Homeopathy, hailed by many to be a viable alternative to traditional medicine, may become subject to FDA regulation. Homeopathic medicine as a market has grown exponentially in the past ten years. In fact a survey taken in 2007 revealed that $2.9 billion was spent on these type of medicines and remedies for an estimated 3.9 million adults and 910,000 children. Supporters of these remedies swear that homeopathic medicine works, while some medical experts are more skeptical, denouncing it as a form of pseudoscience.
Up until now, the FDA has allowed companies to suggest or sell products using homeopathy without performing regulation tests, however, due to claims that homeopathic medicine is not reliable, and could be risky, the FDA may begin listening to recommendations whether the homeopathy should become subject to regulation, whether its homeopathic products should be administered the same testing methods as traditional over-the-counter drugs like, for example, Tylenol.
Homeopathy is a medical concept that revolves around products which are derived from plants, minerals, and other substances. It is generally administered to patients who prefer to avoid traditional medicines, or are sensitive to its side effects. It is based on the concept that lower dosages of a given substance can produce greater results.
These remedies have long been approved by the government and have had the same status as traditional drugs since 1938, when Senator Royal Copeland of New York, a homeopathy expert, spearheaded a law in Congress pertaining to drugs and medication. In the 1970’s the subject was introduced again when the FDA was given the opportunity to review the effectiveness and safety of over-the-counter drugs, however, the agency refused to review homeopathic remedies, instead allowing it to be sold without its formal approval.
Because of its unpredictability and is at times not fully reliable, homeopathy has recently come under more scrutiny. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), homeopathy contradicts basic chemical and physical concepts and because of its changes in dosage from traditional medicine, the remedies are diluted to the point where it is lacking the molecules of the original substance. Because of this, there is no telling whether these treatments are reliable, in fact the FDA is concerned that these untested methods may put lives at risk.
For instance, like traditional drugs, while administering homeopathic treatments could also product unwanted side effects, because of the fact that these remedies merely serve as a placebo, their ineffectiveness could prove to be unsafe. One incident that spurred the crackdown on homeopathy was an controversy centered around Zicam, a homeopathic medicine commonly used to alleviate cold symptoms, and sold alongside its FDA approved cousins. Though some people found it to be effective, in 2009, the FDA advised consumers to refrain from several of Zicam’s products, after reports of more than 130 people losing their sense of smell. Zicam is response recalled its products.
Since then, the FDA has sent several letters warning homeopathic product companies, warning them of their possible effects on consumers. In 2010, after it was reported that Hyland’s Teething Tablets were causing adverse effects in children, the company was forced to recall its product and revise it under a different formula. Last month, the FDA also warned consumers not to purchase homeopathic asthma products, advising that they also needed to be modified for effectiveness and safety.
Though homeopathy may possibly become subject to regulation, the FDA has not decided yet on how to proceed. The agency will begin hearings over the next few days, and afterwards will assess its benefits and risks what how to proceed going forward.
By Bill Ades
Photo by Richard Craig – Flickr License