Junkfood Science: Natural solutions for private fears

March 06, 2008

Natural solutions for private fears

What helpful and amazing medical information can be found on the internet!

The trouble is, much of it isn’t true. Worse, just as much of it can be downright dangerous should we decide to believe it.

The FDA just released a public advisory about a series of warning letters it issued on Tuesday (March 4th) to companies selling drugs online that fraudulently claim to prevent or cure STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) — including Herpes, Chlamydia, Human Papilloma Virus, cervical dysplasia and HIV/AIDS.

The websites look credible, trustworthy and so convincing. They promise their pills and natural remedies work better than conventional medicines and can do wondrous things, such as kill all herpes viruses without conventional medications, protect from STDs without condoms, or that they are certified by the FDA.

There’s just one problem.

None of these products are FDA approved and none can do the things they promise. But they can pose a serious health threat to unsuspecting consumers who don’t know that.

“These products are not FDA approved and have not been proven safe or effective,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, M.D., deputy commissioner for scientific and medical programs, chief medical officer, and acting director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “STDs are very serious diseases and these products give consumers a false sense of security that they are protected from STDs”... when they are not. Left untreated, the complications can also be devastating.

The products in these warnings include:

Tetrasil, Genisil, Aviralex, OXi-MED, Imulux, Beta-mannan, Micronutrient, Qina, and SlicPlus

Today’s nonstop health scares have understandably made many people nervous about their health and want to believe in preventive health. Creating worried and anxious people is what makes them special targets for frauds hoping to make easy money selling false promises and reassurances.

And it’s easy to understand how hard it can be to tell a legitimate website and source of medical information apart from a fraudulent one. Many websites can seem dependable — they have the word “science” in their names, tell us their information is “evidence-based” and that their products have been researched and tested, they offer toll-free numbers and money-back guarantees, and give recommendations from doctors with impressive credentials. That’s all still just window dressings and doesn’t make their health information reliable. Only good science can do that.

Health Science Report

For an example, one of the companies that received an FDA warning letter is “Health Science Report—Quality research for healthcare providers and their patients.” Its website claims to offer comprehensive research especially for those with HPV (human papilloma virus), cervical dysplasia (abnormal Pap smear), genital warts or plantar warts.

You’ll find each article generally begins with a tidbit of information to make you nervous or worried, which is followed by a reassuring solution: their product. Research and testimonials work to make the solution appear safe and effective. Finally, a credentialed expert adds comforting credibility.

Scare. The front page opens with frightening-sounding warnings that “HPV is the only proven cause of cervical cancer, and is implicated in chronic urinary tract infections, vaginosis and vaginitis (with vaginal discharge)” and that a third of college women have HPV and “many are told surgery is their only option.” **

A list of scary-sounding complications and risks from surgeries follow.

Solution. The website then claims its all-natural, holistic product compares favorably to these traditional treatments, while eliminating the need for uncomfortable procedures and dangerous drugs. The website offers treatment recommendations specifically for pregnant women, children, men and non-pregnant women — all for its products...bottles of it.

Among the long list of claims cited by the FDA were:

“Through intensive research, Dr. Joe Glickman, Jr., M.D. has created an all-natural, holistic, Aloe vera-based supplement called Beta-mannan™. Since its development in 1996, Beta-mannan™ has safely eliminated HPV-related illnesses in only 90 days in the vast majority of cases for thousands of men and women ... appears to eliminate cervical dysplasia and genital warts in most cases... eliminate [HPV] with Beta-mannan™ in order to decrease the risk of miscarriage... and is more effective than traditional surgical or medical treatments.”

Beta-mannan contains natural vitamin E and a“proprietary blend of aloe vera gel (beta-mannan concentrates). Another of its products, Micronutrient™, is said to be a natural nutritional supplement with “a very specific combination of herbs and extracts designed to help decrease the number of outbreaks of herpes.”

Testimonials. Countless testimonials offer the most impassioned and dramatic claims — with lots of exclamation points: “I am not only cured from CD, I am healed! ... I am so happy, my Pap test result came back normal! ... NORMAL!! What a beautiful word. NORMAL. Of course my doctor tried to dismiss the success but I wouldn't listen. Then after another six months and a new doctor, NORMAL AGAIN!! ... I am convinced that Beta-mannan is a cure all.”

Profuse thank-you’s and urgings for others to try the product or continue to take it “just to stay safe” and the emails of former customers help to create a friendly sense of community and the bandwagon effect.

Research. Amidst the research articles are claims that go well beyond STDs, such as its product may “eliminate the need for oral hypoglycemic drugs in type 2 diabetics;” that it “kills herpes, chickenpox, rabies and flu viruses in 15 minutes;” that it returns cholesterol levels to normal in 90% of users in just 3 months; improves angina and atherosclerosis; and suggests it be used for prostate cancer and cancer of the penis. It’s not just for sick people, another article says, everyone should consider taking it “to produce optimal health.”

Few people will track down the original research and examine the integrity of the studies for themselves to see why the FDA reached the conclusions that “the products are not generally recognized as safe and effective when used under the conditions prescribed, recommended, or suggested.” Dr. Glickman was given 15 days to correct the violations.

Expert. What may be most disarming to website visitors is that the products are offered by a licensed medical doctor who has written medical and nursing textbooks. Many people naturally place their trust in doctors and experts with credentials.

What did we miss?

Good science.

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