Finally! A Good Use for CVS Oscillococcinum! (Valentine’s Special)

cvs oscillococcinum flu therapy by boiron

Oscillococcinum literally contains nothing but sugar, and cannot under any circumstances cure the flu, reduce body aches, headaches, fever, or chills.

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.

CVS medicine aisle

CVS Cold/Allergy/Children’s Health Aisle (click/enlarge)

Lots of "meds" to choose from in CVS...

Lots of “meds” to choose from in CVS… (click/enlarge)

oscillococcinum sugar pills at cvs

Sadly, oscillococcinum, mere sugar pills, hides among the real meds at CVS. (click/enlarge)

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).

 

Mixology
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?

Cookie Recipe
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!

 

CVS/Boiron Oscillococcinum flu therapy--actually just sugar pills

The Oscillococcinum used in this “experiment.” Click to enlarge.

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.

References
(1) If it Quacks Like a Duck: Oscillococcinum
https://badsciencedebunked.com/2014/10/22/if-it-quacks-like-a-duck-oscillococcinum/
Retrieved 19 Feb 2018

(2) Surprise Ingredient in CVS Medicine
https://www.nbclosangeles.com/investigations/I-Team-Store-Alcohol-Purchase-Drug-Regulations-337551261.html
Retrieved 19 Feb 2018

(3) FDA: Toxic Belladonna In Homeopathic Teething Product (via Forbes)
https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucelee/2017/01/28/fda-toxic-belladonna-in-homeopathic-teething-products/#54bea4c140dd
Retrieved 21 Feb 2018

(4) Center for Inquiry Sues CVS
https://centerforinquiry.org/press_releases/cfi-sues-cvs/
Retrieved 12 Feb 2019

(5) CDC: The 2017-2018 Flu Season
https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2017-2018.htm
Retrieved 12 Feb 2019

Image/Music Credits
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.

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If it Quacks Like a Duck — Oscillococcinum

It’s perhaps the most amazing drug on CVS’ shelves today:  It features:

  • No side effects
  • No drug interactions
  • No active ingredients

That’s right.  No active ingredients.  Read on to see if Oscillococcinum might be right for you!

Oscillococcinum thumbnail

Oscillococcinum, a drug with no active ingredients. (See footnotes for image credit.)

Oscillococcinum was a drug originally made from the non-existent oscillococcinum bacterium (wink wink nudge nudge) and marketed as a cure for the flu.  This is curious, as the flu is viral, not bacterial, in nature.

Now made from duck parts that don’t exist — perfect for a quack cure — Oscillococcinum is homeopathic.  One of the features of many homeopathic medicines is that they are repeatedly diluted during production.  Oscillococcinum is typical:  the dilution is so extreme that there’s no original product left in the box when it goes out the door.

CVS-branded oscillococcinum

CVS-branded oscillococcinum. Get your sugar cheaper! (click to enlarge image.)

The dilution factor for CVS’ duck-based medicine is “200C”.  In homeopathy, “200C” means that:

  1. The original product is diluted with water to 1/100th the original concentration
  2. A small sample of the dilution is set aside
  3. That 1/100th sample is taken, diluted with water, and the process is repeated for a total of 200 iterations

As is the case with any homeopathic medicine diluted to such extremes, the odds of receiving any end product (in this case, duck) are so astronomical they border on impossible.

But would you actually want the duck?

A quick look at the CVS product info sheet tells us that Oscillococcinum:

“is made from tissue that might be infected with flu—ducks, which are known to carry influenza”

Wait.  What’s happening here?  Is CVS selling me an infected bird?  That’s freaky scary.  When I get the flu shot, at least I know the virus in the shot is dead.

Or, is CVS selling me pure water & sugar… a product from which all the duck has been removed?  Back to the product info sheet:

“Oscillococcinum is of 200c potency, meaning that it is diluted to one part in 10 400 (a dilution so high that even if you started with a chunk of duck the size of the sun, not one molecule would remain).”1

Wow.  Balls the size of… (!)

The imaginary active ingredient has been completely removed from this product, and CVS doesn’t even try to hide it:  they brag about it!

If you’re a CVS customer paying for this stuff, you’re paying for filler product.  Water and sugar.  Actually, it’s questionable whether or not you’re even getting any water.  The ingredients list only shows sugar.  What you’re definitely not getting is duck.  (For that reason, we’ll leave the dangers of ingesting a disease-laden bird for another article.)

