Boots keeps selling quack remedies intended for babies, even after they are banned from US import over fears of broken glass

Boots, which styles itself a "pharmacy-led Health & Beauty retailer" has caught a lot of flack for selling homeopathic "remedies" that contain no active ingredients. One report actually found a Boots pharmacist referring customers who asked a five-year-old child with a three-day bout of diarrhoea to homeopathic sugar pills (advice that could potentially kill the patient by leaving the underlying condition untreated).

Just in case you couldn't imagine Boots being more profit-led (rather than "pharmacy-led") marvel at the fact that the company refuses to withdraw products from Nelsons, a homeopathic manufacturer, even after the US regulator banned Nelsons products over fears that their sugar pills (which include "teething remedies" that are meant for babies) contained fragments of broken glass.

Boots's answer to a concerned customer? "Don't worry, the broken glass isn't in the stuff they sell to us."

How could Boots know that the lax production standards applied only to shipments to the US? The products are made in Wimbledon. Do Nelsons have ‘lax Fridays’ where they all bunk off to the pub while the US export runs are made?

This response lacks any credibility.

I wrote to Boots when I received this to ask how they can be confident that these problems do not affect the UK. I have received no response.

Of course, we know Boots have a rather cynical attitude to the homeopathic products they sell. When giving evidence to parliament, Paul Bennett, professional standards director and superintendent pharmacist at Boots, admitted they have no evidence these products work, but sold them because they could.

One then might understand they were unconcerned about the homeopathic pills not being manufactured correctly – it does not matter one jot if the sugar pill receives a drop of magic ju-ju juice – it’s just water. But why would Boots be unconcerned that their products lack the quality control procedures to prevent glass entering products? To remind you, Boots sell homeopathic babies teething powders – a completely useless product, but may make the baby forget its teething pain if it crunches down on shards of glass.

Boots Unconcerned About Nelsons Production Problems.


  1. Perhaps the glass particles in the teething powder is a counter-irritant?

    However, if this is the explanation they claim, this explanation doesn’t wash.

    If glass particles were used in a homoeopathic remedy for teething or any other condition, there would be no (or practically no) measurable glass particles in the remedy.

  2. Homeopathy “works” through ‘like cures like’ so if crushed up glass makes your baby cry when it eats it, then heavily diluted crushed up glass should cure a crying baby with sore gums. 

    Just like if you get stabbed, simply stir up a glass of water with a dagger and pour it on the affected area. Bingo! You won’t even need to go to the hospital.

    1. no, no, no, if you want it to be effective, you need to dilute it.  The more diluted, the more effective!

      So pour the glass of dagger-water into a full bathtub (or, preferably, an olympic size swimming pool), mix it and THEN apply it. 

      For better results, repeat the dilution process!

      1. A bathtub? That’s not dilute enough dammit! You’re going to get someone killed! For the remedy to be effective you need to dilute it to the equivalent of a body of water 10 billion times the volume of the Earth!

  3. Boots was once a company people could be proud of. It was a pioneer of high quality pharmaceuticals on the high street rather than quack remedies, it had a strong social conscience and an impressive R&D arm that (amongst others) invented ibuprofin. 

    Today it’s nothing more than a tax-dodging shell company that would sell anything so long as it made them money.

  4. Just for the record, it’s a myth that eating ground up glass will kill you. According Renaissance assassins, who should know, diamonds, yes, but stealing the customer’s diamonds by substituting glass? No. Something about how diamonds maintain their sharp edges through the digestive track, whereas glass doesn’t.

    So, glass = placebo, if you think you’re going to kill a teething baby by feeding him Booths’ teething product

    1. Diamonds won’t kill you. Ground glass won’t kill you. 

      Swallowing diamonds whole won’t hurt you, doesn’t matter if cut or natural. 

      Glass fragments will be detected while chewing, will likely be spat out by baby, child or adult. Glass (or diamond) ground too finely to detect while chewing will simply pass through. 

      Even if not-so-finely ground glass is swallowed, should any symptoms develop, there is more than enough time to find an  ER or doctor who should fix you. Even if you cannot find a doctor, you have a chance.

