Homeopathy claims for preventing catching the flu are not backed up by research
To the editor:
We were dismayed to see in the ‘news’ section of the Capital News (Sept. 20) an article from the Okanagan Naturopathic Healthcare newsletter, headlined Prepare For Flu Season.
It strikes us as misleading to place such an article—which is essentially an opinion piece about what to do in order to prevent flu—in the news section. Although most of the article recommends sensible practices such as healthy eating, it also states that “homeopathics can prepare the body to fight off invading organisms” which, far from being news, is completely false. Homeopathic “remedies” have been shown time and again to be no better than placebos. Here are some conclusions of studies on the subject:
“Current evidence does not support a preventative effect of…homeopathic medicines in influenza.” (Cochrane Review, 2006)
“[T]here was weak evidence for a specific effect of homoeopathic remedies, but strong evidence for specific effects of conventional interventions. This finding is compatible with the notion that the clinical effects of homoeopathy are placebo effects.” (The Lancet, 2005)
“Ultramolecular homeopathy had no observable clinical effects.” (British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, January 2004)
For entertaining and informative further reading on homeopathy, we highly recommend Chapter 4 of the book, Bad Science, by Ben Goldacre.
However, at least homeopathic “remedies” have the benefit of being harmless (except when ill people choose them instead of a medical treatment that actually works).
The same cannot confidently be said of vitamin C supplementation, which the article heartily recommends: “You can never go wrong with Vitamin C…[which] at high doses stimulates the reproduction of immune cells”. Contrary to this confidence, the issue of vitamin C supplementation appears to be controversial in the medical literature.
While there are indeed many studies that provide evidence for various health benefits of increasing dietary vitamin C (in fruit and vegetables), and there are studies that provide some evidence in favour of supplementation in the form of vitamin C pills—there are also studies that provide evidence in favour of avoiding vitamin C supplements, because they may be useless or even harmful:
“Vitamin C given orally, even at high doses, does not achieve sustained serum levels that might be required for effective antioxidant activity. This may explain the failure of the numerous clinical trials involving its use in [various diseases]. Vitamin C supplementation to stave off pre-eclampsia, cancer and other diseases is a ‘nutraceutical’ industry-driven myth which should be abandoned.” (European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, July 2011)
“[W]hile supplementation with vitamin C is likely to be without effect for the majority of the Western population due to saturation through their normal diet, there could be a large subpopulation with a potential health problem that remains uninvestigated.” (British Journal of Nutrition, 2010)
“A high vitamin C intake from supplements is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in postmenopausal women with diabetes.” (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, November 2004)
Our point is not that one shouldn’t take vitamin C pills; the issue is clearly controversial. Our point is that the author of the Okanagan Naturopathic Healthcare newsletter is being reckless with readers’ health in asserting, “You can never go wrong with Vitamin C”. While it would be nice to have such simple health care recommendations, sometimes “simple” might actually be harmful.
We encourage you to avoid publishing articles from the Okanagan Naturopathic Healthcare newsletter in future—especially in the “news” section of the paper.
Department of Philosophy,
Department of Philosophy