Debunking Denialism

Fighting pseudoscience and quackery with reason and evidence.

Homeopathic Teething Products Contain Elevated Amounts of Belladonna

FDA homeopathic teething products

Homeopathy is a pseudoscience created around 1800 that ignores basic chemistry and biology. It wrongly claims that the more you dilute something, the stronger it becomes. In reality, the more you dilute something, the weaker it becomes. This is obvious to anyone who has ever mixed juice concentrate and water. The more water, the weaker the juice will taste. If you add no water, it will taste horribly strong. For homeopathy, it involves so extreme dilutions that there is statistically no actual molecules left of the supposed active ingredient.

Homeopathy also wrongly state that “like cures like”, so that you should consume more snake venom to cure a snake bite. This is obviously wrong since you just get more of the bad stuff. In reality, diseases that we can cure almost always have well-defined and mechanistically understood modes of action. So their alleged active ingredient is not actually active against the disease or condition even if it had not been astronomically diluted.

What is teething?

Babies are typically not born with a full set of teeth. So as the baby grows, the baby teeth starts pushing through the gums and this process is called teething. For many, this is not painful, but for others, it might cause distressing symptoms. Like many things that involve children, alternative medicine quacks have tried to profit from the fears and concern of mothers by offering a whole range of nonsense products against the symptoms of teething from dangerous amber teething necklaces to homeopathy.

Many people think that at least homeopathy is not harmful when used for less severe things, but that is only if you can be sure that the product contains what it says it does and at the dosage listed on the package. To an alarming degree, you cannot, especially if you buy stuff on the Internet. This is because the products can be contaminated by harmful substances, real medicine or have very different concentrations that promised by the people selling it. The latter is what happened with recent homeopathic teething products. They contained much higher and inconsistent amounts of Belladonna.

What is Belladonna?

The plant Atropa belladonna (also called deadly nightshade or simply belladonna) is a relative to potatoes and tomatoes. However, unlike their relatives, this plant is incredibly toxic. This is because it contains secondary metabolites called alkaloids of a particularly nasty kind: atropine, scopolamine and hyoscyamine. Although atropine can be used to treat exposure to certain chemical weapons, it can also be very dangerous. If children consume just a few berries of deadly nightshade, it can be fatal.

Why is elevated amounts of belladonna a huge deal?

If prepared correctly, homeopathic products should statistically contain not a single molecule of those substances and they should be undetectable by the appropriate tests. However, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently found elevated amounts of belladonna (specifically atropine and scopolamine) in homeopathic teething products that did not match the amount on the labels.

In order to protect people from harm, the FDA contacted the Standard Homeopathic Company which create the Hyland’s homeopathic teething tablets and requested a voluntary recall. However, the company refused. This is enormously concerting, because it shows that this homeopathy manufacturer does not seem to care about the health and lives of children. The FDA states in a press release that everyone should stop using these products and throw them in the trash if you have bought them already.

Like many fake treatments, these homeopathic teething products have not been evaluated by the FDA and there is no evidence of safety or efficacy at all. The FDA lists a number of symptoms that these inconsistent products might cause, such as “seizures, difficulty breathing, lethargy, excessive sleepiness, muscle weakness, skin flushing, constipation, difficulty urinating, or agitation” and encourages parents to seek medical attention right away if their children develops these symptoms after taking those tablets.

So why is it a problem with inconsistent amounts? According to the laboratory analysis of the homeopathic teething products from Standard Homeopathic Company that the FDA published on their website, we can see that they found scopolamine amounts ranging from 0.1 to 53.4 nanograms. For products from another manufacturer (Raritan Pharmaceuticals), scopolamine varied between 64 and 390 nanograms and atropine varied between 53 and 1100 nanograms. So why is this a problem? The FDA analysis states that:

Inconsistency in levels of belladonna, a toxic substance, signals a poorly controlled manufacturing process and poses an unnecessary risk to infants and children under two years of age.

In other words, these findings suggest that their manufacturing process is flawed and that this makes introduces an unjustified risk for very young children that use their products.

If their manufacturing process is so flawed that they are off by as much as 1100 nanograms compared with ~0 (since homeopathy is diluted so much that you expect nothing in it) and so inconsistent that it can vary by at least two orders of magnitude, who knows what other problems exists with it. Clearly, the FDA request for the company to recall it was clearly a reasonable approach, but they refused.

These findings, together with the refusal to recall the products, are a searing indictment of the alternative medicine industry.

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6 responses to “Homeopathic Teething Products Contain Elevated Amounts of Belladonna

  1. Pingback: Homeopathic Teething Products Contain Elevated Amounts of Belladonna | Emil Karlsson

  2. CriticalDragon1177 February 8, 2017 at 03:34

    Emil Karlsson,

    Sadly, Is this something that should even surprise us? Unfortunately it might not be that surprising given the fact that I have a feeling that many of people who make Homopathic products are probably conmen. Snake oil salesmen often don’t even believe their own hype, and instead see their victim’s gullibility as an opportunity to make a profit.

    • Emil Karlsson February 8, 2017 at 15:04

      It is to be expected since the supplement industry is almost completely unregulated. Since they do not care about safety and efficacy, they probably do not care about recalling potentially dangerous products.

      By the way, I had homeopaths defending the refusal on Twitter by arguing that the amounts very tiny. Clearly, they do not want to acknowledge that the problem is flawed manufacturing and that this not only exposes children to unneeded risks but might just be the tip of the iceberg.

  3. shelldigger February 11, 2017 at 16:33

    Homeopathy: A method where neurons in the brain are diluted to the point the people think they are doing medicine.

  4. Pingback: Debunking Denialism Debrief (February, 2017) | Debunking Denialism

  5. Pingback: Homeopathic Company Finally Recalls Teething Products Containing Belladonna | Debunking Denialism

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