MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd

According to Bloomberg Markets, A Nelson & Co Ltd. manufactures and markets natural healthcare products. The company offers arnica creams that provide natural first aid for bruises; plant and flower based remedies that help in managing the emotional demands of everyday life; and over-the-counter homeopathic medicines for everyday ailments, such as relief from travel sickness and relief for the symptoms of hay fever. It also provides hemorrhoid relief creams and soothing hygienic wipes; anti-blemish range products for various skin types and age groups; multi-purpose cream that helps to soothe and restore skin; iron supplements; teething granules that provide relief from the symptoms and discomfort of teething; a range of creams, ointments, and sprays for a range of common skin conditions/complaints; and a range of commonly used herbal remedies. The company offers products for ailments, including aches and pains, mild anxiety, babies and children, colds and minor infections, digestion, emotional health, energy, everyday stresses, first aid, getting older, pets, quit smoking, skin, sleep, travel, and women’s health. It also operates a clinic; and a pharmacy that offers homeopathy and complementary healthcare products. The company offers its products through its pharmacy in the United Kingdom; and distributors in Europe, Latin America, and internationally. It also serves customers online. The company was formerly known as Armbrecht, Nelson & Co. The company was founded in 1860 and is based in London, United Kingdom with subsidiary offices in Boston, Massachusetts; and Hamburg, Germany. A Nelson & Co Ltd. operates as a subsidiary of Nelson and Russell Holdings Ltd.

In the journal ‘Chemist and Druggist’ we find an article informing us that, in 1930, Nelsons Homeopathic Pharmacy was approached by Dr Edward Bach who wanted help making and selling his products. He had created 38 flower remedies to rebalance emotions and later created an emergency remedy, a combination of five flower remedies that became Rescue. The relationship between Nelsons and the Dr Edward Bach Centre, based at Dr Bach’s former home at Mount Vernon in Oxfordshire, continues to this day and both the Bach Original Flower Remedies and Rescue are key ranges for Nelsons.

Nelson’s homeopathic pharmacy has a proud history:

Ernst Louis Armbrecht, a German pharmacist and disciple of Samuel Hahnemann, came to London and founded Nelsonsin 1860. Since then, Nelsons has been supplying homeopathic medicines. “Our wish today” they state “is the same as 152 years ago: to make homeopathy accessible and to provide the highest standards of medicine and advice.”

The highest standards of medicine and advice? It seems that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) disagrees. A recent ASA Adjudication on A Nelson & Co Ltd deals with an advertisement by Nelsons for ‘Bach Rescue Night’ which stated “I CAN’T SWITCH OFF…The RESCUE NIGHT range helps your mind switch off, so you can enjoy a natural night’s sleep”

A freelance health writer had challenged whether the claims “I can’t switch off … Rescue Night range helps your mind switch off, so you can enjoy a natural night’s sleep” was an authorised health claim in the EU Register of Nutrition and Health Claims for Foods (the EU Register).

The ASA noted that, according to EC Regulation 1924/2006 on Nutrition and Health Claims made on Foods (the Regulation), which was reflected in the CAP Code, only health claims which appeared on the list of authorised health claims (the Register) could be made in ads promoting foods, including food supplements. Health claims were defined as those that stated, suggested or implied that a relationship existed between a food category, a food or one of its constituents and health.

The ASA furthermore stated: We acknowledged Rescue Remedy’s assertion that their ad had not made specific claims to aid sleep or that it improved sleep. However, we considered that the use of visuals such as a crescent moon and stars on a dark background, that the letter ‘O’ in the word “OFF” resembled a simple on/ off light switch image, the text “… you can enjoy a natural night’s sleep” and the name of the product “Rescue Night” was likely to give the impression to consumers that it was a product that would aid sleep or that it would help consumers fall asleep easily. We understood that ‘unwanted thoughts’ was one reason why consumers might find it difficult to get to sleep and, again, considered this added to the impression that the product would contribute positively to sleep. We therefore considered that the ad made a health claim related to sleep involving a food item.

We understood that some Bach Flower Remedies contained levels of alcohol which would preclude them from bearing health claims altogether, however, we noted that Bach Rescue Night was alcohol free. We acknowledged Rescue Remedy’s points regarding EFSA and ‘on hold’ claims for botanicals. We understood that ‘on hold’ claims for such botanicals could be used in marketing, provided such use had the same meaning as the proposed claim and they were used in compliance with applicable existing national provisions (in this case the CAP Code). However, Rescue Remedy did not provide evidence that relevant proposed claims for white chestnut, or any of the other product ingredients were ‘on hold’. Nevertheless, we understood that there were no ‘on hold’ claims entered onto the Register for white chestnut or the other product ingredients. Furthermore, ‘on hold’ claims should also be supported with adequate substantiation which we did not receive.

