Homeopathy Packaging And Flu

September 1st, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, homeopathy | 30 Comments »

With the changes to homeopathy regulations you can look forward to more products like this, for “influenza and influenza-like colds”:

Coldenza is a homeopathic remedy specifically designed to bring fast, effective relief for the symptoms of cold and flu. For best results take immediately at the onset of flu or the early stages of a cold; keep warm and drink plenty of fluids.

£4.20 for 72 tablets

Available from Boots, Superdrug, Holland and Barrett, Sainsbury’s and all good pharmacies and health food shops nationwide. Click here to find your local stockist.

My favourite bit is where it says “Keep out of the reach of children.” Yeah, you don’t want you kids to start thinking that sweeties are medicines, no hang on, that medicines are sweeties, no, wait, you don’t want them to start thinking that sweeties are medicines.

Oh, that and the bit where it says “If symptoms persist or worsen, consult your doctor or homeopath.”

That’s: “orhomeopath.”

This is a totally excellent packaging development. If your flu symptoms persist for a long time, days, and then weeks maybe, don’t bother your doctor… Perhaps they worsen over time, maybe your cough gets a bit painful… well Nelsons said to go to a homeopath, I reckon if I cough this much it’s bound to hurt a bit, and I am coughing a lot, and the packaging looks pretty authoritative, and it is licensed by the government, isn’t it. Perhaps your fever becomes a bit more persistent, perhaps you’re bringing a bit more sputum than you might expect, perhaps it’s frothy, perhaps it’s green, well you do bring stuff up when you have a cough don’t you, ooh I feel a bit achey though, this fever isn’t shifting, I’m really sweating, I shan’t worry about going to the doctor though. It’s probably nothing. Seriously. Ignore it. If your flu symptoms worsen or persist, you might just as well go and see a homeopath instead.

Flu deaths in the UK are down from 20,000 5 years ago to about 1,200 last year, largely thanks to an effective vaccination program for those most at risk. Careful you don’t miss that diagnosis of pneumonia though, homeopaths: it kills about 30,000 people a year in England alone, and it can be tricky to spot if you’re not experienced. Oh and that frothy sputum might be congestive cardiac failure I suppose. And why does that person keep getting ill? Probably something in their “energy”.

This to me is another, albeit subtle, example of the creep towards “equivalence” between “complementary and alternative medicine” (as they insist on calling it) and proper medicine.

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30 Responses

  1. profnick said,

    September 1, 2006 at 5:20 pm

    I agree with all the comments on the badscience forum and “Sense about Science”, regarding how ill-conceived and potentially dangerous this is. Given that it it’s now a done deal perhaps an approach might be to pressurise the authorities to strictly apply section 3 of the Statutory Instrument which says amongst other things
    “7. The applicant must include with his data—
    (a) a table of contents, and
    (b) an evaluation of the data, including an explanation as to how the data establishes
    that the product has a recognised level of efficacy in the therapeutic indication for
    which authorization is sought.”.

    I realise that this is likely to be a very low hurdle in practice but if applied rigourously, it could preclude any homeopathic “medicine”.

  2. Frank said,

    September 1, 2006 at 6:14 pm

    Ah, this kind of bullshit saps your will to live.

  3. pv said,

    September 1, 2006 at 6:22 pm

    £4.20 for what? Don’t they have to list any active ingredients? Or can they list anything they like and just say they are “active” because it homeopathy.
    And why would one need to keep them out of the way of children? Doesn’t such an instruction imply there’s something dangerous about homeopathic remedies? What action should one take if Junior does accidentally ingest some of the stuff? Is there a homeopathic antidote? And can they make any old claims for that too.
    The most immediately dangerous thing about this (apart from the policy of deliberate lying) seems to me to be the decorative use of the caution to keep all medicines out of reach of children. What happens when the brain dead followers of the homeopathy cult actually discover that Junior can eat as much homeopathic medicine as they like, with no ill effects whatsoever? The caution is no less out of place on a packet of homeopathic pills than it is on a bottle of mineral water – or anything else with no medicinal properties.
    A gigantic fraud is being perpetrated on the public which is nothing short of scandalous. I don’t think I’m being too extreme here, but there are people who should be going to prison over this deception who will be getting very rich instead. Let’s start with these:
    1) homeopathic consultants in general
    2) the criminals who actually “manufacture” homeopathic remedies (who must know they contain fuck all)
    3) the Directors of companies like Boots who give homeopathy an air of respectability because they too can profit from the scam
    4) whoever in Government allows the public to be decieved like this.

