The economic wheels of supply and demand grind relentlessly within the health-care system. Demanding Americans search for cures for every ill imaginable, and health-care systems try to meet these demands. Unfortunately, this complex matrix embraces health gurus who supply bogus medical cures with strings attached. Health-care seekers invest in expensive schemes that leave them not only sick but also frustrated and broke. Each year Americans spend about $30 billion on these kinds of worthless and sometimes harmful products and treatments. Unfortunately, the biggest buyers of these schemes are those who are the most vulnerable: the elderly, people with incurable diseases, teenagers, and athletes. Instant weight-loss treatments that promise to create a Barbie doll figure, potions that build the biggest biceps, fraudulent schemes that cure cancer, and antiaging tonics touted to make you feel and look younger are some of the most popular claims. What can health-care seekers do to protect themselves against these schemes? While there are no simple solutions, there are some things to avoid. Here are several principles that can help weed out fraudulent products and advice:
Avoid sensationalized products that have the cure for whatever ails you. Often companies advertise products by claiming a new medical breakthrough, providing personal stories of success, or having special secrets from an ancient culture. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Read literature on health products carefully. Often companies exploit legitimate scientific studies that are meant to be forerunners of research. Studies done on 10 people or on animals are not exhaustive enough to apply to a whole population. Sometimes these companies draw conclusions too soon. One study does not prove a scientific theory.
Avoid diet regimens that require pills and potions to be the main source of nutrients. God provides a wide variety of foods that supply our daily needs. Supplementing or fortifying the diet may be appropriate at times, but depending on these products alone will not work miracles. The doctor or dietitian is a good resource for information on supplementation or fortification.
Stay away from diet programs that require elimination of whole food groups, such as proteins or starches. A variety of foods offer the required vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates that a healthy body needs. Eliminating groups of foods may result in nutrient deficiencies.
Question the background of those who disperse health information. As a rule, health professionals have legitimate credentials, degree(s), and a solid background in their field of expertise. Health misinformation often comes from people who read a book or go to a seminar and then claim to have skill or knowledge in a particular field. Many times the information is truth mixed with error or underdeveloped research. Also, determine if their degree is from an accredited college. There are many degree mills dispensing degrees like candy to those who pass a test and pay a fee.
Don’t be fooled by the “natural” claim. Ocean water and soil are natural, but they are not fit for human consumption. Painting a product as “natural” does not make it safe.
While the U.S. healthcare system offers many inlets to optimal health, those who supply health misinformation take advantage of people’s desire for quick healing. Someone’s illness may be a swindler’s opportunity to make a pretty penny. Remember, the economical wheel will grind on, but it will not supply curealls that work.
Originally published in Message Magazine’s January/February 1996 Edition by P. Avonne Williams