Homeopathy at Urban Outfitters
Good news, wealthy hipsters who are very impressed with fancy packaging regardless of the contents – Urban Outfitters now sells Sprayology homeopathic products! According to their Twitter bio:
“Spray in your mouth – Sprayology is a safe and effective natural line of homeopathic and vitamin oral sprays that speak to the concerns of men, women, & teens.”
Finally! A $23/ounce tube of water that speaks to my concerns as a woman or a man or a teen.
As you may recall from Amy’s excellent, patient explanation yesterday, homeopathy is utter bunk. Summary: it’s usually just water. Maybe with some sugar.
Of course, that never got in the way of consumerism! Here’s what Sprayology’s line at Urban claims:
Stress Relief (restores calm)
Party Relief (Prevents + relieves alcohol-related discomfort)
Diet Power (Supports weight loss)
There are a lot more “remedies” on Sprayology’s website, and even a handy list of symptoms you can cure that includes “the blues,” presumably because “depression” is too likely to get them sued or scolded by the FDA. Speaking of the FDA, each of their product pages announces that they are “FDA-Regulated,” which they explain thusly:
Homeopathic drugs in the United States are subject to well-defined regulatory processes that more closely resemble those that apply to allopathic medications than to dietary supplements.
Homeopathic products are under similar regulations as allopathic drugs. Homeopathic products are considered by the FDA as over-the-counter drugs with legal status and can be sold without a doctor’s prescription. Homeopathic medicines are prepared and marketed in accordance with FDA Compliance Policy Guide No. 7132.15. Manufacturers of homeopathic medicines are registered with the FDA and licensed by state regulatory agencies. Homeopathic products can legally tell you the benefits and indications of such products.
Remedies are required to meet certain legal standards for strength, quality, purity, and packaging. In 1988, the FDA required that all homeopathic remedies list the indications for their use (i.e., the medical problems to be treated) on the label. The FDA also requires the label to list ingredients, dilutions, and instructions for safe use.
The guidelines for homeopathic remedies are found in an official guide, the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States, which is authored by a nongovernmental, nonprofit organization of industry representatives and homeopathic experts.
Conveniently for me, Jann Belamy has just written on this very topic over on Science-Based Medicine:
All those problems and we haven’t even scratched the surface of federal law yet.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is charged with regulating dietary supplements, a 2009 Government Accountability Office report found
“surveys and experts indicate that consumers are not well-informed about the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements and have difficulty interpreting labels on these products. Without a clear understanding of the safety, efficacy, and labeling of dietary supplements, consumers may be exposed to greater health risks associated with the uninformed use of these products.”
And pity the poor consumer lulled into complacency by the knowledge that the FDA has regulatory authority over homeopathic products. As a federal district court recently concluded:
“Unlike non-homeopathic OTC drugs, homeopathic OTC drugs . . . are not evaluated by the FDA at all.”
“The Court is unaware of what standards, if any, exists to ensure that homeopathic OTC drugs are safe and effective.”
“[T]he FDA has largely abdicated any role it might have had in creating standards for homeopathic OTC drugs, and has instead attempted to delegate this authority to the non-governmental . . . .”
“[T]he FDA explicitly states that it makes no guarantee about the safety or efficacy of homeopathic OTC drugs . . . .”
Sure enough, here are the ingredients for Sprayology’s Diet Power:
Apis mel 6X, Boldo 3X, Fucus 3X, Galium 3X, Gambogia 3X, Hamamelis 3X, Hepar 12X, Histaminum hydrochloricum 200C, Pancreas 12X, Thuja occ 6X.
Inactive Ingredients: Glycerin 10% v/v, Organic Alcohol 9% v/v, Purified Water.
Those “6X” and “200C” designations tell you how diluted the substance is. The higher the number (X=1 in 10, C=1 in 100), the more dilute the substance. Here’s a pretty good breakdown. Basically, anything above 12C or 24X (1 part in 10^24) has no molecules of the substance left in it. It’s just water.
But as you can see, in this case the substances are highly diluted but not necessarily enough to remove all traces of every ingredient. Apis mel (1 part in 10,000,000) is short for apis mellifica, the Latin name for a honey bee. Supposedly it’s active ingredient is bee venom but apparently when written the way it is here, it’s a homeopathic dilution of an entire bee (see this page, but not for too long or you’ll go blind). So please note, Urban hipsters: it’s not vegan!
Boldo is a Chilean leaf that contains ascaridole, a highly toxic and possibly carcinogenic compound that tastes terrible (not to be confused with aristolchic acid, another herbal ingredient that has recently been linked to cancer). Aren’t you glad it’s one of the least-dilute substances in the vial? And that the FDA does basically nothing to test the safety, strength, or efficacy of that substance?
As for the other ingredients, fucus is seaweed, galium is an entire genus of herbaceous plant (not the element), gambogia is from a tree in the Philippines that apparently gives you the poops (again, diluted to the point where there might still be some in your tiny vial!), hamamelis is witch-hazel (an astringent often used in aftershave), hepar is a mix of sulphur flower and oyster shell, pancreas is, well, I guess it’s someone’s organ, thuja occ[identalis] is a tree that contains thujone (a powerful neurotoxin that can also damage the liver and cause convulsions when taken at high doses) and it doesn’t actually matter what histaminum hydrochloricum is because there’s none actually in there.
So on the upside, there’s a slim chance that Sprayology’s line actually contains one or two molecules of some of the ingredients. On the downside, some of those ingredients could maim or kill you if taken in the wrong dose, and even US courts think the FDA isn’t paying much attention to those doses.
On the upside again, probably no one will die and it’ll just be a case of some wealthy hipsters throwing away their money on something that gives them a little placebo high. And on the downside again, they might take that as evidence that homeopathy works and be more inclined to try it on serious illnesses, like a really bad case of “the blues.”
One last upside: Urban Outfitters lets you leave ratings on their product pages.
Thanks to Hannah for the tip!