A public mass overdose of homeopathic remedies has forced the New Zealand Council of Homeopaths to admit openly that their products do not contain any “material substances”. Council spokeswoman Mary Glaisyer admitted publicly that “there´s not one molecule of the original substance remaining” in the diluted remedies that form the basis of this multi-million-dollar industry.
The NZ Skeptics, in conjunction with 10:23, Skeptics in the Pub and other groups nationally and around the world, held the mass overdose in Christchurch on Saturday to highlight the fact that homeopathic products are simply very expensive water drops or sugar/lactose pills. A further aim was to question the ethical issues of pharmacies, in particular, stocking and promoting sham products and services.
“You´re paying $10 for a teaspoon of water that even the homeopaths say has no material substance in it,” says Skeptics Chair Vicki Hyde. “Yet a recent survey showed that 94% of New Zealanders using homeopathic products aren´t aware of this basic fact – their homeopath or health professional hasn´t disclosed this. The customers believe they are paying for the substances listed on the box, but those were only in the water once upon a time before the massive dilution process began – along with everything else that the water once had in it — the chlorine, the beer, the urine….”
Hyde notes that one of the homeopathic products downed by the 40 or so people in the mass overdose had a label saying it contained chamomilia, humulus lupulus, ignatia, kali brom, nux vomica and zinc val. But those substances were actually in homeopathic dilutions, meaning that the kali brom, for example, was present in a proportion comparable to 1 pinch of sugar in the Atlantic Ocean – that is, not actually present at all.
“People don´t know that they are paying through the nose for just water – they believe the label implies there are active ingredients in there, just like you´d expect from a reputable health product. And you have to ask, at what point does it shift from being an issue of informed consent to become an issue of fraud?”
The UK-based 10:23 campaign is concerned about the ethical issue of pharmacies – touted as “the health professional you see most often” – supporting these products and giving them a spurious and unwarranted credibility.
“Does this mean pharmacists don’t know that homeopathic products are just water, or they do know and don’t care because people will buy it not realising the massive mark-up? Either way, that should be a big concern for the health consumer. Here´s a huge industry with virtually no regulatory oversight or consumer protection or come- back, and even its keen customers aren´t aware of the highly dubious practices involved.”
The alternative health industry has built a multi-million-dollar business exploiting the natural healing powers of the human body, as many conditions will get better within two to three days regardless of whether conventional or alternative treatments are used, or even if nothing is done at all. Independent testing has shown that homeopathic preparations take full advantage of this and homeopaths quickly take the credit for any improvement in their clients.
The Christchurch “overdose” included an “underdose” – homeopaths believe that the more dilute things are, the more potent they become, so the skeptics were careful to try that approach. There are also claims by product manufacturers that, in fact, dosage doesn´t matter at all – whether you take 1 pill or 100 – but the important thing is the frequency of dosage, and the skeptics covered that base too. No ill effects were reported, apart from a distinct drop in the level of cash in various wallets. For the demonstration, Hyde reluctantly purchased two small boxes of tablets and a 25ml spray from a Unichem pharmacy, costing $51.95.
“That´s a lot to pay for less than 2 tablespoons of water and not much more than that in lactose milk sugar.”
Homeopaths claim all sorts of amazing results, from treating the 1918 influenza to AIDS. More dangerously, at least one New Zealand pharmacy has been known to push homeopathic water labelled as “vaccines” for meningitis and Hepatitis B. Perhaps not surprisingly, the most supportive test results are those which come out of the homeopathic industry, product manufacturers and other vested interests. Any completely independent evaluation, such as the highly respected Cochrane Collaboration, tends to find the results much more underwhelming, citing no convincing evidence in many claimed areas of effectiveness.
“We´d recommend that if your local pharmacy stocks homeopathic products, take your business somewhere more ethical.”