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Posted by Ted ( on July 03, 2001 at 11:25:49:

Side Show Science

Part 2: Miracle Cures and Healthcare Hoaxes

By Paula Ford-Martin

Dateline: 7/02/01

More of this Feature
• Part 1: FTC Targets Online Remedies in Operation Cure.All

"External remedies there may be which are at once honest in their claims and effective for their purposes; they are not to be found among the much advertised ointments or applications which fill the public-prints...When one comes to the internal remedies, the proprietary medicines proper, they all belong to the tribe of Capricorn, under one of two heads, harmless frauds or deleterious drugs." -- "The Great American Fraud," Collier's Magazine, October 7th, 1905.

Samuel Hopkins Adams wrote this turn-of-the-century exposť to warn the American public about the dangers of unregulated patent medicines - potions and powders that were at best ineffective and at worst deadly. Today, a new breed of snake oil salesmen continue the legacy of healthcare fraud, promising consumers health, happiness, and longevity from ineffective products, while preying on the poor health and dwindling hope of the chronically ill. How can you avoid being a victim? Stay alert for these top ten warning signs of quackery.

1. Cures of Biblical Proportions. The terms "miracle," "miraculous," "incredible," "amazing," "life-changing," "unprecedented," "genuine" or similar buzzwords can mean trouble when it comes to healthcare products. If it's supposedly the best thing since sliced bread, make sure there is scientific evidence available to back up those claims.

2. Quacks Anonymous. Buying from a website that has no postal mailing address and no phone number for follow-up contact? You have to wonder if there is a reason they don't want you to reach them.

3. For My Next Trick. Utterly impossible, highly exaggerated, or highly unbelievable claims, such as "reverses aging," "incredible breakthrough," "completely safe with absolutely no side-effects," and even "scientifically-proven" are often red flags. Medications and treatments that have hard science behind them usually don't bother to say such, they just offer the research to back their claims. Also steer clear of treatments that are described as a "cure" for a chronic illness that has no known cure reported in the medical literature.

Dr. Kilmer's: The Quick Cure courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.
4. It's a Floor Wax AND a Dessert Topping. Beware of shotgun treatments or therapies that supposedly heal everything from acne to yellow fever.

5. Ancient Chinese Secret. Vague claims that the treatment is an "ancient remedy" or contains "secret ingredients" are often just mystical window dressing to disguise the fact that there is no real clinical proof of their value.

6. Show Me the Money. Think twice about purchasing products or supplements for which the distributor or manufacturer wants an unusually high advance payment.

7. I'm Not a Doctor, But I Play One On T.V. Watch out for treatments that are endorsed by physicians you've never heard of with credentials from medical associations and facilities you didn't know existed.

8. Satisfaction Guaranteed. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns consumers about promoters who promise no-risk, money-back guarantees on their products. When it comes to healthcare scams, the sellers are often nowhere to be found when you come calling for your refund.

9. Avoiding the Bandwagon. If Joe S. from Peducah, KY says "Chicken collagen completely cured my arthritis," don't bank on it. Patient testimonials and so-called case studies that are substituted for hard science or clinical studies are a clue that things may not be on the up and up.

10. It's Us Against the World. Is the product the supposed victim of a mass conspiracy of organizations that don't want "the truth" about a product to reach patients? If the manufacturer or distributor is accusing the media, the medical "establishment," and government agencies such as the FDA of targeting their product, beware. It's likely that the product has been or is under scrutiny by those organizations for a very good reason - fraud, safety and efficacy issues, or worse.

Please remember to always check with your doctor before trying a new therapy or treatment. Even if a product is labeled "natural," it isn't necessarily safe or immune to causing side-effects or interactions with other substances. In addition, many herbal supplements are contraindicated (not recommended) for use with certain medical conditions. Your healthcare provider is your best source of information for determining if a particular treatment is right for you.

*Compiled in part with information from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. If you have concerns about a company making fraudulent claims for healthcare products, call the FTC at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or fill out their online complaint form.

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