Do the Benefits of Genetically Modified Products Outweigh the Risks?


Foods either already genetically altered  or being developed (Agriculture Research Service, USDA, photo by Stephen Ausmus

Since Genetically Modified Products were introduced in Europe 21 years ago, both authorities and the popular press have debated the safety and benefits of these products. Much later the debate spread to the U.S. when labeling issues first arose in California and Washington State between 2012 and 2013. In the literature, Genetically Modified Products also may be referred to as Genetically Engineered Organisms or Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). For simplicity, the most common term, GMOs, is used in this post.

The debates, both scientific and popular, about GMO benefits and risks relate to the attempts to introduce through genetic engineering certain genes (or suppress certain genes) in a way that some improvement can be made. For example, by introducing a specific gene to soy beans, the hope was to make them more resistant to deleterious effects of herbicides. Although the same engineering experiments are taking place in hopes of improving drugs for health, most of the disagreements focus on genetically engineered crops. In earlier days, these tended to be commodity crops such as soybeans, maize, canola and sugar beets. Now, as Consumer Reports points out, GMOs “were present in many packaged foods, such as breakfast cereals ,  chips , baking mixes, and protein bars.” In the same article, Dr. Robert Gold, president of the board of Physicians for Social Responsibility is quoted as saying, “The contention that GMOs pose no risks to human health can’t be supported by studies that have measured a time frame that is too short to determine the effects of exposure over a lifetime.”

All of the crops subject to GMO manipulation as well as practically everything we eat were genetically modified either by humans by selective breeding in the interests of improving them are just through natural selection well before the knowledge of genes arrived. Directly manipulating genomes and DNA through biotechnology introduced the reality of changes that began to worry people and led to the still ongoing discussions of risk/benefit.

It is difficult to argue against the benefits of GMOs. GMO producers and agencies such as the Office of Science at the U.S. Department of Energy and the Food and Drug Administration point out that GMOs can create crops that taste better, have more bioavailable nutrients, decrease pesticide use and bring crops to maturity faster and allow production of more food on less acreage. With so much hunger in the world, just the increased production and supposed health benefits of GMOs would seem to make the process does give some weight to the arguments of the supporters of GMOs.

However, while insecticide use has declined, the use of herbicides like glyphosate, a weed killer (Roundup) dramatically increased. Then, genetic modification was used to create seeds that would enable crops to survive the herbicide. This was followed by “an epidemic of super-weeds, which have quickly evolved to become immune to glyphosate (Consumer Reports, above). The biotech firms came to the rescue again, creating new crops that would still be immune to glyphosate but also kill the super weeds with the herbicide 2,4-D (Enlist). In turn, as the growth of 2,4-D increases, expected to increase seven times over the next five years (from 2015), it seems very likely new forms of super-weeds will be created immune to both herbicides. In that same Consumer Reports article, Charles Benbrook, Ph. D., a research professor at Washington State University, says, “. . . this ‘solution’ to the super-weed problem makes about as much sense as pouring gasoline on a fire to put it out.” On the other hand, it does enrich the coffers of some herbicide manufacturers.

Still, with all these benefits, what are the risks? According to producers like Monsanto, involved in both genetic engineering of plants manufacturing the Roundup weed killer, as well as multiple scientific studies, the risks are minimal or non-existent. One scientist, Daniel A. Goldstein (who happens to have been employed by Monsanto) published a 2014 article in the Journal of Medical Toxicology titled “Tempest in a Teapot : How did the Public Conversation on Genetically Modified Crops Drift So Far from the Facts?” Those on the other side of the argument raise concerns like these:

The agri-food industry claims GE foods are rigorously tested and represent no risks to human health. However, since GE foods are tested for safety only by the agri-food companies themselves and effectively fall outside of FDA regulation, such claims are highly dubious. In fact, the FDA never examines the original studies conducted by companies, but rather only the company’s summary assessment of its own research (Phil Damery).

Two of the big worries with GMO foods are allergies and antibiotic markers. Allergies can arise from injecting genes from one food into another. While the food to be modified may not have caused allergies in susceptible persons, an allergy in the gene source could be transferred to the destination. There are some possible indications that antibiotic markers in GMO foods may be contributing to the decreasing effects of antibiotics.

