Oscillo may help, but not by much

Oscillococcinum may shorten flu, by hours.
(Karen Tapia-Andersen / Los Angeles Times)

HOMEOPATHIC remedies, such as oscillococcinum, contain extremely dilute amounts of natural substances that, in large doses, cause the same symptoms in need of a cure. In the case of “oscillo,” as this unfortunately named French remedy is sometimes called, the natural substance is anas barbariae: extract of wild duck heart and liver.

Large doses of duck heart and liver don’t necessarily cause sniffles, muscle aches and fatigue. But according to the homeopathic tenet maintaining that “like cures like,” anas barbariae should cure flu, since waterfowl are a natural source of the flu virus.

Oscillo and similar remedies are popular in Europe; in the U.S., oscillo in particular has made its way from health food stores to mainstream drugstores during the last few years. A handful of studies has produced results indicating that the remedy can speed up recovery from the flu, but few of these studies were conducted with much rigor, according to researchers who reviewed them for the Cochrane Collaboration, an international consortium that promotes evidence-based medicine.

The reviewers concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that taking homeopathic remedies in general could prevent colds or the flu. Looking at the evidence on oscillo in particular, they concluded that it seemed to shorten the duration of flu slightly: by about six hours.


Reviewer Andrew Vickers, associate attending research methodologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, says he is cautious about putting too much stake in this rather slim body of evidence.

“You can do a scientific experiment and it can give the wrong results for a variety of reasons, and one would be just bad luck,” Vickers said.