A general record of my ongoing battle with all forms of nonsense.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Boots avoid admitting there's nothing in it. 10:23

If you thought I'm too old for this sort of childish moron-baiting, I'm afraid you're sorely mistaken. This month I've been emailing Boots to ask how much Arnica is in one of their Arnica 30C remedies. Obviously I know the answer - there is none. Boots also know the answer.

It's quite amusing however, to see them trying to avoid giving me this answer. The email trail follows.


8 January 2010 21:03


I'm used to seeing the quantity of ingredients listed in mg rather that as "6C" or "30C" as your homeopathic remedies are labelled.

Can you clarify for me how many mg of Arnica is in one of your "Arnica 30C" tablets? I tried to work it out, but I think I got confused at some point.



11 January 2010 17:39

Dear Simon

Thank you for taking the time to email me regarding Boots Arnica 30c (item code 37-71-814) with regard to converting the content of Arnica into milligrams.

I am afraid, however, that it is not possible to convert "centesimal" (c) dilutions of Homoeopathic remedies into milligrams (mg) or micrograms (mcg).

During the manufacturing of Homoeopathic remedies the amount of Arnica is not quantified in milligrams or micrograms. Instead one drop of Arnica (or other Homoeopathic ingredient) is added to ninety-nine drops of diluent (carrier) to produce a 1 centesimal (1c) potency, which is then further diluted to produce a 6c or 30c product.

I hope that this information is of use to you.


Paul Williams MRPharmS
Medical Information (Pharmacist) Officer

11 January 2010 18:17


Sorry, I'm confused by this. Surely there is a specific amount of Arnica in the pills which can be measured in mg?

If, as you suggest, that a 1C remedy is 1% Arnica then surely if it was a 100mg pill, then this would be 1mg Arnica. Why isn't this correct?


14 January 2010 13:27

Dear Simon

Thank you for your second e-mail regarding Boots Arnica 30c (item code 37-71-814).

Unfortunately, the amount of Arnica (or other Homoeopathic ingredient) in the drop that is then subsequently diluted with 99 drops of diluent (carrier) is not quantified in milligrams (mg) or micrograms (mcg).

Thus, although it is true to say that a 1 centesimal (1c) Homoeopathic remedy contains 1 part of Arnica, as the amount of Arnica is not initially quantified then it is not possible to convert this into milligrams (mg) or micrograms (mcg).

Therefore, with regard to Homoeopathic remedies we are not able to state the quantity of Arnica in milligrams (mg) or micrograms (mcg) for the reason outlined above.

The labelling of our products is in accordance with guidelines on the labelling of Homoeopathic remedies, which are derived from The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (known as the MHRA), which is the UK medicines regulator. These guidelines state that the scientific name of the "stock" (i.e. Arnica) and centesimal dilution should be declared on the labelling.

I hope that this further information is of use to you.

Kind Regards

Paul Williams MRPharmS
Medical Information (Pharmacist) Officer
Medical Services

14 January 2010 15:39

Dear Paul,

Thank you for your reply, and I understand that without knowing the mass of the original drop of Arnica it would be impossible to determine the subsequent mass of Arnica in the final product. However, it should easily be possible to determine the percentage of Arnica in the final 30C remedy.

Am I correct that a 1C remedy is 1% active ingredient? That it is 99% water and 1% Arnica?

What is the percentage of Arnica in the final 30C product?

I've been trying to work this out myself, but I think I've gone wrong somewhere. This will allow me to make an approximate estimate of the number of mg of Arnica.

Many thanks for your help,


18 January 2010 16:29

Dear Simon

Thank you for you further e-mail regarding Boots Arnica 30c (item code 37-71-814).

I can confirm that a 1c Homoeopathic remedy comprises of 1% of the Homoeopathic ingredient i.e. Arnica and 99% of the diluent (carrier).

I can also confirm that to produce a 2c Homoeopathic remedy 1 drop of the 1c Homoeopathic dilution is then further diluted with 99 drops of diluent (carrier). This would equate to 0.01% of the Homoeopathic ingredient i.e. Arnica.

To produce a 3c Homoeopathic remedy this method of dilution is repeated with one drop of the 2c dilution and so on in order to produce a 30c Homoeopathic remedy.

The labelling of our products is in accordance with guidelines on the labelling of Homoeopathic remedies, which are derived from The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (known as the MHRA), which is the UK medicines regulator. These guidelines state that the scientific name of the "stock" (i.e. Arnica) and centesimal dilution should be declared on the labelling.

I hope that this information is of use to you and is sufficient to allow you to calculate the percentage of Arnica.

If you require further support in understanding Homoeopathic remedies then you may wish to contact the supplier for this product, Nelsons, via enquiries@nelsons.net.