        1. Most readers are drinking chlorinated water.  It’s diluted bleach.  Perhaps not the best example.

        2. Did you really interpret my comment to support children or anyone else, eating ground diamonds, ground glass, bleach, or any other substance? 

          I was just giving  what I know to be the facts of glass and diamond swallowing in my version of a deadpan, hopefully humorous response.

          Anyway, I think your response to my comment missed the mark, even though I agree with its sentiment if you meant something like: Hey kids, high-fructose and tobacco won’t kill you in the next ten minutes or years, knock yer selves out.I do generally like your comments.

    2. The point is that homeopathy is dangerous. For multiple reasons. If ground glass can go into a baby teething “remedy” there’s no telling what else can be found in it. And that’s beside the *fact* that homeopathy simply doesn’t work, while being sold to the gullible and the desperate as some kind of “medicine”

      1. You’ve gone from a valid point (you can’t trust people who admittedly and intentionally sell “cures” they know don’t work) to a generalization that is certain to be wrong in some number of individual cases (homeopathy consists solely of dangerous people attempting harm to unwitting victims).  You may as well continue on to conclude “all British people want to kill your babies” if you’re going to extrapolate that way.

        I have seen so-called “homeopathic” remedies that had nothing to do with either dilution or crushed glass.  I have no idea if they work (probably not) but neither do you – you’re just guessing, and assuming the worst.

        I don’t think people should believe in homeopathic “super-dilution” nonsense, but I also don’t think they should trust anyone who want to burn homeopaths in the public square either.  Scapegoating and ostracism are ugly, and they indicate something meaningful about the character of those individuals who indulge in such things.

  5. Have you ever tried that “placebo” treatment on teething baby? It works! It’s a good thing babies are suggestible little mites that react properly to a placebo! (That’s irony, btw.)

    1. “Have you ever tried that “placebo” treatment on teething baby? It works! ”

      [citation needed]

    2. I can’t work out if you mean your whole comment is irony, or the suggestion that babies can be subject to a Placebo.  So I apologise in advance if I’ve taken it the wrong way.

      I don’t have citations to hand, so take it however you please, but there have been studies in this area (I think I saw it on BB) and from what I remember there are a lot of factors that mean babies can react to placebos.

      Babies take a lot from their parents reactions, expressions and moods; for one thing.  Even my dog knows when I’m giving him medicine.  If it were a placebo, but I thought it worked, he’d have no reason to believe it wasn’t real medicine.  Boom, doggy placebo effect.

      1. Little kids will take cues from adults when they are worried.  When my friend’s boy took a fall (didn’t hurt himself) he looked at me and I could tell he was waiting to see what my reaction would be.  Instead of fussing over him which would’ve told him “Something bad happened, cry!” (his normal reaction) I kept a very calm demeanor and he got right up as if nothing had happened.

        1. Yep, babies work this way too especially with moods. When our baby cries and is stressing one parent too much but the other parent is cool as ice and calm, handing the crying baby to the calm parent usually quiets the lil one despite that parent doing nothing differently, and when that happens the stressed parent is relieved, a happy circle, but it works in the other direction too. 

          1. That may be so, but it’s not my experience with respect to the teething remedy. I’ve watched it applied by stressed, sceptical parents, and yes, it still worked. And my experience of babies does not bear out your observation of this “placebo” effect. It sounds a lot like whistling in the dark to me, just to try to prove your argument. 

  6. Yeah, well, look – you know, the average kid, he picks up, you know, broken glass anywhere, you know? The beach, the street, garbage cans, parking lots, all over the place in any big city. We’re just packaging what the kids want! I mean, it’s a creative toy, you know? If you hold this up, you know, you see colors, every color of the rainbow! I mean, it teaches him about light refraction, you know? Prisms, and that stuff! You know what I mean?

  7. Boots is just “teaching the controversy!” Can you PROOVE that glass shards don’t fix babies? 
    You can’t? Well then Ah HAAAA!!!!

  8. “What do you mean there are no active ingredients in my homeopathic remedy!? It totally worked for me!”

