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Homeopathic medicine is profitable quackery

Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine that treats patients with drug or herbal preparations that are so diluted that the final solution may not contain detectable amounts of the drugs or herbs. In fact, homeopathic remedies may be so diluted that they are just water. Clearly, any benefit obtained from such medicines would likely be due to the placebo effect, which is the belief by the patient that he or she will get better. This belief sometimes has a therapeutic effect. Homeopathic remedies may be just water, but they can cause harm by preventing a sick person from seeking competent medical advice and being cured by verified conventional treatments.

Homeopathic remedies are a big business. The market for homeopathic medicines is estimated to be 300 million euros in France, 200 million euros in Germany, over 26 billion Rupees in India, and $200 million Dollars in the United States.

Homeopathic products do not need to be tested for safety or effectiveness, but they must be labeled with a list of ingredients and the conditions for which they are used. A 1938 law allows drugs listed in the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States to be sold without the validation that governs standard medications. In essence, homeopathic products are manufactured and distributed without FDA approval.

Some homeopathic products may actually contain harmful substances. In June 16, 2009, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned consumers to stop using and discard three zinc-containing Zicam intranasal products because the products may cause a permanent loss of sense of smell.[1] The manufacturer of Zicam, Matrixx Initiatives, agreed to pay $12 million dollars in 2006 to settle 340 law suits by consumers who claimed that Zicam had ruined or destroyed their sense of smell. FDA Inspectors are also investigating other homeopathic products that have caused allergic reactions from impurities introduced during manufacturing.

Just because a product is popular or heavily marketed, it does not mean that it is safe and effective. Claims for herbal medicines are a big gray area. There are many herbal medicines whose ingredients have been proven effective. The antibacterial properties of garlic and the pain relief from chewing leaves of willow, which contain aspirin, have been known for thousands of years. However, the claims made for many herbal medicines are not likely to be confirmed through research by pharmaceutical companies because there are no profits to be made from natural products that cannot be patented. A successful economic model for new drugs requires identifying the active compounds in a natural product and then creating synthetic analogues that can be patented.

[1] FDA Warnings on Three Zicam Intranasal Zinc Products [link]

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