The United States Food and Drug Administration is coming after people like Gwyneth Paltrow and others who peddle pseudoscientific cures. On Monday, it announced its plans to impose tighter restrictions on homeopathic remedies, which is bad news for Paltrow and her ilk and good news for, well, everyone else.
In the announcement, the administration reported its plans to focus, in part, on products with health risks, products intended to treat serious health conditions, and products targeted at vulnerable populations. While the plan will leave many homeopathic products on the shelves, the announcement represents a step in the right direction.
Besides the fact that Paltrow and her pseudoscientific blog, Goop, profits from people’s misunderstanding of science and their trust in celebrities, there’s the simple fact that homeopathy is not a scientifically validated form of medicine.
Homeopathy, as Goop explains, is based on the baffling premise that “like cures like.” In other words, something that would cause a negative symptom in a healthy person can cure that same symptom in a sick person. While there is some evidence that patient-specific homeopathic treatments could yield minor benefits, there is no evidence to support generalized treatments.
Perhaps the most important element of the announcement is that the FDA will target homeopathic products that “are being marketed for serious diseases and/or conditions but where the products have not been shown to offer clinical benefits,” as these are the cases in which there is the most potential for people to forgo lifesaving medical treatments in favor of snake oil. But the FDA’s plan to regulate ingredients comes at a close second.
“It also covers situations where products labeled as homeopathic contain potentially harmful ingredients or do not meet current good manufacturing practices,” reads the announcement. This is really important because homeopathic products can actually contain toxic ingredients, albeit in low doses. And even though studies show that properly prepared homeopathic remedies are unlikely to cause adverse effects, since homeopathy is not a medical practice, anyone can do it, and therefore anyone could screw it up. Besides, even in healthcare settings, homeopathic treatments have been shown to create new health problems in some cases.
This crackdown is especially important as more Americans without access to affordable health insurance are turning to alternative medicine like homeopathy. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that an increasing number of uninsured Americans are seeking treatment in the form of alternative medicine practices, some of which have minimal scientific backing.
So unlike many of the products that Goop promotes, which seem to be targeted toward people with money to burn on crap, homeopathic medicine actually seems to increasingly appeal to low-income Americans who have genuine health concerns that they need to address. Hopefully, these new FDA guidelines will help protect them better.