Would you like to know which health headlines and claims are true and which ones are bogus? And wouldn’t it be nice to understand how to read about a new product and see through all the advertising spin? After getting financially stung on more than one fake health service or product, I decided to find out the real story behind so many of the spurious claims out there.
Many of these products promise to “cleanse” my body or eliminate “toxins” from my system. (Oddly, they rarely define toxins or explain how to be sure that I’m completely rid of them after I use their newfangled cream, exercise or supplement).
We’re in luck, because this topic, “fake health promises,” has been receiving plenty of attention lately, both from major news organizations and serious medical researchers. Keep in mind that this is not all about the great “alternative vs traditional” medicine debate, though that does indeed play into my examination of the health scams mentioned below.
Note: By the way, we’re not doctors, and can’t offer medical advice. So take the information offered below and use it as a jumping-off point for your own research on the topics that interest your most. If you decide to try any of the practices or suggestions listed below, speak with a health care professional first. Otherwise, you might be causing yourself more harm than good.
There are probably hundreds of quack products and services being offered at any given time, but most of the money is being made in just a dozen areas. That’s why our discussion will focus on those 18 and how they impact our lives, put us in danger, and drain our bank accounts.
And here they are:
Okay, let’s get the gross one out of the way first. This unusual practice is big business in many spas and clinics, where a “practitioner” massages your stomach while a huge quantity of water is forced through your colon and then back out another tube. So far, there have been a grand total of zero medical studies showing that colonic irrigation, as it is called, is beneficial. However, there can be complications from the practice, like electrolyte imbalances, stomach pain and infections. Colon cleansing has its cheerleaders, as do most of the items on this list, but the human body can do a fine job of cleansing itself.
Somehow, the idea that extreme carb-cutting is a smart way to lose weight has caught on over the past 30 years. Media-hyped “low-carb” diets and quick weight-loss schemes of every sort hail the practice. In truth, super-low carb diets can lead to quick weight loss but can also have serious results. After going off the diet, almost all of the lost weight will return, and the body’s metabolism can be permanently messed up.
Adherents of this fad diet seem to be going to an extreme, which is the case with many modern diets. While too many carbohydrates are a sure way to gain weight and deprive your body of proper nutrition, the same can be said for eating too few. Beware highly-processed products that offer “low-carb” caloric profiles; they’re mostly a waste of time and money. Unless you already eat too many carbs, there’s no need to cut down.
Weight loss with plastic wrap
This one, which amazingly has cycles of popularity with workout fanatics, has to be one of the more ridiculous practices on this list. When you wrap your body in plastic sheeting during a workout, you will lose lots of weight. The bad news (and there’s plenty of it) is that you’ll not only gain all that weight back, but could have serious medical problems during your “plastic wrap” workout, like light-headedness, dizziness, and possible loss of consciousness. Hey, “no pain, no gain,” right? Well, it’s very, very wrong in this case.
If you have the craving to package yourself as a human sandwich, why not just wrap yourself in brown paper and put some mustard on your head. Seriously, “sauna suits” have been around for more than a hundred years, and fortunately they have always been rejected by the medical community. And that’s a wrap!
Gluten-free for no reason
There is more and more scientific evidence that going gluten-free for no reason can be harmful to your health. For one thing, people who do this often suffer from severe constipation and other symptoms. Many of the “gluten-free” foods sold in stores are highly processed and contain low levels of nutrients and fiber. What’s more, unless you have an allergy to gluten, your body needs it for proper health maintenance.
Beware the huge social push behind this practice. Notice how many restaurants now offer gluten-free menus in response to consumer demand. In reality, not that many people have an allergy or disease which requires them to avoid gluten. It’s best to go against the grain if someone tried to sell you on the gluten-free “lifestyle.”
This silliness is in the same category as extreme carb and fat cutting. The incorrect thinking goes, “If carbs and fats make me fat, protein must be the magic bullet that will help me lose weight.” Wrong again. Too much protein can lead to a host of medical problems, and won’t result in permanent weight loss. Follow normal dietary guidelines for protein consumption, as well as fats and carbohydrates, and your body will do almost all the work after that (provided you also exercise and don’t smoke).
“Pure” vegan eating
The mainstream medical community warns vegans that they should keep a close eye on their B12, calcium and vitamin D levels. Most people who eat raw foods only should talk with their doctors about how to maintain proper metabolism balance.
The word “natural” is probably the most abused word in the business and marketing lexicon. Product labels scream it out so frequently these days that it has ceased to have any real meaning. Beware foods and beverages that call themselves natural and want you to assume that that means “healthful.” Natural as opposed to “highly processed” can mean a better product, but keep in mind that cancer, earthquakes, fire and volcanoes are “natural” and they never did anyone a bit of good now did they?
