Pill Pushing Quacks are biased individuals who prey on gullible potential customers for unreasonable, undeserved profits. They use unsubstantiated pseudo science and anecdotal testimonials to broadly sell overpriced products that may or may not benefit naive purchasers – especially those who have been unable to solve complex medical (or psychological) problems. Quacks may have PhD, M.D., D.O, M.S., D.C., etc. in their title. Many have state issued medical professional licenses and are “Board Certified” by others who have a similar bias, investment in their profession, and incomplete knowledge of a complex subject. Many of them exploit late-night, low-cost, cable television ads and flashy Internet websites, (but that obviously does not mean that everything on the Internet or television is always bad, or good).

Part of the problem clearly lies with the policies and procedures of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA is supposed to ensure food and drug safety for American consumers, but no one can argue that the FDA does this very well.

For example, the PBS program “Frontline” documented the some of the gross incompetence and biased corruption of the new prescription drug approval process in its program “Dangerous Prescription.” The Wall Street Journal said:

"'Dangerous Prescription'... provides a devastating view of the dangers posed by new, undertested drugs that now reach the public as a result of increasingly lax oversight by the FDA. ... Here's a compelling hour, filled with testimony about agency staff members supposedly concerned with overseeing drug safety, choosing to ignore or dismiss evidence of a drug's dangers - and about the others cowed in silence. No little drama, here, much of it unnerving."

Since 1997, patented prescription drugs that were unwisely approved by the ineffective FDA had to be recalled after damaging and even killing many unwary, unprotected consumers who merely did what their intellectually lazy, uninformed, board-certified medical doctors told them to do.

Here are some irrefutable examples of serious FDA mistakes. Many of the dangers of these new drugs were documented BEFORE the FDA approved them. In retrospect, it is now clear to countless Frontline viewers, Wall Street Journal readers and ambulance-chasing lawyers that the ineffective, mismanaged, even CORRUPT FDA should NEVER have approved them in the first place:

Drug / Chemical Name (Manufacturer)

Prescribed For

Adverse Effect

Vioxx / rofecoxib (Merck)

arthritis, acute pain, polyps

heart attack, stroke

Pondimin/fenfluramine (Wyeth-Ayerst)

weight loss, obesity

pulmonary hypertension, heart valve disease

Redux/dexfenfluramine (Wyeth-Ayerst)

weight loss, obesity

pulmonary hypertension, heart valve disease

Seldane/terfenadine (Hoescht Marion Roussel)

seasonal allergies

heart problems when taken with other drugs

Posicor/mibefradil (Roche Laboratories)

hypertension and angina

reduced activity of liver enzymes lead to harmful drug build-up, interactions too numerous for risk management

Duract/bromfenac (Wyeth-Ayerst)

Pain relief

hepatitis, liver failure after treatment exceeded 10 days

Hismanal/astemizole (Janssen Pharmaceutica)

seasonal allergies

heart arrhythmia caused by interaction with other drugs

Raxar/grepafloxacin (Glaxo Wellcome)

antibiotic (pneumonia, bronchitis, some STDs)

Severe cardovascular problems (torsade de pointes, a ventricular arrhythmia)

Rezulin/troglitazone (Parke-Davis/Warner-Lambert)

Type 2 diabetes mellitus

liver toxicity

Propulsid/cisapride (Janssen Pharmaceutica)

night time heartburn

Cardiac arrhrythmia

Lotronex/alosetron (Glaxo Wellcome)

irritable bowel syndrome

ischemic colitis, constipation

Raplon/rapacuronium bromide (Organon Inc)

airway muscle relaxment during surgery

Bronchospasm

Baycol/cerivastatin (Bayer)

high cholesterol

rhabdomyolysis (muscle deterioration), possible renal and other organ failure

In October, 2004, documentation was published about how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suppresses bad news about products they have wrongly approved. The Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee said that the Food and Drug Administration silenced one of its drug experts who raised safety concerns about Vioxx, due to increased risks for heart attack and strokes.

Dr. David J. Graham, (Associate Director for Science in the FDA Drug Center's Office of Drug Safety), told Senate investigators that he faced stiff resistance within the regulatory agency to his findings.

"Dr. Graham described an environment where he was 'ostracized,' 'subjected to veiled threats' and 'intimidation,'" Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement after Finance Committee investigators interviewed the researcher Thursday.

Graham said that Grassley's characterization was accurate. Raising safety concerns within the agency is "extremely difficult," the 20-year FDA employee said.

In a prepared statement, the FDA falsely stated that it "values open discussion and frank exchange about scientific and medical issues."

The Congressional Government Accountability Office (GAO), is looking into the FDA silencing other FDA staff who have linked antidepressants to raising the risk of children committing suicide. The important point is that the FDA (which is paid to product the public) actively suppresses critical information about deadly problems with the drugs that they have previously approved.

