/ 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?


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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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:

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…………..

The FDA Says This Food is a Heart “Drug”.

It would seem that the biggest and most profitable companies get away with just about anything as long as they’re willing to write a check.

That’s bad enough. But when the FDA tries to keep you from improving your health, that’s when things get really dangerous.

This attempt to secure profits seems especially crazy. They’re calling a natural, healthy FOOD a “new drug” that has to be subjected to the full FDA approval process.

Under the rules, it is illegal for food makers to share certain information with consumers. Whether or not it’s true. And whether or not it can save lives.

If a food product even looks like it’s making a medical claim, it can bring fines and legal problems. It can even lead to jail time. But if you are willing, you can pay the FDA to go through the approval process. When the dust settles, we’re talking billions of dollars in costs.1

It doesn’t matter if the food has been around forever and its health benefits are backed by clinical science.2

So what’s this dangerous drug that the FDA wants to “protect” you from?


I wish I were kidding. The FDA went after Diamond Foods for claims they made on their website about why walnuts are good for you.

The health benefits are fairly common knowledge. Walnuts can help prevent heart disease and cancer. Not exactly controversial or groundbreaking.

The FDA responded to these claims with a ridiculous and threatening letter. Here are some of the actual highlights:

“Your walnut products are also new drugs … they are not generally recognized as safe and effective for the above referenced conditions. Therefore … they may not be legally marketed with the above claims in the United States without an approved new drug application.”3

What the FDA is saying is that if a food can support your health, it’s a drug. This means that the FDA needs to test and approve it. They even need to set the “directions for use” so that people know how much is safe to take. And of course, this process isn’t free.

Again, we’re talking about walnuts here. They grow on trees!

As if that wasn’t crazy enough, they are blatant hypocrites…

Companies like Frito-Lay, owned by PepsiCo, claim their snacks have all sorts of benefits to your health. This somehow includes strong bones and muscles. But the most insulting—and crazy—claim is that their potato chips support heart health because they use sunflower oil to fry them.4

Someone should tell the FDA the difference between “good” for you and “slightly less awful” for you.

Unlike potato chips, walnuts are actually good for you. Walnuts reduce LDL cholesterol levels over six years by nearly 50 percent.5 Studies show walnuts improve your heart health in other ways too.

Men in one study who ate a Mediterranean diet replaced 30 percent of their fats, like olive oil, with walnuts. After just 30 days, they found their vasodilation improved by more than 60 percent. They also lowered their cholesterol by 10 percent.6

So science actually proves that walnuts fight heart disease and high blood pressure. It’s irresponsible to try and keep this information from the public. By not allowing Diamond Foods to talk about the amazing things walnuts can do to support heart health, it keeps people in the dark. But it also keeps them relying on dangerous heart medications instead of nature to lower their blood pressure.

If the FDA was really concerned with your health, they would want to do everything in their power to share this information about walnuts. Instead, they want to force them to be regulated as a drug.

My recommendation? Keep eating up these scandalous nuts. (Just be sure to buy organic.) And spread the word! Walnuts are not drugs. Yes, I feel rather silly even writing that.

1 http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/03/07/fda-says-walnuts-are-drugs.aspx
2 http://www.realfarmacy.com/walnuts-are-drugs-says-fda/
3 http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/EnforcementActions/WarningLetters/ucm202825.htm
4 http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2011/aug2011_FDA-Says-Walnuts-Are-Illegal-Drugs_01.htm
5 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8357360
6 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15037535

There are so many claims made for “superfoods” that we are right to be cynical. There is, I think, a difference to be drawn between foods that are claimed to be good for you (and in the widest sense most foods are when taken in the correct amounts) and those for which specific medical claims are made. These claims should be backed by independent objective investigation that proves their worth beyond reasonable doubt. You are right to condemn the sugary novelty foods produced by some major corporations – these are designed to extract money from the pockets of the unwary to boost their profits, and the bonuses of their cunning marketing departments.

Indeed Malcolm there are many health claims for superfoods, and it is only right to be dubious rather than cynical about their health claims, but in this case walnuts have proven benefits in reducing LDL cholesterol levels over six years by nearly 50 percent.5
5 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8357360

Studies also show walnuts improve your heart health in other ways too, but to classify them as a a “drug” is absolute lunacy.

What we are talking about here is not “medical claims” but “health claims”: a rather different concept altogether.

