01 November 2012

Snake Oil

Past posts in this blog have highlighted problematical claims in the 'complementary medicine' sector.

In Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) v Sensaslim Australia Pty Ltd (in liq) (No 4) [2012] FCA 1171 the Federal Court of Australia has been unimpressed with Sensaslim and Peter Foster.

Proceedings were brought against Sensaslim and Foster on the basis that Sensaslim engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct. Foster has been fighting all the way, evident in for example Australian Competition and Consumer Commission v Sensaslim Australia Pty Ltd (In Liquidation) (No 3) [2012] FCA 939 and Foster v Australian Competition and Consumer Commission [2012] FCA 953.

The Federal Court of Australia has found that to adduce further evidence, where the company failed to appear for hearing, would cause unacceptable prejudice to the participating parties.

Meanwhile Choice has commented that
The idea of selling water for upwards of $1000 per litre and claiming it’s medicine represents the very essence of shonkiness. But convincing anxious or desperate parents they can use it to treat their children’s ailments takes it to a whole new level. Introducing the Nature’s Way Kids Smart Natural Medicine range, with variants for colds and flu, hay fever and runny nose, pain and fever, and for calming kids down. Already feather-whipped by the TGA for making unsubstantiated claims about the uses and effectiveness of the products, the company has done nothing to temper its assertions the products might actually do something.
Most of the homeopathic “ingredients” – and given the dilution factor, we use the term loosely – feature plant extracts, including strychnine and insecticidal Sabadilla, and arsenic.
No problems there, apparently, given that strychnine and arsenic are natural, and natural - for true believers - is holy. Natural? So is lead, cobra venom, the neutoxins in delivered by a blue-ringed octopus or by the blowfish. I'm planning to skip that sort of delicious natural confection ... the cobra cocktail's best left for other people.

Choice goes on to comment that
They’re giving kids strychnine? Sure enough, the “Nux vomica 6C” in the “Calm” liquid is the homeopathic term for strychnine, in a dilution of one in a trillion.
To picture this 6C dilution in real terms, imagine you have an Olympic-size swimming pool full of water. Now take 20 such pools, and join them all together. Now put one drop of the strychnine “mother tincture” (the original liquid containing the now-discarded strychnine) in this mega pool, stir, and you have a 6C Nux vomica swimming pool. Worried? Well don’t be: this is further diluted in the bottle by a further one-thousandth.
Clearly the harm doesn’t come from the stuff itself – it’s effectively water with blackcurrant flavour. The harm comes from it doing nothing for your children in the expensive and mistaken belief you’re doing something.
As public health campaigner Dr Ken Harvey points out, “Symptoms like ‘restlessness, anxiety, irritability and agitation’ the ‘Calm’ claims to treat can be the symptoms of potentially serious childhood infectious diseases for which a homeopathic remedy is entirely inappropriate, and such misguided treatment might make a parent postpone seeking more appropriate medical advice to the child’s detriment.
"In my opinion, such promotion is dangerous and an affront to public health and medical science.”
Kids Smart indicates that -
Kids Smart Natural Medicine Calm is a specially formulated with natural homoeopathic ingredient to help soothe, relax and calm restless, irritable and anxiousness. It may also help calm over-excited children before bedtime and help promote a restful sleep. It can also help to calm children for car and air travel.
For best results, Kids Smart Natural Medicine Calm should be taken at the first sign of mild anxiousness, restlessness or irritability.
What's truly disappointing about this sort of hokum - which I've elsewhere argued can be considered as fraud (if there are no detectable pharmacologically active compounds in the 'medication' you are paying the equivalent of $1,000 for a litre of flavoured water) - is that policing is left to conscientious individuals such as Dr Harvey.