Friday, October 29, 2010

Teething Tabs Recall. Science: 1 Quackery: 0

Natural does not mean safe. Repeat after me. Natural does not mean safe.

Myself and my colleague have repeated this mantra to patients many times. They come in wanting something "natural" for a relatively serious medical condition like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. We warn them that these herbal medications do not have scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness and may in some cases be as harmful as prescription medications. We're almost always met with a look of complete disbelief as though there must be some hidden agenda tainting our advice.

The most egregious example of this logical fallacy so prevalent in the laity is homeopathic medicines. Homeopathy is a pseudoscience that aims to dilute compounds in a preparation so much that there is no actual active ingredient remaining. The method of mixing the ingredients is said to impart the "energy" of the substance into the preparation. They use substances that would cause the symptom you're trying to treat if that substance were given in a sufficiently large dose. By diluting it down they attempt to trigger the body to heal itself.

There are many problems with this. First, theoretically, there is nothing in the preparation as homeopathy aims to dilute each substance down to a level where no molecules of the substance remain in the preparation. So you're essentially buying expensive distilled water. Second, homeopathy has not a single shred of evidence supporting its effectiveness in treating medical conditions. Third, people develop a false sense of security with these products. If done correctly there really should be no harm to these products. But this field is loosely regulated and inconsistently enforced, so you don't necessarily know what you're getting. Case in point: Hyland's Teething Tabs.

These absolutely useless sugar pills were just pulled from the market in Canada after their manufacturer received word from the US FDA that children given the products experienced belladonna toxicity. Belladonna is a plant native to Europe and also extremely toxic. We have taken many medications from it including atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine. All of these drugs are useful if used appropriately but can also be extremely dangerous. Hyland's Teething Tabs contain 3X belladonna, or a 1:1000 dilution. Turns out they put more in there than they should have. Symptoms of belladonna toxicity include but are not limited to blurred vision, rapid heart rate, slurred speech, urinary retention, constipation, confusion, hallucinations, delirium, and convulsions.

Can you imagine being a frustrated parent looking for some solution to your child's incessant teething and instead of using something effective like Advil or Tylenol or non-drug treatments like cold cloths and gum massaging you get lured in by the marketing from the makers of Hylands? "A Safe Solution To Every Problem" It's fairly obvious now that this is NOT a safe solution

So next time you think you might want to try something "natural" because it'll be better for you and much safer, think of Hylands Teething Tabs. Or morphine. That's natural. So are arsenic, strychnine, and cyanide. And lots of cancer meds. And digoxin....nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, magic mushrooms, peyote, mescaline........................................

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

I just received a similar lecture in my Biol 321: Evolution class about the "Naturalistic Fallacy" = equating what is natural with good and/or moral.
Things that are natural: tapeworms, infanticide, being eaten by large carnivores, various levels of incest
Things that are un-natural: indoor plumbing, eyeglasses, electricity