A beautiful infographic showing the current situation according to the Cochrane Institute 2010:

Of course the new study from Southampton on Vit D levels in pregnant women and child muscle strength is way too new to be featured.

There is no doubt that infographics can really cut through the clutter. I am not too sure how the Google searches sized circles help but I suppose it does reveal the hot topics that laymen search for. : )

I’m reading some papers on “sectarian medicine” (medical practices which repudiate the mainstream) and came across this rather striking quote:

“Modern medical science can be proud ofastounding accomplishments, which have improved its capabilities to a level undreamed of even a few decades ago. Nevertheless, all the while such progress was occurring, unproved, unorthodox, and fraudulent practices have continued to flourish, ranging from the medically trivial(but economically important) remedies for baldness and obesity to the “alternative” practices promoted for serious disease. Their impact on traditional medicine has been underestimated. These practices should be understood to represent an unalterable opposition to the basic premise of modem medicine, its cornerstone of objective scientific investigation. Promoters of such therapies are certainly not new on the scene, but in recent years have exhibited an increasing ability to alter social and political factors influencing health care.”

“Laetrile was no more noteworthy than a host of other chemical entities proposed for the cure of malignancy. What made it distinctive was the sociolegal phenomenon its promoters instigated. Despite the lack ofapproval by the Food and Drug Administration and the opposition of virtually every reputable cancer specialist and major medical organization, by 1978 laetrile had been used by approximately 75 000 American patients. By 1982, the legislatures of 24 states had passed bills effectively legalizing the use of laetrile within their borders. Ultimately, a prospective trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration provided conclusive evidence of the lack of benefit of laetrile. However, itis important to appreciate that this study in fact represented a reversal of the usual role of such clinical research. It was not an investigation conducted by proponents and intended to prove safety and effectiveness, but a response virtually required of the medical/scientific community to disprove an unsound belief of social folklore, an evaluation of a drug for which there was hardly a shred of preclinical evidence. It was akin to scientists not offering proof that the world was round, but being required to show that it was not flat.”

(Referral by Default: The Medical Community and Unorthodox Therapy, Thomas V. Holohan MD, JAMA March 1987, vol 257 no. 12 1641-2)

This is a remarkably accurate reflection of these debates!


The modern “medical science” you refer to which can be “proud of the astounding accomplishments it has achieved”, represents a very unbalanced view of healthcare practice in the real World.
To illustrate this a recent article, published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, provides much evidence that many well-established medical practices are dubious, wrong, and even harmful . Researchers from the National Institutes of Health examined 10 years of clinical investigations from the New England Journal of Medicine. Over that decade (2000-2010), they found 363 published studies that evaluated an established therapy.

Some examples…………
In 146 of the 363 studies (40%), the scientific evidence caused a reversal of established medical practice. In other words, nearly half the time the prevailing wisdom of treatment was wrong.
Here are some examples, where not one branch of Medicine was spared a reversal.

In electrophysiology, the AFFIRM trial revealed that the strategy of using rhythm control drugs to maintain sinus rhythm in elderly asymptomatic patients with AF did not reduce stroke, hospitalization and death rates. To this day, nearly ten years out, AF patients are still on rhythm drugs because a doctor “thinks” this strategy will prevent stroke or reduce the risk of death.

In interventional cardiology, the idea that coronary blockages need to be ‘fixed’ is ingrained. Fueled by favorable reimbursement, intense marketing from industry and an insatiable public demand for being ‘fixed,’ stent implantation has soared. Then the COURAGE trial showed that implanting stents in patients with asymptomatic coronary disease was no better than optimal medical therapy and “LIFESTYLE ADJUSTMENTS”. So even to this day, there are wide variations in cardiovascular care which suggests that too many doctors ignore the scientific evidence.

Preventative cardiologists: Hormone replacement therapy for women was perhaps the most famous reversal. Millions of women were treated with hormones under the guise that manipulating female hormones would be “cardio-protective.” But HRT was based only on observational studies. Randomized clinical trials proved the concept wrong. (The Gold Standard of medical efficacy was ignored).

In Pediatrics, therapy of inner ear infections had a huge medical reversal. Doctors were concerned that recurrent otitis media would cause long-term hearing loss. Guidelines recommended early intervention with surgery (tubes) to prevent complications. But then two major trials showed no benefit. One of the most commonly done procedures in ALL of Pediatrics—was WRONG!!