The above list is documented history, but many other dangerous drugs (like extremely popular Viagra) remain on the market after thousands have been killed as a well-documented direct result of taking the drug. Clearly, many unnatural patented prescription drugs are unsafe, as are many untested, unregulated food supplements, etc.

Accutane (generic isotretinoin) is a popular prescription drug for nodular acne, administered primarily to adolescents. Since 1998, the FDA has acknowledged that Accutane is strongly linked to serious internal organ damage, mental disorders, sudden onset depression and suicide. In 2000, “USA Today” documented over 1300 psychiatric cases linked to Accutane. Yet, the FDA continued to allow Accutane to be sold in 2004, resulting in more deaths and health damage to innocent adolescents. The questionable potential benefit of Accutane is clearly far less than the devastating known side effects. Board certified medical professionals fail to police themselves and the FDA continues to fail to do its assigned job (for a variety of corrupt political reasons).

This frightening knowledge forces intelligent consumers to be very skeptical about doctors who prescribe potentially-damaging prescription medications, especially those medical professionals who fail to carefully discuss their numerous side effects. ALWAYS obtain and carefully review a copy of the contraindications and suspect side effects of any prescription medical or food supplement before you take it. If you discover an issue of concern to you, ask your medical professional why this was not discussed with you initially. Listen carefully to the answer and consider changing to a superior medical professional (while being skeptically careful to avoid pervasive quackery in the future).

Ephedra is a natural herb / food supplement that pill-pushing quacks have been advertising and selling heavily for weight loss and as an athletic performance enhancer. Despite significant studies that clearly linked Ephedra to multiple heart problems, strokes and death, it took the slow-moving, ineffective FDA until 2004 to finally ban Ephedra sales in the U.S. While Joyful Aging loudly applauds the removal of Ephedra from the hands of gullible consumers (who endlessly seek “too-good-to-be-true miracles), we simultaneously condemn the FDA for taking so very long to take meaningful action against deadly, profit-motivated quackery.

No individual or organization can claim to understand it all of the issues concerning drugs, food and food supplements. Quacks and bad practices will continue to exist throughout the medical and advertising professions. In some cases, quacks are intentionally dishonest con artists, out for a fast buck. In many other cases, licensed medical practitioners honestly believe that they are doing the best possible thing for their unknowing patients, but they often dispense invalid, deadly quackery as clearly documented by medical doctor’s own professional medical journals.

Medical Progress Despite Pervasive Quackery

Almost all successful medical innovators at some point in time have been called quacks, heretics, or much worse by “established” board-certified medical doctors. We now know that the church and state have both severely punished intelligent scientists who have accurately questioned inaccurate dogmatic doctrine.

Throughout history, the widely-held majority opinion has frequently been completely wrong. The world is NOT flat. The world is NOT the center of the universe. Blood letting by ancient barbers killed many people.

Albert Einstein accurately said: “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” HOWEVER, just because someone disagrees with majority opinion certainly does NOT suggest that they are great spirits or high-quality innovators. Sometimes, the critics of conventional thinking are proven to be the quacks.

Those who publicly disagree with dogmatic doctrine may be intelligent innovators with the confidence to raise their head above the crowd, or they may be greedy con artist quacks. Each one of us must make our own evaluation of the available information. The best solution that Joyful Aging can recommend is:

Lifelong Learning In The Never-Ending Pursuit Of Truth, Wisdom
and Discernment Between What Is “Good” and What Is “Bad

Many quacks do a great disservice – delaying superior treatment and even causing unnecessary disease, disfigurement, or death (as did many withdrawn prescription drugs like Thalidomide and iron supplements like Geritol, which were sold to older men and women who actually had excessively high blood iron counts, etc.)

The economic motivation to become an effective, prestigious quack is large. It corrupt the thinking of otherwise well meaning individuals. Some humans (con artists) intentionally deceive others, but all humans make honest mistakes. Some doctors (who honestly want to help people) may even deceive themselves into believing their own incorrect, inaccurate, incomplete message (like the medical doctors who originally promoted cocaine, LSD, etc.)

Quacks Rely On The Powerful Placebo Effect

Throughout history, medicine men, charlatans, snake oil salesmen, hoaxes, spiritual healers, pharmaceutical companies, medical doctors and government agencies have ALL relied heavily on distributing incomplete, misleading information. They depend largely on the “placebo effect,” and the power of “mind over matter” / “perception versus reality” to encourage some level of natural self-healing in their uninformed naive believers.

Until only a few decades ago, almost all of human medical history for thousands of years was merely a testament to the very real power of ineffective placebos. Modern science now knows beyond any doubt that the mind DOES control the body, including the immune system. (See Psychoneuroimmunology)

“Scientific” attempts to eliminate the placebo effect in “clinical treatment effectiveness studies” sometimes have a hidden bias, that is introduced by whoever funded the study and has a strong motive for a desired finding. We know that it is extremely difficult to eliminate the placebo effect, as clearly documented when there are multiple studies of the same thing, funded by different sources, which “scientifically” document total impossible contradictions (as in the many recent “low fat” versus “low carbohydrate” diet comparisons with widely contradictory conclusions).

