British Columbia

'Dangerous' claims that homeopathic remedies prevent infectious disease under review by feds

As Metro Vancouver contends with a spreading measles outbreak, Health Canada is looking into a handful of B.C. homeopaths who offer an unproven and unapproved treatment they claim can prevent infectious diseases.

CBC has identified 4 B.C. homeopaths who advertise an unapproved treatment called homeoprophylaxis

Homeoprophylaxis uses so-called nosodes — diluted forms of tissue or fluid taken from sick people. No homeopathic remedies have been approved for use in homeoprophylaxis in Canada. (Shutterstock/Yuri Nunes)

As Metro Vancouver contends with a spreading measles outbreak, Health Canada is looking into a handful of B.C. homeopaths who offer an unproven and unapproved treatment they claim can prevent infectious diseases.

CBC has identified at least four homeopaths operating in B.C. who've advertised a process known as homeoprophylaxis on their websites, suggesting it can protect children from illness. It's sometimes referred to as a homeopathic alternative to immunization, and proponents claim it's been used to prevent diseases as serious as smallpox, cholera and polio.

The treatment depends on so-called nosodes — highly diluted substances made from diseased tissue, pus, blood or other excretions from a sick person or animal.

Though the federal government has approved a long list of nosodes for use in Canada, their use is not recommended for children and claims of preventing infection may violate the law, according to Health Canada spokesperson André Gagnon.

"Health Canada has not approved any nosodes with homeoprophylaxis claims since recommended uses based on homeopathic evidence may only be for the relief of symptoms," Gagnon wrote in an email.

"The department is taking steps to verify compliance with the requirements of the Food and Drugs Act and the Natural Health Products Regulations, including those related to advertising. Should Health Canada identify any non-compliance with the Food and Drugs Act or its regulations, it will take action."

'It is dangerous'

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told CBC she's not surprised to see homeopaths advertising homeoprophylaxis, but she's concerned it's happening at a time when there's a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles.

"It is dangerous to market these products as having any benefit in terms of protecting children from serious illnesses like measles," she said.

"It's dangerous because parents may be lulled into a sense that their child is protected and forego getting these vaccines that are actually effective and safe and work to protect their children."

Henry said there's no evidence supporting the use of homeopathic nosodes to prevent infectious disease.

Former naturopath Anke Zimmermann advertises homeoprophylaxis for children. (CHEK News)

Little Mountain Homeopathy and Access Natural Healing in Vancouver, Reviviscent Health in Lake Country and Victoria homeopath Anke Zimmermann have all advertised homeoprophylaxis on their websites.

Homeopath Audrey Miller of Reviviscent Health defended her practice in an email to CBC.

"Health Canada is free to look into and enforce any regulations that are not being followed, according to what they themselves have set out and approved. They have approved nosodes. They have not approved them to be used in place of the conventional vaccinations," Miller wrote.

Before Miller was contacted by CBC, the Reviviscent Health website described homeoprophylaxis as "homeopathic immunization."

That reference was removed on Wednesday.

Before being contacted by CBC, the website for Reviviscent Health in Lake Country advertised homeoprophylaxis as 'homeopathic immunization.' (ReviviscentHealth.com)

The other B.C. homeopaths who advertise homeoprophylaxis are generally careful not to describe it as an alternative to vaccination in their online materials. Nonetheless, they contend it can prevent infectious diseases.

The website for Elena Cecchetto's clinic Access Natural Healing says that "using homeopathy to prevent infectious diseases is a personal health and healing choice that has been practised for centuries."

The website for Access Natural Healing in Vancouver falsely suggests that homeopathy can be used 'to prevent infectious diseases.' (AccessNaturalHealing.com)

Homeopath Sonya McLeod's website for Little Mountain Homeopathy includes a statement that homeopathic remedies should not be confused with vaccines. It also, however, includes a testimonial from a parent named "Monica L." who says she chose homeoprophylaxis over vaccines for her child.

The website for Little Mountain Homeopathy says, 'our remedies should never be confused for or conflated with pharmaceutical drugs, including vaccines,' but also includes this client testimonial. (LittleMountainHomeopathy.com)

And Zimmermann's website includes a long list of diseases she claims have been prevented through homeoprophylaxis: scarlet fever, cholera, smallpox, polio, meningitis, influenza, whooping cough, leptospirosis and Japanese encephalitis.

Until recently, Zimmermann was a registered naturopath, but she gave up her licence after multiple complaints to the College of Naturopathic Physicians of B.C. At the time, she said she was unable to comply with the college's policy on immunization — which forbids naturopaths from including anti-immunization materials in their advertising. 

Zimmermann told CBC she didn't have time to answer detailed questions about the legality of advertising homeoprophylaxis. Cecchetto and McLeod did not respond to requests for comment.

'Not based on modern science'

Homeopathy is not a regulated profession in British Columbia, but homeopathic products are regulated and licensed after a review by Health Canada.

"Evidence usually consists of references to traditional homeopathic textbooks, which are not based on modern science," Health Canada's Gagnon said of the assessment process.

All nosodes sold in Canada have to include three disclaimers on their labels:

  • This product is neither a vaccine nor an alternative to vaccination.
  • This product has not been proven to prevent infection.
  • Health Canada does not recommend its use in children and advises that your child receive all routine vaccinations.

About the Author

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay has more than a decade of experience in B.C. journalism, with a focus on the courts, health and social justice issues. She has also reported on human rights and crimes against humanity in Cambodia. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.