Therefore, an answer to the title question means balancing the known benefits of GMOs against what we know of risks at this time. Given the number of times FDA-approved medicines have turned out to be harmful years after being approved, there exists the possibility of future unrecognized risks with GMOs. It seems that caution (as in the maxim First Do No Harm) might raise enough concerns to outweigh the benefits at this point.


Will Adaptogen Herbs Help You?

Adaptogen herbs, which promise to reduce stress, may sound almost too good to be true. They are claimed to normalize body systems, reducing overly high values or raising abnormally low ones. Blood pressure too high? An adaptogen may bring it down. Too low? The same adaptogen may raise it. The principle behind adaptogen use is that the herbs can help in restoring and maintaining homeostasis, stabilizing bodily processes.

Adaptogen herbs have a long and valued history in treating human ailments. Their main use has been in reducing stress by acting on the adrenal glands. There are a number of scientific studies that at least seem to back up claims that in addition to stress reduction, adaptogens can relieve insomnia, decrease depression, improve brain function, enhance energy, and even may have anti-cancer properties. These supplements may sound almost like a sort of one supplement cure-all for many conditions. Some of them may actually accomplish this.

On the other hand, according to Wikipedia, most of the research was conducted in the Soviet Union, Korea and China before the 1980s and have serious methodological flaws. The European Medicines Agency said in 2008 that the idea needs more clinical and preclinical research and is not accepted in pharmacological and clinical practice.

Conversely, Rodale’s Organic Life Web site in a posting dated July 13, 2017 and titled “6 Things You Need to Know About Adaptogens—Nature’s Answer to Valium,” goes into great detail about the benefits of adaptogens.  The author, Emily Monaco claims that “adaptogens’ power doesn’t lie in reducing feelings of anxiety, but rather in decreasing the effects of hormones and other compounds that are released into the body in times of stress, such as kinase, nitric oxide, and cortisol.” She refers to two scientific reports, one in Drug Target Insights, 2007: 2: 39054 (a study of Rhodiola and Schizandra in rabbits). The second reference is to a report in Pharmaceuticals. This one describes how various stimulants were tried during World War II for pilots and submarine crew members and included Schisandra chinensis. This research came out of the finding that berries and seeds used by Far East hunters reduced “thirst, hunger and exhaustion” and increased “stamina and survival. From this work came the concept of adaptogens. A number of clinical studies are cited in this long article.


Two of the better known adaptogen herbs are Rhodiola and Ashwagandha. Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) grows in higher elevations in Asia, Europe and the Arctic. There is some evidence that it was used by ancient Greek physicians and later in Scandinavian countries, where the Vikings were regular users to overcome fatigue, presumably while plundering other countries. The extract is said to be most useful in mood enhancement including mental acuteness by restoring optimum levels of serotonin and dopamine. Studies in students have shown increased performance on tests after taking Rhodiola. “A double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study of the stimulating and apoptogenic effect of Rhodiola rosea SHR-5 extract on the fatigue of students caused by stress during an examination period with a repeated low-dose regimen,” Phytomedicine 7:2 (April 2000), 85-9.

A systematic review of six electronic databases looked for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and controlled clinical trials (CCTs) that evaluated the safety and efficacy of Rhodiola as related to mental and physical fatigue. Because of possible bias or flaws in the reports the results were contradictory, not definite enough to come to a firm conclusion. However, some evidence did suggest that Rhodiola might be of use in improving physical performance and reducing mental fatigue.

Another article, “Rosenroot (Rhodiola rosea): traditional use, chemical composition, pharmacology and clinical efficacy,” in Phytomedicine 2010: Jun 17(7) 481-93, noted that “A number of clinical trials demonstrate that repeated administration of R. rosea extract SHR-5 exerts an anti-fatigue effect that increases mental performance (particularly the ability to concentrate in healthy subjects), and reduces burnout in patients with fatigue syndrome. Encouraging results exist for the use of Rhodiola in mild to moderate depression, and generalized anxiety.” This article concluded, “Lack of interaction with other drugs and adverse effects in the course of clinical trials make it potentially attractive for use as a safe medication. In conclusion, Rhodiola rosea has robust traditional and pharmacological evidence of use in fatigue, and emerging evidence supporting cognition and mood.”


Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) root, also known as the Indian ginseng, has been a useful herb for 2,500 years in the Ayurvedic healing arts. Adherents to its use believe it may act as a diuretic, an anti-inflammatory and for relief from stress or depression. Besides these uses, animal studies and some human studies indicate the root may boost sexual performance, help in arthritis, act as an antioxidant, boost thyroid function and treat dementias. For example, “Pharmacologic overview of Withania somnifera, the Indian Ginseng,” Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 2015:Dec. 72(23): 4445-60,  said this, “Withania somnifera contains a spectrum of diverse phytochemicals enabling it to have a broad range of biological implications. In preclinical studies, it has shown anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-stress, neuroprotective, cardioprotective, and anti-diabetic properties.”

Other studies investigated Ashwagandha in connection with cancer therapy. “Medicinal plants from Near East for cancer therapy,” in Frontiers in Pharmacology, 2018: 9:56, “analyzed the huge amount of data available on anticancer ethnopharmacological sources used in the Near East. Medicinal herbs are the most dominant ethnopharmacological formula used among cancer’s patients in the Near East.”  The conclusion suggested, “The ethnopharmacology of the Near East was influenced by Arabic and Islamic medicine and might be promising for developing new natural and safe anticancer agents.” A study of an extract from the leaves of Ashwagandha reported on reduced tumor cell growth, “Growth inhibition of human tumor cell lines by withanolides from Withania somnifera leaves,” Life Sciences 74:1 (Nov 21 2003), 125-32.

Extra Cautions

Dosages for these herbs and others in the adaptogen family can vary significantly depending on the individual’s health and specific ailment. Anyone considering use of these herbs should consult with a doctor before beginning treatment.

For more information see “Everything you need to know about adaptogens, explained,” and 12 Adaptogens You Should Know and Why You Need Them


Hoarseness and Difficulty Talking? Perhaps One of These Herbs Might Help Laryngitis

Laryngitis can come from many sources, some serious. Usually the cause is obvious, related to allergies, colds or flu, polluted or just very dry air, mouth-breathing during the night or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). If hoarseness persists, consult a doctor. Otherwise, home treatment for laryngitis with herbal remedies may help.

Couch Grass

Photo by John Tann from Sydney, Australia  (Creative Commons License)

While couch grass (Agropyron repens  ofrCynodont dactylon) often is recommended for bladder or prostate infections, a tea made from this can loosen phlegm and make it easier to talk. The herb has demulcent properties, that is, it will create a soothing surface. According to some sites, it has been used in herbal treatments since Greek classical times. Brew a tea by steeping 1 to 3 teaspoons in a cup of water and drink a cup three times a day. NOTE: Check the Side Effects listed on regarding possible effects on water elimination. Review the extensive Community Herbal Monograph by the European Medicines Agency, 22 November 2011, particularly the Contraindications and Special Warnings section.


Photo by Nianahswigoa (Creative Commons License)

Another herb suggested for getting rid of laryngitis is fritillaria. According to the Chinese journal of natural medicines., “The genus Fritillaria is a botanical source for various pharmaceutically active components, which have been commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.” It is available as syrup made from the processed bulbs of a flowering plant called Fritillaria cirrhosa. In pharmacopeias Fritillaria is referred to as Bulbus Fritillaria Cirrhosae, a Chinese medical drug. Take this as directed on the label. However, do not use this if pregnant, nursing, or you have high blood pressure. It is intended to clear phlegm, reduce snoring and improve a sore throat.

Marshmallow Root

This herb is suggested as a staple in the herbal medicine cabinet for home treatment of laryngitis. It is an expectorant and also soothes hoarseness and soreness associated with laryngitis. considers it “Likely Safe” for most if taken by mouth. See the possible side effects and interactions if you have diabetes, are pregnant and/or breastfeeding or planning surgery. Talk to your health care provider if using Lithium. The typical use is one teaspoon in one-fourth cup of water three times a day. A children’s dose is one-fourth teaspoon in the same amount of water.

St. John’s Wort

Photo by xlibber (St. John’s Wort) (Creative Commons)

While normally suggested for depression, the analgesic qualities of St. John’s wort capsules are believed to ease the pain associated with laryngitis. Suggested dosages are capsules containing 900 mg of the herb, which can be taken once a day for several weeks. Warning: St. John’s wort can interact with many prescription drugs. Persons taking any prescription drug should consult with a doctor before using this herb. Pregnant or nursing women should not take it at all.



