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Homeopathy and the FDA: Holding Medicine and Mayo to the Same Standards

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 3/11/2015 Amy Porterfield Levy
HOMEOPATHY © Getty Images HOMEOPATHY

Last week, I wrote a piece about my mom's experience with alternative medicine when she was dying of colon cancer and managed to really irritate some people, especially homeopaths, who questioned whether homeopathy was actually part of the steaming pile of quackery she threw at the wall in her desperation to live. It's my fault that I wasn't clear in that article. Homeopathy was just a small part of that pile but unfortunately, it's the only part that the FDA is considering cracking down on at the moment so that's where my focus is for now.
One of the many things my mom placed her hopes in was shark cartilage. Evidently, the homeopaths take issue with homeopathic shark cartilage being called homeopathic. I'm not sure how they explain all of the homeopathic shark cartilage sold on the Internet. They had arguments like, "well, it's not indicated for cancer" (except by the guy who wrote that book I guess -- or is that not homeopathic shark since it's not mostly water? It's very confusing). Or then, "she shouldn't have self-prescribed." Then why is it sold over the counter? They all agreed that I don't understand homeopathy. They're probably right but I've read up on the concept and it sounds as ridiculous as witchcraft unless you think water cures everything.
None of that matters though, because as far as I'm concerned, homeopathy falls into the same category as all unproven supplements and herbal "medicine" and everything else under the alternative umbrella. I think it's all nonsense but I'm not trying to ban it.
If people want to buy magic water and pretend it does something, then by all means, they should knock themselves out. But why not label it correctly? Slate had an awesome article about homeopathy the other day where chemist and author, Yvette d'Entremont, makes this great observation:

My biggest concern with homeopathy is the labeling. I'm a scientist and science writer who wants consumers to understand what they're buying, but what do any of these homeopathy labels mean? "200C." "10x." "3C." "Humulus lupulus." "Arsenicum alb." "Natrum Muriaticum." What language are they even written in?

This sounds like it should be sold to Hufflepuffs in a Harry Potter apothecary instead of to nonfiction people at Walgreen's.
There is no reason, other than a 1930s loophole, that the FDA shouldn't apply truth in advertising laws to homeopathic products like it does to other things you buy and put in your mouth. If the company who makes Kind Bars has to remove the bar's "healthy" label then it's not unreasonable for corporations that sell homeopathy to remove the "medicine" label from their products if they're just water. Or the FDA could at least require them to provide comprehensible labels, especially if the products contain alcohol or heavy metals. (One of my favorite comments on my article was from someone who suggested the label: For entertainment purposes only. That seems perfectly reasonable to me.)
It frustrates me that alternative medicine is held up as an entity that is all peaceful incense and tinkling music and could never be motivated by something as ugly as money. It's not. It's a very big industry. And alternative medicine, including homeopathy, is weakly regulated so it's able to make all sorts of preposterous, unproven, and sometimes dangerous claims. So, while the FDA is busy involving itself in whether or not mayonnaise is mayonnaise without the egg, the quack brigade is getting away with selling fake cures for everything from ADHD to cancer.
There is a lot of pressure put on people with cancer to fight and survive. My mom was very much a Type A personality who took dying of cancer as a personal failure. Somehow, torturing herself and fighting until the very end made her feel like she wasn't giving up.
Alternative medicine takes advantage off that pressure to fight and profits nicely from it. No, homeopathy was not the worst part, or the most expensive part, of our nightmare with alternative medicine. But it was a part, and if I can throw one more voice into the mix to encourage the FDA to do its job, then I will.
I am actually very sorry that I hurt the feelings of some in that profession. A few seem like nice people and I have no doubt they all believe in their Hufflepuff medicine. It's probably scary to feel like your means of supporting yourself could be yanked out from under you by the FDA.
I doubt they need to worry though because homeopaths and the rest of the alternative gang have very dedicated followers who don't care what the FDA says. Believe me, I've been yelled at by a lot of them. All I'm asking is that the FDA do its job for the rest of us who just want to go to the store and have a reasonable amount of confidence that the label on the medicine we buy is at least up to the same high standards as the label on our mayonnaise and nut bars.

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