Quacks will always exist, because: (1) their presentations are based on half-truths, (2) their cause-and-effect mistakes often have very-long feedback cycles, and (3) the world is full of uninformed, trusting, naive people who believe the quacks and the vendors of the products that quacks and well-meaning doctors prescribe.

If someone consumes a new product and then dies shortly thereafter, the profits from such products may be less than if it takes five years to kill the patient. One modern exception is the fact that thousands of men have died within a few hours of taking the world’s most popular prescription drug.

The desire for an “impossible, miraculous, too-good-to-be-true solution” is sometimes strong enough for unhealthy people to trust quacks with their lives. History shows that inert products with no benefits, or those with deadly side effects, can sometimes be very profitable.

We should all be interested in discovering the truth about what we consume. This is often difficulty to do. Clearly, some foods, and food supplements derived from natural foods, can have great benefits to those who want to slow the process of aging. (See Antiaging Antioxidant Foods). However, no human has all of the right answers. But, we also must filter out the lies and biased hype.

Anyone who claims to know everything about anything, or to have solutions with universal applicability is obviously suspect. Recently I heard a claim that everyone should take a green tea extract product. I know that decaffeinated green tea is an effective antiaging antioxidant for many people, BUT green tea reduces iron absorption and should be avoided by some vegetarians with low serum ferritin levels (some menstruating women, certain children, those allergic to tea, etc.) The commercial ad hype does not mean that the product is bad for everyone, just that the message is both biased, flawed (and the product was way overpriced).

For people with high blood iron (hemochromatosis, as measured by high serum ferritin levels, which is one of the most commonly inherited diseases), some uninformed, deluded-or-dishonest, pill pushing quacks have recommended chelation or taking supplements of vitamins, minerals, herbs, antioxidants, etc. The Hemochromatosis Foundation explicitly states that these are NOT recommended by their scientific advisory board. These alternative treatments can interfere with the rapid elimination of excess body iron and may hasten the onset of serious injury, especially to the liver.

According to the AHS Guidelines for the Screening, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Management of Patients with Hereditary Hemochromatosis/Iron Overload, patients with high iron overload should be warned NOT to:

 

Vitamin C is well known to enhance tissue iron absorption, which may be good for children and menstruating women, but very bad for people with any form of excess tissue iron storage. Even familiar bread and vitamin C should NOT be consumed by everyone.

Unless you are a duck hunter, learn how to ignore the quacks

One way to help filter out the quackery bias that surrounds us is to study the underlying profit motive.  An honest medical professional or research scientist will gladly explain that they do NOT know everything on any subject and that a recommended treatment may have good or bad results (even though they may be recognized as the leading authority in their field). Most authorities recognize that there are many expensive medical procedures being performed every day that are unnecessary, and may even result in sad, meaningless death.

In some cases, pyramid marketing schemes have been use to promote unneeded low-quality over-priced vitamins and food supplements to consumer/sellers. When the person presenting a message about the value of their product makes a profit or receives a benefit when you buy it, then you know for certain that the opinion they are presenting is biased. This includes not only the direct vendors of ineffective or harmful health products, but also medical doctors who receive a variety of benefits from pharmaceutical company salesmen.

When a certified medical doctor (like Dean Ornish, et. al.), or a professional dietitian, publishes a book that says low carbohydrate diets don’t work, or they are unhealthy for you, then you KNOW that the material is biased by the royalties made when people buy the book. If a growing body of modern clinical and scientific evidence completely refutes their original incorrect recommendations, then it is very rare for the author (like Ornish) to recant his invalid position, as long as people continue to buy the obsolete book. (Analogy: The creator of one of the most widely-accepted “big foot” movie hoaxes took the secret to his death, after which his family told the truth, to the dismay of gullible sasquatch seekers.)

The profit-motivated pyramid marketing schemes of low-quality vitamins, medical doctors, dietitians, and authors who fail to respond to clear clinical contradictions of their previous invalid statements must be labeled as “intentional deceivers”, con artists, and unashamed dishonest quacks, whose messages should be ignored, or viewed with skeptical scrutiny.

Multiple sources of information help us see different perspectives, which we can then discuss with others. Consider the total contradictions between those who promote Low Fat Diets versus Low Carbohydrate Diets. – Clearly, on many “mutually exclusive” qualified medical opinions, there can NEVER be a consensus medical opinion. That does not mean that any one side has no merit to their message. Dean Ornish invalid conclusions are based on partial truth. We most assuredly should reduce some types of bad fats (not good fats), but the only way to make a high carbohydrate, low-meat diet work for weight loss is to dramatically reduce caloric intake, which frequently causes the body to digest its only important muscle mass (a very unhealthy thing to do). The more we understand the motives and the science between conflicting profession opinions, the better we should become at working out our own lifestyle decisions.

Be aware and very suspicious of broad health claims in drugs and food supplements that are unsubstantiated by unbiased science. Cautiously evaluate scientific research on products that differ substantially from a product being advertised for sale.