Balch, Phyllis A., CNC. Prescription for Herbal Healing (2010).

James F. Balch M.D.Prescription for Natural Cures (Third Edition): A Self-Care Guide for Treating Health Problems with Natural Remedies Including Diet, Nutrition, Supplements, and Other Holistic Methods (2016)





Herbs to Protect the Immune System in Elderly Individuals

In the midst of the worst flu season since 2009, anything that can be done to boost the immune system, particularly for seniors, who often are the hardest hit with respiratory diseases, is worth considering.

 According to Christopher Hobbs, a medical herbalist with a doctorate in phylogenetics, evolutionary biology and phytochemistry, there are three levels of herbal immune activities. These are: “deep immune activation, surface immune activation, and ‘adoptogenic’ or hormonal modulation.”

 While many of the herbals listed below have been used in traditional remedies for many years, some may interact with specific medicines or conditions. Always consult with a health care professional, licensed naturopath or M.D. before trying these.

Deep Immune Activation

 These include herbal immunomodulators such as Astralagus (avoid with auto-immune diseases), Schizandra chinensis, Ganoderma lucidum (from Reishi mushrooms). See especially side effects and interactions on linked articles with these herbs.

Bitter tonics may have a role in preventive medicine as well. Bitters seem to function by triggering a response in the mouth that signals the central nervous system to stimulate appetite, increase digestive fluid flow and regulate the production of glucose, glucagon and insulin. Bitters like mugworth and gentian can provide antidepressive actions.

A definite area that can affect senior’s health as they get into the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s is a loss of appetite and thereby increasing digestive problems. Bitters, by stimulating appetite can help in this department as well.

Alternatives to bitters are cleansing herbs that are a bit gentler such as cleavers, nettles, sarsaparilla, and yellow dock.

 Surface Immune Activation

 Herbs that help in this area act by increasing immune reaction to infections by microbes. Generally, they are classed as antimicrobials and include the following:

  • Calendula (Avoid with sedative drugs.)
  • Echinacea (Note: Read the full discussion including side effects, interactions and clinical references on this herb in the linked site.)
  • Garlic
  • Myrrh
  • Old man’s beard
  • Onion

 Hormonal Modulation

 As hormones are involved in the immune response, herbs in this category, known as adaptogens, modulate body systems that are stressed, re-setting the system to a normal state. Some typical adaptogens are Siberian Ginseng and Rhodiola.


 Herbs can help detoxify the body, removing waste and poisons. For example, dandelion leaf works as a diuretic, helping remove wastes from the kidneys and urinary system. Mullein or coltsfoot acts as an expectorant or anticatarrhal, helping clear the respiratory system. Dandelion root and milk thistle will aid in eliminating toxins from the liver and blood.


 While a mineral, not an herb, Zinc deserves mention in any article on immune function, particularly in seniors. The article linked above is titled “The Dynamic Link between the Integrity of the Immune System,” and was published in the Journal of Nutrition of the American Society for Nutritional Sciences, Issue #5, May 2000, pp. 1399Si1406S and is part of a series on zinc.

Numerous peer-reviewed articles have established zinc deficiency in many adults and specifically declining levels as we age. They also show a clear link between immune levels and zinc deficiency. Even the popular Cold-EZE for shortening colds contains zinc and other similar studies cover other forms of zinc particularly for colds.  

  Recommended Sources

 Hoffman, David. An Elders’ Herbal: Natural Techniques for Promoting Health & Vitality. (Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1993).

 For a good overview on the immune system, see Dr. Hobbs class handout, Immune System: An Overview.


Could Homeopathy Actually Help Some Conditions? Some Possible Explanations from Quantum Physics

Warning to the Reader:  By its very nature, looking into possible explanations from Physics for what many physicians call pseudoscience means getting into some pretty complex subjects. Therefore, anyone considering trying homeopathic remedies needs to take personal responsibility to pursue suggested sources and try to gain an understanding of the principles suggested here. This will take some time. There are too many elements that adequately cannot be covered in a posting like this one. Today’s presentation merely suggests the tip of a probable iceberg.

Typical Ways Remedies Are Provided

Many people believe firmly in the efficacy of homeopathy. Others claim nothing but a placebo effect is at work and there is no science behind homeopathy. It is very easy to find many articles debunking homeopathy. For example, see the Smithsonian Magazines “1,800 Studies Later, Scientists Conclude Homeopathy Doesn’t Work.”

