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The Dangers of Homeopathic 'Medications'

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

Even with cough and cold season behind us, over the counter cough and cold preparations continue to be in the news. The FDA announced yesterday that they are advising consumers not to use Zicam cold remedy nasal gel or swabs due to an association with the loss of the sense of smell, also termed anosmia.

The FDA reported that they had received over 130 reports of the loss of smell secondary to Zicam use, and the anosmia may be temporary or permanent and has been reported to occur even after a single dose. There were also reports of loss of taste. In a letter to Matrixx Initiatives, the maker of Zicam, the FDA also requested efficacy data showing that Zicam actually “shortens the duration of the common cold”, as well as the “severity of a cold” as stated on their label.

Many parents assume that “homeopathic” medications and/or supplements are safe for use in their children, because they are “not” drugs. Homeopathic medications are often brought to market without FDA approval as they are not marketed as “drugs” and therefore may not be scrutinized by the FDA and get around new drug approval requirements, but they are often acting as drugs.

In the case of Zicam, which contains zinc gluconate as its major ingredient, there may be deleterious and serious side effects from zinc absorbed intranasally. Other cold products, such as Airborne have been marketed in similar manners. Although hugely successful in the marketplace (including my Mother who bought some) there is no data on their true effectiveness or safety. To my knowledge there is still not data in the mainstream medical literature that shows any decrease in cold severity and duration with herbal concoctions (also known as hocus pocus in my vernacular). There continue to be ongoing randomized, placebo controlled, double blind studies (the gold standard in medicine) to look into drugs, herbs, supplements and such as cures to the common cold. Once found there will surely be a Nobel Prize awarded as there is not a man, woman or child who would not like to get over their cold as quickly as possible. Until such a time, it is important for parents to use “home remedies” such as fluids, rest, and good hand washing as the most important defense against the common cold and not over the counter products. We will discuss this again in the fall for as we all know, colds are just a season away.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

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