Homeopathy: Not backed by modern science

On your pharmacy’s shelves, mixed in with conventional over-the-counter medicines, you might find products labeled “homeopathic.” Marketers of traditional homeopathic products claim they effectively treat symptoms, but lack reliable scientific evidence to support their claims.

The 18th century theory of homeopathy claims that the process of dilution increases potency. So, according to this theory from the 1700s, a substance that causes symptoms of an illness in healthy people will cure similar symptoms in sick people, when the substance is diluted to a level that’s nearly undetectable.

In response to the rapid growth in the homeopathic industry over the past few decades, the FTC held a public workshop that explored the current state of the homeopathic market, consumer understanding of homeopathy, and advertising for these products. The FTC issued a report and an enforcement policy statement with respect to marketing claims.

The bottom line for you? The next time you are on the hunt for over-the-counter medication, keep this in mind:

  • Homeopathic medications are not evaluated for safety or effectiveness by the FDA.
  • Traditional homeopathic products lack reliable scientific evidence for their claims of effectiveness.
  • Homeopathy is based on a theory from the 1700’s that is not generally accepted within today’s scientific community.
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) advises that homeopathy should not be used as a replacement for proven conventional care or to postpone seeing a health care provider about a medical problem.

For more, check out the FTC’s Homeopathic Medicine & Advertising Report and our articles on health treatments and cures.

Efficacy and Safety Claims Are Held to Same Standard as Other OTC Drug Claims

The Federal Trade Commission today announced a new “Enforcement Policy Statement on Marketing Claims for Over-the-Counter (OTC) Homeopathic Drugs.” The policy statement was informed by an FTC workshop held last year to examine how such drugs are marketed to consumers. The FTC also released its staff report on the workshop, which summarizes the panel presentations and related public comments in addition to describing consumer research commissioned by the FTC.

The policy statement explains that the FTC will hold efficacy and safety claims for OTC homeopathic drugs to the same standard as other products making similar claims. That is, companies must have competent and reliable scientific evidence for health-related claims, including claims that a product can treat specific conditions. The statement describes the type of scientific evidence that the Commission requires of companies making such claims for their products.

Homeopathy, which dates back to the 1700s, is based on the theory that disease symptoms can be treated by minute doses of substances that produce similar symptoms when provided in larger doses to healthy people. Many homeopathic products are diluted to such an extent that they no longer contain detectable levels of the initial substance. According to the policy statement, homeopathic theories are not accepted by most modern medical experts.

For the vast majority of OTC homeopathic drugs, the policy statement notes, “the case for efficacy is based solely on traditional homeopathic theories and there are no valid studies using current scientific methods showing the product’s efficacy.” As such, the marketing claims for these products are likely misleading, in violation of the FTC Act.

However, the policy statement also notes that “the FTC has long recognized that marketing claims may include additional explanatory information to prevent the claims from being misleading. Accordingly, it recognizes that an OTC homeopathic drug claim that is not substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence might not be deceptive if the advertisement or label where it appears effectively communicates that: 1) there is no scientific evidence that the product works; and 2) the product’s claims are based only on theories of homeopathy from the 1700s that are not accepted by most modern medical experts.

The policy statement notes that any such disclosures should stand out and be in close proximity to the product’s efficacy message and might need to be incorporated into that message. It also warns marketers not to undercut a disclosure with additional positive statements or consumer endorsements reinforcing a product’s efficacy. The statement warns that the FTC will carefully scrutinize the net impression of OTC homeopathic marketing claims and that if an ad conveys more substantiation than a marketer has, it will violate the FTC Act.

The Commission vote approving the enforcement policy stat