In the wake of 400 reports of serious illness in young children and at least 10 deaths attributed to use of CVS and Hyland's Homeopathic Teething Gels, Dr. Janet Woodcock of the Food and Drug Administration is advising parents to stop using these products and use alternative methods to manage teething.
These adverse events are caused by belladonna, one of the active ingredients in these homeopathic teething products. Better known as deadly nightshade, belladonna is a perennial wild herb, related to the potato and eggplant family. The leaves and berries are highly toxic, containing an alkaloid poison similar to that found in cocaine.
Historically, belladonna has been used as an analgesic, a muscle relaxant, an anti-inflammatory and for the treatment of menstrual problems in women. It is used in some prescription drugs such as Donnatal, used for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. It is also used recreationally for its hallucinogenic properties, and was employed in ancient times to poison the tips of arrows.
Homeopathic teething gels have not been tested, evaluated nor approved by the FDA, although a safety alert was first issued in 2010. So far, the FDA has been unable to find any real health benefits in the use of these products.
Dr. Woodcock advises consumers who may have given such teething gels to get medical attention immediately if their child has any of the following symptoms:
- respiratory difficulty
- lack of energy or chronic fatigue
- narcolepsy (unusual sleepiness)
- muscle weakness
- constipation or difficulty urinating
Dr. Woodcock advises that “Teething can be managed without prescription or over-the-counter remedies...we recommend parents and caregivers not give homeopathic teething tablets and gels to children and seek advice from their health care professional for safe alternatives.”
Since the warnings have come out, Hyland's has come up with a new formula for their product, and has stopped selling their teething gel in the U.S. While the company continues to insist that the product is safe and denies any awareness of any medical evidence that it is harmful in any way, it advises parents to “consult with their physicians before using any medicines, read labels carefully and follow all instructions.”
People in general should be aware that simply because a remedy is labeled as “homeopathic,” “organic,” “herbal” or “wholistic” does not necessarily mean that it is safe to use. Many pharmaceutical drugs contain the same ingredients as plant-based herbal remedies, albeit in much higher concentrations and different combinations. They can have similar side effects as well as interactions with other herbs or foods.