It is a bit harder to open one’s mind up in the face of so many criticisms and investigate whether there           are indeed possible explanations for remedies that have so many adherents. According to one estimate, “Homeopathy is the leading alternative medicine used by Europeans. Homeopathy appears to be responsible for the well-being of the French, who are ranked #1 in the world in the performance of their health care system. In France, 40% of the population uses homeopathic medicines and around 30% of physicians prescribe them. Americans, most of whom do not use homeopathy, rank #37 in the performance of their health care system.” Also noted in this source, “England’s Royal Family are vocal advocates of homeopathy,” in the Netherlands, “45 percent of physicians consider homeopathic medicines effective” and from an A.C. Nielson survey, over 100 million people in India “depend solely on homeopathic medicine. “

Here are the basic principles of homeopathy as stated by the American Institute of Homeopathy:

The First Principle:  Let Likes Cure Likes. (Substances that cause symptoms, when used in greatly diluted form, stimulate healing of the original symptom.)

“The guiding principle of Homeopathy is stated as “let likes cure likes,” similia similibus curentur.  While the concept of “like curing like” dates back to the Greek Father of Medicine, Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.), it was German physician Dr. C. F. Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) who first codified this principle into a system of medicine.”

The Second Principle: The Minimum Dose. (To minimize side effects, Hahnemann diluted (he called it potentization) the substance that produced specific symptoms with “vigorous agitation of the solution called succussion, until there is no detectible chemical substance left.” Hahnemann maintained that the more dilutions the stronger the homeopathic remedy, reducing any possible side effects, making homeopathic remedies extremely safe.)

The Third Principle: The Single Remedy. (To prevent possible complications or confusions from using more than one remedy at a time, start with a single homeopathy solution.)

The First Principle certainly has a lot of history behind it. The third principle even makes scientific sense. It is the Second Principle that gives people, particularly most orthodox scientists, problems—even causing some of the latter group to become almost apoplectic in their rejections.

The central stumbling block in a belief in homeopathy, at least for anyone with a scientific turn of mind, is the completely illogical nature of the idea. It’s not so much that the principle is totally outrageous or only several hundred years old. After all, as noted above, the idea that “like cures like” has clear roots going back perhaps thousands of years in Thaumaturgy. The “Law of Similarity” was one of the laws of magic long before Samuel Hahnemann invented homeopathy in the 1790s.

Criticisms of Homeopathy

Where most scientists balk when they try to find a science behind homeopathy is the idea that by diluting something multiple times, each successive dilution will make the medicine stronger. This concept, according to debunkers and some tests, can end up with no molecules of the original substance present at all. A typical 4C (representing the number of dilutions) remedy starts with a tincture of something that in larger amounts can cause a symptom; takes one part of the tincture to 99 parts of alcohol or water; takes one part of the resulting solution to 99 parts of alcohol or water; takes one part of the result to 99 parts of alcohol or water; and finishes by taking one part of the last dilution to 99 parts of alcohol or water. Skeptics liken this to taking a teaspoon of something, throwing it in the ocean, walking five miles down the shore and taking out a teaspoon of ocean water. How, they ask, can this possibly have any effect—other than a salty taste! Indeed, this was my reaction when I first heard about homeopathy while living in Europe many years ago. My attitude never changed until 2005 when, because I respected a naturopath I was seeing, I took her advice about a problem and tried a homeopathic remedy. It worked! The typical explanation for any benefit from such treatment is the Placebo Effect.

At the very heart of the Placebo explanation is a relationship between the body and mind, that is when a patient expects a medicine to do something, the body’s own chemistry may do something like what a real medicine might do. The problem I found with this reasoning as far as homeopathy is concerned is that because of my own beliefs I never expected the suggestion to work. Yet it did and immediately relieved the problem. This was duplicated every time. 

Possible Explanations from Physics

Contemporary ideas in physics may hold the key to explain why empirically, homeopathy does seem to work for some people. Is it possible that after many years of searching for scientific validity, the answer lies in quantum mechanics, string/branes, the Uncertainty Principle, multiple dimensions and the reversibility of time? Let’s start with the last idea, the idea of time reversal.

