Flu Symptoms? Try Duck
Why sales of homeopathic products are soaring today
The dilution of Oscillococcinum goes further still: "200C," with a potency equal to 1/100 multiplied by 1/100 200 times. Robert Park, a University of Maryland physicist, figures the odds of a consumer actually getting even a single molecule of duck heart or liver in Oscillococcinum are less than those of getting hit by an asteroid.
Homeopathic drug makers don't deny any of this. "Strength is a nonissue in homeopathic medicine," says Boiron spokeswoman Gina Casey. "Just because we can't detect the molecular activity doesn't mean it doesn't work." Several studies have shown that homeopathic medicines work better than a placebo. Each has been attacked by the medical establishment for being unscientific, mostly because control group guidelines were not properly adhered to.
Everyone's a critic. But homeopathic drug makers don't seem especially eager to fund any large-scale studies to gauge their products' effectiveness. "Some of our products have been used successfully for so long that an academic study would be of little use and could only be used by our critics," says Jay Borneman, a spokesman for the American Homeopathic Pharmaceutical Association.
As aging baby boomers embrace "all natural" alternatives to conventional drugs, sales of alternative remedies have soared, from about $2 billion in 1991 to $3.77 billion last year. But homeopathic products didn't keep up with the growth, and drug chains decided they didn't warrant space in the alternative medicine section. Their solution was to mix the homeopathic remedies in with other over-the-counter products. The result has been that consumers, perhaps seeing "All-Natural" in big letters and "Homeopathic Medicine" in smaller type, are buying homeopathic products as never before. "A customer looking for relief from a migraine headache isn't going to go looking in the vitamin section of the store," explains Ed Kane, a manager at Rite Aid Corp., which has 3,800 stores across the country.
The problem, say critics, is that most consumers don't have the faintest idea what homeopathy is. "[The homeopathic drug makers] are allowed to make very specific health claims with little regulation," says Charlotte Gyllenhaal, a professor in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Illinois--Chicago.
So where is the FDA in all of this? Because homeopathic medicines were grandfathered into the 1938 law that created the regulation of medicines, the FDA has little choice but to allow homeopathic medicines to be sold alongside more rigorously tested products. But that may not be as alarming as it sounds. While scientists may argue over the effectiveness of homeopathic products, no one thinks they can harm you. As Boiron's Casey explained when asked if a remedy made from the heart and liver of a duck was safe: "Of course it is safe. There's nothing in it."
CURE FOR COLDS? Prescription for controversy One of the hottest homeopathic products on the market today claims to do something that has long eluded medical researchers: cure the common cold. And while many scientists doubt the effectiveness of Cold-Eeze--a zinc lozenge that purports to cut the length of cold symptoms by almost half--the controversy surrounding the manufacturer has recently spilled over to Wall Street.