    “Nah mon, it’s just water”

    “Yes, but you see, I was thirsty and now I’m not…”

    “I hope they can sell you the remedy for my killing you”

  9. Praline: Well why don’t you move into more conventional areas of confectionery, like praline or lime cream; a very popular flavour I’m led to understand. (superintendent enters) I mean look at this one, ‘cockroach cluster’, (superintendent exits) ‘anthrax ripple’. What’s this one, ‘spring surprise’?
    Milton: Ah – now, that’s our speciality – covered with darkest creamy chocolate. When you pop it in your mouth steel bolts spring out and plunge straight through-both cheeks.
    Praline: Well where’s the pleasure in that? If people place a nice chocky in their mouth, they don’t want their cheeks pierced. In any case this is an inadequate description of the sweetmeat. I shall have to ask you to accompany me to the station.
    Milton: (getting up from desk and being led away) It’s a fair cop.
    Praline: Stop talking to the camera.
    Milton: I’m sorry.
    (Superintendent Parrot enters the room as Inspector Praline and Milton leave, and addresses the camera.)
    Parrot: If only the general public would take more care when buying its sweeties, it would reduce the number of man-hours lost to the nation and they would spend less time having their stomachs pumped and sitting around in public lavatories.
    Announcer: The BBC would like to apologize for the extremely poor quality of the next announcement, only he’s not at all well.

  10. I recently learned that there are equine acupuncturists.
    Several equestrians I respect tell me that the horses get real dozey after receiving the treatment.
    This has made me reconsider the possible efficacy of giving babies broken glass to chew through their teething troubles.

    1. There are also homeopathic veterinarians. One of them frequently writes articles for the column ‘The Natural Vet’ in Acres magazine. Indeed I see on further Googling that there is an Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy…

    2.  Well, teething pain is caused by the incoming teeth attempting to cut their way through the gum tissue.  Couldn’t the sharp edges of pieces of glass cut the gum more efficiently?

  11. I am still stunned that the Boots pharmacist recommended anything other than “see a doctor” or “here’s some oral rehydration therapy, now go see a doctor” for a child with three days of diarrhea.  That pharmacist should have their credentials and job performance reviewed.

    And we aren’t talking about homeopathic dilutions of one drop in a swimming pool or one drop in the ocean.  By one calculation, it is one drop in a sphere of water 130 light years across.

    I can’t find any problem with his math, but I could have stumbled over one of the assumptions.  There was a BBC documentary saying it was one drop in a sphere of water the size of the orbit of Saturn, but I can’t find the link now.  Nevertheless, I would imagine that even the “water memory” has been diluted out at this ratio.

  12. Is the fact that it is homeopathic important? Surely the glass issue is enough on its own? It seems to me that the poster wanted another reason to jump on homeopathic remedies. Is there no risk of this in other medicine? I can imagine the thought process “Oh there’s glass in a medical product, maybe I’ll write a post tomorr…oh shit, it’s homeopathic? This shit going down right now!!”

    I can’t work out if he is angry that
    a) they are selling homeopathic remedies
    b) they are selling homeopathic remedies for children
    c) there is a glass risk

    It’s also worth noting that they didn’t find any glass, they found that there was no control over broken glass. A different, but no better, issue.

    It is also common for factories to produce products for different companies in the same factory, with different managers and processes. There is no reason why there couldn’t be a UK and US arm operating out of the same factory but with different managers and different safety processes. The poster didn’t bother to check this, instead choosing to be sensationalist with his “lax Friday” comment.

    I have a one year old child who has been teething for nearly 8 months. We tried bonjela and anusol (both real medicine with active ingredients) to no avail so in desperation (anyone who has had a screaming, teething child should understand) we tried the alternatives. Both Nelson’s teething powders and Ashton Parsons had a huge effect on decreasing the apparent pain and screaming. Whether it is a placebo effect or not, I couldn’t give a crap, it works.

    Should Boots we recommending homeopathic remedies? No. Should they cost more than “real” medicine? No. Should we all get our panties in a twist and try to get them banned? Of course not. Why do you or we have a right to say whether people can use homeopathic remedies or not. So what if it is a placebo affect? The power of the mind is incredible when it comes to health and healing and if someone thinks something is working and it is, does it matter if it has any active ingredient at all? Why is it your business?

