A couple of months ago, a regular reader sent me an interesting email. His wife is pregnant with their first child. (Congrats!) Like most expecting mothers, she is dealing with morning sickness. Her doctor told her to suck on Preggie Pops, and if that doesn’t help, to come back for another visit, and she would prescribe her something for the nausea.
After driving all over town looking for Preggie Pops, the couple came home empty-handed. They turned to the internet to order some. It isn’t instant relief, but it is better than nothing. Like all brilliant consumers, they looked to see what the active ingredient is so that they can look for an equivalent generic and save some money. It was then that they discovered that the active ingredient in Preggie Pops was… nothing. There is no active ingredient. He wrote me:
“[They are] an over-priced piece of candy placebo on a stick, marketed to pregnant women! My wife (who is a doctor herself) was more than a little insulted. Ingredients: Sugar, corn-syrup, corn-starch, natural flavors.
To top off his frustration, it was another hour trip to see the doctor for the nausea medicine.
His frustration is understandable, right? No one likes wild-goose chases. It’s a lot of running around for sugar and corn-syrup.
About that Placebo Effect…
Over the last 7 years, I’ve covered in excruciating detail the damage pyramid schemes selling snake oil do. In particular, I cover some of the harm of the placebo effect. It can lead to self-licensing of unhealthy behavior. It also undermines good science and the doctor-patient relationship.
Finally, let’s just say that I’m not a fan of marketers lying to consumers to make a buck. I believe there is a simple word for it, “fraud.”
What Makes Preggie Pops Different?
I had a gut feeling that Preggie Pops weren’t nearly as bad as the pyramid schemes selling snake oil. It took a little thinking to bring my gut feeling into words that I can use to explain it.
The pyramid schemes selling snake oil use a Groupthink and financial bias (through a financial fraud) to coerce its cult-followers that the products work. Preggie Pops do nothing of the sort. No one joins the Preggie Pop cult. When Scarlett is trying Preggie Pops, she’s not thinking “If this works for me I can make money recommending it to Candice”, which would logically increase the placebo effect.
As if avoiding a cult isn’t important enough, there are the other considerations. If your doctor is recommending it, it doesn’t undermine the doctor-patient relationship.
Morning sickness is also a special case. Its very nature is fleeting with the advancement of the pregnancy. No one goes through life with a chronic case of morning sickness.
One of the other problems with placebo is that they can prevent people from getting real medical treatment during which time the condition may worsen. In this case, the condition isn’t likely to worsen.
Finally, until very recently there didn’t exist real medical treatment out. This Reuters article points out that this morning sickness drug is the first the FDA approved in 50 years.
(Interesting side story: It was taken off the market in 1983 after mothers filed a ton of lawsuits claiming it hurt children. It wasn’t that it was shown to cause harm or be ineffective, but the company didn’t have the money for a legal defense. Reminds me a little of the witch-hunt with vaccinations, except they have the money and scientific community.)
According to the Reuters article, this new medication, Diclegis, “consists of two main ingredients: doxylamine succinate, which is contained in several over-the-counter antihistamines; and pyroxidine hydrochloride, also known as vitamin B6.”
We’ll get back to the B6 in a bit.
Understandably, expecting mothers aren’t going to rush to take medication. We are all very, very careful with such little lives. Many of the safest medications specifically state to consult your doctor. My wife, a pharmacist, not only stayed away from every medication known to man, she extended her boycott to anything that she considered a chemical such as high-fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners.
Given this, I can understand and appreciate the appeal of a sugar candy to alleviate a temporary symptom.
So Do Preggie Pops Work?
If you want to know if something is clinically effective, you do studies as described here. These studies properly blind patients and researchers to avoid bias as well as take other safeguards to ensure the science is accurate. I couldn’t find any such studies on Preggie Pops.
The closest thing we have to that (which isn’t that close) are the Amazon reviews Preggie Pops. There are currently 139 ratings that average 3.6 out of 5 stars. That’s very underwhelming as far as Amazon reviews go.
The Wall Street Journal reported on the lollipops as well. They bring in gastroenterologist Patricia L. Raymond, an assistant professor of clinical internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Va, who said, “there is insufficient proof that any of the candies are effective.”
The article goes a little further to explore the company’s claims. In particular Preggie Pops contain two ingredients that may help with nausea.
The first is ginger. Preggie Pops contain 62mg of ginger according to the article. A Dr. Leung has reviewed studies which seemed to show that 750 to 2,500 milligrams may help with morning sickness. It is dangerous to make conclusions on a few studies and of course, Preggie Pops contain far less of the ingredient than in the research.
I noticed that only one of Preggie Pops flavored were ginger. It wasn’t clear to me if there was ginger in their other flavors. However, these Ginger Tummydrops are better rated than Preggie Pops with a 4.2 rating across 366 reviews. So maybe people’s reviews of Preggie Pops are dependent on the flavor.
The Wall Street Journal also mentioned that a couple of studies showed that 10mg of B6 or more may help with morning sickness. Again, these studies are sparse, but it is worth noting that Preggie Pops do contain 10mg of vitamin B6 and a competing brand has 25mg.
If you remember, one of the two ingredients in the recently approved prescription medicine above was vitamin B6. Again, the research in general appears to be paper thin.
So what about the cost of Preggie Pops
This website is about money, so I need to talk about the money aspect. This might also help people who can’t locate Preggie Pops locally or don’t wish to wait for them to be shipped over the internet.
Preggie Pops and Tummydrops on Amazon cost around 32 to 37 cents a piece. It doesn’t sound like much, but it could be a a buck per day for a couple of months.
This Source Naturals Vitamin B-6, 50mg, 250 Tablets is 3 cents per does, about 1/10th cost… and it has twice as much vitamin B6. If you have a pill splitter handy, you could make that 500 pills of the same amount of B6 in some of the drops or pops. The pills also state that they are used for morning sickness.
What about the Ginger? The Ginger Tummydrops seems to contain 15mg of ginger even less than the Preggie Pops 62mg. However you can get 550mg of Ginger Root for 5 cents a pill. That’s a lot more ginger than you can in drops.
If it’s sucking on sugar that helps, add in a bag of Jolly Ranchers for really cheap for another penny or two.
For a total of around 8 or 9 cents a dose you can get a lot more ginger and B6 than what you’d get with the drops. That’s better than 32 or 37 cents right?
If those two ingredients are really effective, the 7 cents seems like the right way to go, right?
What do you think? Let me know in the comments.