The homeopathic market has grown into a $3 billion industry in the past 10 years, according to Tonic—perhaps due in part to rising health-care costs and wariness of side effects associated with prescription medications. And although the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) regulates pharmaceuticals, homeopathic remedies have largely stayed outside its jurisdiction—though that might change in the coming months.
In December 2017, the FDA shared a press announcement declaring its intention to create policy to regulate and screen homeopathic products that haven’t been proven to be clinically beneficial yet claim to treat life-threatening health issues. Following the 90-day period (ending in March) that allows people to comment on the proposed policy, the FDA will likely begin more closely scrutinizing homeopathic products that target “vulnerable populations,” like cancer patients, children, and those suffering from substance abuse. Over the past few years, the FDA has dealt with a number of homeopathic issues that inspired it to draft this policy, including a teething tablet that resulted in the deaths of children and three intranasal Zicam products that caused a lost sense of smell.
The potentially dangerous aspect of homeopathic products is that many incorporate heavily diluted substances—like plant extracts or toxic metals—that can cause illnesses, the idea being that in small doses, these solutions could be used as treatments for sick people. Still, they are often not evaluated by the FDA and don’t have scientific, study-based evidence backing their claims.
“Sometimes the danger from homeopathic products can be if people take them and are diverted away from drugs that actually are studied and are safe and effective.” —Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, associate professor at Harvard Medical School
Homeopathic remedies are absolutely known to provide relief to many—like arnica gel for aches and pains—but as Aaron Kesselheim, MD and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, explained to Tonic, “Sometimes the danger from homeopathic products can be if people take them and are diverted away from drugs that actually are studied and are safe and effective.”
When in doubt, your best bet is always to talk to a doctor. Holistic and homeopathic approaches may bolster your overall well-being, but, especially since certain drug interactions can be unpredictable, make sure you go over your whole medical profile with a professional before subbing in a homeopathic option for a prescribed medication.
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