Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Scams of the Week: March 1, 2011

We will have a special edition of Scams of the Week this time around. It focuses on the health claims of some of the more recent fads that have been getting a lot of attention.  Health claims are often outside the realm of knowledge for consumers and they must rely on research and trust to find out what is true and what is not. The problem comes when drug manufacturers and businesses massage research data to give false impressions about their product.  The testimony of health gurus is not reliable either. So here is some reliable information about products that are widely misrepresented.

Capsaicin Based Weight Loss Pills - Capsaicin is a chemical in cayenne pepper that many weight loss pills boast as an ingredient.  Apparently, it does have an effect on the weight loss of people in extraordinarily high doses.  I have only found one reliable study, the rest have serious issues with controlling the parameters of the experiments (controlling outside influences that have an effect on weight loss should be a requirement of weight loss study).  The reliable study concludes "Capsaicin has been shown to be effective, yet when it is used clinically it requires a strong compliance to a certain dosage, that has not been shown to be feasible yet." So, they can't cram enough capsaicin into pills to affect weight loss. Check the ingredients of any diet pills you may be considering.

Most weight loss pill claims suffer from the same manipulation of research data.  In a lab, someone tests a substance's biological effect on fatty tissue that might imply weight loss, but tests are rarely properly administered to see if humans in a controlled environment are capable of the weight loss being advertised. It's very difficult to tell an honest business from a fraudulent one because the data sounds convincing even if it's being used in an inappropriate way.

Homeopathy - I recently got a call from someone who defended homeopathic "treatment" in response to our list of the top ten scams from last year, which singled out homeopathy as quackery. Perhaps I shouldn't have called it "quackery." Perhaps I should have called it alchemy, sorcery or some other nonsense non-medical superstition. I want to be clear about one thing. It's fake. It doesn't work and can't work.  The idea behind homeopathy involves diluting a substance that gives similar symptoms to what already ails the patient. Yes, you read that right. Something that gives the same symptoms.

At this point, you may be thinking that it's similar to inoculation, but it's not. Inoculation and Vaccination uses an inert strand of a virus to build up a person's resistance to it.  Homeopathy uses something that causes similar symptoms (or supposedly causes similar symptoms), but is in no way related to the actual disease ailing the patient.  In a famous homeopthic remedy, the patient takes a pill with diluted amounts of duck liver to cure the flu.  That's right, duck liver.  For anyone who might be just the teensiest bit curious, duck liver has no effect on the flu.

But that's not the only crazy part.  The duck liver, or whatever else they put into solutions for other ailments, is diluted to point of being undetectable in any way.  Homeopaths dilute the ingredient with so much water that only one single duck liver molecule is present in millions or even billions of pills.  So, one in a billion will actually have any ingredient other than water or salt in their dosage. Homeopaths believe that the water will retain some memory of the ingredient. I am not making this up. The person lucky enough to get that one molecule of duck liver in their dosage would not be able to detect the molecule anyway. By any scientific measurement, it is water. There would be more dust than duck.

This superstition of "water memory" itself is not a scam, but because there are people out there selling it to desperate people in need of non-existent treatment makes it a scam.

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