After a long and grueling search, a use has finally been found for the CVS homeopathic product known as Oscillococcinum. No, it doesn’t fight flu. It can’t–there are no active ingredients.
But it can be used as a stand-in for sugar in icing for Valentine’s Day cookies!
You read it here first!
In this Bad Science Debunked Valentine’s Special, I’ll walk you through the steps but, more importantly, we’ll do a little Kitchen Science, using the dye from our cookie icing to illustrate the scientific illiteracy behind homeopathy and why you, if you’re a CVS shopper, should be deeply upset that a modern pharmacy has this product on their shelves.
Nothing but the Facts, Ma’am
As described in my article “If it Quacks Like a Duck: Oscillococcinum“,1 and confirmed by scientists around the world, there is literally–literally–nothing in CVS’ so-called medicine except sugar, rendering it absolutely useless for treating the flu. This is the case for nearly all homeopathic medicines.
There are a few exceptions. For example some homeopathic concoctions contain enough alcohol for underage drinkers to get three sheets to the wind,2 while others incorporate toxic plants that can poison babies.3 In 2018, the Center for Inquiry sued CVS for fraud over its homeopathic “cures,”4 but a resolution has yet to be found, and CVS continues to mislead consumers, selling them $36.00 sugar pills potent enough to make dessert icing.
However, the potential for a mistake is all too real. Walk into any CVS store and you’ll find Oscillococcinum displayed in the aisles as if it were a real medicine–as evidenced by the below photos from a shop in Lexington, KY. Should the parent of a flu-infected child purchase this rubbish, thinking they were getting real medicine, we could have a youngster being treated with sugar–a potential tragedy in the making. Over 30,000 people were hospitalized due to influenza during last year’s flu season.5 The flu can kill. It cannot be treated or cured with sugar.
A Baker’s Quarter Dozen
So let’s make some cookies! Oddly enough, critics of the plain sugar cookies I bought for this project claimed the they were “GMO,” apparently because they didn’t have the silly little non-GMO butterfly. One of the dangers of GMO labelling is nobody understands what it means. There isn’t any GMO sugar, there isn’t any GMO flour, but just to poke good-natured fun at those who won’t take the time to learn any better, I’ve dubbed my cookies “GMO sugar cookies for duration of this experiment.
If facts aren’t going to change minds, you might as well have some fun.
Anyway, here’s the video. For the not-so-video-inclined, printed recipe and instructions appear at the end of this post. Feel free to print the web page, clip, and save. Oh, and while you’re at it, you might want to protest to CVS (cough cough).
Next, let’s look at how we know that CVS Oscillococcinum has no active ingredient. The homeopathic claim is that they begin with a piece of (supposedly diseased) duck, then dilute, dilute, dilute, with water (hold on, this is where it gets strange), where the water “remembers” the disease, and my Aunt Fanny has a bridge in San Francisco to sell you.
Homeopaths actually believe all of that except for the part about my Aunt Fanny. Why they don’t like her, I’ll never know. Anyway…
In this Kitchen Chemistry experiment, we’ll do what homeopaths would call a “5C” dilution on the food dye we used on our cookie icing. The principle is simple, but will leave you rolling your eyes in wonder when you see it in action.
1ml of dye is added to 99ml water and “succinated” (shaken). 1ml of the resulting solution is extracted and added to another 99ml water. Each repetition gives us a “C” (centesimal) preparation. Homeopathic preparations such as oscillococcinum start around 200C, at which it’s mathematically impossible for even an atom any original material, which was supposedly a diseased duck, to remain. Some preparations go even higher. For our demo here, I’m preparing just a 5C solution of dye. Pull up a chair, phone the kids and wake the neighbors, and watch what happens. Does the dye get stronger or weaker?
Food for thought: Because homeopaths falsely believe that water has a memory and that repeatedly diluting a substance makes the water memory stronger, consider what happened to the H2O downstream of the cookies and aspartame in this experiment when I went to the bathroom after the second video. The toilet water went to a water treatment plant where my waste was repeatedly diluted.
Consider further, dear homeopaths, that the water on this planet has been constantly recycled for over 4.5 billion years. Imagine all the waste it has diluted. You really gonna drink that stuff?
For those of you rich enough to spend approximately $36.00USD for enough icing to cover three or four sugar cookies, here’s the full recipe. This is just the cost of the oscillococcinum alone!
Warning: Oscillococcinum cannot cure the flu, mitigate its symptoms, or help with any other disease. Its only use is as described here: as a stand-in for sugar. If you’re upset about this, please contact CVS to complain: 1-800-SHOP-CVS (1-800-746-7287).
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1.5 tbsp flour
- 3 tablespoons crushed CVS oscillococcinum pills**
- 1/4 cup margarine
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 drop food coloring
1. Heat milk and flour over low heat, until very thick. Let cool and set aside.
2. Cream together sugar and butter
3. Add cooled milk and flour mixture, mix thoroughly until whip cream consistency
4. Add vanilla, and mix thoroughly
5. Spread over cookies and enjoy
**Totally safe to use. There are no medicines in CVS Oscillococcinum. It is pure sugar.
(1) If it Quacks Like a Duck: Oscillococcinum
Retrieved 19 Feb 2018
(2) Surprise Ingredient in CVS Medicine
Retrieved 19 Feb 2018
(3) FDA: Toxic Belladonna In Homeopathic Teething Product (via Forbes)
Retrieved 21 Feb 2018
(4) Center for Inquiry Sues CVS
Retrieved 12 Feb 2019
(5) CDC: The 2017-2018 Flu Season
Retrieved 12 Feb 2019
CVS Oscillococcinum product image by the author. Copyright © 2018 Mark Aaron Alsip. All rights reserved.
Duck image by the author. Copyright © 2014 Mark Aaron Alsip. All rights reserved.
The “Dancing With the Stars/Oscillococcinum” mashup image is a product of the author’s imagination. The Dancing With the Stars Judges are used used under the parody provisions of Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, commonly known as “fair use law”. This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.
The excerpts of the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it on” are also used under the parody provisions of Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, commonly known as “fair use law”. This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.
Amazon’s Alexa appears used under the parody provisions of Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, commonly known as “fair use law”. This material is distributed without profit with the intent to provide commentary, review, education, parody, and increase public health knowledge.