Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Brief Look at Homeopathy for the Children

A while back, I wrote about the recall of Hyland's Homeopathic Teething Tablets. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued the recall because their labs, during routine testing of the product, found "inconsistent amounts of belladonna," a plant more commonly known as "deadly nightshade" and which, apropos to its common name, is rather poisonous, though it does have some medicinal uses. The FDA had also received reports of adverse events that fit with belladonna toxicity in children who had taken the tablets. Now, keep in mind that, because Hyland's Homeopathic Teething Tablets are homeopathic and sold over the counter, they were not required to go through the typical clinical trial process for safety and effectiveness.

Thinking back on this recall, I began to wonder, what other homeopathic products are out there for children? I decided to start with a look at Hyland's other products to see what they offered for use in kids.

First up, they have a Teething Gel, for all your child's teething needs, now that the tablets are no longer available.  Never fear, though.  The gel also makes use of belladonna, but in a 6X dilution (or 1:1,000,000). While this is 1,000 times more dilute than the amount of belladonna in their tablets (3X), I still can't help but wonder about the safety of using this highly poisonous substance in OTC products, especially since there is no scientific evidence that it is effective for any aspect of teething. Although I will grant that a 6X dilution might not result in an amount sufficient to cause toxicity, it is not beyond plausibility that there may be enough belladonna in the product to cause problems, especially if too much is used. In light of the poor quality control evidenced by the tablet recall, this product, apart from not being any better than rubbing your finger on an infant's gums, may also present a real hazard.

Taking a look at some of their other "Children's Health" products, I spotted Hyland's Bedwetting Tablets.  Like the recalled teething tablets, these also contain a 3X dilution of belladonna. It also has a 3X dilution of equisetum hyemale (aka rough horsetail), a plant that acts as a diuretic (i.e., increases the production of urine), and rhus aromatica, or Fragrant Sumac. The "active" ingredients in these tablets are not particularly dilute, meaning that there may actually be enough in the tablets to have a pharmocological effect. In the case of fragrant sumac, this probably won't do much of anything. However, the rough horsetail could potentially induce diuresis, and the belladonna may result in toxicity, as occurred with the teething tablets.

One interesting thing I spotted was Hyland's Complete Flu Care 4Kids. They've got Eupatorium Perfoliatum (aka boneset), Bryonia Alba (white bryony), Gelsemium Sempervirens (carolina jessamine, which can be rather toxic), Euphrasia Officinalis (eyebright) and Kali Iodatum (potassium iodide, an expectorant). As with the teething products and bedwetting tablets, the 3X dilution means that there may actually be active ingredient in this product, with real pharmacological activity, complete with possible side effects and toxicity. At the end of their list of 3X ingredients, I found, in italics, Anas Barbariae Hepatis Et Cordis Extractum in a 200C dilution. Now, 200C is 10-400. There is not enough water on Earth for such a dilution, unless they reuse their water. Furthermore, at such a dilution (assuming there were enough water), it would be an incredibly safe bet that you would not find even a single molecule of that ingredient in any of the tablets. Despite this, they make the bold claim that it "relieves early onset flu symptoms."

They also have a number of supposed remedies for things that are largely self-limiting or which have a tendency to have periodic symptoms (e.g., cold treatments, ointments for bruises, etc.). The added attention that comes from applying these remedies may result in the child's mood improving, but are unlikely to actually have an effect, unless, of course, the products have measurable amounts (i.e., not homeopathic) of active ingredients.  Thankfully, though, they don't appear to offer any products that treat conditions that could be very dangerous if left untreated.  However, because many of their products use less-than-homeopathic dilutions ("true" homeopathic products typically have 12C or 30C dilutions) of some rather toxic plants, and thus may actually contain active amounts, can pose a risk of poisoning.

Why am I making a big deal out of this? Useless nonsense like homeopathy should not be used to treat any ailment (other than, perhaps, dehydration or low blood suger), let alone illnesses in children. Although little harm may come from using homeopathic products for self-limiting conditions like the common cold, more serious conditions that require real medical treatment may turn fatal if the treatment of choice is homeopathy, as in the case of Gloria Sam. Gloria died because her parents opted for homeopathy to treat her eczema, rather than using real medicine.

Alternatively, the homeopathic products may not actually be homeopathic, as in the case of Hyland's Teething Tablets. They may contain measurable amounts of poisonous plants or other extracts and substances. In these cases, what would normally be a useless waste of money may result in adverse reactions ranging from diarrhea to abnormal heart rate or worse.

Just like adults, children deserve to be treated with the best available medicine, based on the best available science. Homeopathy just does not meet that bar.

I have more thoughts on homeopathy here.

Disclaimer: This post expresses my opinions and is not intended to libel or malign any individual or group of homeopaths, nor should they be interpreted as statements of fact. I used Hyland's as a convenient example, but could easily have picked pretty much any other maker of homeopathic products. If you take offense, sorry, but grow a thicker skin. Furthermore, I am not a physician. Nothing in this post is meant to be taken as medical advice. If you want that, talk to your doctor.

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