Here is a list (prepared by biased individuals with their own human frailties and incomplete knowledge) to help filter the messages of some (but not all) Pill Pushing Quacks. There are both truths and flaws in the following material. We present it so you may consider this partially-true side of the story.

(See also Iatrogenic Deaths Caused By Certified M.D.s)

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Suspicious Quacks and Vitamin Pushers

By Stephen Barrett, M.D. and Victor Herbert, M.D., J.D.

How can food quacks and ineffective pill pushers be recognized?

1. When Talking about Nutrients, They Tell Only Part of the Story.

Quacks tell you all the wonderful things that vitamins and minerals do in your body and/or all the horrible things that can happen if you don't get enough. Many claim that their products or programs offer "optimal nutritional support." But they conveniently neglect to tell you that a balanced diet provides the nutrients people need and that the USDA food-group system makes balancing your diet simple.

2. They Claim That Most Americans Are Poorly Nourished.

This is an appeal to fear that is not only untrue, but ignores the fact that the main forms of bad nourishment in the United States are overweight in the population at large, particularly the poor, and undernourishment among the poverty-stricken. Poor people can ill afford to waste money on unnecessary vitamin pills. Their food money should be spent on nourishing food.

It is falsely alleged that Americans are so addicted to "junk" foods that an adequate diet is exceptional rather than usual. While it is true that some snack foods are mainly "naked calories" (sugars and/or fats without other nutrients), it is not necessary for every morsel of food we eat to be loaded with nutrients. In fact, no normal person following the U.S. Dietary Guidelines is in any danger of vitamin deficiency.

3. They Recommend "Nutrition Insurance" for Everyone.

Most vitamin pushers suggest that everyone is in danger of deficiency and should therefore take supplements as "insurance." Some suggest that it is difficult to get what you need from food, while others claim that it is impossible. Their pitch resembles that of the door-to-door huckster who states that your perfectly good furnace is in danger of blowing up unless you replace it with his product. Vitamin pushers will never tell you who doesn't need their products. Their "be wary of deficiency" claims may not be limited to essential nutrients. It can also include nonessential chemicals that nobody needs to worry about because the body makes its own supply.

4. They Say That Most Diseases Are Due to Faulty Diet and Can Be Treated with "Nutritional" Methods.

This simply isn't so. Consult your doctor or any recognized textbook of medicine. They will tell you that although diet is a factor in some diseases (most notably coronary heart disease), most diseases have little or nothing to do with diet. Common symptoms like malaise (feeling poorly), fatigue, lack of pep, aches (including headaches) or pains, insomnia, and similar complaints are usually the body's reaction to emotional stress. The persistence of such symptoms is a signal to see a doctor to be evaluated for possible physical illness. It is not a reason to take vitamin pills.

5. They Allege That Modern Processing Methods and Storage Remove all Nutritive Value from Our Food.

It is true that food processing can change the nutrient content of foods. But the changes are not so drastic as the quack, who wants you to buy supplements, would like you to believe. While some processing methods destroy some nutrients, others add them. A balanced variety of foods will provide all the nourishment you need.

Quacks distort and oversimplify. When they say that milling removes B-vitamins, they don't bother to tell you that enrichment puts them back. When they tell you that cooking destroys vitamins, they omit the fact that only a few vitamins are sensitive to heat. Nor do they tell you that these vitamins are easily obtained by consuming a portion of fresh uncooked fruit, vegetable, or fresh or frozen fruit juice each day. Any claims that minerals are destroyed by processing or cooking are pure lies. Heat does not destroy minerals.

6. They Claim That Diet Is a Major Factor in Behavior.

Food quacks relate diet not only to disease but to behavior. Some claim that adverse reactions to additives and/or common foods cause hyperactivity in children and even criminal behavior in adolescents and adults. These claims are based on a combination of delusions, anecdotal evidence, and poorly designed research.

7. They Claim That Fluoridation Is Dangerous.

Curiously, quacks are not always interested in real deficiencies. Fluoride is necessary to build decay-resistant teeth and strong bones. The best way to obtain adequate amounts of this important nutrient is to augment community water supplies so their fluoride concentration is about one part fluoride for every million parts of water. But quacks usually oppose water fluoridation, and some advocate water filters that remove fluoride. It seems that when they cannot profit from something, they may try to make money by opposing it.

8. They Claim That Soil Depletion and the Use of Pesticides and "Chemical" Fertilizers Result in Food That Is Less Safe and Less Nourishing.

These claims are used to promote the sale of so-called "organically grown" foods. If an essential nutrient is missing from the soil, a plant simply doesn't grow. Chemical fertilizers counteract the effects of soil depletion. Quacks also lie when they claim that plants grown with natural fertilizers (such as manure) are nutritionally superior to those grown with synthetic fertilizers. Before they can use them, plants convert natural fertilizers into the same chemicals that synthetic fertilizers supply. The vitamin content of a food is determined by its genetic makeup. Fertilizers can influence the levels of certain minerals in plants, but this is not a significant factor in the American diet. The pesticide residue of our food supply is extremely small and poses no health threat to the consumer. Foods "certified" as "organic" are not safer or more nutritious than other foods. In fact, except for their high price, they are not significantly different.

