How to avoid health scams

Snake oil salesmen are everywhere and when it comes to flogging supposedly healthy products that promise amazing results, but which in actual fact have no beneficial effects whatsoever, all of us would be well-advised not to believe everything we are told.

If you haven't heard the revelations about the popular Power Balance Bracelets yet and are still wearing yours, it's hight time someone told you the disappointing truth: they don't work!

It’s a health scam jungle out there

From detox foot pads which are supposed to leach undesirable chemicals from your body via the soles of your feet to herbal cancer treatments, miracle hair loss cures, anti-aging pills and weight-loss scams of a bewildering variety, an army of quacks are constantly trying to convince you to buy their lotions, gadgets and creams. And don’t get us started on internet-peddled “male enhancement” products!

But it’s not just fly-by-night operators who try to unload their bogus wares on unsuspecting consumers. If you’ve been downing bottles of Vitaminwater, a popular Coca-Cola product, under the impression that you were drinking a healthy beverage of… well, water and vitamins, you had better take a closer look at the small-print on the bottle.

Coke has been marketing its Vitaminwater, which is, of course, endorsed by several major US sports stars, as a healthy drink. But in actual fact it’s mostly sugar water, containing 33 grams of sugar -the equivalent of four or five teaspoons -and 125 calories in every bottle. Oh and they did add a small amount of actual vitamins as well.

The British Advertising Standards Authority recently banned a Vitaminwater ad for using the word “nutritious” in a misleading way and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a US non-profit public interest group, is suing Coca-Cola for “deceptive and unsubstantiated claims”. Their nutritionist says that Vitaminwater’s sugar content more than negates any advertised health benefits the beverage may have and their chief litigator, Stephen Gardner rather colourfully opines that “they added vitamins to crap and it’s still crap”.

How to avoid being scammed:

So how do you avoid being bamboozled by modern-day quackery? Here are a couple of things that should make you sceptical about any supposedly healthy product you’re thinking of buying:

  • it claims to be an easy, quick and effective cure-all for all manner of often unrelated ailments;
  • it’s advertised using phrases like “secret ingredients”, “revolutionary innovation”, instant results”, “ancient remedy”, “alternative medicine” and “scientific breakthrough”;
  • it makes unsubstantiated claims of amazing results without credible scientific proof or evidence;
  • it’s sold through the internet, mail order or television infomercials;
  • it claims to be a remedy for chronic diseases for which no conventional cures exist as yet;
  • it makes claims that go against the understanding of modern science and medicine or even just common sense.

Before you let yourself be roped in, ask your doctor or pharmacist about what they think of any health product you want to try. Many of the bogus goods on the market will have no beneficial effects at all, but some may turn out to be downright dangerous.

And always remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

(Andrew Luyt, Health24, January 2011)

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