Oscillococcinum gets a special mention in Jean-Marie Abgrall’s “Healing or Stealing?: Medical Charlatans in the New Age”.2  The drug was invented in 1919 when a Frenchman noticed an “oscillating” condition in flu patients and a corresponding “oscillating” amount of an imaginary germ he decided to call “oscillococcus”.  The only problem was, he thought he noticed the same microbe in herpes, chicken pox, shingles, and cancer patients — and decided all the diseases were caused by the same thing.  Mon dieu!8

The Frenchman tested a vaccine he developed on his cancer patients who, of course, died.  Afraid of being infected by his patients, the doctor went in search of his oscilloccinum bacterium in the wild.  He claims to have found it in a duck.  I’m not making this [expletive deleted] up.  No one else has ever seen oscilloccinum.  It doesn’t really exist.  But this hasn’t stopped snake… erm…  duck oil salesmen from cashing in.

oscillococcinum contains no active ingredients

Oscillococcinum isn’t all it’s quacked up to be.  It contain no active ingredient(s)! (Photo by the author)

Manufactured by the French company Boiron, Oscillococcinum has been singled out for deceptive marketing in the United States.  In June 2010, Homeopathy for Health, a Washington vendor, was cited by the FDA for a slew of violations, including marketing Oscillococcinum as a treatment for H1N1 (“Swine Flu”) and “relief of flu symptoms”.3 Although the CVS literature lists one late 1980s study with marginal results touting Oscillococcinum efficacy,2 no other studies back the CVS claims.  This is not surprising.  If you only have one study to back you up, take that study, trumpet it loudly, and hope nobody notices.

When sugar pills are shown to stop the flu virus, let’s all meet in the bakery aisle of the supermarket when we get sick, and skip the trip to the doctor.

As I write this, CVS is actively removing protests regarding Oscillococcinum sales from its Facebook page.  These posts, to the best of my knowledge, truthfully inform consumers that the product contains no active ingredients, has never been shown to be of any help in combating the flu, and, in fact, could be dangerous: influenza is a serious disease and can be deadly.5, 6

CVS places homeopathic medicines next to real medicines on their shelves (with similar packaging) with no consumer warnings, making it difficult for a trusting public to know what they’re buying.  When a pharmacy dispenses real medicine and real flu vaccines along with sugar pills without any cautionary text, it’s a problem.  Skipping real treatment in favor of Oscillococcinum could do real harm.

A “drug” made from sugar and non-existent duck parts?  A company that takes pride in its public health outreach programs4 should be ashamed of itself for this quackery — no pun intended.  I hope readers will take a moment to go the CVS Facebook page7 and express their unhappiness.  As consumers, we deserve better.

Postscript (18 December 2014)  Alert readers have pointed out that CVS is not the only vendor selling this fake medicine.  Indeed, since writing this article, I’ve found it online at Amazon and Drugstore.com.  It’s reportedly been seen on the shelves of Walmart, Walgreens, and Rite-Aid–though I haven’t witnessed that myself.  I’ll be writing follow-up articles to cover this.  No matter where you find it–if you find it–please encourage sellers of oscillococcinum to remove this useless product from their shelves.

References

(1)  CVS: Influenza: Studied Homeopathic Remedies
http://health.cvs.com/GetContent.aspx?token=f75979d3-9c7c-4b16-af56-3e122a3f19e3..&chunkiid=38325#scientific

(2) Healing Or Stealing?: Medical Charlatans in the New Age
Healing Or Stealing?: Medical Charlatans in the New Age. pp. 40–41. ISBN 1-892941-51-1

(3) FDA Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations: Warning Letter
http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/ucm215236.htm

(4) CVS stops selling tobacco, offers quit-smoking programs
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/09/03/cvs-steps-selling-tobacco-changes-name/14967821/

(5) CDC Fast Stats: Influenza
http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/flu.htm

(6) Key Facts about Influenza (Flu) & Flu Vaccine
http://www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm

(7) CVS (Facebook)
https://www.facebook.com/CVS

(8) Mon Dieu! (My God!)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0oMQu2id6I

 

Legal Stuff

CVS Oscillococcinum product image used in accordance with 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.

Duck image by the author.  Copyright (c) 2014 Mark Aaron Alsip.  All rights reserved.