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September 2001 Issue
Separating the good health advice from the bad.
by Michael Fick
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I've discussed and listed many sound, respected, peer-reviewed health and fitness websites here recently. Links were provided to many credible sites, which in turn linked us to many thousands of others. I've also referred to books and authors and products who are respected, and to some who are not.

But who the heck am I but you on steroids? That is, I have no more credentials in H&F than you; I just (maybe) read more that you do about it. Thus there's no reason for you to take my word for any of this.

On the other hand, almost every magazine article or authoritative website I've seen which evaluates medical advice sources singles out one authoritative source on the validity on the rest of the sources. That one, often-recommended, always-approved source of truth on medical and health scams, dregs, and quacks is Quackwatch, a website maintained by Dr. Stephen Barrett. It is consistently praised as the top medical bull-filter on the web, and as such should be in your Favorites list and should be used often as you consult books, newsletters, columns, websites, advertisements, and infomercials on any health topics.

But don't take it on blind faith. Look at his site yourself and add your own opinion to those of the many physicians and associations who praise and supplement his efforts. His site is just a click away, at www.quackwatch.com. Here's a brief synopsis of what you'll find there, to motivate you to make that click.

Right up front on the Quackwatch home page is a lengthy, convincing section describing their mission, credentials, organizational structure, funding sources, personal and website honors and awards, and scientific and medical advisor group. There are a lot of initials after the long list of names on his advisory list, and most of them are affiliated with universities and hospitals. The facts, accolades, achievements, and 58 awards presented to the website and its founder in this section are quite persuasive. Example: his research proving that no health-related mail-order ads in national magazines lived up to their claims spurred federal legislation authorizing penalties of $25,000 a day for repeat mail-order false claims.

Then he lists a couple of dozen links to articles on identifying and avoiding quackery in general. Some quick examples on how to spot web sites that quack: If they sell herbs, dietary supplements, homeopathic products, alternative medicine, or natural this or organic that -- they quack. Sound too strong, too sweeping, too cynical? Not the way he presents and supports it. Click here and see for yourself: www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/quackweb.html, then go on to the Quackwatch home page and keep browsing.

The site then dives into over a hundred articles on specific products, services and theories that look like ducks, walk like ducks, and quack like ducks. Acupuncture? Chiropractic? Cellulite? Homeopathy? Special diets? Multilevel marketing? Unnecessary surgery? Weight control hype? Those and a hundred other topics rife with hype are discussed in detail to separate the quack from the duck l'orange. For example, take double Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling's advice that we megadose on vitamin C. It produced immeasurable physical damage in countless people who took his word for it based on his prestige rather than relying on science.

Its Glimpse search engine allows us quick access to reality checks on the hundreds of multilevel marketing (MLM) schemes and scams and products out there preying on our medical fears and desires. Every time we consider buying into or from any MLM program, we should first investigate the plan and the product, and Glimpse is a great place to start that process. MLMs enjoy very little government oversight (Quackwatch is changing that), so we need independent appraisals before committing our money or our health to any MLM product. Dr. Barrett's primary method of combating MLM shams is by encouraging and enabling the government to force MLMs to stop making unsubstantiated or false claims about their products, after years or decades of unconstrained lying. Thus it's not just his opinion that a product or claim is dangerous; government investigations ratify his findings. His scrutiny and credibility have resulted in federal legislative and judicial action resulting in heavy fines and legal action against the charlatans who rip millions of us off every week and harm thousands of us every year. Browsing through discussions of MLMs and their products on this search engine pops up many phrases repeatedly: Attorney General, USFDA, fines, cease and desist, retraction, false claims, dangerous, deaths, etc. 15 minutes here can save you hundreds of dollars, protect your health, and quickly make you a more discerning health products consumer. (Some searches on words you know should be successful, such as "arthritis", will produced no hits. Try again; heavy traffic seems to confuse this HTML search engine more than content engines such as Google.)

Quackwatch offers a wide variety of scores of approved books, some at heavy discounts. Topics include health, medicine, media distortion of medical news, health urban legends and frauds, scam and quackery detection and avoidance, and a wide variety of consumer protection books. He also reviews and recommends specific health newsletters and periodicals.

I had planned on listing and/or discussing some representative samples of the products, claims, treatments, MLMs, gurus, and scams Quackwatch has evaluated, helped prosecute, exposed, or put out of business. But many hundreds of such examples are just a few clicks away, and your own search would be much more pertinent to your needs. Go to Quackwatch right now, find a few buzzwords relevant to you, your lifestyle, your health, and your kitchen or bathroom cabinets, and you will quickly change your shopping, pill-popping, and treatment outlook forever. If Quackwatch alone doesn't satisfy your inquisitiveness or unique needs, it offers links to other health care clearinghouses such as Health Care Reality Check.

I met a lady who wanted to lose five pounds. She initially thought nothing of popping diet pills, rather than eating less cheesecake and parking further away from the mall entrance, until she began getting nervous and shaky and losing sleep. A quick perusal of Quackwatch revealed that she was indeed on amphetamines not listed on the ingredient label, threatening her health for the sake of one jeans size.

I'd love to take human growth hormone to help slow the muscle deterioration inherent in middle age, but two minutes on Quackwatch revealed that is it unproven, maybe even dangerous, and that our bodies' natural HGH production decline may help us age better and live longer. So while some supplements may help us play or work out or landscape our yards better, HGH isn't the answer. Go research your favorite health questions on Quackwatch. The answers you get should be very reliable and informative.



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