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FDA investigating safety of homeopathic remedies

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is beginning two days of hearings Monday to review safety claims of homeopathic treatments. For the first time in almost 30 years, the government is looking at whether to regulate these natural remedies the way it does over-the-counter drugs.

Homeopathic remedies are primarily sold at drug stores or health food stores, and promise to treat conditions such as allergies, headaches and the common cold. The remedies are made from diluted forms of herbs and minerals and claim to trigger an immune response in the body.

"What makes these remedies different from other over-the counter medicines is that they don't have to prove that they're safe and effective before they hit the market," medical contributor Dr. Holly Phillips told "CBS This Morning." "They're allowed to go on the store shelves without the FDA assessing that. It's similar to the way the FDA regulates supplements where they can step in -- but only after there have been safety concerns or adverse reactions reported."

The agency has sent out 40 warning letters to companies that make these products after problems emerge.

Studies have shown homeopathic remedies don't deliver on their claims. A report published in March from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in Australia reviewed hundreds of published studies testing the effectiveness of homeopathic treatments, and found no reliable evidence that any are effective. The report found that studies on homeopathic remedies tended to be poorly designed and scientifically flawed.

Phillips said the biggest concern about these products is their unknown side effects. In 2009, certain formulations of Zicam -- a remedy that promises to treat the common cold -- were pulled from shelves after more than 130 people reported loss of their sense of smell, in some cases permanently.

"It's not that all of the medications are dangerous. The issue is we don't know what's dangerous and not because we don't have the data," said Phillips. "I think what we're really going to see is changes with labeling. The products are going to have to do what they say."

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