Paul Williams MRPharmS
Medical Information (Pharmacist) Officer

18 January 2010 18:02

Hi Paul,

Thanks for your reply, however I'm still having problems with my calculation. While the figures seem to make sense from a mathematical point of view, the percentage of Arnica seems to reduce fairly rapidly to seemingly absurd quantities.

As you said in your email, these products are licensed by the MHRA and of course they are sold by Boots, so I've no doubt as to their effectiveness.

So the only logical conclusion I can draw is that I've made a mess of the mathematics.

Can you confirm the answer you get for a 30C remedy?

Many thanks,


22 January 2010 15:37

Dear Simon

Thank you for your further e-mail regarding Boots Arnica 30 c (item code 37-71-814) with regard to calculating the percentage of Arnica.

Whilst the information about the dilutions of Homoeopathic remedies is freely available from validated reference sources, the actual percentage in a 30 c Homoeopathic remedy is not stated and, therefore, I am afraid I am unable to provide this information.

At Boots we take our responsibilities as the leading Pharmacy-led Health & Beauty retailer in the UK very seriously and as part of this we pride ourselves on being able to offer all of our customers a choice of products that support them in their day-to-day lives. We know that many people believe in the benefits of complementary medicines and we aim to offer the products we know our customers want.

I can confirm that Boots Arnica 30 c are a licensed Homoeopathic product without approved therapeutic indications. The pack is labelled in accordance with the requirements placed upon the Marketing Authorisation holder, Nelsons, by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. If you would like to contact the Marketing Authorisation holder to discuss the formulation of this product and the manufacturing process in more detail they are contactable at enquiries@nelsons.net.

Our Pharmacists are trained Healthcare Professionals and are on hand to offer advice on the safe use of complementary medicines. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain issues guidance to Pharmacists on the correct selling of Homoeopathy, which our Pharmacists adhere to.

I would like to conclude by confirming that Boots support the call for scientific research and evidence gathering on the efficacy of Homoeopathic medicines as this would help our patients and customers make better informed choices about using Homoeopathic medicines.

I hope that this information is of use to you.

Paul Williams MRPharmS
Medical Information (Pharmacist) Officer
Medical Services

23 January 2010 08:52

Hi Paul,

I get the impression that you are trying hard to avoid answering my question.

In an earlier email you say that it is possible to calculate the percentage of Arnica in a 1C and 2C remedy but then without reason you say you cannot do it for a 30C remedy. Yet in a previous email you state that the information you gave me should be sufficient for the calculation.

The problems I was having when calculating the amount of Arnica is that every time I did the maths, the result came out that there was no Arnica remaining in the 30C remedy.

This is a perfectly simple and clear question: is there any Arnica remaining in an Arnica 30C remedy?

Many thanks,


As yet - no response.


chris-coltrane said...

Good stuff! Well done for not backing down in the quest for an answer.

It's weird that they're being so coy - why sell a product if they're not perfectly happy to admit how it works?

hitherto said...

homeopathy, more like homeo-pathetic

Craig552uk said...

I used to have a maths teacher like that.

Dr Aust said...

Nice going, Simon. Love the way you refuse to be fobbed off with flannel.

Of course, it's perfectly possible to work out the "notional" dose if (as you alluded in one of your emails) you know the concentration (in any sort of standardized unit) of the ingredients of the starting "mother tincture".

E.g. when you buy herbal medicines from Boots that come from vaguely serious companies (like the German ones) they say something like:

"Equivalent to 500 micrograms of [name of active ingredient]"

So if you were to assay your "homeopathic mother tincture", by any kind of analytical method, then you could work out the concentration in any resulting dilution - assuming the diluting is volumetrically accurate. Which it probably isn't, actually, though they don't anything about this.

As is often noted, with any product that HAS ingredients you have to be able to say how much of the ingredients are there. So they can only get away with this evasion precisely BECAUSE...

...there are no ingredients left.

Which is all rather circular, apart from being basically dishonest.

I note that the person replying to Simon's emails has "MRPharmS" after his name, which means he is a pharmacist by degree training and a member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

In which case both he and the Society, as well as Boots, should be ashamed of themselves.

Tony Ryan said...

That final email is basically a generic letter, identical bar a few words to one I received today!

http://twitpic.com/100n5t Boots replied to the generic #ten23 Letter I sent. They didn't even get my gender right!

David Colquhoun said...

How does this guy Williams sleep at night? Evasive, inaccurate and in the end deeply dishonest. This only confirms my view that most pharmacists are either unable or unwilling to give honest and accurate advice about any sort of medicine.

