Science or Snake Oil: Do ‘Rescue Remedies’ Ease Stress?

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Bach flower remedies, which you may know as “rescue remedy”, were created in the 1930s by the English physician Edward Bach. He produced 38 remedies for a variety of emotional states such as “for those who have fear”, “for insufficient interest in present circumstances” and “for despondency or despair”.

Bach’s therapeutic claims were supposedly based on his personal connection to flowers. He is said to have determined the therapeutic benefit of a particular remedy by the emotion he experienced while holding different flowers.

The remedies were prepared by floating the cut flower heads in pure spring water and leaving them in the sun, or boiling them, for a few hours. The resulting dilute stock was kept as a 50:50 solution of brandy and water for decanting to his patients as required.

A review of studies evaluating the evidence for claims made by Bach flower remedies was published in 2010. All six placebo-controlled trials failed to demonstrate any differences between flower remedies and placebos.

The Bach rescue remedy is listed as a medicine on the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA) Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (although many other Bach flower remedies are not). The listing states it contains “homeopathic ingredients” that have been “traditionally used to relieve feelings of anxiety, nervous tension, stress, agitation or despair and provide a sense of focus and calm”.

Listed medicines are allowed to make “low level” health claims and, although they are meant to hold information to substantiate their claims, unlike registered medicines, they’re not required to produce the evidence prior to marketing. Listed medicines are assessed by the TGA for quality and safety, but not efficacy.

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