I often get asked to investigate various remedies and treatments, to see if they are legitimate or if they too are scams. I am happy to do this, unless I think the request was made by a distributor of the product looking got get some publicity -either negative or positive. Because there is no such thing as bad publicity, right? There are only links and more links.
So in an attempt to educate the consumer while at the same time NOT giving any links or business to dodgy sites, this is the first of an incidental series in which I will investigate a class of remedies generically, with no names included. Because most of them are just as scammy in their own way as the targeted scams are, so I don't see why they should get a free ride here.There are different levels of trickery out there in the herbal cure world. There are even some sites which may not be blatant scams, but which sound too good to be true nonetheless. Maybe the seller really believes in the quack theory behind the product they are hawking. Or maybe whoever-it-is falls into the category my Da called "well-meaning idiot"; i.e. someone who genuinely believes something has helped them and will help you. too. Maybe they think this because they took in when they were coincidentally having a remit in symptoms. Who knows? But anyone who believes in either evolution or intelligent design will tell you that it is possible to fervently but mistakenly believe in something which may not be true. Because that is the other side's position.
How to Spot a Quack or a WMI.
The first indication that a cure may have some inherent
quackery or well-meaning idiocy is if it claims to cure a wide variety of
illnesses. This is especially true if those illnesses bear no relationship to each other, like those that have completely different underlying mechanisms. For
example, some sites may claim that their remedy will cure a long list of medical conditions, including Multiple Sclerosis,
AIDS and Epilepsy. Let's just take those three and analyze a claim like that:
- MS is an auto-immune disease,
- AIDS is essentially a viral infection
- Epilepsy is rogue electrical discharges in the brain, usually of unknown cause.
How exactly is one single 'cure' going to address all of these completely different problems? Think about it. To address an auto-immune disorder you have to suppress the immune system. If you are doing that, then a viral infection like AIDS will go haywire. On the other hand, to fight something like AIDS, you would have to enhance the immune system. This would cause the MS people a problem as their immune system is causing the MS in the first place and they will therefore likely get worse.
And epilepsy: well nobody knows the underlying mechanism there, so claiming to cure it is just irresponsible.
Therefore makes absolutely no sense that one product can cure all three conditions. Yet the claims are out there, people. Many of them.
Search and Destroy
Another claim I love, probably my favorite claim of them all, is this little gem:
"Our treatment seeks out and kills cancer cells, leaving healthy cells intact"
I love these kind of claims. They seem so ... neat. So clean. So efficient. I imagine someone newly diagnosed who is looking at chemo on one hand and a neat little herbal treatment with "no side effects" on the other, would be tempted to try the herbal pill. I know I would be.
That's right: HOW does the treatment seek out cancer cells? What criteria does it use to differentiate cancer cells from other cells? And what if it is wrong and mistakes ...say ...my pancreas for cancer?
Seriously: Let's break down that claim: There are approximately 50-75 TRILLION cells in the human body (let's call it 60 trillion as a nice round number) and there are over 200 different types of cancers out there.
So you are telling me that your treatment can run some sort of algorithm that looks like this:
Find Cell 1
Compare cell 1 to 200+ different types of cancer cells (which is presumably held in come kind of on-board cancer database in the pill itself)
If cancer=yes, then destroy cell 1 (but leave all surrounding cells intact)
Else leave cell 1 intact
GoTo cell 2
Compare Cell 2 to 200+ different types of cancer cells...
...repeat 60 trillion times
Then after the 60 trillionth pass, presumably it should start again from the beginning, because several million cells will have died and been replaced in the meantime.
Take this to the bank from a computer ex-professional: That's an awful lot of computing power to fit into a little pill. Not that you ever could, of course, because pills can't actually perform computational logic of the type mentioned. And even if they could; I would have a bunch of questions for the manufacturer, such as:
How do you update the pills for new kinds of cancers as they are discovered? Can they somehow into the wireless network and download them overnight like Windows does? Or maybe the creators just use Magic, because that's the only other explanation.
And again: what if it makes a mistake and misses some cancer cells or destroys some healthy cells like... Oh, I don't know... Neurons? What then?
And another thing: How was it tested? And WHO was it tested on? Mice? (I mean... seriously. who would actually volunteer to be the first human subject in a trial like that? Even if you are completely terminal, how would you know it wouldn't go straight in there and eat your brain?)
Now don't get me wrong, there are people out there actually WORKING on nanotechnology that will do exactly this kind of thing. Teeny tiny little nanobots that will rove around the body, looking for cancer (and that makes me wonder how the immune system will respond to them? But that's probably a post for another year). To imply that a pill, lotion or medicine can perform this kind of computational logic is just plain ridiculous. It goes back to my question to the doctor on how streptococcus knows what age a child is?
The answer: It doesn't know, because it's a feckin BACTERIUM! It can't think. Neither can pills, potions capsules or lotions (hey! I think I feel a Pome coming on)
So yeah. Claims that a pill or potion can target and kill a certain type of cell is complete crap. Don't believe a word of it.
