The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned parents to stop using homeopathic products to treat their babies’ teething pains, citing an investigation into “adverse events” linked to the death of 10 infants, plus another 400 cases in which children experienced negative side effects such as seizures, fever, and vomiting.
Homeopathy is based on the idea that “like cures like,” and remedies are often made by watering down selected “poisons” that cause or mimic the disease being treated. Practitioners must dilute the poisons to such low levels that they’re safe for consumption, but may end up diluting them to the point that only plain water remains.
Though numerous scientists and medical professionals challenge the practice as little more than a placebo effect, Americans still spend upwards of $3 billion on homeopathic remedies each year. And while one can argue that such spending on expensive placebos is harmless, the discussion changes dramatically when children are falling ill and dying. In its warning the FDA said it is investigating 10 infant deaths and more than 400 reports of adverse events that may be connected to the use of the teething treatments in the past six years.
Though the FDA hasn’t definitively nailed the teething products as the source of the illnesses and deaths, in 2010, the agency got similar reports of illnesses linked to the homeopathic teething products. Upon investigation, they found that the products weren’t diluted properly and some contained unsafe levels of belladonna, also known as deadly nightshade.
Though it’s well-known that homeopaths use belladonna to treat a variety of ailments, it’s always supposed to be diluted heavily, leaving none or trace amounts.
In the 2010 warning, the FDA reported:
Hyland’s Teething Tablets are manufactured to contain a small amount of belladonna, a substance that can cause serious harm at larger doses. For such a product, it is important that the amount of belladonna be carefully controlled. FDA laboratory analysis, however, has found that Hyland’s Teething Tablets contain inconsistent amounts of belladonna. In addition, the FDA has received reports of serious adverse events in children taking this product that are consistent with belladonna toxicity.
Symptoms of belladonna poisoning include seizures, vomiting, difficulty breathing, lethargy, excessive sleepiness, muscle weakness, skin flushing, constipation, difficulty urinating, blurred vision, and confusion.
Since the FDA’s new warning, CVS has pulled the products from its shelves. In an open letter to “Moms and Dads,” Hyland’s strongly defended the quality and safety of their teething products but decided to discontinue them anyway. The FDA’s warning, Hyland’s wrote, “has created confusion among parents and limited access to the medicines… Putting you in a position of having to choose who to trust in the face of contradictory information is burdensome and undermines the FDA.”
Janet Woodcock, a medical doctor and director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research noted that “teething can be managed without prescription or over-the-counter remedies.” Instead, parents should try gentle gum massages or cold teething rings or cloths, which conveniently carry no risk of death.