In 1988, The Food and Drug Administration decided not to require homeopathic remedies to go through the same drug-approval process as standard medical treatments. Now the FDA is revisiting that decision. It will hold 2 days of hearings this week to decide whether homeopathic remedies should have to be proven safe and effective….
It’s another busy morning at Dr. Anthony Aurigemma’s homeopathy practice in Bethesda, Md.
Wendy Resnick, 58, is here because she’s suffering from a nasty bout of laryngitis. “I don’t feel great,” she says. “I don’t feel like myself.”
Resnick has been seeing Aurigemma for years for a variety of health problems. “I don’t know what I would do without him,” she says. “The traditional treatments just weren’t helping me at all.”
Aurigemma listens to Resnick’s lungs, checks her throat and then asks detailed questions about her symptoms and other things as well, such as whether she’s been having any unusual cravings for food.
Aurigemma went to medical school and practiced as a regular doctor before switching to homeopathy more than 30 years ago. He says he got disillusioned by mainstream medicine because of the side affects caused by many drugs. “I don’t reject conventional medicine. I use it when I have to,” he says.
When Aurigemma is finished examining his patient, instead of pulling out a prescription pad, he uses a thick book to come up with a homeopathic diagnosis. He then searches through heavy wooden drawers filled with rows of small brown glass vials filled with tiny white pellets. They’re homeopathic remedies. He pulls out two.
“So this will be the first dose,” he says. “Then I’ll give you a daily dose, to try to get underneath into your immune system to try and to help you strengthen your energy, basically.”
Homeopathic medicine has long been controversial. It’s based on an idea known as “like cures like,” which means if you give somebody a dose of substance – such as a plant or a mineral – that can cause the symptoms of their illness, it can, in theory, cure that illness if the substance has been diluted so much that its essentially no longer in the dose.
“We believe that there is a memory left in the solution. You might call is a memory. You might call it energy,” Aurigemma says. “Each substance in nature has a certain set of characteristics. And when a patient comes who matches the physical, mental and emotional symptoms that a remedy produces – that medicine may heal the person’s problem.”
Critics say those ideas are nonsense, and that study after study has failed to find any evidence that homeopathy works.
“Homeopathy is an excellent example of the purest form of pseudoscience,” says Steven Novella, a neurologist at Yale and executive editor of the website Science-Based Medicine. “These are principles that are not based on science.”
Novella thinks consumers are wasting their money on homeopathic remedies. The cost of such treatments vary, with some over-the-counter products costing less than $10.
There’s also some concern that homeopathic remedies could be dangerous if they’re contaminated or not completely diluted, or even if they simply don’t work.
Somebody who’s having an acute asthma attack, for example, who takes a homeopathic asthma remedy, “may very well die of their acute asthma attack because they were relying on a completely inert and ineffective treatment,” Novella says.
For years, critics like Novella have been asking the FDA to regulate homeopathy more aggressively. The FDA’s decision to revisit the issue now was motivated by several factors, including the growing popularity of homeopathic remedies and the length of time that has passed since the agency last considered the issue.
The FDA’s decision to examine the issue is making homeopathic practitioners like Aurigemma and their patients nervous. “It would be a terrible loss to this country if they were to do something drastic,” he says.
“Homeopathic medicines have a very long history of safety,” says Mark Land, vice president of operations and regulatory affairs for Boiron USA, which makes homeopathic products. “The potential risk of greater FDA regulation to consumers is if any change in regulation were to limit access to these products,” he says.
That’s what worries Resnick. She says homeopathic remedies have helped alleviate a long list of health problems she’s experienced over the years. “Why would they want to take that away from us?” she says. “Let us have the freedom to decide what works the best for us.”
Health News NPR
April 20, 2015