James Randi was asking if the Cold-Eeze cold remedy could really be homeopathic as claimed, since it obviously has some active ingredient in it. Homeopathic remedies are typically diluted beyond Avogadro’s number so that there isn’t even one molecule of active ingredient left. (So how do they work? - They don’t!) Anyway, Randi wrote to the makers of Cold-Eeze to ask them how an X1 concentration (which means diluted by 10), could be homeopathic. Click the link for the full exchange.
This reminded me of an email exchange I had back in 2002 with the makers of Zicam, a seemingly identical product. I sent them this email:
Zicam is marketed as a homeopathic remedy. Is this strictly true? It seems to me that it is based on zinc, and (I could be wrong), but I don't think zinc gives the symptoms of a cold. Homeopathic remedies supposedly work on the principle of "like cures like". Also, Zicam has some active ingredient in it, which would also mean it differs from homeopathic remedies which are usually diluted so there is nothing left.
Their “consumer services” department replied:
The foundation of homeopathy is the Law of Similars. The theory is basically like cures like...a compound that produces a particular symptom (similar to that produced by the illness)in a healthy person should also facilitate the body's healing processes.
Zincum Gluconicum was approved by the Homoepathic Pharmacopoeia Convention and became a monographed item included in the HPUS in May 1997. Zincum Gluconicum was proven to produce "cold-like" symptoms in healthy individuals.
Zicam has only one active ingredient--zinc gluconate (Zincum Gluconicum). It is true that some homeopathic dilutions are very dilute. The HPUS dictates the maximum strength a compound can be for OTC use. In the case of zinc gluconate, it is a 1X dilution. This means that 1 part of zinc gluconate is diluted with 9 parts water. In Zicam we use a 2X dilution. This takes the above dilution and further dilutes it by adding 1 part of it to 9 parts water. This produces a final 1:100 dilution.
Zicam is a homeopathic remedy manufactured, packaged and distributed in full accordance with the HPUS.
I have no idea if zinc does produce the symptoms of a cold in a healthy person, although it doesn’t really matter since the Law of Similars is made-up nonsense anyway. Still, I had my answer on the dilution. It is homeopathic because they are using homeopathic nomenclature (1X, 2X etc). But why would they want to call it homeopathic? Perhaps because the makers of homeopathic remedies (like most alternative “medicines”), are not required to show that their products are either (1)safe or (2) effective. So maybe I have the answer to my question, if it has any ingredient in it, is it homeopathic? The answer is, yes, if it can’t be shown to be safe or effective.
Admittedly though, you might be better off with a real homeopathic remedy. Both Zicam and Cold-Eeze are apparently facing lawsuits * alleging harm their products have caused. And as one of Randi’s readers notes, you do know a real homeopathic medicine is safe since it contains nothing but water. Useless, of course, but certainly safe.
* January 27, 2008 – updated Zicam lawsuits link.