By Dr. Mercola
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is coming after the centuries’ old natural medicine system known as homeopathy.
In a notice filed in November 2016, the FTC stated that in order for homeopathic remedies to claim they are effective, their makers must provide proof. If no proof is provided, the remedies must state there is “no scientific evidence that the product works.”
In order to not mislead consumers, the FTC further stated that homeopathic remedies lacking sufficient proof must communicate to consumers that “the product’s claims are based only on theories of homeopathy from the 1700s that are not accepted by most modern medical experts.”1
About 5 million U.S. adults, and 1 million U.S. children, use homeopathy every year, and the remedies are known to be “generally safe and unlikely to cause severe adverse reactions,” according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.2
So why is the FTC slapping its makers with increased enforcement? According to Business Insider, which advocates more stringent rules on homeopathic remedies, it's to hold these products to the same standard as other, similar products, which means going through the same rigorous studies as synthetic drugs made by pharmaceutical companies.
Homeopath Dana Ullman, MPH, CCH explained:
“Considering the long-time safety history of homeopathic medicines, it is surprising and even shocking that the FTC would consider proposing new regulations now. One cannot help but wonder who or what is pulling their strings … policies … commonly result from powerful economic forces at play.
… it is clear that this governmental agency is ignoring important scientific evidence, and one must wonder if they are protecting Big Pharma from competition more than protecting the consumer.”
What Is Homeopathy?
Homeopathy, founded by German physician Samuel Hahnemann, at the turn of the 18th century, is a medical system based on the theory that “like cures like,” when the cure comes in small doses.
It holds that health conditions can be healed by treating a person with minute doses of a substance that would produce similar symptoms to their health condition if given in larger doses.
For example, if you drink too much coffee you may feel agitated and have trouble sleeping. A highly diluted, homeopathic remedy made from coffee beans may therefore be used to treat symptoms of agitation and sleeplessness.
Homeopathy’s other guiding principle is that of the minimum dose, which is based on the premise that the more a substance is diluted, the more potent homeopathic remedy it becomes. According to the American Institute of Homeopathy:3
“Homeopathic medicines are prepared through a series of dilutions, at each step of which there is a vigorous agitation of the solution called succussion, until there is no detectible chemical substance left.
As paradoxical as it may seem, the higher the dilution, when prepared in this dynamized way, the more potent the homeopathic remedy. Thereby is achieved the minimum dose which, none the less, has the maximum therapeutic effect with the fewest side effects.”
This is also mentioned in the FTC notice, albeit for different purposes. When the FTC called out the fact that many homeopathic products are diluted to such an extent that they no longer contain detectable levels of the initial substance, it is to imply that homeopathy is therefore a bogus treatment, which must now state on its label that it doesn’t work.
Homeopathy Is Practically Mainstream in Many Other Countries
Homeopathy is used by more than 500 million people worldwide and has gained widespread acceptance in some countries, including France, Germany, Mexico, Great Britain and India.
In fact, the National Center for Homeopathy noted, “The family doctor to England's Queen Elizabeth is a homeopathic physician.”4 The Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, is also a well-known homeopathy supporter, not only for people but also for the animals on his organic farm.
He uses the remedies, in part, to reduce reliance on antibiotics, and has funded a group called HAWL (Homeopathy at Wellie Level) to train farmers in the use of homeopathy to help animals avoid disease and improve production, especially when administered during times of stress.5
In France, meanwhile, one study noted that nearly 44 percent of health care professionals prescribed at least one homeopathic drug or preparation during the 12-month study period, including 95 percent of general practitioners, dermatologists and pediatricians.6
Even in England, however, where patients are generally supportive of homeopathic remedies, health ministers have considered banning general practitioners from prescribing such treatments, calling them a waste of taxpayer money.7
Scientific Backing for Homeopathy
Despite the FTC’s claims that homeopathy has no scientific backing, many studies and experts support its use. Ullman compiled another set of research in support of homeopathic medicine, which includes the following:
✓ In patients with allergies, those using homeopathy reported improvements in nasal airflow compared with a placebo group. With homeopathic treatment, the researchers described a “clear, significant, and clinically relevant improvement in nasal inspiratory peak flow, similar to that found with topical steroids.”8
✓ In patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the use of homeopathy significantly reduced stringy tracheal secretions.9
✓ Homeopathy lessened tender point pain and improved quality of life in people with fibromyalgia.10
✓ Homeopathy significantly reduced the severity and duration of chemotherapy-induced stomatitis (swelling and sores in the mouth) in children.13
Powerful Healing Without Side Effects
For the record, it’s not thought that the placebo effect is responsible for the effectiveness of homeopathy,15 but even if it were, it wouldn’t be a bad thing. Placebos have been found to have powerful healing effects without side effects, much like homeopathy.