  4. The Sceptical Preacher said,

    September 1, 2006 at 7:01 pm

    Since homepathic medicine becomes more potent as it’s diluted, I think we’re all in serious danger of overdosing everytime we drink a glass of water.

    Boots have taken the reputation they had an used it to screw money out of consumers who simply don’t know any better. I’ve contacted boots in the past, asking them to reveal the sources of the claims being made for some of their homeopathic remedies and what I received in response were assurances that their claims are legal.

    In one case I simply asked how they tested the effectiveness of the product to arrive at the ‘cures 4 out of 5 snorers’ claim but they refused to disclose this information. They said that it’s a trade secret. It’s not like I asked for the formula, I just wanted to know who tested the product, how they did so and is this study posted on a reputable medical journal?

  5. le canard noir said,

    September 1, 2006 at 7:07 pm

    Oh My god! Ben – I thought you had been at the photoshop and knocked up some spoof packaging. But depressingly no. Nelson’s ‘scientists’ have been hard at it, working up to today’s liberalisation of homeopathy.

    Even stuff for teething babies. Does the placebo affect work on babies?

    Anyway, I’ve written a few blog enties this week on homeopathy that are going to need some updating. there goes my weekend.

  6. Koant said,

    September 1, 2006 at 7:17 pm

    What about the patient’s terrain then ?
    Most of the placebo effect in homeopathy comes from the consultation, where the homepath listens to the patient and (allegedly) carefully selects a remedy for them.
    And here we have a one-fits-all homeopathic remedy. Yet another contradiction from homeopaths.

  7. steve said,

    September 1, 2006 at 7:24 pm

    Its developments like this that make me want to buy my own pharmacy, so I don’t have to stock homepathic products (and some of the other crap products out there)

  8. Junkmonkey said,

    September 1, 2006 at 7:57 pm

    I’ve always wanted to open a homeopathic restaurant. Cook a meal, devide it into a million portions, dilute and charge gullable idiots twenty five quid a bowl.

  9. Junkmonkey said,

    September 1, 2006 at 8:01 pm

    “Does the placebo effect work on babies?”

    Apparently, if you are to believe the British Association of Homeopathic Vetenarians:
    www.bahvs.com/ , it works on animals – so why not?

  10. Universal Antidote said,

    September 1, 2006 at 10:16 pm

    Let’s talk about “complementary and alternative” medicine for a moment, shall we? If it’s actually proven to work, it’s not complementary and alternative anymore is it? (And of course this homeopathic stuff is, emphatically, NOT proven…) So by extension is “complementary and alternative” synomymous with “not proven”?


  11. steve said,

    September 1, 2006 at 10:37 pm

    I’ve just read this article in the times www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,174-2337904,00.html and apparently ‘aplicants must supply data on pharmacology, pharmacokinetics and toxicology’

    How the hell can you have any pharmacological, pharmacokinetic or toxicological data from homeopathic preparations? I would have thought it looks like this:
    Pharmacology: no effects on any cellular, organ or animal models
    Pharmacokinetics: n/a as we can’t detect anything going in, therefore makes it a bit tough to determine standard pharmacokinetic parameters
    Toxicology: as for pharmacokinetics, but no one’s ever been poisoned by it.

    for comparison look at emc.medicines.org.uk/ and search for any medicine you like, and see the amount of information in the SPC (summary of product characteristics), and then remember that this is just a summary of the data.