In ICU medicine, the pulmonary artery catheter (Swan-Ganz) was thought to provide invaluable data on a patient’s heart and lung function. You just couldn’t manage a sick patient without one. Surgeons, too, thought the balloon-tipped catheter was necessary for major operations. Then, when it was studied systematically, no benefit was found. A generation of doctors toiled over those pressure tracings—all for nothing..

Cardiac surgeons are concerned about bleeding after they close a patients chest. An almost magical drug of the time, a pro-coagulant called aprotinin was found to decrease post-op bleeding. Not until after the use of aprotinin became established practice did four studies refute its benefit. Here the story gets worse. Aprotinin INCREASED MORTALITY.

In Anesthesia, one of the more feared complications is patient awareness of surgery. It’s a terrible outcome, which, in some cases leads to PTSD. It was no surprise then that Anesthesiologists jumped at the chance to use a nifty little monitor stuck on a patient’s scalp. The bi-spectral index monitor quantifies the deepness of a patient’s sedation during surgery. Despite only one industry-sponsored study, use of the monitor surged, and it nearly became a standard of care. Then in 2008, a large randomized trial showed NO BENEFIT.

Medical reversals in Oncology are especially very sad. Thousands of women with advanced breast cancer were exposed to unnecessarily aggressive surgery or chemotherapy (with stem-cell transplantation) before careful clinical trials showed NO BENEFIT. Many many women suffered needlessly. Metastatic breast cancer is bad enough: implementing this therapy on at the end of life was beyond tragic.

In diabetes care, strict control of blood glucose in hospitalized patients worsened outcomes. Widespread protocols designed to manage blood sugars were presented, and the “experts” were sure of the treatment plan for blood sugar which had to be strictly controlled. Wrong again. Too much action caused harm.

There are many more examples. Reversals included medicines, procedures, diagnostic tests, screening and medical devices. If an intervention was not based on solid scientific evidence, there was a nearly 50% chance it was wrong. What’s more, some of the most striking reversals came when therapy was aggressive.

The authors emphasized three reasons why medical reversals are so serious.
First, MILLIONS of humans were harmed.
The second issue is continuing harm. Some estimates suggest it takes ten years—on average—to change entrenched medical practice, and believed by many to be an underestimate.
Third, medical reversals cause harm because they erode trust in the patient-doctor relationship. Patients expect doctors to be either correct, or transparent about uncertainty, which in many cases they are not.

So the unproved, unorthodox, and fraudulent practices that have continued to flourish, would include standard medical practice and not just some of those outside of the remit of medical science.

The real truthful story on Laetrile can be found in a publication entitled: Laetrile Case Histories: The Richardson Cancer Clinic Experience, by John A. Richardson, M.D. and Patricia Irving Griffin, R.N., B.S.
Dr. Richardson, was one of the Laetrile pioneers in the 1970s and paid a heavy price. He had to stand three expensive trials in California courts. All three cases against him on the use of Laetrile were dismissed.

Laetrile has had other noteworthy supporters…
Harold W. Manner, Ph.D., chairman of the biology department at Loyola University in Chicago, found that laetrile combined with vitamin A and pancreatic enzymes produced a very high cure rate of breast cancers.

And National Cancer Institute (NCI) biochemist Dr. Dean Burke, Ph.D. performed an experiment that used Laetrile to kill a tissue culture of cancer cells. Dr. Burke was convinced that Laetrile could be an effective cancer cure, a pain reliever for terminal cancer victims, and even useful for preventing cancer…………..
Wilson, B. 2004. The Rise and Fall of Laetrile.

In the book: “Alternatives in Cancer Therapy”, authors Rose Pelton, R. Ph. and Lee Overholser, Ph.D. call Laetrile an “orphan drug” because it gets no love or support from the pharmaceutical industry.
Pelton and Overholser have said “no drug company is interested in committing money to research Laetrile’s potential.” But these advocates aren’t willing to tuck their tail between their legs and move on. Instead, they say orthodox medicine has instituted a full-fledged campaign to:

#1. Downplay case histories of patients who’ve benefited from Laetrile treatments
#2. Exaggerate reports of side effects and toxicity
#3. Ruin the reputation of doctors who successfully treated patients with Laetrile
#4. Use strong-arm government officials to ensure Laetrile does not receive exemption from the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration.

These of course are typical tactics used by orthodoxy to suppress any treatment modality that does not conform to the drug-paradigm of disease-treatment, and it is people such as yourself, who have fallen hook line and sinker, for the propaganda-machine that supports the status quo without question, and a rather naive gullible approach to what you have been spoon-fed.