Health Canada says it takes safety 'very seriously' in face of concerns about homeopathic remedy

The long list of so-called homeopathic nosodes approved by Health Canada include remedies made from the bacteria that causes chlamydia, the cerebral fluid of meningitis patients and cancer cells — to name just a few.

Ottawa has approved 8,500 homeopathic products, including remedy made from rabid dog saliva

More than 8,500 homeopathic treatments are approved by Health Canada. (Josh Reynolds/Associated Press)

The long list of so-called homeopathic nosodes approved by Health Canada include remedies made from the bacteria that causes chlamydia, the cerebral fluid of meningitis patients and cancer cells — to name just a few.

After B.C.'s senior physician questioned the federal approval of one of these remedies, a substance developed from the saliva of a rabid dog, Health Canada will only say that it takes the safety of health products "very seriously."

A Health Canada spokesperson said no one was available Tuesday for an interview about the remedy used by a Victoria naturopath to treat a small boy's behaviour problems, but offered a written statement instead.

"Homeopathic products ... are regulated as natural health products (NHPs) under the Natural Health Products Regulations," the statement reads.

"Health Canada takes the safety of health products on the Canadian market very seriously. Should a product not meet the requirements set out in the associated product monograph and guidance, Health Canada will take action." 

The homeopathic remedy, which is marketed as lyssinum, lyssin or hydrophobinum, is one of more than 8,500 homeopathic products regulated by the federal government.

Anke Zimmermann wrote about treating a boy with behavioural problems in this February post to her website. (DrZimmermann.org)

Earlier this week, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she planned to write to Health Canada after reading an account of the case.

Naturopath Anke Zimmermann claimed that a 4-year-old boy with aggression issues, trouble sleeping and frequent nightmares about werewolves had improved "nicely" after  treatment with lyssinum.

Henry expressed "grave concerns" about the remedy and said there was no scientific evidence to support the treatment.

Lyssinum is a homeopathic nosode, a treatment created by taking a bodily substance from a diseased human or animal and repeatedly diluting it in water and/or alcohol.

On her blog, Zimmermann has also discussed treating a boy's obsessive-compulsive disorder using a nosode made from the cankers of syphilis patients, and a baby's teething pain using a tuberculosis nosode. Both treatments are federally approved.

She told CBC News that these nosodes are diluted so many times that they contain no trace of disease, and claimed "it's pretty clear" these remedies work.

Vaccines and homeopathy

Critics charge that these treatments are not scientifically supported.

Timothy Caulfield, Canada research chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta, described the promotion of these remedies as "harmful from the perspective of critical thinking."

He said, "This is a regulated health professional that is offering something that is completely scientifically ridiculous."

Health Canada does acknowledge that some alternative medicine practitioners are marketing nosodes improperly, suggesting to patients that they can replace vaccines.

"Nosodes are not and never have been approved by Health Canada to be vaccine alternatives, but have been promoted and used for such purposes by some complementary health care professionals and anti-vaccination advocates," a government website says.

"No homeopathic product should be promoted as an alternative to vaccines because there are no substitutes for vaccines."

In a scrum at the B.C. legislature Tuesday morning, Health Minister Adrian Dix addressed the controversy, but told reporters that regulation of medicine and homeopathic treatments is not within his jurisdiction.

"As you know, that responsibility is federal. I know that's a real concern in general," he said.

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Reach me at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.