Boots hasn't improved since I first had a go at them in 2006 http://www.dcscience.net/?p=141

SkepticBarista said...

Very nicely done !

I asked Boots about the active ingredient in their Arnica 30C, their response was: (dated 7 Jan)
"we are of the opinion that this product contains active ingredient stated on the packaging."

Strange that they claim it contains some active ingredient, but won't say how much and also how are they able to provide 'safe' dosage instructions without knowing the levels of the ingredient present!

Every bottle of Boots or Neslons homeopathic remedy has the same dosage instructions (2 pills every 2 hours ...), yet there would have to be different levels of active ingredient between a 6C pill and a 30C pill.

Oh wait, I'm forgetting ... Homeopathy, there's nothing in it!

AndyN said...

Very very funny.

I almost feel sorry for the poor guy. If I were him I'd be seriously considering the ethics of what Boots are asking him to do in his role.

Symbiote said...

1C: 0.01 (out of 1, i.e. 1%)
2C: 0.01 × 0.01 = 0.0001 = 0.01²
3C: 0.01³ = 0.000001
30C: 0.01³⁰ = 1×10⁻⁶⁰ = 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001

If I remember my chemistry from school correctly, that'd be much less than one molecule of Arnica (or whatever) in any reasonably-sized pill/dose.

Dr Aust said...

Quite, Symbiote. A calculation that one might sensibly use to teach a GCSE Chemistry class the absurdity of such dilute "remedies".

So... what price a MPharm (AAB A level + 4 yrs at Univ) pharmacist being able to see the problem?

There is a solution which would meet what I would call a basic professional ethical standard: sell it without saying it is a "medicine" or "remedy", and tell people who ask that it is diluted beyond the point of no molecules in the bottle.

The first bit is what pharmacies (including Boots) USED to do before the MHRA changed the rules. Note how the Boots pharmacy adviser falls back on saying "we are in step with MHRA rules".

All this crap was exactly what David Colquhoun predicted before the rules were changed, and exactly what all the scientific learned societies were complaining about.

The line from the Govt was "consumer choice, and why are you getting so worked up about a bit of harmless nonsense". Missing the point that nonsense, especially masquerading as quasi-medical advice, is not harmless

Alice said...

Hahahahaha! Very good Simon! I like it!

I asked a Boots assistant today how the very same Arnica thing worked. She showed me how to open the bottle and advised me to take it prior to an operation . . .

Green Wizard said...

Yesterday I purchased some Boots paracetamol caplets - on the supplied info sheet was the recommendation to contact your pharmacist for any interactions with prescribed, over the counter, herbal or homeopathic remedies.

I have sent an email asking what kind of interactions there could be with the homeopathic 'remedies'.

HeathenUK said...

Very funny, in an excruciatingly uncomfortable kind of way :-D

Reminds me of my discussions with the people at the Alpha Course...

Green Wizard said...

Ok - I've bought a bottle of Arsenica Alba and will endeavor to get to the mass suicide tomorrow morning. After taking the 'pillules' I'll be writing a review of the product on their website.


Nice of them to provide that option.

Green Wizard said...

And here's a link to info about the 'mass suicide' I'm going to try to get to:


clodhopper said...

silly billy boots. one can never have too little of a good thing. Arnica...priceless.

Chris Bowlas said...

Perhaps homeopathy on the NHS should be homeopathically funded?

Take a bag of gold sovereigns and add them to a barrel of pure, distilled water, then concuss, agitate, shock or whatever it is that the homeoquacks do to transfer the essence of the money to the water, to give the mother tincture. Remove the coins and return them to the Exchequer, then increase the potency of the mother tincture in the usual way.

The 30C finance fluid can then be applied to yellow metal discs or pieces of paper to fund homeopathy indefinitely.

That should work, shouldn't it?

Spider said...

Late to the party, but a great read... did some basic maths here
even had a chemist check them!

keep up the good work

Anonymous said...

Ok just a quick reply to redeem boots maybe. I work for said company as a healthcare advisor, and I am campaigning against the sale of these misleading and unethical 'medications'. Yes, many people may find they work, however you don't see us selling rabbits feet or lucky heather. Also, please don't pester anyone other than pharmacists or managers. The ground troops do not receive training of any sorts on this topic, I wonder why, so even the staff are being mislead by the company. I am also trying to change that.. the nhs has taken hmpty off the prescribers list because there is no scientific justification behind it, I feel boots should take it off the shelves. ;-) Trust Boots

Anonymous said...

Personally, i don't know if homeopathy works or not.

How come you are so against it? Not sure I get why it bothers you so much.

Chill out :-)

Simon said...


Here is 437 reasons why I'm so against it:


People die.