9. They Claim You Are in Danger of Being "Poisoned" by Ordinary Food Additives and Preservatives.

This is another scare tactic designed to undermine your confidence in food scientists and government protection agencies as well as our food supply itself. Quacks want you to think they are out to protect you. They hope that if you trust them, you will buy their "natural" food products. The fact is that the tiny amounts of additives used in food pose no threat to human health. Some actually protect our health by preventing spoilage, rancidity, and mold growth.

10. They Charge That the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) Have Been Set Too Low.

The RDAs have been published by the National Research Council approximately every five years since 1943. They are defined as "the levels of intake of essential nutrients that, on the basis of scientific knowledge, are judged by the Food and Nutrition Board to be adequate to meet the known nutrient needs of practically all healthy persons." Neither the RDAs nor the Daily Values listed on food labels are "minimums" or "requirements." They are deliberately set higher than most people need. The reason quacks charge that the RDAs are too low is obvious: if you believe you need more than can be obtained from food, you are more likely to buy supplements.

11. They Claim That under Everyday Stress, and in Certain Diseases,  Your Need for Nutrients Is Increased.

Many vitamin manufacturers have advertised that "stress robs the body of vitamins." One company has asserted that, "if you smoke, diet, or happen to be sick, you may be robbing your body of vitamins." Another has warned that "stress can deplete your body of water-soluble vitamins . . . and daily replacement is necessary." Other products are touted to fill the "special needs of athletes."

While it is true that the need for vitamins may rise slightly under physical stress and in certain diseases, this type of advertising is fraudulent. The average American -- stressed or not -- is not in danger of vitamin deficiency. The increased needs to which the ads refer are not higher than the amounts obtainable by proper eating. Someone who is really in danger of deficiency due to an illness would be very sick and would need medical care, probably in a hospital. But these promotions are aimed at average Americans who certainly don't need vitamin supplements to survive the common cold, a round of golf, or a jog around the neighborhood! Athletes get more than enough vitamins when they eat the food needed to meet their caloric requirements.

Many vitamin pushers suggest that smokers need vitamin C supplements. Although it is true that smokers in North America have somewhat lower blood levels of this vitamin, these levels are still far above deficiency levels. In America, cigarette smoking is the leading cause of death preventable by self-discipline. Rather than seeking false comfort by taking vitamin C, smokers who are concerned about their health should stop smoking. Suggestions that "stress vitamins" are helpful against emotional stress are also fraudulent.

12. They Recommend "Supplements" and "Health Foods" for Everyone.

Food quacks belittle normal foods and ridicule the food-group systems of good nutrition. They may not tell you they earn their living from such pronouncements -- via public appearance fees, product endorsements, sale of publications, or financial interests in vitamin companies, health-food stores, or organic farms.

The very term "health food" is a deceptive slogan. Judgments about individual foods should take into account how they contribute to an individual's overall diet. All food is health food in moderation; any food is junk food in excess. Did you ever stop to think that your corner grocery, fruit market, meat market, and supermarket are also health-food stores? They are -- and they generally charge less than stores that use the slogan.

By the way, have you ever wondered why people who eat lots of "health foods" still feel they must load themselves up with vitamin supplements? Or why so many "health food" shoppers complain about ill health?

13. They Claim That "Natural" Vitamins are Better than "Synthetic" Ones.

This claim is a flat lie. Each vitamin is a chain of atoms strung together as a molecule. With minor exception, molecules made in the "factories" of nature are identical to those made in the factories of chemical companies. Does it make sense to pay extra for vitamins extracted from foods when you can get all you need from the foods themselves?

14. They Suggest That a Questionnaire Can Be Used to Indicate Whether You Need Dietary Supplements.

No questionnaire can do this. A few entrepreneurs have devised lengthy computer-scored questionnaires with questions about symptoms that could be present if a vitamin deficiency exists. But such symptoms occur much more frequently in conditions unrelated to nutrition. Even when a deficiency actually exists, the tests don't provide enough information to discover the cause so that suitable treatment can be recommended. That requires a physical examination and appropriate laboratory tests. Many responsible nutritionists use a computer to help evaluate their clients' diet. But this is done to make dietary recommendations, such as reducing fat content or increasing fiber content. Supplements are seldom necessary unless the person is unable (or unwilling) to consume an adequate diet.

Be wary, too, of questionnaires purported to determine whether supplements are needed to correct "nutrient deficiencies" or "dietary inadequacies." These questionnaires are scored so that everyone who takes the test is judged deficient. Responsible dietary analyses compare the individual's average daily food consumption with the recommended numbers of servings from each food group. The safest and best way to get nutrients is generally from food, not pills. So even if a diet is deficient, the most prudent action is usually diet modification rather than supplementation with pills.

