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Health Quackery: Spotting Health Scams

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What Do Quacks Promise? continued...

Arthritis Remedies. Unproven arthritis remedies can be easy to fall for because symptoms of arthritis tend to come and go. You may believe the remedy you are using is making you feel better when, in fact, it is just the normal ebb and flow of your symptoms. You may see claims that so-called treatments with herbs, oils, chemicals, special diets, radiation, and other products cured arthritis. This is highly unlikely. Individual testimonials alone do not guarantee that a product is effective. Instead, scientific studies proving that a treatment works are needed. While these products may not hurt you, they are costly and aren't likely to help much either. There is no cure for most forms of arthritis, but rest, exercise, heat, and drugs can help many people control their symptoms. If you are thinking about a new treatment, talk with your doctor first.

Cancer Cures. Quacks prey on people's fear of cancer. They promote treatments with no proven value - for example, a diet dangerously low in protein or drugs such as Laetrile. By using unproven methods, people with cancer may lose valuable time and the chance to receive a proven, effective treatment. This delay may lessen the chance for controlling or curing the disease.

Memory Aids. Many people worry about losing their memory as they age. They may wrongly believe false promises that unproven treatments can help them keep or improve their memory. So-called smart pills, removal of amalgam dental fillings, and brain retraining exercises are all examples of untested approaches that claim to help memory.

How Can You Protect Yourself From Health Scams?

Be wary. Question what you see or hear in ads or on the internet. Newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV stations do not always check to make sure the claims in their ads are true. Find out about a product before you buy. Don't let a sales person force you to make a snap decision. Check with your doctor first.

Remember stories about the old snake oil salesman who traveled from town to town making claims for his fabulous product? Well, chances are today's quack is using the same sales tricks. Look for red flags in ads or promotional material that:

Promise a quick or painless cure,

  • Claim to be made from a special, secret, or ancient formula - often only available by mail or from one sponsor,

  • Use testimonials or undocumented case histories from satisfied patients,

  • Claim to be effective for a wide range of ailments,

  • Claim to cure a disease (such as arthritis or cancer) that is not yet understood by medical science,

  • Offer an additional "free" gift or a larger amount of the product as a "special promotion," or

  • Require advance payment and claim limited availability of the product.

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