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Health & Wellness

Health Claims: 5 Suggestions to help Separate Science from Scams

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In advertising, on billboards, on product labels and in emails that show up in our inboxes, we’re exposed to a flood of unsupported health claims.

“Look and feel twenty years younger!”

“Cure diabetes the natural way!”

“Shed ten pounds in ten days!”

This kind of hype may lead to more just than a few dollars wasted. Gary Coody, R. Ph., the national health fraud coordinator for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), says that products and services that make overblown or fraudulent claims may cause real harm.

“Using unproven treatments may delay getting a potentially life-saving diagnosis and medication that actually works,” he says in the FDA’s 6 Tip-offs to Rip-offs: Don't Fall for Health Fraud Scams. Plus, he adds, “Fraudulent products sometimes contain hidden drug ingredients that can be harmful when unknowingly taken by consumers.”

How to separate science from scams? Be wary of a product, treatment or service that:

Promises a quick fix. From diabetes to depression, obesity to osteoarthritis, few conditions or diseases can be treated quickly and without effort. Beware, says the FDA, of language that emphasizes quick results, such as “lose 30 pounds in 30 days” or “eliminates skin cancer in days.”

Claims to be a miracle cure. Scammers, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) notes in its report on Miracle Health Claims, often target vulnerable people who are dealing with serious conditions like cancer or Alzheimer’s. “It’s easy to see why some people believe product claims,” the FTC writes, “especially when successful treatments seem elusive.” Always consult a knowledgeable doctor, pharmacist or other healthcare professional before trying a product or treatment.

Relies on personal testimonials rather than clinical evidence. Ads where people make declarations like “I lost ten inches” or “I threw away my medication” should not be confused for science-backed research.  “Even if individual results are ‘true,’ that’s no basis for concluding that you’ll experience similar benefits,” says David James Demko, Ph.D., a Florida-based gerontologist.  

Promotes a conspiracy theory. Be wary of any treatment or service that’s advertised with language like “the secret your doctor doesn’t want you to know.”  If a real cure for a disease were discovered, notes the FDA, “it would be widely reported and prescribed by health professionals—not buried in print ads, TV infomercials or on Internet sites.”

Sounds too good to be true.  The FTC notes that when it comes to weight-loss products, headlines sometimes get especially sensational. If a product claims it leads to substantial weight loss no matter what or how much you eat, or that weight loss can be achieved by wearing a piece of clothing or rubbing a cream or lotion on your skin, alarms should sound. As the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics notes in its advice on Staying Away from Fad Diets, “There are no foods or pills that magically burn fat. No super foods will alter your genetic code. No products will miraculously melt fat while you watch TV or sleep.”

For more information on medicine safety visit Pfizer’s counterfeit awareness website.

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