15. They Say It Is Easy to Lose Weight.

Diet quacks would like you to believe that special pills or food combinations can cause "effortless" weight loss. But the only way to lose weight is to burn off more calories than you eat. This requires self-discipline: eating less, exercising more, or preferably doing both. There are about 3,500 calories in a pound of body weight. To lose one pound a week (a safe amount that is not just water), you must eat about five hundred fewer calories per day than you burn up. The most sensible diet for losing weight is one that is nutritionally balanced in carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Most fad diets "work" by producing temporary weight loss -- as a result of calorie restriction. But they are invariably too monotonous and are often too dangerous for long-term use. Unless a dieter develops and maintains better eating and exercise habits, weight lost on a diet will soon return.

The term "cellulite" is sometimes used to describe the dimpled fat found on the hips and thighs of many women. Although no medical evidence supports the claim, cellulite is represented as a special type of fat that is resistant to diet and exercise. Sure-fire cellulite remedies include creams (to "dissolve" it), brushes, rollers, "loofah" sponges, body wraps, and vitamin-mineral supplements with or without herbs. The cost of various treatment plans runs from a few dollars for a bottle of vitamins to many hundreds of dollars at a salon that offers heat treatments, massage, enzyme injections, and/or treatment with various gadgets. The simple truth about "cellulite" is that it is ordinary fat that can be lost only as part of an overall reducing program.

16. They Promise Quick, Dramatic, Miraculous Results.

Often the promises are subtle or couched in "weasel words" that create an illusion of a promise, so promoters can deny making them when the "feds" close in. False promises of cure are the quacks' most immoral practice. They don't seem to care how many people they break financially or in spirit -- by elation over their expected good fortune followed by deep depression when the "treatment" fails. Nor do quacks keep count -- while they fill their bank accounts -- of how many people they lure away from effective medical care into disability or death.

Quacks will tell you that "megavitamins" (huge doses of vitamins) can prevent or cure many different ailments, particularly emotional ones. But they won't tell you that the "evidence" supporting such claims is unreliable because it is based on inadequate investigations, anecdotes, or testimonials. Nor do quacks inform you that megadoses may be harmful. Megavitamin therapy (also called orthomolecular therapy) is nutritional roulette, and only the house makes the profit.

17. They Routinely Sell Vitamins and Other "Dietary Supplements" as Part of Their Practice.

Although vitamins are useful as therapeutic agents for certain health problems, the number of such conditions is small. Practitioners who sell supplements in their offices invariably recommend them inappropriately. In addition, such products tend to be substantially more expensive than similar ones in drugstores -- or even health-food stores. You should also disregard any publication whose editor or publisher sells dietary supplements.

18. They Use Disclaimers Couched in Pseudomedical Jargon.

Instead of promising to cure your disease, some quacks will promise to "detoxify," "purify," or "revitalize" your body; "balance" its chemistry or "electromagnetic energy"; bring it in harmony with nature; "stimulate" or "strengthen" your immune system; "support" or "rejuvenate" various organs in your body; or stimulate your body's power to heal itself. Of course, they never identify or make valid before-and-after measurements of any of these processes. These disclaimers serve two purposes. First, since it is impossible to measure the processes quacks allege, it may be difficult to prove them wrong. Moreover, if a quack is not a physician, the use of nonmedical terminology may help to avoid prosecution for practicing medicine without a license -- although it shouldn't.

Some approaches to "detoxification" are based on notions that, as a result of intestinal stasis, intestinal contents putrefy, and toxins are formed and absorbed, which causes chronic poisoning of the body. This "autointoxication" theory was popular around the turn of the century but was abandoned by the scientific community during the 1930s. No such "toxins" have ever been found, and careful observations have shown that individuals in good health can vary greatly in bowel habits. Quacks may also suggest that fecal material collects on the lining of the intestine and causes trouble unless removed by laxatives, colonic irrigation, special diets, and/or various herbs or food supplements that "cleanse" the body. The falsity of this notion is obvious to doctors who perform intestinal surgery or peer within the large intestine with a diagnostic instrument. Fecal material does not adhere to the intestinal lining. Colonic irrigation is done by inserting a tube up to a foot or more into the rectum and pumping up to 20 gallons of warm water in and out. This type of enema is not only therapeutically worthless but can cause fatal electrolyte imbalance. Cases of death due to intestinal perforation and infection (from contaminated equipment) have also been reported.

19. They Use Anecdotes and Testimonials to Support Their Claims.

We all tend to believe what others tell us about personal experiences. But separating cause and effect from coincidence can be difficult. If people tell you that product X has cured their cancer, arthritis, or whatever, be skeptical. They may not actually have had the condition. If they did, their recovery most likely would have occurred without the help of product X. Most single episodes of disease end with just the passage of time, and most chronic ailments have symptom-free periods. Establishing medical truths requires careful and repeated investigation -- with well-designed experiments, not reports of coincidences misperceived as cause-and-effect. That's why testimonial evidence is forbidden in scientific articles, is usually inadmissible in court, and is not used to evaluate whether or not drugs should be legally marketable. (Imagine what would happen if the FDA decided that clinical trials were too expensive and therefore drug approval would be based on testimonial letters or interviews with a few patients.)

