The Internet helps broadcast dubious remedies and phony "cures." These unproven treatments take your money and sometimes your health, too.
The yearning for a cure is powerful, and poignant if you are struggling with illness. At those times, we can be most vulnerable to claims for cures that sometimes defy common sense.
The Internet is full of products that hold out hope when little or no scientific evidence supports it. Many of these products persist despite efforts by government agencies and scientists to debunk them.
Some of these treatments and devices are dangerous. With others, the main danger is that they might keep you from getting effective medical treatment. You’re also out the money wasted on products that fail to deliver.
Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson describes one controversial treatment, medical magnets, in the video below. After you’ve seen it, read on about other controversial “treatments” and “cures.”
1. Medical magnet therapy
Many people swear that magnets relieve their pain. They’ve become mainstream: You’ll find handsome bracelets for golfers sold at the PGA Tour Superstore and on Amazon, for example, although no claims are made there about healing powers.
Plenty of other magnet products are sold for healing, in jewelry and bed pads and shoes. You can buy straps to hold magnets in place over your painful body parts.
Magnet therapy got a boost in 1997 when a post-polio syndrome specialist, Dr. Carlos Vallbona, conducted a pilot study of 50 patients. Vallbona was a former chairman of the department of community medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. The New York Times reported that Vallbona’s study found “that small, low-intensity magnets worked, at least for patients experiencing symptoms that can develop years after polio.”
The American Cancer Society wrote, “However, several problems in the study’s methods were observed (for example, the patients in the two groups differed in ways that might influence their susceptibility to placebo effects).”
Preliminary studies looking at different types of pain — such as knee, hip, wrist, foot, back, and pelvic pain — have had mixed results. Some of these studies, including a 2007 clinical trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health that looked at back pain in a small group of people, have suggested a benefit from using magnets. However, many studies have not been of high quality; they included a small number of participants, were too short, and/or were inadequately controlled. The majority of rigorous trials have found no effect on pain.
The FDA has not approved the marketing of magnets with claims of health benefits. In fact, the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission have taken action against several makers and sellers of magnets because they were making health claims that had not been proven.
You may waste your money on magnets, but you probably won’t hurt yourself. Stay away, though, if you have a pacemaker or insulin pump, because the magnets could interfere with your device.
2. Black salves
Just because a material is natural doesn’t ensure it’s safe to use. Case in point: “black salve” treatments that purport to cure cancer.
Not only is there no credible evidence that “cancer salve” products have healed cancer, but some of the salve components can be harmful, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:
The salves are sold with false promises that they will cure cancer by “drawing out” the disease from beneath the skin. “However, there is no scientific evidence that black salves are effective,” says Janet Woodcock, director of FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER).
Available scientific evidence does not support claims that salves are effective in treating cancer or tumors. In fact, some ingredients may cause great harm. There have been numerous reports of severe burns, disfigurement, and permanent scarring from some of these salves.
The American Cancer Society offers a detailed discussion of alternative and complementary cancer therapies.
3. Diabetes “cures”
Diabetes is a growing health problem, and phony diabetes cures are growing right along with it. The FDA cracked down on 15 companies in the U.S. and abroad, warning that their products for treating diabetes violated federal law. Some companies claimed their products can replace medicine prescribed for diabetes treatment.
Some nonprescription diabetes “remedies” use active ingredients found in prescription medicines for type 2 diabetes. “Undeclared ingredients can cause serious harm,” the FDA says. You could get too much of an ingredient or it could interact badly with a prescription drug you’re taking.
4. Autism “cures”
If there was a cure for autism, you would have heard about it by now. Nevertheless, an array of products claim to treat or cure it.
Says a recent FDA warning about “false and misleading claims for treating autism”:
There is no cure for autism. So, products or treatments claiming to “cure” autism do not work as claimed. The same is true of many products claiming to “treat” autism. Some may carry significant health risks.
Two of the products singled out by the FDA were:
Miracle Mineral Solution. “The answer to AIDS, hepatitis A, B and C, malaria, herpes, TB, most cancer and many more of mankind’s worse diseases has been found,” says MiracleMineral.org, which sells “MMS.”
MMS also has been touted as an alternative therapy for autism. Looking for ways to help their children, parents are using MMS orally and in enemas and baths, writes Huffington Post autism columnist Todd Drezner.
Mix MMS as directed and it “becomes a potent chemical that’s used as bleach,” the FDA warning says. It adds, “FDA has received reports of consumers who say they experienced nausea, severe vomiting and life-threatening low blood pressure after drinking the MMS and citrus juice mixture.”
Detoxifying clay baths. Proponents of clay baths claim their clay can “detoxify” a contaminated body by “drawing” out harmful heavy metals. In the warning above, the FDA says claims that clay baths produce “dramatic improvement” in autism symptoms are false.
The FDA also warns consumers against these other “treatments” for autism:
- Coconut kefir and other probiotic products.
- Hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
- Chelation therapies.
5. Apple cider vinegar for weight loss
You’ll find apple cider vinegar touted as a solution to a variety of problems, including obesity.
Experts’ opinions are mixed on cider vinegar’s effectiveness for weight loss. WebMD says there’s little research on the topic. It cites a 12-week study of 175 people done in Japan, in which participants using the vinegar lost weight:
On average, the vinegar group lost 1 to 2 pounds over the three-month period. They gained it all back after the study was over.
WebMD does, however, give cider vinegar a thumbs up for another problem: “While apple cider vinegar probably won’t make you skinny, it does appear to help with diabetes and blood sugar control.”
If you’re thinking of experimenting with cider vinegar, be careful. The Mayo Clinic website says:
Although occasional use of apple cider vinegar is safe for most people, it won’t likely lead to weight loss — and it may pose problems of its own:
Apple cider vinegar is highly acidic. It may irritate your throat if you drink it often or in large amounts.
Apple cider vinegar may interact with certain supplements or drugs, including diuretics and insulin. This may contribute to low potassium levels.
Tip-offs to snake oil
If you are wondering about an unorthodox cure, here are a few ways to spot false promises:
- A product claims to cure miraculously.
- It claims to deliver rapid improvement.
- It claims to treat a variety of conditions.
We’re interested in hearing your experiences with these and other controversial “cures.” Add a comment below or at Money Talks News’ Facebook page.