A fellow heart attack survivor recently praised a miracle heart disease treatment called chondroitin sulfate. This supplement, she said, had been studied by a “brilliant doctor” during the 1970s, but is no longer heard about very much. She attributed this fact to one of those “what your doctor doesn’t want you to know’ alternative medicine conspiracies. Alternative medicine practices are those not typically used in conventional medicine. When an alternative practice is used with conventional therapies, it’s called complementary medicine. Together, these treatments are referred to as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).
I’m very interested in CAM, but my skeptical self accepts nothing – especially things my doctor doesn’t want me to know! – without suspicious scrutiny.
Mayo Clinic, for example, warns us that health scammers have perfected ways to convince us that their alternative medicine products – and only theirs, of course – are the best. These opportunists (many are now celebrities with the letters M.D. after their names) often target people who are most vulnerable to their sales pitch.
These include those with chronic conditions like obesity, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, or arthritis.
Mayo experts warn us to be alert for these red flags:
- Big promises. Ads call the product a “miracle cure” or “revolutionary discovery.” If that were true, it would be widely reported in the media, drug companies would be investing heavily, and your doctor would be recommending it.
- Pseudo-medical jargon. Although terms such as “purify,” “detoxify” and “energize” may sound impressive and may even have an element of truth, they’re generally used to cover up a lack of scientific proof.
- Cure-alls. The manufacturer claims that the product can treat a wide range of symptoms, or cure or prevent a number of diseases. No single product can do all this.
- Testimonials. Anecdotes from individuals who have used the product are no substitute for scientific proof. If the product’s claims were backed up with hard evidence, the manufacturer would clearly say so.
- Guarantees and limited offers. These pitches are intended to get you to buy before you can evaluate the product’s claims.
Mayo Clinic experts also remind us to look for solid scientific evidence to back up any CAM treatment claims.
“Do like doctors do. Look for high-quality clinical studies. These large, controlled and randomized trials are published in peer-reviewed journals — journals that only publish articles reviewed by independent experts. The results of these studies are more likely to be solid.
“Be cautious about studies in animals, laboratory studies or studies that include only a small number of people. Their results may or may not hold up when tested in larger clinical trials. Finally, remember that sound health advice is generally based on a body of research, not a single study.”
Beware of opportunists who target people who are overweight or who have chronic medical conditions like multiple sclerosis, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease or arthritis.
And please remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Here’s how Mayo Clinic experts advise us on becoming savvy CAM health care consumers:
- Be open-minded yet skeptical
- Learn about the potential benefits and risks
- Gather information from a variety of credible sources (i.e. NOT just the M.D. who stands to gain financially by selling you his/her vitamin supplements!)
- Evaluate the information carefully
- Assess the credentials of alternative medicine practitioners
- Talk with your regular doctor before trying any treatment – especially if you take medications or have chronic health problems.
Read more about Mayo Clinic’s Consumer Health Advice on how to evaluate claims of alternative medicine treatment success.
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