Recently I got a call from a prospective client, who told me he was going to try a high dose vitamin to help him recover from cancer treatment. He read about it and it was supposed to make him feel better and prevent the cancer from coming back.
I get these questions often. “Have you heard about (insert product)__________? Does it work? Should I try it for my (insert symptom)__________________ ?”
My answer is not always what they want to hear, but it does make them think. My answer consists of more questions:
- What are the claims?
- What are the benefits?
- What are the risks?
- What is the science behind it?
- What does it cost?
- Have you asked your doctor about it?
- Do you know anyone who tried it?
Playing Internet Roulette
In the case of the prospective client, the product cost $500 and was a series of injections, administered by someone, but it wasn’t clear if they even knew how to give an injection safely. Based on shoddy research, the ad made it sound like it was the holy grail and would solve all of his problems and prevent a recurrence of cancer, leading to a long life, according to a testimonial. The ad encouraged use of the vitamin because of a conspiracy by the drug companies who didn’t want anyone to know it would prevent a future need for chemotherapy.
I looked it up on Quackwatch and it was listed. There is no evidence that it can prevent a recurrence or that it is even an effective treatment for his complaints. All it would do is provide him with false reassurance, but would do nothing for helping him look at his own lifestyle to see where else he could improve on his habits to support his future health. At best, he would be out $500 with nothing to show for it.
If we knew that a supplement worked we would be using it, the word would be out, it wouldn’t be a secret for long. No matter what you might think about greed, conspiracies, and the pharmaceutical industry, there are enough scrupulous people who act in the public’s best interest, that it wouldn’t be long before someone blew a whistle.
Looking for information online can yield plenty…more than you ever wanted. Some of it is good, much of it is not. How do you tell the difference?
A Game of Chance
If you use a search engine you are really throwing the dice. Many things can affect what you come up with in your search: how closely your search terms match the article’s key words, or whether someone paid to advertise their site.
- Always look for the date the article was published- outdated information can stay around for quite some time.
- Look for the author’s credentials and what agency or organization they write for.
- If the article comes with a lot of advertising around it, it could be part of an overall marketing plan for a product or service.
- Does the article cite credible sources?
- Even if the sources are credible, is the information presented in an unbiased way?
When the phrase “a study” is used, that should be an alert that the findings being presented are based on one study. Scientifically-based recommendations are based on a body of evidence, from the conclusions of many studies. One study is not enough to draw a conclusion that should change practices or recommendations. Health News Review is one place you can look, to see if the assertions being made are legitimate.
Studies have to be repeated and support the original study’s findings to build a body of evidence, which consists of many studies drawing similar conclusions to be able to make recommendations to apply the findings to change practice in the real world.
Whenever the word “proven” is used, especially when they say “clinically proven” is another trap. In science things are rarely “proven” without a doubt. You cannot actually prove that one thing affects another the same way every single time. The word “proven” is rarely used in any discussion of legitimate scientific practice.
Adding “clinically” is just a vague descriptor that means absolutely nothing. What clinic? Where? How was it involved in the research? What oversight is there over the clinic’s activities?
Avoid rolling the dice
Wondering if a product or service is legitimate or a scam? You can go to websites like Quackwatch.org which list ways to tell a scam and known scams. Cancer survivors are especially heavy targets for scams because people will prey on hope and desperation. Conspiracy theories are often floated to get the reader to doubt the science behind conventional treatments or cures.
The availability of information online makes it important for you to be able to do your own investigation before believing claims, and people who are called on their false claims usually don’t react kindly.
Don’t believe everything you hear or read. Think about it and do a little footwork. It will save you money, time and maybe your life.