Homeopathy and the Reversibility of Time

In real life, time and events seem to flow in only one direction, called the “Arrow of Time.” If you break an egg into a pan and fry it, that’s one thing. There is no way to reverse that process, that is, have the egg start fried and work backward to flying up into the shell and closing. However, physicists have held as a sacred principle for a very long time that all physical processes are reversible. This is a result of the time symmetry of the underlying laws of physical operations. That is, there is nothing inherent in any theory that says time only flows in one direction. This has been proven mathematically. This belief was bolstered with the discovery of a subatomic particle that behaved very strangely with respect to time unlike other. It took trillions of times longer in decaying than being produced. It was named the kaon. More strange quarks like this have been discovered. The principles underlying their behavior can be compared to looking in a mirror at a sphere that has been set to spinning. In the mirror, the object looks as if it is spinning backwards. These quarks can change between matter and antimatter. While the theories behind this are far too complex to include in this blog, here are a few links:

As the physicists suggest, there is no inherent reason for time reversal not to be possible. Even eminent scientists like Richard Feynman and John Wheeler, basing their work on earlier developments by others like James Maxwell (1831-1879) and Michael Faraday (1791-1867), theorized that radio waves could be received both after and before transmission.)  Why, then, could not time reversal come into play with homeopathic remedies? By diluting a substance to near non-existence, maybe the strange quarks that remain operate as if they represented the original, beginning condition, but without its toxicity.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

In similar fashion, one can explore the concept of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle as it relates to quantum mechanics and homeopathy. In its simplest form, the Uncertainty Principle states to know the velocity or position of a quark, you have to measure it. By measuring it, you effect it. Therefore, you cannot know everything about quarks by physical experiments—only thought experiments based on observing experiments at the quantum level are useful.

Given so many uncertainties, and if indeed quantum mechanics might be involved in the working of homeopathy, then the best way to approach and understanding is through our own thought experiments. This will require some work on the reader’s part since the details are too long to cover in a blog post. As a start, should readers wish to look into this topic, first read a easily-understood article on one famous thought experiment, Quantum Suicide, the Uncertainty principle and the Many-Worlds Theory. Pay particular emphasis to the section on “The Implications of Quantum Physics. Then with that background, consider the ways in which quanta particles being able to exist in multiple states at the same time, known by the fancy term of coherent superposition, might have some implications for the workings of homeopathic dilutions.

Other Explanations

There are several other lines of investigation that open the possibility for a scientific basis for homeopathy. One involves the “Memory of Water” hypothesis.  Briefly, this suggests that water, one of the main substances in successive dilution has a memory because of a “dynamic ‘ordering’ of water’s constantly switching network of intermolecular hydrogen bonds, induced by the manufacturing process of homeopathic remedies. This could lead to a long-range molecular ‘coherence’ between trillions of mobile water molecules.”

Most promising, perhaps, is a central principle of quantum physics—Quantum Entanglement.  This means that “multiple particles are linked together in a way such that the measurement of one particle’s quantum state determines the possible quantum states of the other particles. This connection isn’t dependent on the location of the particles in space. Even if you separate entangled particles by billions of miles, changing one particle will induce a change in the other.” This “entanglement” has been expanded by some researchers to “quantum macro-entanglement among patient, practitioner and remedy to form a PRR entangled state, from which the possibility of cure may manifest.”

In sum, putting together at least what seem to be possible rational explanations for homeopathy and some empirical evidence, perhaps the subject deserves some consideration without accepting the popular scientific debunking.

Note: “In 1938, when the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) was enacted, the bill’s senatorial sponsor, Dr. Royal Copeland, himself a homeopathic practitioner, added a provision to the law recognizing the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States alongside its counterparts, the U.S. Pharmacopeia and the National Formulary.” The FDA, in December, 2017, issued a DRAFT document, titled Drug Products Labeled as Homeopathic Guidance for FDA Staff  and Industry. This draft guidance, when finalized, will represent the current thinking of the Food and Drug  Administration (FDA or Agency) on this topic.  It does not establish any rights for any person and is not  binding on FDA or the public.

The Guidance identifies a risk-based approach for enforcement when products have reported safety concerns, contain ingredients associated with: potentially significant safety concerns; have administration routes other than oral and topical; are products intended for the prevention or treatment of serious and/or life-threatening disease and conditions; are meant for vulnerable populations or have been adulterated.

