By Steven Coward, ND and Kristina Lewis, ND
The June 18 article “Zicam Not Alone in Side Effect Reports” portrays homeopathy in a very poor light. Unfortunately, its author makes the all-too-common mistake of writing passionately about the horrors of homeopathy without actually even understanding homeopathy. Zicam is not homeopathy.
Homeopathy is a 200 year-old medicinal science based on the observation that “like cures like.” To choose the proper remedy for a given patient, one must thoroughly understand his condition, and then choose the remedy that best matches it homeopathically. Imagine the way your eyes and nose feel when you chop onions. If you can imagine having a case of hay fever that feels just like that, a tiny dose of a remedy made from raw onion will help that hay fever.
Homeopathy is not a product, but a process of selecting the correct remedy specifically indicated for a given person’s health concerns. Zicam is a product supposedly indicated for the common cold – ALL cases of the common cold. Therefore it is not homeopathy.
Zicam is also not prepared like a true homeopathic remedy. Zicam’s labeling is misleading, claiming to be a “homeopathic preparation” of “1x potency” but in reality it is simply a 10% solution of zinc gluconate. Typical homeopathic remedies are much, much more dilute, often so dilute there are no molecules of the original substance left. The manufacturers of Zicam have simply adopted homeopathic nomenclature as a deceptive way to market a 10% solution of zinc gluconate without FDA oversight.
It has long been known (since the 1930s) that intranasal zinc in the quantities found in Zicam can cause permanent loss of smell. There have been lawsuits for several years against Zicam for this loss of smell, but only this week has the FDA finally posted an official warning.
To link the problems with Zicam to all homeopathic medicines is not an accurate comparison as they are two completely different entities.
Several of the author’s other assertions further demonstrate his lack of understanding about the practice of homeopathy.
To say that homeopathy contains too much alcohol and that people feel better because they “get a buzz” is incorrect. Homeopathic remedies are prepared in an alcohol solution, but then the solution is lightly sprayed on small pellets made from milk sugar. The amount of alcohol in a dose of a remedy is negligible.
The idea that remedies are poisonous because they are made from substances such as arsenic and snake venom is also faulty. Yes, some homeopathic remedies are made from substances that are poisonous in large doses. But as homeopathic remedies, they are administered in such minute quantities that they are completely non-toxic. We occasionally get phone calls from panic-stricken parents whose children have just eaten a whole bottle of a remedy. They taste good! These “overdoses” are NEVER harmful. There just isn’t enough of the substance to cause chemical toxicity.
Finally, the assertion that homeopathy is not supported by quality research is false. There is great confusion in this area. Like Zicam, many products labeled as “homeopathic” are tested and found to be ineffective. But studies of true homeopathy – the selection of the correct remedy for each individual case of disease – show both safety and effectiveness.
These studies are often dismissed because they don’t fit the current model of research, where we test the effect of one drug on one symptom over a short time period. Homeopathy doesn’t work well in that study design. Real homeopathic studies test the effect of whatever the appropriate remedy is for each person on his overall health over a long period of time. It involves changing the remedy and adjusting the dose based on how the individual patient reacts. There are too many variables and too little reproducibility to make these studies palatable to conventional scientists. But they do match real life.
Five hundred million people worldwide use homeopathy, and homeopathy has been used in the same way with the same remedies for over 200 years. Homeopathy has stood the test of time, and it will continue to do so. Zicam did not stand the test of time. Zicam is not homeopathy.
Steven Coward, ND and Kristina Lewis, ND are both naturopathic doctors trained at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, a fully-accredited four-year naturopathic medical school. Drs. Coward and Lewis both took specialized training in homeopathy during their medical school training, do regular continuing education in homeopathy, and practice homeopathy extensively. Dr. Coward runs Asheville Natural Health & Homeopathy, and Dr. Lewis runs Lewis Family Natural Health.