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Health Scams

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Question: I recently read a number of ads and promotions about quick fixes to health problems. At age 74, I have osteoarthritis, peripheral neuropathy, a heart condition and bad knees. Are these short-cut remedies of any value? 

Answer: You have identified a big problem – health scams.

Let’s begin with the first rule: Consult your physician about the best treatment or treatments for your physical conditions.

The National Institute on Aging has paid attention to misleading ads and has published “Age Page: Beware of Health Scams.” Much of the following information is taken from that publication.

We see many advertisements that make extraordinary claims: “Smart Drugs,” “Arthritis Aches and Pains Disappear Like Magic,” “This Treatment Cured My Cancer in One Week.”  These ads may be enticing, but clearly are untrue.

The aging population is vulnerable. More than two-thirds of those 65 and older have two or more chronic conditions.

With advancing years our immune system becomes less efficient, leading to increased chronic and often acute conditions. Consequently, quick and easy health remedies appeal to the segment of the population that has the greatest medical needs.

Health scams are not new, and today there is more opportunity than ever to promote untested cures. Radio, television, magazines, infomercials, mail, e-mail and telemarketing are frequent venues. Web sites describe “miracle cures” and testimonials from “fully recovered patients.”

Unfortunately, older adults are often the target of this misinformation for the purpose of sales and profit. The danger is twofold: The remedies may be dangerous and also may prevent the patient from seeking effective treatment.

Note that scams usually target diseases that have no known cure, such as diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease.

Here are just three types of ads listed by the National Institute on Aging that specifically target an older population:

Anti-aging medications:
This is interesting because aging is not a disease, since it is universal and not contrary to nature. The NIA emphatically writes that there are no known treatments proven to slow or reverse the aging process.

The Anti-Aging Academy of Medicine disagrees. The academy is a member-based society founded on the basis of “(the” application of advanced scientific and medical technologies for the reversal of age-related dysfunction, disorders and diseases.”

The academy has a membership of 20,000 that includes physicians, health practitioners, scientists, governmental officials and members of the general public representing more than 100 nations. Note that the U.S. has only 7,000 board-certified geriatricians.

The best opportunity for aging well is to make healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating healthy foods, getting regular exercise and not smoking.

Arthritis remedies: Arthritis symptoms often come and go. When a remedy seems to make a person feel better, the improvement may be due to the ebb and flow of symptoms.

Some of the advertised so-called treatments are magnets, copy bracelets, chemicals, special diets and radiation. According to the NIA, these remedies are unlikely to work. “There is no cure for most forms of arthritis,” says the NIA.

Rest, exercise, heat and some drugs help many control the symptoms.

Dietary supplements: We spend billions of dollars each year on over-the-counter supplements. These include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herb and enzymes. Many are helpful. Many, however, are bad for those taking certain medications or for those with certain medical conditions.

Most supplements do not undergo government testing or review before they are marketed. Be suspicious of claims that a supplement shrinks tumors or cures Alzheimer’s disease.

Also, the NIA recommends, be cautious when encountering advertisements or other promotional materials that:

“Promise a quick or painless cure.”

“Claim the product is made from a special, secret or ancient formula.”

“Offer products and services only by mail or from one company.”

“Claim to be a cure for a wide range of ailments.”

“Claim to cure a disease that hasn’t been cured by medical science.”

“Promise a no-risk, money-back guarantee.”

“Offer a free gift or promotional product.”

“Require advance payment with a claim of a limited supply.”

Thank you for your good question. For additional information, visit the Federal Trade Commission Web site at www.ftc.gov; or the U.S .Food and Drug Administration Web site at www.fda.gov.

There is an old saying, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” Best wishes in finding tested and reliable treatments for your various conditions.

© Helen Dennis 2010, all rights reserved.

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