The poisonous homeopathic pill

The Pediatric Insider

© 2010 Roy Benaroch, MD

The FDA has announced a recall of Hyland’s Teething Tablets, because some lots contain poisonous amounts of belladonna. What was a potentially deadly extract from the nightshade plant doing in the tablets it the first place? Well, it was supposed to be there—but not really, not in the sense of any actual molecules of belladonna actually being in the tablets. No, no. Just kind of the “energy” of the belladonna, the unmeasurable-magical-it’s-there-but-it’s-not part, definitely not the kill-you-dead part. Got it? No?

Hyland’s Teething Tablets are marketed as a “homeopathic” product. From talking with parents, there seems to be a misconception that homeopathy is a kind of natural, herbal medicine that’s been around since ancient times. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Homeopathy is about as super-natural as the tooth fairy, and was invented (that is, “made up”) by a retired physician, writer, and translator, Samuel Hahnemann, around 1800.

I don’t blame Hahnemann. Put yourself in his shoes: “medicine”, as practiced at that time, was still largely based on Galen’s ideas of the four humors. Purging and bleeding being were the main therapeutic options. What Hahnemann realized was that Galen’s approach  was completely wrong. It was killing more people than it helped. What Hahnmann was looking for was a complete departure from the medical philosophy of the day, and what he invented was homeopathy.

The central foundation of his new “medicine” was the concept that “like cures like”, sometimes called “the law of similars.” He and his students would take a bit of an herb or bark or other substance, and see what kind of symptoms it seemed to cause. For instance, just a little bit of nightshade would cause (among many other symptoms) a belly ache. So Hahnemann figured that if the belladonna were diluted, and diluted again, and maybe diluted again a zillion times, the resulting solution would then cure belly aches.

(Not just diluted. The solutions had to be shaken and stirred in a specific way, called “succession.” This released the “vital energy” of the substance, and involved specific sorts of tubes and things to strike them with a certain number of times. I suppose a genuine homeopathic factory would look like it was designed by Willy Wonka.)

“A zillion times” was kind of an unfair term—I don’t know what a zillion is, but Hahnemann’s idea was that the more diluted the substance was, the stronger the cure became. His dilutions went far, far beyond the zillions, often using products diluted to 10-60 as a cure. Ten to the minus 60, that’s a fraction that looks like 1/1000… (ßput 57 more zeroes there.) That’s not “strong” enough for you? From 10/30/2010, “Homeopathy”:

A popular homeopathic treatment for the flu is a 200C dilution of duck liver, marketed under the name Oscillococcinum. As there are only about 1080 atoms in the entire observable universe, a dilution of one molecule in the observable universe would be about 40C. Oscillococcinum would thus require 10320 more universes to simply have one molecule in the final substance.[74]

Homeopathy is entirely supernatural, relying on concepts of power and dilution and “vital energy” that have no basis whatsoever in what we understand of the natural world. Still, it did have one important advantage: in the 1800s, it probably killed far fewer patients than what a lot of other doctors were doing. No purges, no bleeding—just a solution so fabulously diluted that really, you’re just drinking a little water, or taking a little pill of sugar. Harmless fun.

But apparently the makers of Hyland’s Teething Tablets forgot about the “homeopathic” part, and started making tablets out of genuine, measurable, and poisonous amounts of belladonna. Babies have been developing symptoms of belladonna toxicity, and measured amounts of poison in the pills have varied considerably. Since they’re “homepathic” (that is, they ought to contain essentially nothing), products like these do not have childproof packaging, and cases of “overdose” of a genuinely toxic amount of belladonna have apparently occurred.

The FDA has no authority to require testing homeopathic products for safety or effectiveness; they were (and new ones continue to be) essentially “grandfathered” in. Only when harm has already occurred (as in the case with these Hyland’s products) can the FDA step in and test the products to see if they contain poison.

If you have some of these tablets in your home, throw them out. In the future, if you’d like to save some money, I suggest you obtain your homeopathic remedies in an easy, safe, and economical way: just fill a vial with tap water. You can bet that somewhere, someone flushed down the toilet some kind of something that would have made your child sick on some way. By now, that substance has been diluted through all of the lakes and tanks and streams and aquifers in your water system, so it’s released all of Hahnemann’s vital curing properties. That tap water, if Hahnemann was right, ought to cure everything.

If you want to make it stronger, just dilute it with more tap water.

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5 Comments on “The poisonous homeopathic pill”

  1. Jelena Says:

    Excellent article!


  2. dr geetanjali Says:

    I request the author to take a few drops of glonine 6c and report when he can wake up from his unconsciousness .


  3. Dr. Roy Says:

    It’s been done many times– people consuming mass quantities of homeopathic products, to no ill effects. Drinking a lot of water is not different from drinking a little water; taking a lot of placebo isn’t different from taking a little. There has never been any overdose of any homeopathic product. You can’t overdose on placebo.

    If there were some kind of magic potency, since all of that water ends up recycled back into our drinking supplies, we’re all constantly consuming every homeopathic product ever made. In fact, they’d be even more potent from more dilutions! Oh noes!


  4. dear bring two similar patients (suffering from same disease),i challenge any allopath specialist try to cure one patient earlier than me. if can’t then burn his degrees to ash. its challenge


  5. johnjay60 Says:

    What I enjoy is the 6x or 20x on the label, then instructions to “take 2 pills”.


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