Shopping for natural treatments for everyday ailments could soon become more complicated. The Food and Drug Administration held two days of hearings last week to reconsider whether nontraditional medical remedies should be subject to stricter regulations.
Although homeopathy — a medical alternative that relies on substances like onion powder to treat illnesses — has been practiced for more than two centuries, it remains controversial among health care providers. Many doctors describe homeopathy's claims as unsubstantiated and even dangerous, NPR reported.
"Homeopathy is an excellent example of the purest form of pseudoscience," said Steven Novella, a Yale neurologist, to NPR, sharing his hope that the FDA will soon increase oversight.
However, others, such as 58-year-old Wendy Resnick who was included in NPR's piece, call homeopathy an important part of their personal well-being and worry that FDA meddling will cripple the industry.
"Millions of Americans use homeopathic medicines and want access to them," John Borneman, chief executive of Hyland's Homeopathic, told Bloomberg Business.
Popular treatments, generally sold as tablets or creams containing extracts of plants or minerals, are currently sold over-the-counter or provided by homeopathic specialists.
In general, homeopathy "is based on an idea known as 'like cures like,' which means if you give somebody a dose of a substance that can cause the symptoms of the illness, it can, in theory, cure that illness if the substance has been diluted so much that it's essentially in the dose," NPR reported.
Bloomberg's coverage noted that homeopathy has had "staying power" thanks to people's perennial interest in New Age healing. The treatments, often sold alongside traditional medicines like Tylenol in drugstores, are relatively inexpensive and widely available. In 2007, around 3.3 million Americans spent $2.9 billion on treatments, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
"We've had tremendous growth in the market and also some emerging safety and quality concerns. In light of that, we thought it was time to take another look," Cynthia Schnedar, director of the Office of Compliance at FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, told Science Insider.
The last major update to FDA guidelines for homeopathic medicine took place in 1988, according to the article. Under current regulations, company's can market their remedies without demonstrating efficacy.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, one arm of the National Institutes of Health, takes note of the FDA's current hands-off approach to homeopathy in its overview of the practice.
According to the organization, "there is little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific condition." Additionally, the NCCIH warns people who take comfort or find healing in the treatments to keep their traditional health care providers appraised of their habits.
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