Because the ad made health claims relating to Bach Rescue Night as a sleep aid and we had not seen evidence that relevant claims for the botanical ingredients contained in the product were ‘on hold’, we concluded that the ad breached the Code.

The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 15.1, 15.1.1 and 15.7 (Food, food supplements and associated health or nutritional claims).

The ASA ruled that the ad must not appear again in its current form. We told A Nelson & Co Ltd t/a rescueremedy.co.uk not to make health claims for botanical ingredients if they did not comply with the requirements of the Regulation.

I am afraid that such a ruling will have very little effect on the sale of Bach Flower Remedies. In case you have any doubt, I should mention that these inventions of Dr Bach are not supported by good evidence. Here is the abstract of my systematic review on the subject:

Bach flower remedies continue to be popular and its proponents make a range of medicinal claims for them. The aim of this systematic review was to critically evaluate the evidence for these claims. Five electronic databases were searched without restrictions on time or language. All randomised clinical trials of flower remedies were included. Seven such studies were located. All but one were placebo-controlled. All placebo-controlled trials failed to demonstrate efficacy. It is concluded that the most reliable clinical trials do not show any differences between flower remedies and placebos.

Bach Flower Remedies have no effect whatsoever!

Come to think of it, this is not entirely true: they obviously keep the ASA busy, they exploit the gullible public, and they are clearly good for the cash flow at Nelson’s.

32 Responses to Bach flower remedies: positive effects cannot be doubted

  • Obviously Bach Flower Remedies have no medical effect. One relative bought some for another, and they do smell nice. I guess however that:
    * You cannot sell potpourri for as much money as you can “medicine”
    * Saying that you are “taking aromatherapy” sounds less frivolous that “I buy nice smelling stuff because it makes me happy.”

    There are thousands of respectable middle-class men who, if you found them unexpectedly in a Turkish bath, would explain in all sincerity that a doctor had ordered them to take Turkish baths; if you told them in return that you went there because you liked it, they would stare in pained wonder at the frivolity of your motive.–Saki, “Filboid Studge”

  • Bloomberg’s clearly state “The company (Nelsons) offers arnica creams that provide natural first aid for bruises; plant and flower based remedies that help in managing the emotional demands of everyday life; and over-the-counter homeopathic medicines for everyday ailments, such as relief from travel sickness and relief for the symptoms of hay fever.”

    They clearly stste these remedies provide relief.
    They do not say “The company Nelson’s offers remedies which Nelson’s claim…”
    Are Bloombergs not vicariously liable for misleading the public by making unstantiated claims?
    Are they quacks?
    How are we to tell?
    Or do Bloombergs have evidence the remedies actually do relieve travel sickness, hay fever, bruises?
    If they do not have the evidence, why is their write up not more honest?

    • Hah! If only it were only Bloomberg’s! Amazon.com, as well as any number of “respectable” catalogs that get dumped in my mailbox regularly, make endless claims for all sorts of pseudoscientific products.

      • So, although Bloombergs website states it aims to “quickly and accurately deliver business and financial information” – it obviously doesn’t and its anaysis is pseudo-ecomomic.
        It’s as well we know that.

  • I was the ‘freelance health writer’ who made that complaint and I am truly delighted that the adjudication has been picked up and given more publicity. The ASA did a cracking job.

    I will be keeping an eye out for any further health claims that I consider cannot be readily substantiated on a scientific basis.

  • I don’t understand the title of your posting “positive effects can’t be doubted.” You the write the exact opposite.

  • Dear emeritus Professor, MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCP Ernst,

    Reading your article I wondered: have you ever showed real interest/done research what lies behind the remedies? Did you know that behind the remedies there is a system? A system that, long before the DSM arrived, defines 7 groups of described “main” emotions (which everyone is likely to experience in a lifetime) containing 37 emotions descriptions in total. Could there be a chance, beside the actual remedies, that using the (self help) system of dr Edward Bach gives people more comprehension in their everyday emotions. Could it be that defining their troubling everyday emotions and getting understanding about what is troubling them, bring a first sign of emotional relief or a glimp of what is needed to rebalance those emotions? Especially when this is done together with a spouse, close friend, therapist, doctor. Thus, could there be a working, psychological, beneficent component to the Bach remedy system, aside from the remedies ? Have you ever read the 38 descriptions and recognized a description of an unbalanced emotion referring to yourself ?

    High regards,

    Daniël Nelck, Naturopathic therapist, Bach Foundation Registered Practioner, Student Psychology

    • possible, even likely; BFRs are placebo and the benefit some people experience is not due to the remedies but due to some amateur psychotherapy. personally, I would still prefer real psychotherapy to the sham, and I would argue that pretending BFRs are more than a placebo is an unethical deception and fraud.

    • @Daniel Nelck
      Please cite the evidence for your 7 groups of emotions, descriptions etc. Concepts pulled out of anal orifices are not the same thing as reality!

