COMMENTARY

Science in One Room, Homeopathy in the Next?

Paul A. Offit, MD

Disclosures

January 11, 2011

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Hi. My name is Paul Offit, and I am talking to you today from the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in the Vaccine Education Center.

What I wanted to talk about started, at least for me, with an event a few weeks ago. I was asked to speak at an Infectious Diseases Symposium in New York City, and present at that symposium were about 750 pediatricians and family practitioners (there to learn about common aspects of pediatric infections; I was asked to speak about the science of vaccines). In the other room were the exhibitors. One of the exhibitors was selling a homeopathic medicine called oscillococcinum.

What is oscillococcinum? You take the liver and heart of a Barbary duck, homogenize it, and dilute it 100-fold in water. Then you do another serial 100 fold dilution 200 times, which means that when you're done, there's not a single molecule of that Barbary duck's liver or heart left. In fact, if you look at the volume of the universe, which is roughly 3 x 1080 cubic meters, it's more dilute than that.

So what is oscillococcinum? It's basically a gram of sugar, yet it's being sold as something that helps flu-like symptoms, such as feeling run down, chills, and fever, when clearly it is a placebo. What's interesting is that the company was distributing literature showing how this was better than placebo, which is amazing considering that it is placebo.

Now you could argue that the advantage of something like oscilococcinum is that it's not the cough-and-cold remedies which can really have side effects and can be dangerous for children. But I think at the very least, it's not fair to advertise something as having a physiologic or medical effect when in fact, it's simply a gram of sugar.

The FDA could choose to do something about this. They could crack down more on homeopathic medicines that are sold as drugs. This isn't something that would be protected by the 1994 Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act. At least to date, they've chosen not to do that.

Thanks for your attention.

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