By definition, a placebo is an inert, innocuous substance that has no effect on your body. However, the placebo effect, in which a patient believes he or she is getting an actual drug and subsequently feels better, despite receiving no “active” treatment at all, has become a well-recognized phenomenon.
Science journalist Jo Marchant noted there are many examples of the placebo effect in action:16
“Placebo painkillers can trigger the release of natural pain-relieving chemicals called endorphins. Patients with Parkinson’s disease respond to placebos with a flood of dopamine.
Fake oxygen, given to someone at altitude, has been shown to cut levels of neurotransmitters called prostaglandins (which dilate blood vessels, among other things, and are responsible for many of the symptoms of altitude sickness).”
As she explained, “none of these biological effects are caused by placebos themselves … they are triggered by our psychological response to those fake treatments.”17
Placebo Effect Works Even When People Know They’re Taking a Placebo
Of note, the placebo effect has been found to produce marked effects even when no deception was involved at all. In one trial, nearly 60 percent of patients given a placebo pill, who were told they were receiving a placebo, reported adequate relief from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms. Only 35 percent of those who received no treatment at all reported adequate relief.18
Recently, so-called “open-label” placebo treatment for chronic low back pain, in which patients were informed of the placebo treatment, also led to significant reductions in both pain and disability compared treatment as usual.19 By the end of the study, some of the participants even requested prescriptions for the placebo.
The fact is, the placebo effect isn’t “all in your head,” unless you’re talking about brain chemistry. There are about 30 neurotransmitters and hormones, including opioids, dopamine, endocannabinoids and serotonin, involved in the placebo effect, according to science writer Erik Vance, who recently published a book, “Suggestible You: Placebos, False Memories, Hypnosis, and the Power of Your Astonishing Brain,” on this complex effect.20
In short, a placebo really does change your physical body, including your brain, in a number of different ways, and so too, likely, does homeopathy. It’s interesting to note also that while homeopathy has been proven to work better than a placebo, another widely accepted medication, antidepressants, has not.
What’s the Third Leading Cause of Death in the US?
Earlier this year, researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine revealed that medical errors in hospitals and other health-care facilities are the third leading cause of death in the U.S.21
Such errors lead to 251,000 deaths every year, the study found, “which boils down to people dying from the care that they receive rather than the disease for which they are seeking care,” study author Martin Makary, Johns Hopkins professor of surgery, told The Washington Post.22
What does this have to do with homeopathy? Everything, because it highlights the importance of taking control of your health. If you can recover from a health condition using a non-invasive and virtually side-effect-free treatment like homeopathy, it’s certainly worth a try — especially in light of the state of U.S. medical care.
Only heart disease and cancer claim more lives than medical errors in the U.S. Meanwhile, it’s becoming increasingly clear that our bodies heal themselves in mysterious ways, even when presented with only placebos, sometimes referred to as sugar pills, for treatment. Some believe it’s the ritual of the pill taking or the interactions with the care providers that lead to relief, but whatever the mechanism, it’s real.
Homeopathic remedies, which some skeptics refer to as basically sugar pills, also have their place in medicine, even if their healing powers aren’t fully understood. People have the right to choose their treatment, and doctors (many of whom admit to prescribing placebos to their patients) also retain the right to offer treatments they deem useful, whether it be homeopathy or another remedy.
As for the FTC’s new policy statement on homeopathic drugs, making the claim that they don’t work or are based on some type of pseudoscience is not only premature, it’s attempting to discredit such remedies’ proven healing powers before their mechanisms of action have even begun to be pinned down.