  12. john said,

    September 1, 2006 at 11:54 pm

    It’s very easy to take a “don’t they realise how dumb this is” stance, but in fact they do of course know as much as anyone here does. Civil service, parliamentary committees, regulatory bodies, all absolutely stuffed with heavily educated clever chaps. This is not because of a collapse of rationality, it’s because the NHS is a bottomless money pit. Health is a numbers game, and GPs’ ability to deploy the placebo effect has been undermined. Many illnesses are self limiting and it’s better if their sufferers take a few sugar pills, rather than knackering up the waiting room.

    What’s happened here is some clever chap has worked out the numbers and if a few fools get seriously ill due to taking homeopathic remedies, they can consider themselves collateral damage.

  13. Ben Goldacre said,

    September 1, 2006 at 11:58 pm

    omg, you mean it’s… the man?

  14. pv said,

    September 2, 2006 at 12:24 am

    “What’s happened here is some clever chap has worked out the numbers and if a few fools get seriously ill due to taking homeopathic remedies, they can consider themselves collateral damage”

    Since when has lying and hand-wringing become an acceptable substitute for formal education?

  15. Mojo said,

    September 2, 2006 at 9:59 am

    le canard noir said: “Even stuff for teething babies. Does the placebo affect work on babies?”

    Yes, usually known as “mummy’ll kiss it better”.

  16. Mojo said,

    September 2, 2006 at 10:00 am

    “My favourite bit is where it says “Keep out of the reach of children.” Yeah, you don’t want you kids to start thinking that sweeties are medicines, no hang on, that medicines are sweeties, no, wait, you don’t want them to start thinking that sweeties are medicines.”

    If you’re a homoeopath, you don’t want them to start thinking at all.

  17. john said,

    September 2, 2006 at 7:20 pm

    it’s the man from Arthur Anderson

    I’m not saying it’s a sinister conspiracy, and I certainly don’t approve, I hate them homeopathists, but if you make patients into “clients” and encourage them to think of the relationship like they would any other transaction with a service-provider, then the magic is gone and a big lump of GPs’ ability to make people feel better goes out the window. It’s easy to think of placebo as a bad thing, but for a lot of conditions, maybe it’s the best medicine.

  18. David Mingay said,

    September 2, 2006 at 10:48 pm

    Oh, come on! The population’s just gone over 60 million, and you’re all sneering at an efficient and profitable way of getting the terminally-gullible to top themselves. Some people are never happy…

  19. toonboon said,

    September 2, 2006 at 11:24 pm

    If you swallow an entire bottle of homeopathic pills, believing them to be “real medicine”, could there be a negative effect on your health caused by a sort of placebo overdose? In other words, can the same mechanism which somehow makes you feel better after taking the recommended dosage of harmless sugar pills also work in a negative way if you know you’ve taken way too many?

    Presumably there is not a wealth of published research on the subject…

  20. Dean Morrison said,

    September 3, 2006 at 5:46 pm

    Presumably as Homeopathic medicines are made stronger by dilution an antidote would involve taking the undiluted substance – in this case eating an onion I guess??

    In fact shouldn’t an overdose have less effect than the prescribed level of medication??

  21. Agema said,

    September 4, 2006 at 1:48 pm

    Well, I think it’s not the worst thing in the world if people want to take this sort of thing instead of bothering the GP. Means more resources freed up for the seriously ill. And the more people die by consulting the homeopathist rather than the GP, the sooner people will realise homeopathy is bunk.

    What is certainly is a concern is that it is masquerading as medicine. That’s why it’s got those little ‘Keep out of reach of children’ and ‘if symptoms worsen…’ messages. That’s just a marketing con, just like Sunny D tried to pretend it was proper orange juice, but it might hoodwink those casually after a cold/flu remedy.

  22. Melanie said,

    September 4, 2006 at 2:39 pm

    We don’t need you to make fun of us Ben! Our own guys are much more entertaining:

    The Great Debacle: The Society of Nhojoeopaths Annual Conference 1998, The Homoeopath No. 71, Read and totally mystified, but put in anyway by Divad Sille.