Research The Research
Research The Research
Another giveaway on quacks and WMI, is that there is usually no actual published scientific research, just theories and gushing testimonials. No studies or clinical trials at all. Well, I'm sorry. if there is no large-scale, double-blind peer reviewed human (as in Home Sapiens. Not mice, plants, frogs or bunny rabbits) study; preferably published in a respected journal, then the cure isn't proven and you can stop wasting my time, TYVM.
Sure, some people may have taken your product and felt better. That's called the placebo effect and it is well documented. Or they may have taken it around a time when their condition just happened to take an upturn (because most chronic conditions do tend to wax and wane) and associated your product with that upturn. There are a many reasons why people might *think* it helps. This is why we need objective research. To prove if it really helps and by how much.
Most normal people are afraid to read a research paper; afraid they won't understand it. This is something scammers LOVE BTW. They like to cobble together any old shite that might look good to an amateur and put it out there as valid research. There are three ways to combat this.
- Look for peer-review and/or publication in a valid journal. If a study is published in The Lancet, JAMA, NEJM, or a similar, well respected publication; chances are it's completely legitimate.
- Try reading the report anyway and see how you get on. Skim over the science-ese and read the English. Often, if the research is bogus, a regular person will pick up on the details: A classic example is the product name omission in the 'results' section: "both sexes are equally affected by Vitiligo" Yeah OK. How many were affected by the PRODUCT, as opposed to the disease you are supposed to be curing? Also look for discrepancies such as dates. If the product was introduced in 2006, but the study is dated 1997, chances are they study and the product don't quite match. If the study started out on 30 people, but 50 of them responded to the treatment, well, something is up.
- Get help. You probably know someone who can read over the study; a sibling, friend, colleague or neighbor. Ask them to have a look at it for you. They can only say no.
I have seen incidences where false studies have been cobbled together. I have also seen people trying to fob off small-scale animal studies as "proof" that their product is so wonderful. But these types of studies are not acceptable to me. Not enough that I would actually ingest any of these products at risk of hurting myself. A study need to be legitimate, which means peer review. A product needs to be tested on people. And I mean properly tested in a controlled double-blind scientific study, where the neither the doctors or patients know who is getting the product and who is getting a sugar pill. That way, their responses can be monitored independently and the results can't be fixed.
The FDA regulates conventional and recognized cures and treatments. It requires proper studies and testing and strict standards of manufacture and auditing. The FDA does not regulate "herbal supplements". If a so-called herbal supplement actually turned out to be the cure for anything, I can guarantee you the FDA will be on the manufacturer and will require that the product become fully regulated as a drug, not a supplement.
Many companies will tell you that they are 'avoiding' studies because "if the word gets out" about their marvelous product the FDA will swoop down and regulate them. I have even heard some of them claim that the FDA will confiscate their product and put it out to market on behalf of the Government. (Ha! that is funny! This kind of thing doesn't happen in America). The quack company will then go on to tell you that you had better get in there now and buy their product before the FDA snatches it away from the unsuspecting and deserving public.
This is just spin; smoke and mirrors. And a very hard sell.
First off: FDA regulation is a GOOD thing for us consumers. It enforces standards. FDA regulation may be considered "bad" for these manufacturers because it forces them to adhere to certain standards of quality and manufacturing (aww. poor babies! ) and therefore it drives their costs up.
Secondly, FDA regulation means that consumers have recourse under the law if the treatment turns out to be harmful. Right now, if you get poisoned by (say) Parkotab, you are screwed. You can't bring the weight of the US government or the civil/ criminal courts down on the manufacturer because there is no FDA regulation of that product. However, if you are hurt by an FDA regulated drug, you have recourse under the law and the FDA can take appropriate action, such as force a recall.
So don't believe any paranoid rantings regarding the FDA that the miracle cure merchants will put out there. Their motive is not to make you well. It is to make money for themselves.
Selling Books, not cures
This is a topic for a whole 'nother post, but some of the claims out there are in book form. "Buy this book for only $25" and you too will know The Secret to conquer [insert medical problem here]!". The interesting thing about these schemes: They can bypass certain laws regarding claims. For example, in the UK it is illegal to sell a pill that claims to cure cancer. However you can sell a book that claims a "secret" to curing cancer.
There will be more on this subject another time.
Read the disclaimer:
I love this one, lifted from a miracle cure for something
This treatment has not been evaluated by the FDA. The term "cure," as used in this article, is the alternative medicine definition of "cure"...
Ooooooh! So we are playing with words now! (I love playing with words!) So "cure" doesn't mean cure to you. It means something different. Something alternative.
Because when I think of the word "cure" I think of
concepts such as "all better" and "no longer sick". When you use the word "cure" you
mean ...what, exactly? Something
alternative? What's the alternative to
Do please advise, oh miracle cure purveyor. There is quite a range of possibilities there, not all of them happy-happy.
I hope I have given you some food for thought here. There is a lot more, too, but it is late and I am tired. Stay tuned for part II.
but it is late and I am tired. Stay tuned for part II.