has been around as long as medicine has existed. It was not until
early in the twentieth century that there much difference between
the practices of mainstream medicine and quacks. Snake
oil salesmen used to sell "cures" from the back of a horse-drawn
wagon; today they use the Internet and sophisticated marketing ploys.
However, the psychology and operating method of using people's fears
and unrealistic expectations to make a buck selling worthless medical
treatments or devices has not changed.
can threaten both your health and pocketbook. Learn how to spot it!
is medical quackery?
exists in various forms and typically involves a medical scheme or
remedy that is known to be false or unproven and sold for a profit.
It may involve drugs, devices or lifestyle changes.
of quackery are sincere and believe in what they are doing; however,
they really don't have a clue. Others are manipulators out for a fast
profit or personal notioriety. Quacks may hold respected credentials,
such as MD or PhD, or they may have bogus degrees from mail-order
The World Wide
Web is making it easier to promote worthless products to an even larger
audience. Some reputable medical Web sites have "alternative"
medicine categories containing links to questionable health products
words: watchout for words used to describe medical treatments
Serious conditions often targeted include obesity, depression, cancer,
AIDS, diabetes, and arthritis. Quacks may also claim to have products
that increase lifespan.
of therapies: from science based medicine to quackery
Barrett, M.D., an expert on medical quackery and author of several
books and operator of a website on the subject, observes that the
current surge of interest in "alternative medicine" by the
media and the public has "legitimatized" some quack treatments.
Renner, M.D., of the National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF)
agrees. He says it's becoming more difficult for potential victims
to separate science fiction from science. He divides treatments into
Is the established body of conventional, orthodox or mainstream
knowledge. It's based on standard methods of prevention,
diagnosis and treatment.
treatments undergo extensive review involving medical
schools, research centers, professional organizations
and their journals, and regulatory offices of the government.
medicine is not static. It lives in a constant state of
refinement. Some of the most respected treatments from
as recently as 1970 are outmoded today.
many investigational treatments and medications have not
worked as hoped either. Treatments are discontinued if
they prove to be harmful or not useful.
the fringe of established medicine are many treatments
of unknown value. This doesn't mean they have been proven
worthless but it doesn't mean they work either.
or folk remedies
ancient concepts, such
as acupuncture and hypnosis, have
value in the modern world for certain conditions. They
are not cure-alls and should be used only in the context
of a program of medical care.
home and folk remedies are absolutely worthless.
treatments have been proven worthless. Other forms of
quackery make inappropriate use of conventional medicine.
They may make claims about the treatment that can't be
types of massage, for instance, can help you relax. But
there is no proof that massage will cure you of disease
or prevent illness. Claiming that massage cures disease
is considered quackery while claiming it may be helpful
for relaxation may be appropriate.
Persons unsure about a treatment should ask a physician, pharmacist,
or registered dietitian for advice and seek independent opinions from
responsible health organizations or consumer groups. If your doctor
or pharmacist is not familar with health claims made by a new product
ask again or have them research it. Be cautious of groups calling
themselves "consumer groups" crusading for a cause instead
of providing objective health information- they may be nothing more
than a "front or cover" for a quack promoter.
caused by quackery
poses genuine threats to health and well being!
cancers respond well to treatment, especially with early
detection. This is true of other problems as well. But
if you rely on useless remedies, the time you lose could
seriously harm your chance of recovery.
National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF) estimates
that Americans spend billions on bogus treatments. And
often those who purchase quack products are least able
to afford them.
only does quackery fail to help, it also may cause harm.
Quack drugs are not produced under the quality control
standards required for prescription and over-the-counter
medications. They may contain substances that do not mix
safely with one another, with other drugs you take, or
with what you eat and drink.
who realize they have been manipulated by quackery have
reason to be bitter. Many become angry toward the medical
profession as a whole. This could lead them to shun proper
persons with incurable diseases, such as certain cancers,
may turn to quackery after conventional treatment has
this may seem harmless and at least worth trying there
are several reasons not to including the false hope it
may give others who have not yet tried conventional therapies
and that it reinforces the predatory practices of the
quack. Money spent on quack cures for terminal conditions
might be better donated to a worthy casue.
victims of quackery are not even ill. Unscrupulous promoters
try to cause doubt or anxiety in these people.
Many quack theories promote an idea that "natural harmony"
within your body can fully protect you from disease or provide
a cure if you become ill. When disease strikes, patients
can feel "shame" at being "responsible"
for their illness or failure to recover. Guilt also can
affect a patient's loved ones: The parents who take their
diabetic child off insulin, the spouse who takes a mate
out of the country for worthless therapy.
susceptible to quackery
No one is immune
to quackery, regardless of education level. People who purchase fraudulent
products often have similar characteristics:
tend to be isolated, lacking the emotional support of families and
illness may lead to a sense of "losing control" over their
with chronic or incurable diseases.
may have problems that also can cause emotional distress, such as
impotence, baldness, excess weight.
- May suffer
from chronic depression or anxiety or have problems with interpersonal
relationships and are unable or unwilling to seek conventional psychologic
may have a fear of established medicine and government health agencies.
There can be a
number of reasons not seeking appropriate professional help including
lack of financial resources, fear of being labelled with "an
emotional problem", not being aware of treatment options or not
being willing to acknowledge an emotional problem exists. Finally,
some persons may not be willing to put the time, money and energy
into proper treatment and be looking for a quick or "magic"
solution. Unfortunately, as any honest magician will tell you, "Magic
is just an illusion."
does quackery 'work' for some people?
on vulnerability. We are all vulnerable at certain times in our lives.
Anxiety and fear can be so strong that reason gives way to false hope
or an unsuspecting person may simply be enticed by catchy advertising
and convincing personal testimonials.
The two main
reasons why a quack product might seem to "work" are:
placebo effect Placebos have no active ingredients. They
may work on the power of suggestion. Scientists speculate that a
person's confidence in a certain treatment may activate chemical
impulses in the brain that diminish symptoms. It is estimated that
10% to 20% of persons are very responsive to placebo treatments.
self-limiting illness Diseases vary in their duration
and intensity. Arthritis, for instance, can be a life-long problem
whose symptoms may improve for periods of time. If you happen to
be using a quack treatment when pain subsides, it's natural to think
that the "wonder cure" really helps. Colds are another
example of a self limiting illness that gets better whether or not
a person seeks treatment.
such as chelation and touch therapy, are clear examples of quack therapies.
Other practices, such as chiropractic, may be useful when its use
is restricted to specific circumstances; however, when broader claims
are made and nonscientific "tests" or treatments ordered
chiropractic can crossover into quackery. Traditional MD's who deceive
patients into having unnecessary treatments or surgeries are guilty
of unethical practices.
regardless of training, can engage in quackery. However, as a profession
main stream medicine is based on aquired knowledge and use of treatments
that have either been shown
to be effective or those that at least show promise based on objective
evidence. Treatments that are proven ineffective or doing more harm
than good are discarded. Unfortunately, the same can not be said for
chiropractic, homeopathy or any number of other alternative therapies.
are constantly bombarding the market. You can help avoid them with
common sense. If you feel you've been "quacked," visit:
up-to-date information on medical quackery, visit these Web sites
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