Since this risk-based approach is used (supposedly) by the FDA with respect to marketing unapproved new drugs it seems quite reasonable.





This post was meant to be about possible explanations from the New Physics on how homeopathy manages to work for so many people. Then the March, 2018 issue of Consumer Reports (CR) arrived yesterday with a front-page headline on the dangers of natural medicine. The article itself was mostly about the different types of medical practitioners one might see. The concluding practitioner section described the dangers of using naturopaths.

CR, while doing a decent job of reviewing appliances, automobiles and other consumer products wandered into the dangerous ground of medicine. In doing so this issue seems to have followed the deplorable scare practices of the popular press, grabbing on to a catchy headline phrase, hopefully alarming, that may generate readers. Often writers of this type of article do  not bother to check their facts. In at least one instance in CR’s coverage of naturopathy, this was the case.

In denigrating the profession of Naturopathy with over simplified statements and in one case outright omission of material fact I believe CR does a disservice to a lot of people. To CR’s credit they did draw a distinction between those whom they labeled Naturopaths and N.D.s. In most states anyone can call themselves a Naturopath, while a doctorate in Naturopathy is only granted after the requisite four years of training including clinical experience beyond a bachelor’s degree.

Nevertheless, in the end the tenor of the article is to brand both unlicensed and licensed with the same stigma. Beyond this, in what seemed like an attempt to make their warnings more serious, they report on a case from the Food and Drug Administration. The CR article claimed that a 30–year–old woman died “after receiving an intravenous infusion of curcumin (an ingredient in the spice tumeric) from a Naturopathy practitioner to treat eczema.”

Being naturally curious I looked up this case on I found the report actually said that the woman received an infusion of curcumin, which was compounded, i.e., mixed with “polyethylene glycol (PEG) 40 castor oil.” Instead of CRs text, putting the blame solely on curcumin, the FDA report identified three risks: 1) the absence of a label warning about hypersensitivity reactions associated with the PEG 40 castor oil; 2) the use of an ungraded inactive ingredient, i.e., PEG 40 castor oil, that is not suitable for human consumption or therapeutic use and may contain impurities such as DEG; and 3) the IV administration of curcumin, despite the fact that its safety profile by this route of administration has not been established, nor has its effectiveness in treating eczema or thrombocytopenia.

This puts a bit of a different face on what CR wrote. Unlike the simple statement in CR’s report, it is not possible to tell from the FDA report what actually caused the death. This blog would never suggest using unlicensed practitioners who say they are naturopaths. It is difficult to believe an N.D. would make this error. Moreover, there are clear reports of curcumin usefulness as an anti-inflammatory (mentioned later in this post). With regard to FDA statement #3 above, we should remember it took the FDA around 20 years or so to admit that fish oil supplements with Omega-s’s could benefit the heart. Finally, note that the FDA report included only one additional hypersensitive reaction to this particular mixture. Compare this to thousands of patients who were harmed after taking MD prescribed medicines which big Pharma labeled as safe.

Not content to rest with this scary evidence CRs article proceeded to add that curcumin “was deemed ineffective by a comprehensive 2017 scientific review” as a treatment for eczema. Like most of the national media CR didn’t feel it necessary to provide citations to either the FDA report or the “scientific review.” By some simple searching it appears that the source may have been an Indian website saying that “a scientific review study shows curcumin in turmeric has no medicinal properties.”

It’s not certain, but this may have come from a very lengthy report published in an American Chemical Society journal titled “The essential medicinal chemistry of curcumin,” which looked at the various uses of curcumin and did raise some questions about the usefulness of curcumin. It seemed clear that part of the problem in studying this topic was the bioavailability of curcumin depending on the source and the very complicated nature of the substance itself. Beyond this, further searching on reveals articles based on double-blind, clinical studies documenting the anti-inflammatory effect of curcumin.

Given clear instances of tragic effects of some prescription drugs like the $2 billion penalty against one pharmaceutical company for the thousands of people harmed, it is interesting that as far as I know Consumer Reports has never denigrated the entire field of allopathic medicine based  primarily on the single report of a death, as tragic as it was.

Consumer Reports, stick to reviewing home products for consumers and leave medicine to the experts. And be more careful about publishing information that omits material facts.