Claim Check

Head Rub

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Claim You may have seen the TV spot touting a rub-on headache remedy -- "HeadOn, apply directly to the forehead," it repeats three times -- that launched in mid-June. On the screen, a woman smears her head with what looks like a giant tube of ChapStick. HeadOn claims to relieve headaches through homeopathic means -- by administering minute doses of agents said to cause the pain. Miralus Healthcare, the Plantation, Fla.-based company that makes the product, said it has sold more than 5 million tubes of the stuff, at around $8 a pop, in the past 11 months.

The Evidence No published studies show that HeadOn or any of its ingredients alleviate headache pain. Dan Charron, vice president of sales and marketing for Miralus, said the company used data from the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States -- a standard reference for homeopathic practitioners -- to create the product, which was introduced last year. HeadOn, he said, contains highly dilute amounts of white bryony (a type of vine) and potassium dichromate -- said by the Pharmacopoeia to cause headaches. Mainstream doctors don't believe these substances cause or cure headaches, said Seymour Diamond, director of the Diamond Headache Clinic in Chicago and the inpatient headache unit at St. Joseph Hospital. Diamond said any relief reported by HeadOn users is likely due to the placebo effect, which occurs 30 to 40 percent of the time with headache remedies. "I see nothing in this product that has any validity whatsoever," Diamond said.

The Response That dismissive view is typical of traditional medicine, Charron said. "We respect every doctor's opinion, but they are not exposed to homeopathy, and they don't understand how this works," he said. The Council of Better Business Bureaus isn't swayed. In April, the organization's national advertising division asked Miralus to remove any claims that HeadOn cured headaches because the scientific evidence wasn't there.

-- Suz Redfearn

© 2006 The Washington Post Company