Never underestimate the extent to which people can be fooled by a worthless remedy. During the early 1940s, many thousands of people became convinced that "glyoxylide" could cure cancer. Yet analysis showed that it was simply distilled water! [1] Many years before that, when arsenic was used as a "tonic," countless numbers of people swore by it even as it slowly poisoned them.

Symptoms that are psychosomatic (bodily reactions to tension) are often relieved by anything taken with a suggestion that it will work. Tiredness and other minor aches and pains may respond to any enthusiastically recommended nostrum. For these problems, even physicians may prescribe a placebo. A placebo is a substance that has no pharmacological effect on the condition for which it is used, but is given to satisfy a patient who supposes it to be a medicine. Vitamins (such as B12 shots) are commonly used in this way.

Placebos act by suggestion. Unfortunately, some doctors swallow the advertising hype or become confused by their own observations and "believe in vitamins" beyond those supplied by a good diet. Those who share such false beliefs do so because they confuse coincidence or placebo action with cause and effect. Homeopathic believers make the same error.

20. They Claim That Sugar Is a Deadly Poison.

Many vitamin pushers would have us believe that refined [white] sugar is "the killer on the breakfast table" and is the underlying cause of everything from heart disease to hypoglycemia. The fact is, however, that when sugar is used in moderation as part of a normal, balanced diet, it is a perfectly safe source of calories and eating pleasure. Sugar is a factor in the tooth decay process, but what counts is not merely the amount of sugar in the diet but how long any digestible carbohydrate remains in contact with the teeth. This, in turn, depends on such factors as the stickiness of the food, the type of bacteria on the teeth, and the extent of oral hygiene practiced by the individual.

21. They Display Credentials Not Recognized by Responsible Scientists or Educators.

The backbone of educational integrity in America is a system of accreditation by agencies recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education or the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which is a nongovernmental coordinating agency. "Degrees" from nonaccredited schools are rarely worth the paper they are printed on. In the health field, there is no such thing as a reliable school that is not accredited.

Unfortunately, possession of an accredited degree does not guarantee reliability. Some schools that teach unscientific methods (chiropractic, naturopathy, acupuncture, and even quack nutritional methods) have achieved accreditation. Worse yet, a small percentage of individuals trained in reputable institutions (such as medical or dental schools or accredited universities) have strayed from scientific thought.

Since quacks operate outside of the scientific community, they also tend to form their own "professional" organizations. In some cases, the only membership requirement is payment of a fee. We and others we know have secured fancy "professional member" certificates for household pets by merely submitting the pet's name, address, and a check for $50. Don't assume that all groups with scientific-sounding names are respectable. Find out whether their views are scientifically based.

Some quacks are promoted with superlatives like "the world's foremost nutritionist" or "America's leading nutrition expert." There is no law against this tactic, just as there is none against calling oneself the "World's Foremost Lover." However, the scientific community recognizes no such titles. The designation "Nobel Prize Nominee" is also bogus and can be assumed to mean that someone has either nominated himself or had a close associate do so.

Some entrepreneurs claim to have degrees and/or affiliations to schools, hospitals, and/or professional that actually don't exist. The modern champion of this approach appears to be Gregory E. Caplinger, who claims to have acquired a medical degree, specialty training, board certification, and scores of professional affiliations -- all from bogus or nonexistent sources.

Even legitimate credentials can be used to mislead. The American Medical Association's "Physician's Recognition Award" requires participation in 150 hours of continuing education over a three-year period and payment of a small fee. Most practicing physicians meet this educational standard because it is necessary to study to keep up-to-date. Accredited hospitals require this amount of continuing education to maintain staff privileges, and some states require it for license renewal. However, most physicians who do this don't bother to get the AMA certificate. Since the award reflects no special accomplishment or expertise, using it for promotional purposes is not appropriate behavior.

22. They Offer to Determine Your Body's Nutritional State with a Laboratory Test or a Questionnaire.

Various health-food industry members and unscientific practitioners utilize tests that they claim can determine your body's nutritional state and -- of course -- what products you should buy from them. One favorite method is hair analysis. For $35 to $75 plus a lock of your hair, you can get an elaborate computer printout of vitamins and minerals you supposedly need. Hair analysis has limited value (mainly in forensic medicine) in the diagnosis of heavy metal poisoning, but it is worthless as a screening device to detect nutritional problems [2]. If a hair analysis laboratory recommends supplements, you can be sure that its computers are programmed to recommend them to everyone. Other tests used to hawk supplements include amino acid analysis of urine, muscle-testing (applied kinesiology), iridology, blood typing, "nutrient-deficiency" and/or lifestyle questionnaires, and "electrodiagnostic" gadgets.

