What’s the Deal Homeopathic Medicine for Babies?

At some point in your early parenting career you’re going to have an unhappy baby due to illness or teething. It’s the worst. But adding insult to injury is the sheer number of medications you’re faced with at the drug store. That wall of meds is intimidating because how the hell are you supposed to know what works?

 

After you determine which products are meant for infants you’ll notice that some are flagged on the package as being “homeopathic”. These homeopathic meds, such as Hyland’s Teething Tablets and Baby Orajel Teething Gel, are all kind of mixed up together with other medications on the shelves. I decided to do some research about what exactly homeopathic medications are and how they differ from conventional meds.

Here goes.

Homeopathy is a philosophy and practice of natural medicine that is centered around the idea that the body has the ability to heal itself. Homeopathy is grounded in the idea that “like heals like”, meaning that if a natural material causes a symptom in a person, then giving someone who is ill with those symptoms a very tiny amount of that material will cure them because it will trigger the immune or pain relief system in the body. Since the late 1700s people have been cataloging the symptoms natural material cause in a healthy person so homeopathic practitioners can know how to treat illnesses with similar symptoms in illin’ people.

Still with me?

To make a homeopathic medicine, practitioners take a very tiny amount of a plant, animal, or mineral material (this is the active ingredient that causes the “like” response) and then dilute it with a whole lotta water. The combo of natural material and water is then mixed together using a kind of shaking/whacking method and are then administered as tablets, liquids or sprays.

Side note here that there’s this one scientist, Benveniste, who claimed in the 1980s that the reason these heavily diluted homeopathic solutions worked is because water molecules somehow held a “memory” of the antibodies that they had previously been in contact with during the dilution process. This has been pretty much totally disproven, but nice try, French guy.

So, do they actually work? Last year the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in Australia reviewed hundreds of studies on this topic and concluded that many of the studies that claim homeopathic medications work were actually very poorly designed and/or didn’t have enough participants to be considered significant. It seems the quality of the studies is so poor that no solid conclusions can be drawn and in some studies, the homeopathic meds were found to be no more effective than a placebo.

Also, I have to give you the heads-up that, while the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) does oversee the manufacturing practices of homeopathic drugs, they do not evaluate them for safety or efficacy. In fact, this time last year the Federal Trade Commission (which monitors advertising claims) got cranky at the FDA, saying that homeopathic medications were violating advertising guidelines because the FDA does not require scientific or clinical data to back homeopathic products’ claims on packaging—meaning there’s no proof that those products do what they say they are intended to do. Woof.

There’s also an argument that there’s no harm, no foul in trying homeopathic medications since they are all “natural”, so why not just give them a try? The problem with that is those active ingredients may do something, just maybe not what the box intends. Five years ago the FDA had to warn parents about over-using the Hyland’s Teething Tablets because it contained belladonna and was causing kids some serious health problems. Some brands of teething tablets no longer contain belladonna but, as with all homeopathic medications, “the FDA has not evaluated Hyland’s Teething Tablets for safety or efficacy, and is not aware of any proven clinical benefit offered by the product.”

To sum this up, there seems to be a big gap in the research about whether they actually work and the FDA is not monitoring the safety of these meds, so none of that is very reassuring. That said, plenty of stores carry them and I know people who swear by them! I just want you to know what you’re spending your hard-earned cabbage on. ::insert ‘The More You Know rainbow’ here::

 

UPDATE: In October 2016 Hyland’s issued a voluntary recall and pulled all their teething gels and tablets off shelves in U.S. stores in response to this FDA warning.

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