    Poorly researched and thought out article, I’m afraid.

    1. “It’s also worth noting that they didn’t find any glass, they found that there was no control over broken glass. A different, but no better, issue.”

      Not true. The saw glass. Read the report:

      “a. During the inspection, the investigator observed glass fragments present during the manufacture of Kali Phos 30 c Clikpak, Batch #36659. Specifically, glass fragments were observed in the Clikpak Assembly (b)(4) enclosed area where open glass vials are inserted into the outer plastic Clikpak sheaths and move uncovered on the conveyance mechanism. Your firm failed to implement adequate measures to prevent glass contamination and had no documentation to demonstrate that appropriate line clearance and cleaning is conducted following occurrences of glass breakage, which has been a recurring problem.”

    2. I hope you meant Anbesol instead of Anusol.  Anusol is a cream or suppository containing zinc sulfate monohydrate intended for treatment of hemorrhoids.   Anbesol is a liquid or gel containing benzocaine intended for treatment of mouth pain.

  13. So a retail chain will sell stuff that doesn’t work to deluded customers who thinks it does work, thereby separating fools from their money.

    Ground glass is a red herring: I don’t really see any difference between finely ground glass and sand.  We’re not talking 4mm shards of broken bottles here–it’ll be stuff that can flow freely in the tablet/capsule machines.  (but how do you dilute sand?)

    Boots won’t  sell the stuff if it’s not safe: whether it’s actually any use is another matter. 

  14. This moral indignation coupled with absolute certainty is more than a little frightening. Do you remember fifty years ago, the laws of aerodynamics as then understood, meant the bumblebee could not fly? I’m making the point that human knowledge is not, by a long shot, complete. A better example might be in the nineteenth century, when some doctors insisted that homosexuality was a disease which could be cured. Most informed people nowadays would agree that that was a mistake. A lot of unnecessary misery was caused by people who believed they were doing good.

    So here is a suggestion for you, for a different way of looking at the issue. I think you are wrong about homeopathy. I don’t care to try to explain it to you, because I don’t expect you to believe or understand or accept as scientific anything I tell you. Similarly, I don’t accept as anything more than limited conventional (and often biased) the experiments which claim to prove that homeopathy does not work. I’ve seen it myself, and my anecdotal experience is enough for me. We could battle this out with swords in an arena, or compare academic accreditation, neither of which ultimately proves one of us right or wrong. Even experienced professors can make mistakes – they are just much less likely to admit them, even to themselves. My suggestion is that you consider the possible damage.

    Now, if I’m wrong, and homeopathy is worthless, there are a bunch of people who are consuming these prophylactics and not doing themselves any good, but not doing themselves any harm either. They believe it is doing them good, and there are wonderful cures caused by this “placebo effect”. You’ve already argued that people will be avoiding conventional medicines which may actually cure them. I reject that. I don’t think there is one person in a thousand who hasn’t exhausted the possibilities of conventional medicine before they turn to homeopathy. The one in a thousand is beyond earthly help, and will be eating tiger poop and roofing slates because they think it does them good. So in this case, I contend that no significant harm comes of it.

    If, on the other hand, you are wrong, and homeopathy does work, you are denying access to a cure for a great number of people. A relevant case in point is an acquaintance of mine with a child who has severe eczema. She struggled for years – until the child was ten years old – to find some anodyne to make life bearable and ease the suffering of her child. She found it in Chinese Herbal Medicine. A year after she found this cure, it was withdrawn, because in both the UK and the EU, drug regulation had ruled that the effective ingredient in her child’s case was a poison. There is legislation going on which is frankly uninformed and misguided.

    My argument to you is that less harm is done by permitting homeopathy *even if it does not work*. (But it does work.)

  15. I wouldn’t care if someone dies when he buys a medicine called ‘Placebo’ to cure his disease. That’s how I feel about the fools that buy homeopathic quackery.
    I feel sad for them but this is Darwin in action.

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