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Oscillococcinum

by Brian Dunning, Mar 03 2011

There is probably very little in this post new to those who are familiar with homeopathy, but in the hope that its Googlehood might bring it into the hands of current or potential customers, it is presented forthwith.

Oscillococcinum, also known by its shortened and more familiar name Oscillo, is a homeopathic cold remedy. Its maker, Boiron USA, has been advertising it on TV pretty aggressively lately, and it keeps popping up in daily life, so I felt it was worth a skeptical treatment.

According to their website, Oscillo is a 200C dilution of “Anas barbariae hepatis et cordis extractum”, duck liver and heart. If that sounds gross, don’t fret: A 200C dilution means that the water with which the pills were infused contained only one molecule of duck per 100200 molecules of water. Considering that there are only about 10040 atoms in the entire universe, it’s clear that the Oscillo dilution is pure water (chemical purity is considered to be 1 part per 6 × 1023) with no duck molecules whatsoever; in fact it’s many trillions and trillions  and googols (10100) of times purer than pure water.

Nevertheless, Boiron calls this a “therapeutically active micro-dose“. It’s not. It is a non-dose. Boiron is being consciously deceptive, either when they call it a micro-dose of anything, or when they label it 200C meaning that it contains no active ingredients. The two are mutually exclusive. It can’t be both a micro-dose and a non-dose.

Like most homeopathic products on the market, Oscillo’s “inactive ingredients” (in fact its only ingredients) are sucrose (85%) and lactose (15%), from which the small sugar pills are made. The “dilution” of pure water is said to be infused into these sugar pills; the principles of homeopathy dictating that the water retains a “spiritual imprint” or “essence” of whatever was once dissolved in it. Homeopaths call this “water memory”.

However, here’s the real kicker: The sugar pills are dry. Whatever water they are alleged to have been infused with — with its claimed cargo of spiritual essence — has evaporated out. Not even the pseudoscience of homeopathy puts forth any postulate that there is any such thing as sugar memory. Thus, not even the faith-based “active ingredient” of homeopathy, this so called spiritual essence, is present in Boiron’s product. The sugar pills contain no water. The water contained no molecules of duck. Molecules of duck have no plausible history of treating colds or any other illness.

Nevertheless, they assert the following on their web site:

Temporarily relieves flu-like symptoms such as feeling run down, headache, body aches, chills and fever.

This is an untrue medical claim. The product has no ability to do any such thing. Usually, promoters claim that homeopathy, and other alternative medicine products that have no therapeutic value, attribute reported effects to the placebo effect. This is all well and good; the placebo effect can indeed improve your perception of your symptoms when it works. You can get a placebo effect from anything that you believe works. However I tend to attribute such effects more to confirmation bias. When something happens that matches our preconceived notions, our beliefs are reinforced. We recover from colds naturally, and feel better in a few days; confirmation bias makes us attribute this improvement to whatever pill we took, even though that pill may have had nothing to do with the natural recovery.

Let’s take a look at Boiron’s main paragraph on their Facts About Oscillococcum page:

Manufactured by Boiron, Oscillococcinum has a long history of efficacy and safety.

Safety? Sure; a sugar pill never hurt anyone. Efficacy? Implausible and unproven (they do claim that clinical trials support their claims, and we’ll look at those in a moment).

Oscillo is used by millions of patients in more than 60 countries.

Millions of people smoke cigarettes too. Wide usage does not prove something is good for you.

In France, where Oscillo has been used for more than 65 years, it is the first flu medicine recommended by pharmacists.

I would like to see the evidence of this. Even if it’s true, pharmacists are not doctors. Pharmacies are retail outlets that make money selling stuff (anything). Colds are not otherwise treatable, so why not sell something that at least does no harm.

It has a remarkable record of safety and can be recommended to patients over age 2 and those who are following other treatments or suffering from chronic conditions. Oscillo will not cause drug interactions or side effects.

Of course. Air will also not cause drug interactions, and smiles have remarkable safety records too.

Four clinical studies, including two which have been published in peer-reviewed journals, show that Oscillo reduces the severity and duration of flu-like symptoms such as feeling run down, headache, body aches, chills and fever.

Is that so? Sounds compelling to the layperson, doesn’t it? Let’s take a look at these four “clinical studies”. They provide no information at all about two of them, so we have no idea what these might have consisted of, who performed them, or what the results were. The third (Papp R, Schuback G, Beck E, et al. Oscillococcinum in patients with influenza-like syndromes: a placebo-controlled, double-blind evaluation. Br Homeopath J. 1998;87:69-76) was published in the British Homeopathic Journal. This is a publication dedicated to the promotion of homeopathy; by no conceivable argument can it be considered a scientific journal. It’s essentially a place for the marketers of homeopathic products to send their press releases in order to be able to say that their research is “published”. The fourth study (Ferley JP, Zmirou D, D’Adhemar D, Balducci F. A controlled evaluation of a homeopathic preparation in the treatment of influenza-like syndromes. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 1989;27:329-335) is from the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, a legitimate journal. This study, which is 22 years old, is one of a minority of a few scattered studies that did find a small statistical improvement in symptoms among homeopathy users compared to a control group who took an identical placebo. It concluded “The result cannot be explained given our present state of knowledge, but it calls for further rigorously designed clinical studies.” Well, further rigorous studies of homeopathy have been performed in the intervening decades, dozens of them. Almost all (well-designed trials published in legitimate journals) show no value in homeopathy. There is always noise in the results of trials. You can’t just look at one; you have to look at many. Again, for Boiron to have cherrypicked this one study, and to have neglected to report the many others that contradict their desired result, which they would have had to dig past, shows conscious deception.

As with all Boiron homeopathic medicines, Oscillo complies with a well-established framework of guidelines, regulations, and quality standards enforced by the FDA through routine pharmaceutical manufacturing site inspections and surveillance on marketed products.

If this is true now, it certainly wasn’t as recently as 2009. Look at this warning letter Boiron received from the FDA for FAILING to comply with the law. The warning letter charges them with numerous violations, and shows that they attempted to capitalize on public fear of the H1N1 virus to sell their product, claiming it could treat it. It can’t.

If you’ve purchased Oscillococcum and feel that you were victimized by deceptive marketing, get your money back. This Boiron page will tell you how.

Recommended Reading

113 Responses to “Oscillococcinum”

  1. Patrick says:

    But the name sounds so sciency

    • Max says:

      Sounds like abracadabra.

      • Bob says:

        Yeah, but it has even more “o”s and it’s hard to pronounce and Latiny. That makes it official and VERY scientfical. And I am sure the motives of the manufacturers and creators are completely pure and ethical and nearly god-like unlike the Evil big pharma!

  2. Adam says:

    What is a molecule of duck anyway?

  3. Max says:

    Here’s the basic regulation
    http://nccam.nih.gov/health/homeopathy

    “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does require that homeopathic remedies meet certain legal standards for strength, purity, and packaging. The labels on the remedies must include at least one major indication (i.e., medical problem to be treated), a list of ingredients, the dilution, and safety instructions. In addition, if a homeopathic remedy claims to treat a serious disease such as cancer, it needs to be sold by prescripti0n. Only products for self-limiting conditions (minor health problems like a cold or headache that go away on their own) can be sold without a prescripti0n.”

    So homeopathic remedies are required to list the diseases they’re supposed to treat, and even homeopathic cancer remedies can be sold by prescripti0n. This puts the FDA in an awkward spot.

    • One thing disappoints me, and that’s the 85 percent sucrose/15 percent lactose “filler.”

      Where’s my high-fructose homeopathy? Or, has the fructose been homeopathically (or homeo-pathetically) diluted?

      • Max says:

        Sucrose is equal parts glucose and fructose, about the same ratio as high-fructose corn syrup.

  4. Max says:

    The real kicker is that Oscillo’s active ingredient, the “Oscillococcus bacterium” doesn’t exist! It was “discovered” by a doctor who mistook bubbles in microscope slides for bacteria, and thought it caused all diseases from flu to cancer, because he saw these bubbles everywhere he looked, and happened to find a high concentration in duck liver. I wonder if that means foie gras is a biohazard by homeopathic standards. Mmmmm biohazard.

  5. ZenMonkey says:

    As with echinacea, I used to take Oscillo when they said you’re supposed to, right at the outset of symptoms. I’d also tend to drink a lot of water and go to sleep early. And almost always, the next day I was better! (Like many, I thought homeopathy meant some kind of herbal remedy.)

    When I eventually got too lazy to take this stuff, I noticed that my record of fighting the bug off or losing to it was the same either way. Clearly my immune system deserved the credit, not the herbs & sugar.

    And that’s how I learned about the correlation-causation fallacy.

  6. Jacob says:

    I prefer my drinking water to have 200C of blood, radium, dead bodies, and hair. What can I say, I just like the taste.

    • Guy Chapman says:

      I think you’ll find it’s closer to 3C; as far as I can make out the pure water used in electrochemistry experiments is still 4C impurities, and that can’t be kept in glass because the surface leaches contaminants – all glassware has to be washed with something like hydrofluoric acid, an acid so strong it dissolves the top layer of glass.

  7. John-Fred says:

    Even after all this, Boiron is still affiliated with one of the most influential NHL franchise, ( http://www.newswire.ca/en/releases/archive/October2010/19/c3698.html ) the Montreal Canadians. They push radio and tv adds during the games and still go on strong with the “Temporarily relieves flu-like symptoms such as feeling run down, headache, body aches, chills and fever.” one liner.

    To see this kind corporate machine backing this kind of product saddens me to no end.

  8. gski says:

    Being that the FDA is impotent when it comes to homeopathy, perhaps making homeopathy too expensive would help. I propose the EPA, into who’s regulations homeopathy has not been grandfathered, require the manufacturers prove the discarded magic water is not effecting the environment. Think of how convoluted, expensive and revealing it would be for the manufacturers to develop instruments and tests that could show nothing is not harmful.

    • Chris says:

      I was just about to comment how I’d love to see the plant for these “remedies”. I’d love to know if they actually use the time, labor, and capital to purchase duck livers and make 200C solutions or if they just buy and brand sugar tablets and call it a day.

  9. Robo Sapien says:

    Small correction for Brian, the name for the notation 10100 is spelled “googol” not “google”

  10. tmac57 says:

    Has anyone ever attempted to find out if any of these companies that produce homeopathic ‘remedies’ are really using the ‘correct’ methods set out in their own ‘theories’? Wouldn’t it be easier to just manufacture sugar pills and call them whatever you want? If it could be shown that they are not following the homeopathic process,wouldn’t that constitute a fraud that COULD be prosecuted?

    • Short of site inspections, there no way to know, since the end product are indistinguishable form sugar pills, as that is what they are. If I sold what I claimed was holy water that was blessed by a saint, how could you verify if I was being honest?

      • tmac57 says:

        Wouldn’t the FDA have the authority to inspect such a facility,and verify their methods?

      • Bob Mcbride says:

        That would depend on the claims made. If they made medical claims then “by the rules” they would have to prove medical effecicacy. If they are making the level of claim that qualifies as a supliment then none whatsoever.

      • Good question.

        This is purely my speculation, but while the FDA has authority over “misbranded food” I don’t know if they have inspection authority in that regard. I would guess that the FDA might have only whatever authority they have to inspect a facility to ensure they are complying with health regulations in preparation, much like it might have for a peanut butter plant, but might not have authority to ensure they prepare their products as claimed.

        If a spring water company gets their water from the municipal water supply, that’s usually not the FDA’s territory to take action against them. I think product fraud is the FTC/Consumer Protection division’s responsibility.

        Supplement manufacturers manage to adulterate their products fairly often, and when it is caught, it is when someone tests the end product, not via facility inspection.

      • Robo Sapien says:

        Funny you should mention that, because the water bottling companies really do get product right from the tap.

    • itzac says:

      The CBC Marketplace segment on homeopathy (http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/2011/cureorcon/) includes footage from inside a Boiron facility. There are what are ostensibly industrial succussers and diluters operating at a depressingly fevered pitch.

      It makes me wonder who manufactures these machines; though when you’re selling basically nothing, you probably have enough margin to custom manufacture whatever you want.

  11. Malachi Constant says:

    For the sake of accuracy, water can be present in “dry” compounds, they’re called Hydrates. I’m still learning about this, so I’m not sure if sucrose or lactose would form hydrates.

    Also, what max said. Oscillococcinum bacteria don’t exist.

    And Oscillococcinum means “vibrating balls”, these were the bubbles that the guy saw and thought they were bacteria.

    • Jason M says:

      I seems the homeopaths might still need to come up with “hydrate memory”.

      There’s certainly a good joke in there about swallowing vibrating balls, but I won’t go any further.

      • Malachi Constant says:

        You’re right, but it’s the kind of argument I’d expect a scientifically literate homeopath (oxymoron?) to come up with.

        “The water didn’t evaporate, it’s bonded as a hydrate! You guys don’t know anything about the chemistry of homeopathy.”

        But looking at that…maybe I’m giving them too much credit when it comes to the sophistication of their arguments. They may argue that anything with Hydrogen and Oxygen contains “water”, though.

        But still, it’s not correct to assume that the water evaporated from a pill. In the case of sucrose and lactose it may be correct, but it couldn’t hurt to have this bit of knowledge of hydrates in your arsenal if it ever comes up.

      • Jabbie says:

        For an argument from a “scientifically literate homeopath” see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0c5yClip4o&feature=related

  12. feralboy12 says:

    The kicker is, they can get millions of “doses” from a single duck.
    I almost wish I lived near a pond. I’d be rich beyond dreams of avarice. Oh, the life…
    Oh, shut up, conscience.

  13. Bob Mcbride says:

    I’d only take it if I could pay them in homeopathic money.

  14. Bill says:

    Brian, I still have to say that your Skeptoid episode on homeopathy, which was about 10 minutes of dead air, is one of the funniest things I’ve heard in years.

  15. Max says:

    Brian,
    “Pharmacists are not doctors. Pharmacies are retail outlets that make money selling stuff (anything). Colds are not otherwise treatable, so why not sell something that at least does no harm.”

    Licensed pharmacists are Doctors of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.). They’re supposed to be experts in the use of medicines. Are you saying they’re less ethical than medical doctors because of a conflict of interests?

    • Malachi Constant says:

      It sounds like that’s what he’s saying, but if I was being generous I would say he’s saying “Pharmacists are concerned with harm and they don’t see what harm can be caused by selling a placebo.” I’m probably off base with that, but that’s the most generous reading I can give it.

      I’d say pharmacists either:

      1)Have the power and knowledge to remove nonsensical products from their shelves and do so.

      2)Want to eliminate homeopathy, but are unable to change what is sold at their pharmacy and can’t find a position where they can.

      3)Are ignorant of what homeopathy is, they think it’s medicine so they sell it.

      4)Understand it but don’t see the harm of selling placebos as real medicine, so they sell it.

      5)Think it might work for some people, so they sell it.

      6)Know that homeopathy is nonsense, but just sell whatever people want.

      7)Are believers in homeopathy.

      There’s lots of overlap in those groups, but that’s how I’d rank them from “most forgivable” to “least forgivable”.

    • Susan says:

      As a pharmacist, I’d have to say we are probably MORE trained on this sort of thing than the physicians are. After all, they have many areas of knowledge and we have just one- drugs. I can say that my education certainly focused a great deal on critical analysis of drug studies, how to tell if something really works or is a junk claim. Safety is important, but efficacy is equally important in the practice of pharmacy. I’ve never met a colleague with a belief in homeopathy, though they are probably out there the same as physicians with wild beliefs are. and yes, I am a doctor.

    • I meant they are not medical doctors. From a quick glance at the Board of Pharmaceutical Specialties it looks like pharmacists should be board certified but I don’t see that that necessarily requires a doctorate. Anyone?

      • Emily says:

        In the US, the practice of pharmacy has required a doctorate for candidates applying for a license after 1995. Pharmacists who were licensed before 1995 but who do not hold doctorates are “grandfathered” in, which is probably why you don’t see the requirement at the Board.

        As a pharmacy intern, I’d have to say that Malachi’s comment fairly reflects what’s going on in pharmacies that sell this malarky. Chain pharmacies don’t have control over OTC stocking. In four years’ worth of flu seasons I have only heard one pharmacist offer oscillococcinum as an option once, along with other OTCs as a sort of shotgun method for the desperate, and I found out later that he was ignorant of what homeopathy is.

        The Pharmacist’s Letter has a course in the management of cold and flu, and it more or less explains that homeopathy is useless, advising not to let patients waste their money.

      • Max says:

        Specialty certifications are for pharmacists who are already licensed. Obtaining a license requires a Pharm.D. degree.
        http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos079.htm

        “Pharmacists who are trained in the United States must earn a Pharm.D. degree from an accredited college or school of pharmacy. The Pharm.D. degree has replaced the Bachelor of Pharmacy degree, which is no longer being awarded.”

  16. ed says:

    You spelt “googol” wrong :)

  17. Elisabeth says:

    “According to their website, Oscillo is a 200C dilution of “Anas barbariae hepatis et cordis extractum”, duck liver and heart”

    Disregarding the 200C dilution, is duck liver and heart even a cure for the flu? NO! So why make an “infinite” dilution, a diution that in the end is just water, of something that in the first place doesnt work either? And WHYYYYYYY do people believe this crap? That is the real mystery.

  18. Chris Howard says:

    The Southern Poverty Law Center has had an excellent track record of suing, known, physically violent, hate groups out of existence. I wonder if that strategy would work with neo-snake oil salesmen?

  19. Miriam says:

    As a PharmD student I’d like to share that pharmacists do not promote Homeopathy, they know what it is and know that it’s not backed by science. Homeopathy is pharmacy’s evil twin by claiming to be drugs while not having any therapeutic effect. Frankly the fact that homeopathy products are sold in pharmacies really angers me because it makes homeopathy seem like legitimate remedies. I blame both retail pharmacies for continuing to sell these quack products and the pharmacists who work there who don’t make a stand against them, knowing full well these drugs don’t work at all.

  20. tmac57 says:

    Two interesting things that I found,looking at FDA regulations of homeopathy: From ‘CPG Sec. 400.400 Conditions Under Which Homeopathic Drugs May be Marketed’

    1. Section 211.137 (Expiration dating) specifically exempts homeopathic drug products from expiration dating requirements.

    2. Section 211.165 (Testing and release for distribution): In the Federal Register of April 1, 1983 (48 FR 14003), the Agency proposed to amend 21 CFR 211.165 to exempt homeopathic drug products from the requirement for laboratory determination of identity and strength of each active ingredient prior to release for distribution.

    Pending a final rule on this exemption, this testing requirement will not be enforced for homeopathic drug products.

    This appears to me to be a tacit acknowledgement by the FDA that there really isn’t anything there to regulate.Pretty cynical on their part it that is true. (This Compliance guide was Issued: 5/31/88
    Revised: 3/95)

    • BKsea says:

      On top of this, the FDA hands over control for the regulation of homeopathic “medicines” to the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States. That is basically a trade group funded by homeopaths. Imagine if real medicines were regulated by a pharma trade group!

  21. Paulina says:

    micetype: No ducks were harmed in the making of this product.

  22. gwen says:

    I’m so happy to see you address this quackery.

  23. testman says:

    Let it be clear, Homeopathy is maybe one of the best medecine out there. The reason is that, unless you have problem with suggar you
    will not have side-effects, cross-effect or get worse than if you have had nothing swallowed unlike any another kind of medecine.

    For most “daily” illnes, the human body is clearly enough weaponed : it has survived to hundred of thousands years of “war” against bacteria, virusess & al. For special/serious cases, you have regular medecine. And IMHO, in the middle, you have herbal medecine.

    The problem is that when somebody is ill, they want an immediate cure for this illness. In most situation, this is not possible. What would you think of a doctor you pay but is telling you : there is nothing to do, you have to wait a week !? Most people would clearly go to another doctor and ask for a medecine. As a consequence, most medecine given to people are useless but only to “heal their mind”.

    There Homeopathy is a clear solution. You are taking something obscure that looks the perfect thing for you. And you know what : it works. Simply because Homepathy works as a perfect placebo : lots of scientific cryptic word, some latin names … looks complex = must be great.

    But why not name it placebo ? Well, the placebo effect works at its best when the “patient” does not know it, here is the trick ;-)

    In other word, Homeopathy works great, but it has no chemical effect of any kind but simply a powerfull psychological effect. As a whole, it has “some effect” for people using it, but a blind experiment will notice no difference with a pure placebo sample. Obviously nobody from Boiron will agree on that fact, simply because the “obscurity” on such afact is part of the placebo effect. Putting light on the placebo effect and you will remove some of its power.

    • JJ says:

      “For most “daily” illnes, the human body is clearly enough weaponed : it has survived to hundred of thousands years of “war” against bacteria, virusess & al.”

      The human body only had to survive to reproductive age and did a damn poor job of that when you consider how many children died of infectious disease (or just an infected wound) and how many children per couple were needed to overcome this.

      Modern estimates put the mortality rate of smallpox at 80% of infected children.

      We give our bodies far too much credit. We owe our health to nutrition, sanitation and immunization much moreso than evolution.

      We are roughly as evolved now as we were when smallpox killed 80% of infected children. As amazing as our immune system is (and it most certainly is) it did not save even the well-nourished and fairly healthy upper classes.

      We do not give disease the respect it deserves and the continued existence of nonsense like homeopathy only further drives the point home.

  24. NonGrata says:

    I’m reminded of that great quote by Professor Farnsworth of “Futurama” fame: “…or take a big fat placebo, it’s all the same crap!”

  25. Eric D says:

    Oscillococcinum is a good example of the dark side to homeopathy. When you go to the doctor with a cold and he doesn’t give you anything, some people are disappointed. For those people who absolutely want SOMETHING, homeopathy is a good thing. They’ll be happy and the “cure” is not doing to hurt them.

    Homepathy also helps me relieve my daughter when she goes to bed and has some kind of pain that will just go away with some sleep. I give her some homeopathy pills (really anything, they’re all sugar anyway) and voilà. When she grows older, she’ll learn that homepathy is a myth like Santa Claus and so many other fairy tales.

    That people take this oscillococcinum instead of more dangerous drugs to get the feeling that they are curing a disease that is going away naturally anyway is not bad. The bad thing is the huge lies that Boiron is serving the world, significantly increasing the world’s credulity.

    • Max says:

      Paternalism is fine between a father and daughter, but not between a doctor and patient. Most doctors do admit to prescribing placebos in some way, but charging a lot of money to lie to patients is hard to distinguish from fraud.

      • StekiKun says:

        But as Eric pointed out, the blame lies in those patients who are not reasonable enough and who really want some sort of prescription when they go see a physician. Homeopathy is a good way to diminish the unnecessary consumption of antibiotics for instance. That’s actually the main reason why homeopathy is tolerated (if not encouraged…) by the FDA and other such administrations around the world.

      • Max says:

        If you ask patients whether they want their doctor or pharmacist to lie to them, I think most will say no.
        I agree that prescribing unnecessary antibiotics is even more unethical than homeopathy, not only because of side effects and fostering antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but also because it defrauds health insurance, which ends up increasing costs for everyone.
        Obviously, doctors aren’t obligated to prescribe whatever the patients want, because that would defeat the purpose of prescriptions.

    • Joonx says:

      I totally agree with you… No real drugs, no side effects… And one more thing… most homeopathy is cheap…

      Here is France, we started to stop reinbursing drugs that do not proove enought effects over a placebo test for a couple of years now.

      It was question to stop reinbursing homeopathy because “everybody” knows it’s nothing in it but they decided to keep reinbursing it just because if they wouldn’t, people would start bying other -reinbursed- “real” drugs containing active components that would be more expenssive and have more side effects than homeopathy.

      It’s still like that and everybody is happy with it. The only thing should be that the state should nationalise such a company like boiron to minimise the global costs…

      I’m wondering… How much does Boiron invest in R&D?

      Did I tell you Boiron is a French company?

      Taken from the 2007 half year report the answer is staggering.
      Marketing costs amounted to €47,124,000 in the first 6 months of 2007
      Research costs amounted to €2,548,000 in the first 6 months of 2007

      The R&D was know to be less than million in 2005 but they had to proove the validity of their products, thus the augmentation…

      They say on their web site that they have less then 1% of the market and consider this a very big progression possibility.

      I don’t believe in homeopathy and never take any, I way the mentionned week ;) but my mother, sisters and friends believe in it… I prefer they eat sugar than anything else…

      Good article…

      John.

  26. Paulina says:

    “Most doctors to admit to prescribing placebos in some way, but charging a lot of money to lie to patients is hard to distinguish from fraud.”

    One man’s fraud is another man’s safe, effective, legal treatment, without danger of side effects. Prescribing homeopatic remedies and prescribing placebos are both legal.

    WASHINGTON, DC—After more than four decades of testing in tandem with other drugs, placebo gained approval for prescription use from the Food and Drug Administration Monday.
    Science & Health
    “For years, scientists have been aware of the effectiveness of placebo in treating a surprisingly wide range of conditions,” said Dr. Jonathan Bergen of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “It was time to provide doctors with this often highly effective option.”

    (The homeopathic remedies are required to show the dilution on the label.)

  27. Paulina says:

    This Onion piece has fun with the issue! It makes a humorous parallel with the discussion about homeopathy. The responses to the FDAs “approval” become emotionally charged and extreme. And there is a financial gain incentive in a small market in both situations. But the fact is that in both cases, patients are free to choose their own doctor and to try various modalities of treatment. The labels on the placebo are in plain English, as the actual dilution of the homeopathic remedies are also disclosed by FDA law, on the label. Both are passed through the body harmlessly, like popular vitamins and dietary supplements which are not even available to be absorbed by the body.

    The underlying issue is inescapable: patients bear a degree of responsibility for understanding the treatments that medical doctors prescribe. Despite claims of a potential for “fraud,” no amount of regulating harmless substances is going to accomplish any benefit to society. The FDA does not regulate the use of placebos and only lightly regulates homeopathy. The calls for increased government action on homeopathy do have negative consequences, however: it deceptively promises safety to people who do not take any steps to research a prescription; it infringes on a right of free association and free contract between a doctor and a patient; and it also works in the direction of removing choices for treatment that do not fit mainstream paradigms. And that is the greater fraud.

    def: fraud: intentional perversion of truth in order to induce another to part with something of value or to surrender a legal right

    • Paulina says:

      That is, the FDA has not outlawed the use of placebos, because of their known therapeutic value. There fixed it.

  28. Melissa says:

    Look at the word near the center of “OSCILLOCOCCINUM”…

    loco

    Too funny.

  29. David H. says:

    Mark Crislip has covered this a few times in his various blogs and offerings, including Quackcast. He often refers to it as “Oh-so-sillyococcinum.”

  30. Ed Graham says:

    I love me some duck liver and heart.

    Doctors have found enough ways to defraud for money. They shouldn’t be allowed to prescribe placebos or homeopathic “medicine.” Fraud that makes money is criminal.

    But I still love the liver.

  31. Honestly, I think part of the reason homeopathy persists is because people confused “homeopathic” with “holistic” – the two words are similar and the products are often sold side-by-side. I know I believed in homeopathy for a while because I thought it just meant “natural” and didn’t realize it was its own special brand of pseudoscience.

  32. Guy Chapman says:

    Ironic, really, that a product made from a duck should be the canonical quack remedy: http://is.gd/quack

  33. Michael de Kooter says:

    I would like to add that for those who think that this substance has “no negative side effects” to consider the following :

    Oscillo contains 15% Lactose. Around 50% of the world is strongly lactose intolerant (or actually, the other half in varying degrees is lactose-tolerant, a trait acquired by mostly western-European populations in the last 10,000 years as traced back by our genes).

    This means that oscillo for large groups of people causes cramps, diarrhea – resulting in loss of vitamins and minerals.

    So for part of the population it’s neutral. And for the other part (between 5 and 95% of the population depending where you go in the world) it’s actually HARMFUL and will increase the recovery period due to nutritional deficiency induced by lactose intolerance.

    Way to go Oscillococcinum!

  34. jjm gommers says:

    The only active component is the lactose, maybe that was helpful during the trials and helps a person to recover. All the rest is fake.

  35. Eilidh says:

    Homeopathy works for me. I can clearly see the difference when I take it and when I don’t.
    When I feel the 1st symptoms of a cold I take L52 drops (it’s homeopathy sold by Lehning) and generally the cold is over by 30minutes!
    When I don’t take it (for example when I’m out of home) the cold doesn’t recover before 5 or 6 days. Of course you have to take it immediately, do not wait! Homeopathy will boost your immune system.
    Probably you Americans are sceptical but I don’t think you can really give lessons in terms of “health”. The only ones complaining about homeopathy are the skepticals (but generally they are skeptical about everything it’s just too tiring to argue lol) or the laboratories that cannot sell their real shit full of side-effects. They would sell poison if they could just as the Gardasil vaccin. At least homeopathy hasn’t killed and won’t kill anyone!
    And to those who say homeopathy is just sugar, well other labs sell it as oral drops.
    here im done!

    • Michael de Kooter says:

      Eilidh,

      Here is where you are 100% wrong. “At least homeopathy hasn’t killed and won’t kill anyone!”. Lactose (milk sugar) in cocillo pills is actually very harmful. It causes cramps, diarrhoea, vitamine-loss on an already sick patient. It will prolongue your symptoms and pose an extra risk if you have a weak intestinal system. Its poison for 75% of the world, period. All this besides the fraudulent nature of many (but not all) homeopathic medicine.

  36. Joel says:

    I am not a believer in homeopathic medicine, but I just moved to a new state and am between health plans. I planned to see a doctor and get antibiotics for a horrible cold that for six weeks has been spiraling out of control with wet gurgling coughing and uncontrollable hacking for hours whenever I try to sleep… So while I am enduring the pain and waiting for insurance, my freaky sister gives me a dose of Oscillococcinum. Thinking it’s real medicine I take it. Lo and behold within 4 hours the coughing is gone. I feel great. I agree that there are a lot of lies about the product – and they need to stop. But something is happening. I think we should be clear about what we don’t know, and balanced about analysis of things that sometimes work in ways beyond our understanding.

  37. AndiW says:

    Bought and tried at the recommendation of a friend. Didn’t expect anything. However, they’ve reduced my symptoms on separate occasions. Your arguments question their validity and explain why they are placebos. Have you tried them? I don’t believe these are the end all be all of remedies to reduce symptoms so the body can heal through an infection. So far, though, they’ve exceeded my expectations and I’d recommend them to others.

  38. Rodney says:

    I am a pharmacist in South Africa and a homeopathy disbeliever.
    Sadly, last month a major pharmaceutical wholesaler started heavily promoting Oscillococcinum. Just last week a lady came into the pharmacy requesting ‘Ascillococcinum’. I explained why I did not stock it and she angrily told me that it works for her and that I did not know what I was talking about. The thought that immediatly came to mind was that a fool and their money are soon parted.

  39. Carissa says:

    It shocks me how quickly people are willing to put toxic medicine in their bodies to cure one ailment but only cause another. Homeopathic has no side effects because it is not poison but simply derived from plants and animals. Say what u will but I used to get colds/flus several times a year. I have been using this stuff for 3 years and have yet to have any illnesses. Call it a placebo effect but I will take it! Before u attack homeopathic medicines maybe you should try it first u might like the ” placebo” effect as well :). Regardless of Ur research, positive reviews of this medicine on amazon and other websites of people who have tried it can’t be all wrong.

  40. Jeff says:

    As a practicing pharmacist, I found this absolutely hilarious and I loved it. The store I work at stocks all kinds of homeopathic garbage. Whenever I’m questioned by a customer or patient about one of these products I ALWAYS deter them from buying it and explain that technically it’s just water. I think it’s criminal that these products are even allowed on the market. Not only are they distracting, but also misleading and drive up healthcare spending for nothing.

  41. Anna says:

    For sceptics, what a large amount of unshakeable faith in “science” and “doctors” jump to the eye in these replies…….

  42. Z.Rubinstein says:

    The popular reputation of Oscillococcinum has now been vindicated by a large scale, double-blind, placebo controlled trial published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 487 patients were recruited by 149 general practitioners (mostly non-homoeopaths) in the Rhone-Alpes region of France during the influenza epidemic of January-February 1987.

    Entry criteria were: rectal temperature of 38oC or above, and at least two of the following symptoms: headache, stiffness, lumbar or articular pain and shivers. The first manifestations had to have occurred less than 24 hours before entry. Patients with immune deficiency, local infection, or who had been immunized against influenza were excluded.

    Diagnosis was purely clinical, although the A H1N1 influenza virus was subsequently identified as being responsible for the epidemic. Patients were randomly assigned to active Oscillococcinum (237 patients) or identical placebo (241 patients), 5 doses at 12 hour intervals. Recovery was defined as temperature less than 37.5oC, with complete resolution of the 5 cardinal symptoms.

    Results
    After 48 hours, 17% of the active treatment group had fully recovered, compared to 10% of the placebo group. This difference was statistically significant (p=0.03, X2 test). Further analysis showed that the effect of Oscillococcinum peaked at 36 hours, when 40% of recoveries were attributable to the treatment. It was most effective in younger patients – 68% of recoveries within 48 hours in the under-30�s were due to treatment; and when the illness was relatively mild – 52% of the recoveries from illnesses classified mild or moderate were due to treatment. Patients on active treatment used significantly less other treatment for pain and fever (50% v 41%, p=0.04), they also judged the active treatment more efficacious than placebo (61% v 49% p=0.02).

    The Lancet commented favorably on the trial, remarking that the authors were restrained in their discussion, and describing the difference between placebo and active treatment as �respectable�. The Lancet�s report was �quadruple-blind� mentioning only at the very end that the treatment was homoeopathic.

    References
    Ferley JP, Zmirou D, D�Adhemar D, Balducci F. A controlled evaluation of a homoeopathic preparation in influenza-like syndromes. Br J Clin Pharmac (1989) 27, 329-335.

    • Max says:

      “The Lancet’s report was quadruple-blind mentioning only at the very end that the treatment was homoeopathic.”

      Huh? The Lancet’s report on the study was quadruple-blind? What does that even mean? What difference does it make where in the report they mention that the treatment was homeopathic? Is my blog comment on the Lancet’s report quadruple-blind?

      • tmac57 says:

        I think quadruple blinding is where the patient doesn’t know what they are getting,the doctors doesn’t know which patient gets what,the manufacturer doesn’t know what they are making,and the science journal doesn’t know what any of the data means.

  43. A says:

    I would like to say something about this natural medicine.A few days ago my son was really sick had a high fever chills headache for almost 2 weeks. We went to ER. Also tried everything except natural medicines . I meant almost everything .The doctirs give us medicines So we knew we have to try different things . We tried oscillococcinum for 3 days . This one for me the best flu medicine we have tried. My son had really high fever 40 and also unbearable headache chills for almost 10 days. I am so happy we found this one . This one works really well and fast . I am not a seller and i don’t work for that company. The truth is this medicine works well. After just taking this for 3 days my son got well, no headache, no chills no fever.

    • usaShari says:

      Oscillo is my medicine of choice for flu.

    • Max says:

      One time when I was sick with fever, I watched back-to-back episodes of South Park, and 3 days later my fever broke. Thank you, South Park!

      • tmac57 says:

        To be really, really (at least 2 reallys or greater)be scientific Max,we need to know which season and episodes that you watched.Also,(very important) did you watch the commercials,or fast forward through them? There may have been some trace effects from,say a Bayer aspirin commercial,that confounded your results.

  44. A says:

    The Medicines the doctors gave us was combination of drugs tylenol3 Advil and codeine . But that was just for a pain . What about the flu ? Nothing…. They didn’t even know he had flu . I think ….

  45. usaShari says:

    I was misdiagnosed and mistreated for 8 years by Western medicine. I knew nothing of homeopathy, no preconceived notions, nor did I know I was given a homeopathic remedy. I was just so miserable after 8 years of constant pain. WIthin 10 minutes, the pain went away! It was NOT a placebo effect, since I had no expectations. No one knows the exact mechanism of how aspirin works, yet we know it is effective as a pain reliever. If you don’t know what you’ure talking about, shut up!

    • Max says:

      You had constant pain for 8 years, and it went away permanently 10 minutes after the first dose of the homeopathic remedy and nothing else? What was the remedy, and how long have you been pain-free?

  46. AJ says:

    Why does it WORK if its simply nothing…?! And not just that it works on me (where I could understand the placebo theory), but it works on my 5 year old, who I have to fight to get him to take it, who is not the least bit concerned about placebo one way or the other… A fever dropping from 102.5 to 98.6 within an hour of taking the remedy is just too dramatic an effect for it not to have *some* healing effect. All I know is yesterday my kid couldn’t peel himself off the couch, today he woke up running & has not slowed down!!! Call it quackery if you want, I’ll take it. What I won’t take is your POISON, big PHARMA!!!!! ;o)

    • Max says:

      I assume you didn’t give your son any fever reducers like Tylenol?
      Dietary supplements have been known to contain actual drugs, though it’s usually the weight loss and sex enhancement pills.
      http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/are-drugs-lurking-in-your-dietary-supplements-20101004551

      Homeopathic remedies are ostensibly regulated by the FDA, but I’m not sure whether they’re actually tested for contaminants.

      When I take my temperature, I have to fight the temptation to stop measuring too quickly, which would only be fooling myself. Digital thermometers can also malfunction and give falsely high or low readings.

      It’s typical for fever to break overnight without any treatment.

  47. Jim T says:

    In the Northwest, Rabbi’s sell this to their flock.

  48. Dee M says:

    There are lots of things science can’t explain.

    I use to take oscillo at the onset of flu symptoms and it worked effectively as in the symptoms would be gone in an hour or two.

    Then I started to take oscillo prophylactically at the first of the month during flu season to prevent flu. I haven’t had the flu in over 10 years doing this. On a few occasions, I need a booster dose mid-month after direct exposure to flu virus to keep symptoms at bay, but they never developed into flu.

    I can’t argue with the results, whether it’s scientifically proven or not.

  49. K Beringer says:

    Skeptic Blog said: “There is always noise in the results of trials. You can’t just look at one; you have to look at many. Again, for Boiron to have cherrypicked this one study, and to have neglected to report the many others that contradict their desired result, which they would have had to dig past, shows conscious deception.”

    Well, where are the “many others that contradict their desired results”? Why didn’t you cite just one, if there are “so many” that demonstrate Oscillo as ineffective?

  50. Gina says:

    I find this article very bias and unhelpful. When I research important facts about a product, person, history, etc. a neutral review is most likely to be helpful. This article is in no way neutral, it is 100% negative about this product. A waste of time to read. Give me facts on both sides, and yes, there should be facts on both sides with positive and negative facts. That’s when a real writer and researcher’s credentials are to be taken into concideration. Not this one-sided opinion which is meaningless for people trying to get good information. I’m trying to find a product to help me, and your article didn’t.

  51. Essie says:

    Oscillococcinum works beautifully against flu. About an hour and a half after taking the first dose you start to feel well again. After the second dose the flu is gone. The packaging says it works against flu symptoms. As far as I can see over many years of using it, it cures the flu but maybe the company can’t put that on a package. Also try arnica montana, another homeopathic medicine, if you have bruising. Clears up bruises very quickly.

  52. Knowitall says:

    Your a stupid ignoramus and your opinions are evidence.

  53. puzzlemaker says:

    Oh dear, Boiron makes claims but then Brian Dunning has made a tremndous numbers of “facts” or stated at such with no sunstantiation at all. It is oh so easy to throw all these :facts” around.Atoms in the univesrse?

  54. notsosick says:

    I am now a believer. I bought this product for the first time with the absolute belief it would not help me about 22 hours after I began suffering from flu type symptoms. After 6 doses in 36 hours, I felt so much better. Maybe you really can sell magic?

  55. Anna says:

    I clicked on the “Facts About Oscillo” page. I love how it says “Each 0.04 oz. dose (1 g) of Oscillo contains 1 g of sugar.”

  56. Keltria says:

    No wonder I dont feel any better – Its sugar and traces of duck!!!! Saw it, thought I’d try it and honestly – after 4 of these vials I feel worse. Oh well time to go to the doctor and get some real medicine – what a waste of money.

  57. Jake says:

    I would just like to point out that pharmacists know WAY more about medicine than doctors do. You make it sound like pharmacists are salesmen….um, no. They make absolutely zero commission. Their entire job is to make sure what they are giving patients is safe, and they know what is effective and what is not. Not that I know any pharmacists who would recommend this stuff. But its a little unfair to be like “THEY SELL PILLS HAR HAR THEY ARENT DOCTORS”. It’s called a Pharmacy Doctorate for a reason…