On a serious note, the FDA has not regulated the strict use of the term “natural,” so advertisers are free to use it pretty much any way they want. The solution is to shop carefully and always read ingredient labels.
Vitamin and mineral supplements
Super-doses of vitamins are a current “mega-trend” in the health industry. The problem, according to doctors, is that mega-doses are either a waste of time or can be quite dangerous.
Take vitamin C for example. Because it’s water soluble, your body simply eliminates excess amounts via the urinary system. So all you’ve done with a mega-dose is wasted your hard-earned cash. Vitamin D, on the other hand, is fat soluble. That means excess amounts stay in your body and can lead to toxicity and multiple side effects. Actually, any of the fat soluble vitamins and minerals can lead to big problems in high doses, so be careful when shopping for your daily vitamins, and ask your doctor if you need a special dosage of something your body is lacking.
Just about anything that claims to remove “toxins” from your body is a questionable product. Doctors note that the human body has a very intricate, and effective, set of systems for cleansing itself. No products have been shown to eliminate toxins, so it’s best to not even waste time with ones that claim to be able to do so.
Water and fruit fasts are touted as wonderful ways to lose weight quickly. Sometimes they even deliver on that promise. Sometimes, that is. The downside of fasting is that it throws the body’s metabolism off and can even lead to gaining back more weight than was originally lost. The human body does not need to avoid food to cleanse itself. In fact, a lack of solid food can prevent the body’s cleansing systems from working properly. As a general rule, fasting is not a smart way to diet. Doctors recommend long-term changes to eliminate bad eating habits, and incorporating moderate exercise into your lifestyle as a better way to lose weight and keep it off.
The twisted thinking on this one goes something like this: “Fat is bad. Fat is ugly. I should consume zero fat.” Well, the truth is that the body needs about one-fifth (at least) of its daily calories in the form of fat. Less than that will lead to weight loss and a wide range of medical maladies.
The “fat-free” hysteria began in the late 1970s and has pretty much abated, but there are still remnants of the thinking in the collective psycho of the U.S. population. So, keep an eye out for products that tout their “fat-free” qualities.
Hands down, this has got to be one of the most dangerous “diets” on the market. Taking hormone injections, along with about 500 calories of food per day, is said to produce rapid weight loss. It will! So does starvation and cutting off one of your limbs, but nobody seems interested in those “guaranteed” ways to lose weight. The medical community has, in unison, denounced this dangerous and foolish practice.
Sometimes, “alternative health” practitioners offer to “cleanse” your ear canal of excess wax, impurities and (you guessed it) “toxins” via ear candling. An odd process of using a lighted stick to create (bogus) suction and “draw out” impurities from the ear canal, candling can lead to eardrum damage, infection, and serious loss of money (on your part). If friends suggest you have your ears candled, just pretend not to hear them.
The dried, ground up human placenta can be made into pill or capsule form. Taking these pills is said to stave off “hormone imbalance, fatigue and post-partum depression.” No medical study has been able to verify any of these claims. Besides, the drying of the placenta destroys all the nutrients in the organ, so there’s nothing in the pills anyway. One thing has been shown to result from taking placenta pills. Users end up with much less money in their wallets.
E-cigarettes for smoking cessation
This is a “hot” topic right now, but so far no research has shown that e-cigarettes are an effective way to quit smoking. Doctors recommend counseling and various prescription drugs for especially difficult cases of tobacco addiction.
Thanks to celebrities whose last names rhyme with Paltrow and Anniston, this practice has taken off in a big way. Hopefully, the fad will die down before anyone gets seriously injured. Basically, a “cupping practitioner” places glass jars on your skin and removes the air from them, thus giving you a bunch of really big hickeys. Broken blood vessels abound, as does the risk of injury and permanent scarring. Oh, cupping is said to “eliminate toxins,” so that should be our first clue that it’s highly bogus.
Here’s another highly questionable practice we owe to the person named Gwyneth. “Pullers” routinely gargle with an ounce or so of sunflower or sesame oil to “prevent cavities and keep the breath smelling fresh.” It’s an Ayurvedic practice that has been taken out of context and thus misused by celebrities and their mind-numbed followers.
Sadly, some “oil pullers” neglect brushing and flossing because they believe the oil takes care of total dental health. There is no science behind the practice other than a few studies that say it might temporarily reduce in-mouth bacteria about as well as mouthwash.
But, if you want your breath to smell like sunflower oil, you came to the right place!
Diets based on blood type or pH
These two are probably the most “notorious” of recent fad diets. The blood type diet has been proven beyond a doubt to be completely ineffective and possibly dangerous (due to the avoidance of entire food categories by people with certain blood types).
