By Jane Farrell
As we age, health problems become more frequent, and may seem more insurmountable and frightening. It’s not surprising that when we’re facing them, we want all the help we can get. But there are unscrupulous marketers out there who take advantage of legitimate concerns. They hawk products that are ineffective and even dangerous. How can you avoid getting roped in? Here’s some smart advice from the National Institute of Health on what products to watch out for:
Anti-aging medications. There is no remedy, legitimate or otherwise, to reverse aging’s physical effects. Aging, like menopause, is a normal part of life. Your best bet for aging well, says the NIH, is by avoiding tobacco, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting enough exercise.
Arthritis Remedies. According to the NIH, “unproven arthritis remedies can be easy to fall for because symptoms of arthritis tend to come and go.” People who offer testimonials on TV about being cured may only think their remedies have disappeared permanently. Instead of relying on wearing a bracelet or magnets, treat your condition with rest, heat and some medicine as prescribed by your doctor.
Cancer Cures. This is probably the most serious health scam of all. Not only are the “treatments” ineffective, patients may also decide to ignore legitimate care, putting their health at risk. Marketers have pushed teas, herbs , salves and lotions, according to the federal Food and Drug Administration. Some treatments even require trips outside the U.S. But no matter the circumstances, none of these treatments have cured cancer.
Dietary Supplements. Every year Americans spend billions on supplements ranging from multivitamins whose brands have been around for years to the most obscure herbs. Vitamin supplements can be helpful, although physicians and nutritionist almost always suggest getting your vitamins from food. With other supplements, though, do some research and ask your doctor. One example, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of NIH: The herb black cohosh, which is marketed as offering menopausal relief, has performed no better than a placebo in a study and has also been linked with liver damage. What’s more, supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); hence the label on supplement packages: “These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or any disease.”
Memory Aids. The NIH cautions that fear of losing memory and progressing to Alzheimer’s may drive people to untested remedies like “smart pills” or the removal of their amalgam (silver) tooth fillings. Researchers are working on developing drugs to prevent Alzheimer’s, but so far there is no cure or treatment.
Health Insurance. Some companies claim that they’ll cover anyone, even people who have found it impossible to get health insurance. Unfortunately, this usually is a cruel scheme. Companies promise more coverage than they’ll deliver, or they might even not deliver at all. Check with your state consumer-protection agency to see if the company is licensed in your state and if there have been any complaints about them. Or Google “XYZ insurance company fraud” and see what you come up with. It might be an unpleasant surprise, but it’s better to know now rather than later.
In addition to specific products, the NIH lists some red-flag marketing techniques you should be aware of:
*The product is made from a “secret” or “ancient” formula
*It’s available from only one company, via mail, and you can get additional amounts of the product “free”
*The ad relies on customer testimonials
*The product will cure the condition or illness painlessly and quickly
As always, consult with your doctor if you are thinking of taking any kind of new product or remedy.