Although it was sold for many years as a drug for colds, Zicam Cold Remedy was never tested by federal regulators for safety like many other drugs. Because the drug is considered a “homeopathic remedy,” categorized as a highly diluted drug made from natural ingredients, they can legally be sold without any checks for safety, effectiveness, or even the right ingredients by the federal government. This was perfectly legal until consumers began losing their sense of smell.
Many scientists and health care professionals regard these homeopathic remedies as modern day snake oil, ineffective but mostly harmless because the substances in them are in such small amounts. They are similar to dietary supplements, which use many of the same natural ingredients and are also not tested for safety or benefit. The AP’s analysis of side-effect reports filed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), however, found more than eight hundred homeopathic ingredients were implicated in health problems last year; complaints ranged from vomiting to attempted suicide.
In the case of Zicam, the FDA tied the drug to 130 cases of consumers losing their sense of smell. Because of this, the agency asked Zicam manufacturer Matrixx Initiatives to stop marketing three products that contain zinc gluconate: Zicam Cold Remedy Nasal Gel, Nasal Swabs, and the discontinued Swabs in Kids’ Size. In order for the drugs to be marketed again, the FDA requires they be tested for safety and benefit like other conventional drugs.
Are homeopathic remedies like Zicam effective? Many people swear by them, but is it essentially having a “placebo effect” on them? This writer is highly skeptical of these remedies, but, as long as they are essentially “harmless”, it is effectively just a situation of folks’ throwing away good money on these “remedies”. When the harm shifts from merely economic to real health problems, however, then a true harm to society may be occurring. The latter result may be indicative of a systemic problem requiring some form of intervention and oversight. Because of the number of issues that have arisen over the past decade or so with supplements and remedies, it seems as if we may be seeing a systemic problem, compounded by the greed of manufacturers producing and marketing these products.