The pH diet is in the same category, but with a kicker: the person who came up with it is now in legal hot water and apparently may have a chance to try his theories out on a completely captive population, in prison.
Be sure to search for more in-depth information on topics that especially grab your attention. The videos examine personality tests, the concept of detoxification, and alternative medicine in general.It’s important to check out source material when researching health and fitness trends, supplements and practices. A good place to start is with authoritative books and websites. The selections below have been carefully culled for your convenience.
Books on our reading list cover the topics of food, vitamin, supplement and “natural” products, as well as medical myths and junk science in general. Enjoy reading (and watching).
Video clip: “Detox products are mostly bogus.”
According to vox.com, people have been worried about “toxins” in their bodies since the times of ancient Egypt, but many of today’s retail products show no sign of having advanced since those very unscientific times.
What’s more, the majority of the products on the market that promise to “detox” the liver, skin, lungs or any other major bodily organ or system are decidedly scam-ridden. There’s just no hard scientific proof, according to the video, about how any of these cleansers are supposed to work. Many sellers rely on “ancient wisdom” as if that equates to scientific studies.
Video: “The Meyers-Briggs personality test is a for-profit, unscientific exam that is virtually worthless.”
Have you had the MB test to determine your personality “type”? Millions of people have, usually as part of an employment screening process of one kind or another. The video’s producers explain how the test is more of a money-making scheme than anything else. Not only that, the MB test has zero backing from the medical community, yet continues to bring in tons of money each year.
Video: Penn and Teller take on “alternative medicine.”
The legendary comedy team, who now make very serious documentaries about a wide variety of topics, looks into the world of alternative medicine in this intriguing clip. They discover much, including the fact that 90 percent of what goes under that heading is laced with unscientific “data,” unexplainable cures, and generally bogus methods. (Note that there is a second part to the documentary if you want to watch it right after viewing the first part linked below.
Ty Bollinger’s book is a controversial one, for sure. We’ve included it on this list because it is a good catalogue of medical conspiracy theories. Bollinger’s area of study is cancer treatment, though he is not a doctor or a medical researcher per se. Even so, his book is a highly intriguing walk through the vast universe of medical fakery and hotly debated controversies. If you want to get a handle on just how important the topic of health fraud is, Monumental Myths is a smart place to start.
What really goes on in the vitamin and supplement manufacturing sector and the alternative medical community in general? The author, an M.D., vigorously takes apart the entire alternative health market, calling out what he perceives as completely unscientific practices, harmful products and fake therapies. In fact, he claims that there really is no such thing as “alternative medicine,” and says that what usually travels under that banner is not only ineffective but quite often very harmful.
In a world where every other media story seems to say that something or other “causes cancer,” this book is a breath of fresh air. Author Steven Milloy shows us how to tell good science from the fake stuff. He points out how often the media loves to scream “cancer” when there is little or no evidence that a particular food or drug actually causes the disease. His explanation of the difference between “causation” and “correlation” should be required reading for every journalist on earth. After digesting Milloy’s book, you’ll be able to spot a bogus news item a mile away. The volume is packed with simple, easy to understand explanations about statistics, a topic most people run away from at top speed. But the author makes it all come together in a well-written book that deserves a place on every adult’s nightstand.
Do you avoid salt and sugar as if they are radioactive? Are you one of those people who think if it tastes good then it must be bad for you? Then Joey Lott’s interesting little book will help you find a more peaceful existence. It’s not about ignoring good, scientific advice, but understanding that most of what we all believe about “healthy” food is based on myth, half-truths and fabrications. Lott digs deep and shows us what the medical community really thinks about many of the products we’ve been taught were “bad.” Milk, salt, alcohol, coffee, soft drinks are all part of his exploration, and you’ll be totally surprised at what you learn here. Plus, it’s almost guaranteed that this unassuming little volume will change your eating habits forever. Now, that’s good news!
Is Everything “Alternative” a Fraud?
Just because a medical treatment or nutritional supplement is labeled “alternative” or “natural” is no guarantee that something fraudulent is afoot. In fact, there is much included under the alt-med label that is quite helpful.
The point of taking a close look at bogus health terms is to see why it is so vitally important to do research about anything you want to apply to your own situation, whether it’s a newfangled type of therapy or a promising vitamin supplement. In today’s anything-goes market, you have to be your own consumer advocate.
Fortunately, most medical and health scams are after your money and will not lead to physical or mental harm. But there are some that can lead to serious injury or even death. So, keep one eye on the truth meter at all times.
Have you had an encounter with any of the cleansing, energy, toxin removers or energy boosters on the market? If so, we’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section below. Or just visit our Facebook page and weigh with your thoughts about bogus scientific trends you’ve noticed. We always enjoy learning from our readers, so let us know what you think about this important topic.