      • Dear FrankO,

        Same question for you: have you ever really investigated the system, read the descriptions thoroughly and wit an open mind? I studied the DSM thoroughly and with an open mind and I am further on my toward a degree in psychology. The groups are about everyday human emotions, thus recognizable. Do I really have to proof I have fear for something, I feel lonely, I am worried about someone I care and I recognize that in the description of dr Bach? Must be joking. “The benefit some people experience” according to prof Ernst actually consists of decades of testimonials from people all around the world describing the help they experienced with using the system. Seems blunt, arrogant an disrespectful to me to put the experiences of all these people aside as bullocks, lost in confusion etc.

        King regards,

        Daniël Nelck

        • don’t they teach critical thinking in psychology?

          • “don’t they teach critical thinking in psychology?”. Clearly not. If Mr Nelck is studying for a degree in psychology, he needs to learn to distinguish pseudo-science supported only by words people write from evidence supported by robust experimental data.
            I can offer descriptions 39 and 40: wide-eyed gullibility and inexperienced naïvety. Flower remedies: the stinging nettle of scholarship and the thistle of reason.

          • Dear emeritus Professor, MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCP Ernst,

            But they do, off course you know. That is why I question your article and the responses on the article. Critical thinking should be kept in balance with open mindedness (otherwise it becomes narrow minded thinking) and pragmatical thinking without forgetting about ethics.

            High regards

          • with a mind too wide open, your brains might fall out

          • Dear emeritus Professor, MD, PhD, FMedSci, FSB, FRCP, FRCP Ernst,

            Hahaha, glad you have some humor left, totally true! If you squeeze your mind too tight your brains might dye due to hypoxia : – )) But Mea Culpa, everybody is entitled to his or her own world view. For the rest of you: clearly a case of ingroup/outgroup reactions….start thinking for yourself instead of bleating after prof Ernst. With his degrees he can probably take it on his own.

            High regards

          • “everybody is entitled to his or her own world view” – SOME EVEN SEEM TO BE ENTITLED TO THEIR VERY OWN FACTS!

          • Critical thinking should be kept in balance with open mindedness (otherwise it becomes narrow minded thinking)

            No, it should not. Critical thinking includes open-mindedness. Open-mindedness is the ability to accept new evidence. What you call open-mindedness is properly called gullibility, which is, of course, a quality you want and need your victims to have in abundance.

        • Did you know that behind the remedies there is a system?

          Fantastic. What is the usefulness of a system behind remedies that have the same results as placebos behind which there is no system?

    • Daniël Nelck, Naturopathic therapist, Bach Foundation Registered Practioner, Student Psychology said:

      Could there be a chance, beside the actual remedies, that using the (self help) system of dr Edward Bach gives people more comprehension in their everyday emotions.

      There is a question mark missing from the end of that sentence, but that rhetoric question seems to be a prime example of corollary of Betteridge’s Law of Headlines.

      Anyway, I’m not sure what training is required to administer products that are neither medicines nor ‘remedies’ but simply food supplements that contain little more than alcohol and are, therefore, not permitted under EFSA rules to have any indications. That’s primarily because there is no good evidence of any effects – other than the effects of the alcohol, of course.

      • Anyway, I’m not sure what training is required to administer products that are neither medicines nor ‘remedies’ but simply food supplements that contain little more than alcohol and are, therefore, not permitted under EFSA rules to have any indications.

        I would think that some intense training is indeed required. How else can we otherwise explain how FlowerQuacks can look their victims in the eye, and lie about diseases they don’t have to sell them products that don’t work?

        They remind me of magicians, except that magicians freely admit, and even proudly announce, that they are cheating. Yet, magicians need lots of practice to adequately con their public.

        FlowerQuacks, I would think, must train even more, since they must feign ignorance and stupidity and conviction without ever giving themselves away, while stretching out their greedy paws to encourage their victims to hand them their money. They are, in essence, professional sociopaths.

        That, I would think, requires training. Lots of training.

  • I must say Prof Ernst has exercised admirable restraint in NOT responding to this rather impertinent question:

    “Have you ever read the 38 descriptions and recognized a description of an unbalanced emotion referring to yourself ?”

    But then again I have not noticed the emeritus prof to be in any way emotionally unbalanced of late. I myself, having bipolar spectrum disorder, am exceedingly unbalanced. However Hell will freeze over before I try a Flower Remedy to mend my fevered brain!

  • Weird, I am also bi-polar and have always got so much help from the remedies. No episodes for years.
    Please stop fighting over this, life is too short really. Just try them if you haven’t – they work without a shadow of a doubt (even if it is a placebo – actually does it matter if they work if they are a placebo, I ask?) Amazing not to be ill quite frankly. I’m sorry for anyone who hasn’t been introduced to them. At so little cost with absolutely no contraindications with medical drugs this one is a no brainer. Get real, just try it possibly (even if you do it secretly to see if it works!) & stop intellectualizing. How boring, we’re all just visiting this planet.

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