    The 5142nd annual Nhojoeopathic Conference was held on the 3lst-33rd of September 1998 in Croydon. As Nhojoeopathy is of such a high vibration the conference was held on the etheric. A summary of the main presentations is given below.

    What a Gem! by Nhoj Eel
    Nhoj was to explain just how much fun a heroic, material dose proving can be with vintage Double Diamond beer. However an amazing event of synchronicity occurred two days before when Nhoj was shopping in Tescos in Purley. Whilst searching the shelves looking for a tin of tuna a large tin of John West salmon fell on Nhoj’s lap. This was obviously a sign from the Universe and therefore Nhoj spoke about Salmon at the conference instead of Double Dia-mond. Unfortunately many of the delegates were expecting free beer and when offered a tin of salmon instead, trouble started in the auditorium. This all stopped when Nhoj appeared in a puzzling purple kaftan surrounded by white smoke.

    New Physics Of Nhojoeopathic Dilutions, by Nhoj Eel
    Nhoj became Nhojradamus and predicted that, one day, patients will spit or urinate into a Nuclear Magnetic Radionics Nhojo box and out will pop a remedy. This should be even faster than the current Nhojoeopathic blindfold and pin method. Although surely it cannot be more reliable. Nhoj told of how a Nhojoeopathic student recently urinated into the wrong hole and fused a Nhojo box.

    Understanding The Crux Of Nhojoeopathy
    Nobody was any the wiser after this one.

    The Five Sides Of The Nhojoeopathic Prescription
    1, Blindfold and pin. 2, Dice. 3, Roulette wheel. 4, Pendulum. 5, Coin.

    Prescribing From A Nhojoeopathic Perspective
    This lecture mostly referred to the ‘Five Sides of the Nhojoeopathic Prescription lecture’.The event was marred by an altercation between Classical and non-Classical Nhojoeopaths. This occurred at 11pm after the six-hour heroic proving of Double Diamond. Apparently some non-Classical Nhojoeopaths started drinking Fosters, thereby mixing the drinks. This incurred the wrath of the Classical Nhojoeopaths. Nhoj had to sort it all out and administered Double Diamond 30c or Fosters 30c to all provers. Harmony was soon restored.

  23. Ben Goldacre said,

    September 4, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    ladies and gentlemen melanie oxley of the society of homeopaths. seriously though, good to have you here melanie.

  24. Wonko said,

    September 4, 2006 at 3:35 pm

    What is the point of one government department spending £millions on preparations for a flu pandemic (which are based on the assumption that those affected will seek early treatment), if another government department is going to advise people to take sugar pills and go and see a homeopath?

    Avian flu anyone?

  25. katem said,

    September 5, 2006 at 4:16 pm

    or cancer:

  26. Dr* T said,

    September 6, 2006 at 1:13 pm

    From www.cancure.org/homeopathy.htm

    “On a physical level, Arsenicum Album helps the body release fear and tension held in the kidneys, adrenals, and nervous system.”

    I’d forgotten fear and tension had a physical form.


  27. Junkmonkey said,

    September 6, 2006 at 9:08 pm

    From today’s BBC news news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/5319544.stm

    England’s Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson, who has raised the issue of unnecessary operations before, said: “…it is important that effective therapies to address significant health problems are adopted and that ineffective treatments are abandoned.”

    What’s the betting Homeopathy isn’t even on the long list of “ineffective treatments ” to be abandoned?

  28. Squander Two said,

    September 7, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    Fear and tension certainly do have physical forms, all well documented. No idea whether the kidneys are involved, though.

    I love that the Coldenza packaging says “drink plenty of fluids.” Well, quite: presumably, the more you drink, the more effective it becomes.

  29. Mojo said,

    September 10, 2006 at 5:00 pm

    I has a look at the Nelsons proprietary remedies in Boots the other day. they all appear to have PLRs (i.e. they have a licence as a result of having already been on the market when the old rules came in). Would they have been able to make therapeutic claims on their packaging even before the latest rule change?

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