23. They Claim They Are Being Persecuted by Orthodox Medicine and That Their Work Is Being Suppressed Because It's Controversial.

The "conspiracy charge" is an attempt to gain sympathy by portraying the quack as an "underdog." Quacks typically claim that the American Medical Association is against them because their cures would cut into the incomes that doctors make by keeping people sick. Don't fall for such nonsense! Reputable physicians are plenty busy. Moreover, many doctors engaged in prepaid health plans, group practice, full-time teaching, and government service receive the same salary whether or not their patients are sick -- so keeping their patients healthy reduces their workload, not their income.

Quacks also claim there is a "controversy" about facts between themselves and "the bureaucrats," organized medicine, or "the establishment." They clamor for medical examination of their claims, but ignore any evidence that refutes them. The gambit "Do you believe in vitamins?" is another tactic used to increase confusion. Everyone knows that vitamins are needed by the human body. The real question is "Do you need additional vitamins beyond those in a well-balanced diet?" For most people, the answer is no. Nutrition is a science, not a religion. It is based upon matters of fact, not questions of belief.

Any physician who found a vitamin or other preparation that could cure sterility, heart disease, arthritis, cancer, or the like, could make an enormous fortune. Patients would flock to such a doctor (as they now do to those who falsely claim to cure such problems), and colleagues would shower the doctor with awards -- including the extremely lucrative Nobel Prize! And don't forget, doctors get sick, too. Do you believe they would conspire to suppress cures for diseases that also afflict them and their loved ones? When polio was conquered, iron lungs became virtually obsolete, but nobody resisted this advancement because it would force hospitals to change. And neither will scientists mourn the eventual defeat of cancer.

24. They Warn You Not to Trust Your Doctor.

Quacks, who want you to trust them, suggest that most doctors are "butchers" and "poisoners." They exaggerate the shortcomings of our healthcare delivery system, but completely disregard their own -- and those of other quacks. For the same reason, quacks also claim that doctors are nutrition illiterates. This, too, is untrue. The principles of nutrition are those of human biochemistry and physiology, courses required in every medical school. Some medical schools don't teach a separate required course labeled "Nutrition" because the subject is included in other courses at the points where it is most relevant. For example, nutrition in growth and development is taught in pediatrics, nutrition in wound healing is taught in surgery, and nutrition in pregnancy is covered in obstetrics. In addition, many medical schools do offer separate instruction in nutrition.

A physician's training, of course, does not end on the day of graduation from medical school or completion of specialty training. The medical profession advocates lifelong education, and some states require it for license renewal. Physicians can further their knowledge of nutrition by reading medical journals and textbooks, discussing cases with colleagues, and attending continuing education courses. Most doctors know what nutrients can and cannot do and can tell the difference between a real nutritional discovery and a piece of quack nonsense. Those who are unable to answer questions about dietetics (meal planning) can refer patients to someone who can -- usually a registered dietitian.

Like all human beings, doctors sometimes make mistakes. However, quacks deliver mistreatment most of the time.

25. They Encourage Patients to Lend Political Support to Their Treatment Methods.

A century ago, before scientific methodology was generally accepted, valid new ideas were hard to evaluate and were sometimes rejected by a majority of the medical community, only to be upheld later. But today, treatments demonstrated as effective are welcomed by scientific practitioners and do not need a group to crusade for them. Quacks seek political endorsement because they can't prove that their methods work. Instead, they may seek to legalize their treatment and force insurance companies to pay for it. One of the surest signs that a treatment doesn't work is a political campaign to legalize its use.

References

  1. Young JH, McFayden RE. The Koch Cancer Treatment. Journal of the History of Medicine 53:254-284, 1998.
  2. Hambidge KM. Hair analyses: Worthless for vitamins, limited for minerals. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 36:943-949, 1983.

Portions of this article appeared in The Vitamin Pushers: How the Health Food Industry Is Selling Americans a Bill of Goods.

Some of the above has merit, some of it does not. Only YOU can determine the difference. The “absolute truth” is elusive, as shown by the rate of change in modern scientific understanding about human health, nutrition and metabolic processes. The issues are VERY complex, and complicated even further by extremely biased and obsolete widely-held incorrect opinions.

 

We strongly encourage you to seek your own level of understanding. At least be aware that conflicting opinions exist, and try to understand why. Your life depends on it.

 

We enthusiastically invite the opinions of those who disagree with us. We will be glad to discuss JoyfulAging topics with you, so we may both understand why the other reached a conflicting conclusion. Although we have spent a lifetime seeking the scientific truth, we at least know that there is much more that we do not know on earth, and what the Hubble telescope has revealed to us about the infinity of our universe. We will appreciate your constructive comments about our work. JoyfulAging@AOL.com

 

See also Iatrogenic Deaths Caused By Certified M.D.s

 

See also Medical Minefield – Avoiding Common Errors

 

Return to Joyful Aging home page