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FDA Recalls Homeopathic Products For Containing Actual Medicine

Possible side effects: irony, cynicism, disillusionment with natural remedies.

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Bad news for consumers who choose the natural route to avoid side effects typically associated with over-the-counter or prescription drugs—the FDA is recalling products from a homeopathic company for containing accidental and unregulated amounts of penicillin and penicillin derivatives.

Terra-Medica is a homeopathic company that sells products to “address acute and chronic inflammations and infections without the use of traditional antibiotics.” Considering their firm anti-antibiotic stance, a press release from the FDA on March 18th for Terra-Medica’s voluntary recall is particularly concerning. The FDA says Terra-Medica’s Pleo Sanum line of products “have the potential to contain penicillin or derivatives of penicillin, which may be produced during the fermentation process.” This misrepresentation of ingredients could be life threatening for Terra-Medica consumers who chose the homeopathic route because of allergies to antibiotics. Explains the FDA,

In patients who are allergic to beta-lactam antibiotics, even at low levels, exposure to penicillin can result in a range of allergic reactions from mild rashes to severe and life-threatening anaphylactic reactions. The affected products were distributed nationwide through health care practitioners, who may have sold the products through websites.

The FDA regulates homeopathy products not to measure effectiveness but to monitor safety in ingredients and packaging, and this isn’t the first time they’ve recalled a natural remedy over serious side effect concerns. In 2009 Zicam Cold Remedy products were recalled for causing anosmia in customers—destroying their sense of smell. Over 130 users reported long lasting loss of smell to the FDA, and over 800 customers complained to Zicam.

Even more alarmingly, products from Nelson’s, a supplier for Boots and one of the largest homeopathy companies in the UK, was recalled by the FDA in 2012 for failing to

 implement adequate measures to prevent glass contamination and had no documentation to demonstrate that appropriate line clearance and cleaning is conducted following occurrences of glass breakage, which has been a recurring problem.

Michael Marshall, vice president of campaign group Merseyside Skeptics, obviously has preconceived opinions about the effectiveness and safety of homeopathy. But as he said in Ars Technica, “although it’s “[funny] to see homeopathic products recalled because, for a change, they actually contain some real ingredients…there’s real cause for concern here.” Says Marshall,

People are often persuaded to try homeopathy by claims that homeopathic remedies have no side effects—and that’s true, albeit because they also have no beneficial effects.

In the cases of Terra-Medica, Zicam, and Boots, however, the fact that customers trust their health to products that may essentially just be placebos isn’t the most worrying aspect of homeopathic medicine. What’s worse is that consumers are eschewing effective western medicine for safer-sounding natural remedies, and then being exposed to the very side effects they sacrificed their health to avoid.

(via Ars Technica, image via Richard Craig)

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