-called “natural remedies” including homeopathy.

    There is a new homepage called “Informationsnetzwerk Homöopathie (INH)” (in German only), who intends to inform the public about the facts and backgrounds of homeopathy, and why it does not work. Prof. em. Edzard Ernst is a supporter and contributor of the INH.

  25. nicky
    Posted November 20, 2016 at 4:31 am | Permalink

    There is only one type of ‘homeopathic-like’ medicine that works: vaccination.
    I agree 100% with the efforts to eradicate homeopathy.
    However, ‘natural’ medicine is different: how could deer penises possibly *not* be effective against erectile dysfunction? Have you ever seen a deer with ED? So there!😆

    • steve
      Posted November 20, 2016 at 6:09 am | Permalink

      Careful how you word that in other less-informed people’s company, because there actually are products called “homeopathic vaccines” (for dangerous diseases too) that the antivaxxers use on their children. Just Google “Homeopathic Vaccines”

      Scary stuff.

      • nicky
        Posted November 20, 2016 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        Didn’t even know about that, sounds dangerous indeed.
        I was just referring to the ‘give a small (or dead or weakened) dose of the same’, which works for ‘priming’ the immune system, aka vaccination.

    • rickflick
      Posted November 20, 2016 at 6:19 am | Permalink

      I’ve been a fan for years and it *is* effective but the main side effect is bony protrusions on the head which can be annoying. Carrots are almost as good and there my orange skin I can live with.

      • nicky
        Posted November 20, 2016 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

        Ooh side effects! That must be the reason I keep butting my head against these inconveniently placed walls and doorposts.

  26. Posted November 20, 2016 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    I read that about half the french regularly use homéopathique drugs, which are partially reimbursed by the sécurité sociale. I think that is true of half the people I know here. I’ve had doctors try to give me the stuff and they seem incredulous that I refuse. So it seems to be worse here than in the USA or the UK.

    I wonder if ayurvedic medicine is not equally useless. Anybody know? It, at least, is based on drugs, unlike homeopathic.

    • steve
      Posted November 20, 2016 at 6:15 am | Permalink

      Google Dr Harriet Hall or Quackwatch or Science Based Medicine, for three good sites to tackle any medical quackery.

      And yes Ayurvedic medicine is quackery through and through, except for the calming effects of believing you are doing something mystically Eastern — sort of like how Buddhism is a somewhat respectable religion to Sam Harris because of the mystical humming/meditation/relaxing/altered states inducing parts of said religion if I read and oversimplify him correctly.

  27. Hempenstein
    Posted November 20, 2016 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    What’s the situation on this in Canada? Will Mercan homeopathy nuts just start mail-ordering the stuff from there, or is there none to be had there?

    And does the FTC action address mail-ordering?

    • Posted November 21, 2016 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      Health Canada is running consultations and that sort of thing on related matters, as it happens. I wonder if this was coordinated somehow.

  28. Mike
    Posted November 20, 2016 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    In this Country we even have 2 Homeopathic Hospitals,and they are there because of Governments sycophantic and servile attitude to Mr and Mrs Windsor et al, and their belief in snake oil remedies. The best take on H,Hospitals is one by Mitchell and Webb. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMGIbOGu8q0

    • Leigh Jackson
      Posted November 20, 2016 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      Tailor made topic for this duo. Thanks.

  29. Posted November 20, 2016 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  30. Scote
    Posted November 20, 2016 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    “This, I think, is the death knell of homeopathic drugs,”

    I would say that the new FTC regulations are almost certainly not the death knell of homeopathic drugs.

    The fact that homeopathy doesn’t work, and can’t work based on our proven understanding of basic physics, should have been its death knell. Oliver Wendel Holmes gave an epic take down of homeopathy…in 1842! But it is still with us. Plus, a Trump presidency with a republican majority congress is not going to be a friend to strong consumer protection laws, so I have my doubts that this FTC ruling will stand.

  31. Susan
    Posted November 20, 2016 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    Homeopathic remedies save my life please don’t think too much about money and stop saying nonsense about homeopathy.let people use these cheap and real medicine without any side effect I know if people don’t use Pharmaceutical medicine, industry drug will bankrupt.

    • rickflick
      Posted November 21, 2016 at 5:53 am | Permalink

      Is it possible you just happened to be taking homeopathics when you thought you were going to die and didn’t? Since there is no known mechanism by which they work, and they have been tested with no good result, it might have been something else that lead to recovery.

    • Scote
      Posted November 21, 2016 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      “let people use these cheap and real medicine without any side effect”

      Any drug powerful enough to have a therapeutic effect is powerful enough to have side effects. Real drugs have a cost benefit ratio.

      So, if someone is telling you they have a magic “drug” that can *only* do good things and never bad, no matter how much of it you take, that’s likely a sign that they don’t do anything at all.

      • Scote
        Posted November 21, 2016 at 9:45 am | Permalink

        I should have said “risk / benefit ratio” to be more on point.

    • Diane G.
      Posted November 21, 2016 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

      Susan, please read the comment thread at this post:


  32. Posted November 21, 2016 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    Anyone who works in the (real) medical industry knows the (high) level of scrutiny that the labeling of a product is given by the FDA (and other regulatory bodies).

    About time this rubbish has to play by the same rules!

%d bloggers like this: