I was surprised when I walked into my local pharmacy the other day, and saw a whole rack of Oscillococcinum – a well-known homeopathic “medicine” for flu-like symptoms (headaches, body aches, chills and fever).
I say “surprised” because I’d read only a few weeks ago that the manufacturers of Occillococcinum agreed to spend upwards of $12 million to settle several class-action lawsuits for falsely advertising the supposed benefits of this preparation. They have agreed to refund consumers their money, change the product labelling and include a disclaimer.
Something along the lines of: “This sugar pill won’t cure you of anything or alleviate any symptoms. You’re an idiot. We’re rich” ?
Why are they still selling it in its original packaging here in South Africa, and can local consumers get their money back if they are not satisfied?
For anyone who is not familiar with Oscillo, it is a homeopathic preparation which claims to contain an active ingredient “anas barbariae hepatis et cordis extractum.”
In English, that’s “extract of the liver and heart of Muscovy duck.”
In 1919 a flu-epidemic physician observed the random oscillations of tiny water bubbles in the tissues of flu patients, under his microscope, due to Brownian motion. He found these “oscillating bacteria” in the tissues of all ill patients, and thought he had discovered the cause of illnesses such as cancer, eczema, measles and tuberculosis. He searched for these “bacteria” in many animals, and believed he had identified them in the liver of a duck. Nowadays, Muscovy Duck liver is supposed to contain the highest concentrations of these non-existent oscillating “cocci” (although nobody has actually seen them since 1919).
There is no evidence whatsoever that the liver and heart of a Muscovy duck, or any other duck for that matter, is beneficial in the treatment of colds and flu symptoms. Even if it was, the way Oscillo is manufactured guarantees that there is no active ingredient in any dose.
The extract of duck heart and liver is diluted in the ratio 1:100 two hundred times, so the chance of there being even one molecule of that ingredient in any one dose of Oscillo is almost zero. It’s like tossing an aspirin into the ocean, and coming back a year later for a drink of ocean water to cure your headache!
So if there is not even one molecule of an “active” ingredient, and the rest of the 1 gram tablet consists of 85% sucrose and 15% lactose (that’s 100% sugar!), how does it work to lessen your symptoms of colds and flu?
Simply put – it doesn’t! Colds and flu tend to get better by themselves within 6 – 7 days, and any preparation you take (usually after a few days of feeling grotty) will appear to work. There’s that famous Placebo effect again!
Homeopathy relies on the patient to believe it will work.
It has to, because there is no rational reason to think that the “memory” of the water that held the extract of the non-existent duck’s liver sprinkled over your 1 gram sugar pill, and long-since evaporated anyway, can cure you of a viral infection!
Thanks to the efforts of those who filed lawsuits, and those bloggers who spoke out against this pseudoscientific claptrap, consumers in America can now get their money back.
It remains to be seen whether South African consumers will be as fortunate.