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Is homeopathy safe? A mom considers the Hyland’s Teething Tablets recall

The manufacturer voluntarily recalled the Hyland's Teething Tablets in an “abundance of caution” this past weekend, after the FDA issued a warning asking customers to stop using and toss the tablets. Why was the warning issued? What does this mean for parents and users of the product?

As a mom and a natural health writer and editor, I’ve been closely following the recall news on Hylands’ Teething Tablets, a popular remedy for U.S. infants and toddlers since 1945. The manufacturer voluntarily recalled the product in an “abundance of caution” this past weekend, after the FDA issued a warning asking customers to stop using and toss the tablets.

Why were the tablets recalled?

The FDA said it had tested tablet samples and found varying amounts of belladonna, a potential toxin (and sometime medicine) known more commonly —and scarily!—as deadly nightshade. The FDA also said it had received “serious adverse event” reports in children that were consistent with belladonna toxicity (symptoms include fast heart beat, higher body temperature, and flushing) and in children who had taken more tablets than recommended, because the containers do not have childproof caps. (Symptoms were not conclusively linked to the tablets.)

Why is a poisonous plant an ingredient in a remedy for infants?

Like allergy treatments or vaccines, homeopathy is based on the principle of “like cures like,” where a small dose of an allergic substance or inert form of a virus is given to bolster the body’s natural immune response. In the case of homeopathic remedies, the dose truly is miniscule: The raw material (a plant, mineral, or sometimes animal) is serially diluted in a water and alcohol solution and shaken up to many thousands of times.

What exactly is in the tablets?

A homeopathic “combination” remedy Teething Tablets contain highly diluted forms of belladonna (to ease redness, swelling, and pain in the gums), as well as calcarea phosphorica (to support teeth formation), chamomilla (to ease irritability), and coffea cruda (to encourage rest).

So how much belladonna is in Teething Tablets?

About 0.0002 mg of belladonna alkaloids (the component sometimes associated with side effects) per tablet, according to Iris Bell, MD, PhD, director of scientific affairs for manufacturer Standard Homeopathy Co. Typically, she says, a 10-pound child would need to ingest 1,000 Teething Tablets (at least 6 bottles of 125 tablets) to exhibit even the first possible side effect of belladonna.

Should I be worried if I have been giving the tablets to my child?

Probably not, especially if he or she has shown no symptoms. (A local mom wrote online this week about the time her 2-year-old got into her bag and ate an entire bottle, to no ill effects.) Still, to be safe, do toss any tablets and wait for further news. (For recommended alternative treatments, see below.) The FDA did state that it had found varying amounts of belladonna as well as “substandard control” of Standard Homeopathic Co.’s manufacturing process. The company says the tablets are safe, but is working with the FDA to refine production and better ensure dose uniformity.

Is homeopathy safe for babies?

I firmly believe it is. One reason parents often choose homeopathic remedies for childhood, illnesses such as colds and flu and colic, is because they are considered gentle and safe and have been widely used in Europe and elsewhere for more than 200 years. I successfully used Hylands’ tablets and gel for my babies, as did most of the moms I know. See more details in "How homeopathy is regulated," below.

What are other natural remedies for teething?

Many parents swear by Boiron’s homeopathic combination teething remedy, Camilia. It’s sold in 20 single-dose, snap-off vials, which would seem to ensure more precise doses. Try homeopathic single remedies: Chamomilla (30c potency, 2 pellets every two hours, or as directed by a health care provider); Calcium phosphate or Calcium carbonate (30x, dissolve one tablet in water and massage into gums two to three times a day). Freeze chamomile tea into popsicles or freeze a tea-soaked washcloth. Offer refrigerated or frozen whole carrots (make sure your child can’t bite off a piece). Try an organic plush or wooden chew toy.

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