Quackery and Snake Oil

Modern-day quacks often cherry-pick science and use what suits them as semantic backdrop to fool unsuspecting consumers. Quacks may dazzle people with fanciful research studies or scare them with intimidating warnings before trying to peddle products that make unreasonable promises. And those who use these alternative, unproven products may forego treatments that would be more likely to help them.

In short, quackery is dangerous. It promotes fear, devalues legitimate science and can destroy lives. 

Cliff Weathers

The #1 Red Flag Of Quackery Is The Constant Promotion Of Useless Supplements.

Such supplements typically:

-Consist of “natural” ingredients

-Are a proprietary blend of ingredients or a uniquely prepared single ingredient, and are only available through the quack.

-Have thousands of individuals who have had dramatic improvement on the supplement and enthusiastically record their testimonial to its power

-Have no scientific support of efficacy or safety for any illness or medical problem

-Despite the lack of scientific data, the quack is able to list a series of seemingly valid supportive “studies”

-Aren’t checked by the FDA

-Apparently cure everything from heart disease to lassitude

In my post I cite Dr. Gundry’s Vital Reds as a typical example

Quackery Promotion By Mainstream Media: Part I, Reader’s Digest and Naturopathy

It’s getting harder and harder for the lay public to sort out real from fake health stories and advice.

In this post I show how really bad advice from obvious quacks creeps into what  is thought to be a legitimate health news source.

Seemingly legitimate news media and widely followed sources like Reader’s Digest, Web MD, Newmax Health, and Prevention Magazine  either consciously or inadvertently promote quackery , making the truth even more illusive.

WebMD: Purveyor of Bad Health Information And Snake Oil

Even media found in your doctor’s waiting room should be viewed with suspicion.

For example, in this post I examined what is in an issue of  WebMD, The magazine turns out to be a useless and potentially harmful combination of:

  • Direct To Consumer  ads promoting expensive, marginally beneficial medications
  • Snake oil products with no benefit and potential risk
  • Celebrity fluff pieces with no useful medical information
  • Brief, often inaccurate blurbs on diet, exercise, weight loss.

Web MD, although free, should not be in doctor’s waiting rooms.

Given this production from WebMD I would also advise patients to avoid the WEbMD website as it cannot be considered  a trusted source of medical information and, like the print format, primarily exists as  an advertising vehicle.

What Happens to a Plant-Derived Substance That Proves Safe and Effective for a Medical Condition?

It moves from the unregulated, over the counter, internet-marketed realm into the realm of being regulated by the FDA and prescribed by doctors.

I discuss this in a post using the transition of digitalis obtained from the foxglove plant to the cardiac pharmaceutical digoxin.

Steven Novella (Science-Based Medicine) has written eloquently about the “plant vs pharmaceutical false dichotomy” here :

“First and foremost, herbs and plants that are used for medicinal purposes are drugs – they are as much drugs as any manufactured pharmaceutical. A drug is any chemical or combination of chemicals that has biological activity within the body above and beyond their purely nutritional value. Herbs have little to no nutritional value, but they do contain various chemicals, some with biological activity. Herbs are drugs. The distinction between herbs and pharmaceuticals is therefore a false dichotomy.”

Other articles in this area:

  1. Courtesy of Cliff Weathers  a former senior editor at AlterNet who served as a deputy editor at Consumer Reports (Twitter @cliffweathers.) Here are the The four biggest quacks plaguing America and their false claims about  science.

2.  Snake Oil Du Jour: Turmeric

3.  Homeopathy Is Pure Bunkum


Please leave your comments. The skeptical cardiologist loves feedback. He reads all and replies to all that warrant a reply.

Anthony C. Pearson M.D., F.A.C.C. is a cardiologist, musician, writer and a regular columnist at MedPage Today

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