Homeopathic remedies and Health Canada

You might think that any remedy approved by Health Canada would be safe and effective. If one out of two is OK, you would be happy. Homeopathic remedies are safe — in the sense that they do no direct harm but neither do they do any good.


“To be blunt,” says Dr. Michael Rieder, chair of the Canadian Paediatric Society’s drug-therapy committee, “there’s really no evidence any of them work.”

Globe and Mail Health reporter Carly Weeks explains that while drug companies have to spend millions on clinical trials proving that their remedies actually work, homeopathic companies face no such inconvenient hurdles. It’s not a level playing field.

And while homeopathic remedies may be useless and ineffective, they are not safe when you consider that people may be duped into thinking that they work to the exclusion to remedies that actually do. And they are not healthy for low-income families of who might divert resources from beneficial, but relatively expensive, fruits and vegetables in order to pay for the fake remedies.

The fact that Health Canada has approved these products is “Canada’s national shame,” according to Dr. Joe Schwarcz, chemistry professor and director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society.

How could this have happened? Health Canada should protect us from the fraudulent claims of homeopathic remedies; as they would from a pharmaceutical company.

It turns out that the “contents” of homeopathic remedies have been grandfathered in. To placate traditional medicine men, shamans and so-called naturalists, Health Canada has allowed ingredients that have been used for more than 50 years to continue. While some of them may actually work, they have never been proven.

I don’t mean to suggest that nature is not the source of many amazing remedies such as antibiotics. However, unlike homeopathic and other such traditional remedies, new drugs have to be tested in large-scale, high quality clinical trials.

The reason that I use “contents” in quotation marks is because there aren’t any. That’s what makes them as safe as drinking water. Carly Weeks explains:

“In simplest terms, a homeopathic remedy consists of a molecule of the disease you’re trying to fight that has been diluted dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times in water. Anyone hearing of this for the first time would logically conclude the resulting formula would be nothing more than plain old water. But homeopathic followers argue that water has a ‘memory’ and that these solutions are just as – if not more – effective than conventional treatments.”

And some homeopathic remedies are not even true to their roots. Go to the kids’ section of a drug store and you’ll find all kinds of cough and cold remedies, many of them supposedly homeopathic. But instead of containing the mythical “memory” ingredients, they may contain an extract of dried ivy leaves, a mixture of zinc and honey, or a remedy made with ingredients such as Allium cepa and Natrum muriaticum. The products have all been approved for sale by Health Canada and so, to the average consumer, they would appear to be safe, effective and a viable treatment option.

Health Canada should be concerned with the health of Canadians, not protecting the claims of dubious hucksters.



  1. I would say there are hucksters on both sides of this issue. I’m not convinced that even Health Canada is a trust worthy source since pharma is responsible for thousands if not millions of deaths over the past 50 plus years, yet we presume the pharmaceuticals are safe under Health Canada’s approvals . I think there is a lot still to learn and our present system is very flawed. Take for instance cancer research. There is no cure yet found for cancer despite decades of fund raising which has raised millions of not billions of dollars. I think Health Canada would say they support cancer research despite it’s track record. I would rather promote healthy living, regardless of economic situations then debunk holistic products. The poor would probably divert resources to pharmaceuticals if they didn’t have a choice to chose alternatives. The one premise I believe (although not unequivocally proven perhaps) is that a healthy body has a much better chance at fighting disease than an unhealthy one. And as well as the physical aspects of a healthy lifestyle, a wellness of mind is also beneficial even when it maybe a placebo.

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