/ Health

It’s not worth risking your health or home on ‘miracle cures’

Miracles on a sign

The internet’s rife with adverts and claims for clinics and treatments that offer ‘cures’. But if you’re tempted by untested claims you might want to think again, argues Tabitha from Sense About Science.

A new Sense About Science guide, written with patients and medical charities, explores the danger of untested cures on the web.

People facing long-term or chronic conditions can be desperately searching for anything that might help, and are especially vulnerable to exploitation.

Bombarded with unsubstantiated claims for ‘pioneering cancer treatments’, new diets and unfounded stem cell cures, patients can be left chasing false hope, exposed to crippling financial and emotional costs and risking serious harm to their health.

These treatment claims offer hope of finding something that will do more than conventional medicines can. But the evidence for many of them is unreliable.

Harm to your health and wallet

It’s easy to see a treatment or cure and think ‘I’ve got nothing to lose…’ but the reality is that people can risk, and lose, a lot.

Patients have told us about harm to their health – aggravation of their condition, pressure to stop taking medication, being exposed to risk of infections such as HIV via treatment with unscreened stem cells. And patients have also told us about the financial costs – parting with life savings, risking loss of homes or jobs.

There’s also the emotional toll: pressure from well-meaning friends and family to try things despite a lack of evidence to support them and, perhaps worst of all, the disappointment of realising you’ve been sold false hope.

Aggressive advertising for ‘cures’

Many clinics use aggressive marketing, by selecting the best testimonials, using pseudo-science, even posing as patients in online forums. Some of these treatments cost tens of thousands of pounds. This runs into the hundreds of thousands if they involve costly trips to private clinics abroad – sometimes leading to high-profile emotional public appeals from family and friends to raise money for treatment costs.

In response, we’ve been working with patients and medical charities at Sense About Science to publish a guide to help people weigh up claims about unfounded cures on the web and in advertising. Christine, who has a thyroid condition, told us:

‘After a saliva test an “alternative thyroid doctor” gave me “adrenal glandular” tablets and told me to reduce my prescribed thyroid medication. I was in a lot of pain, bed-bound for weeks and it cost me a whole year out of my life – not to mention the huge costs of paid carers and useless and misleading saliva tests. My advice is not to make my terrible mistake of trusting anyone outside the medical profession.’

Cut through the hype

The clear message coming from patients is that if a claim about a treatment sounds too good to be true, it probably is – but also that there’s a lot that you can do, including:

  • Get involved in clinical trials.
  • Find good evidence-based information.
  • Ask questions about evidence to help tell the beneficial from the bogus.

We live in a world where it’s possible for people to trade in this area. The web provides an amazing advertising space – one which despite best efforts, defies jurisdiction. From our point of view, the best thing we can do is equip people against this: armed with evidence and some critical questions, anyone can put themselves in a stronger position to cut through the hype around unproven treatments for themselves.

What do you think about ‘miracle cure’ promises made online? Do you know of anyone who’s been affected by this?

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Tabitha Innocent, Scientific Liaison at Sense About Science. All opinions expressed here are Tabitha’s own, not necessarily those of Which?

Comments
Member

I find it quite amazing that there are posters here who “thumbs down” on the posts I have made highlighting the facts on Colloidal Silver, and the harm of prescribed Pharmaceuticals.

Is it at all possible to “thumbs down” on indisputable facts?

Seems as if those who disagree with me have a problem with these facts, and will thumbs down on anything I report on.

An agenda anyone?

Very scientific I am sure.

Member
Member

H,
strange how yet again the ASA’s ruling has been made as the result of just ONE complaint in each case. Someone with an agenda perhaps?

Yes it does take only ONE complaint for ASA to investigate advertising standards, but this is not exactly a majority consensus of voluminous complaints, and in the absence of this, one would think that the actual majority who have used the products have no complaints at all.

Most definitely an agenda, and probably from that well-known biased organisation known as the Nightingale Collaboration who do.

Member
Alan Henness says:
14 December 2013

No chrisb1, it’s not in the slightest bit strange, just another of your invented conspiracies.

The ASA do have an agenda: to help protect the public from misleading advertising. That, at least, should be clear to everyone.

If you cared to read the ASA’s website and understand their function in regulating advertising, you might perhaps realise the ASA are doing what they say they do. Yes, they act on just ONE complaint.

However, you seem to completely misunderstand so please tell us which part of ‘the advertisers didn’t provide evidence to back up the claims they made’ would change with the number of complainants?

And no, these were not complaints made by the Nightingale Collaboration: if they had been, we would have been named.

Member

chris, why don’t you use ASA as well? You can complain about drug and surgery adverts and leaflets. You can make a group like Nightingale for the alternative medicine and healthcare community. You’ll find adverts in Hospital Doctor magazine and on drug company websites. You can even ask Ben Goldacre to help out because he’s doing the AllTrials campaign.

Member

Thank you n300, that is a very worthwhile suggestion, and plan to follow this up as soon as I have the time available.

Member

Well that is settled then VitaminD test kits for my brother and wife for Christmas!. He is again suffering from chest infections and I am willing to bet quite large sums he will be show to have inadequate rating.

As to the discrepancy of results between two laboratories this is an interesting insight into the problems within the industry for replication:
http://www.labtestsonline.org.uk/understanding/analytes/vitamin-d/tab/glance

Member

The 25-hydroxy vitamin D test [25(OH)D test] is reported to be the most accurate way to measure how much vitamin D is in your body, rather than the [1,25(OH)₂D test].

If found to be too low, and sun-exposure is not possible, it is advised to supplement with the D3 form rather than the D2 form…………..
http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/84/4/694.full