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“Herbal Supplement 100% Effective Against Migraines”

A headline like this is sure to raise my eyebrows, even when the results are “clinically proven.” Especially then. Come on, no treatment, no matter what it is, is 100% effective.

After listing potential side effects of Western medication (which included vague complaints that are common in everyday life), Migra-Zen‘s makers wrote, “Fortunately, consumers don’t have to choose between the pain of migraines and the dangers of drugs.”

But it’s OK to trust in a treatment that claims to be safe, but contains undisclosed ingredients? Anyone who has read about the presence of a chemical used to develop film in HeadOn knows how harmful having such faith can be.

Plus, they mention the clinical trial to prove the legitimacy of their claims. There was one “trial,” which included 75 participants. No drug from the pharmaceutical industry could be proven safe — which is something that the Migra-Zen folks apparently didn’t even test for — or effective with one trial. It’s not uncommon for future research to contradict findings of any medical study.

Not only should the claim that Migra-Zen is 100% effective make you skeptical, “proprietary blend” is sketchy. In no case does “all natural” mean that a product is safe. Arsenic is natural. Why not take it for your headaches?

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HeadOn Retraction?

While I was away from e-mail last week, I received three messages from Dan Charron at HeadOn, telling me that the doctor quoted in the story that questions HeadOn’s effectiveness had issued a retraction.

Dr. Larry Newman’s “retraction” looks more like a clarification to me. Namely, that he did not directly say that potassium dichromate 6X, as it is used in HeadOn, is dangerous. In the original article, he said “It’s used to develop photographic prints and if you read about it, it says it should not come in contact with the skin.”

Potassium dicromate is highly diluted in HeadOn, so it doesn’t pose the same risks as it does in its full strength. Dr. Newman does not say that HeadOn itself is dangerous, but that the active ingredient in it is.

Is this splitting hairs? I don’t know because the original article is no longer available. Acting on e-mail messages similar to the one that I received, I assume, WCBS-TV has changed the article. They didn’t, as is usual procedure, add a clarification or retraction along with the article. Instead, they deleted parts of the original story.

Now people who are looking for information on HeadOn and potassium dichromate, like me, can’t judge for themselves based on the information presented. I can’t give you any more information from the original story, but I can give you what I received from HeadOn.

The e-mail from Dan Charron at HeadOn:

“Dr. Newman has retracted his words in a public retraction letter which I have attached to this message. His words were absolutely false, unfounded and misleading and the attached letter clearly indicates that Potassium dichromate 6X is clearly safe and presents no health risk whatsoever, the same being true for all other ingredients in HeadOn.”

The letter that Dr. Newman sent to HeadOn:

“I am writing this letter to correct certain statements recently attributed to me. To the best of my knowledge, potassium dicromate 6X, one of the active ingredients in HeadOn, is safe when applied directly to the forehead — and I never intended to imply otherwise. To the best of my knowledge, there is also no reason to question the safety of any other ingredients identified on the product label in the concentrations listed.”

Whatever the case may be, Dr. Christina Peterson, also a headache specialist, reinforced the potential danger of the chemical after my first post on the topic:

“I can only imagine it is being allowed to be marketed because a) it is not generally absorbed through the skin and b) the concentration is fairly low. I certainly would not risk skin cancer when there is zero evidence of either efficacy testing or safety testing.”

In any case, potassium dichromate itself is a harmful chemical, even if the product contains a very low level of it. Since there is no evidence that it is safe or effective, why risk it?

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HeadOn Commercial

So many people have said how annoying the HeadOn commercial is that I had to find it. I’m with you all — it’s positively awful. For a laugh (and to get the slogan stuck in your head), check out this spoof of the ad.

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Information on HeadOn’s Harmful Active Ingredient

Dr. Christina Peterson, a headache specialist near Portland, OR and founder of the Migraine Survival website, sent the following information about potassium dichromate, the dangerous active ingredient in HeadOn. She wrote:

“I would state it even more strongly. Here is the MSDS [Material Safety Data Sheet] for potassium dichromate. Here is just the toxicology section from the above:

‘Hexavalent chromium compounds are generally more toxic than trivalent chromium compounds. May be fatal if absorbed through the skin, if swallowed or inhaled. Contains chromium (VI), a known cancer hazard. Allergen. Corrosive. Skin eye and respiratory irritant. May act as a sensitizer. Typical PEL 0.5 mg /m3.’

[It is] an oxidizing agent, used in pyrotechnics, explosives and safety matches.

I can only imagine it is being allowed to be marketed because a) it is not generally absorbed through the skin and b) the concentration is fairly low. I certainly would not risk skin cancer when there is zero evidence of either efficacy testing or safety testing.”

For more information on potassium dichromate, Dr. Peterson provided links to the American Chemical Society’s Chemical Laboratory Information Profile and a detailed MSDS from chemical company Mallinckrodt Baker.

It’s not getting anywhere near my skin!

Thanks for the information, Dr. Peterson.

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HeadOn Headache Product Potentially Dangerous

The active ingredient in HeadOn, a roll-on headache treatment, is potassium dicromate, which is used in developing photos and should not come into contact with skin, according to Larry Newman, MD, director of the Roosevelt Headache Institute in Manhattan.

HeadOn is an OTC product and is subject to much less regulation than prescription drugs. In fact, I’m not sure if it is regulated at all.

If you’re a HeadOn user looking for an alternative, some other products offer similar topical headache relief. My favorite is Origins’ Peace of Mind on-the-spot treatment.

[via About.com’s headache page]

Update, 5/6/07: This site is not affiliated with HeadOn, I’m just reporting on what I’ve read. For more information, here are a couple follow-up posts:

Information of HeadOn’s Harmful Active Ingredient

HeadOn Retraction?