Health Treatments or Quackery?

BlogHer Original Post

In-between the space of logic, fear and belief is magical thinking. I will do just about anything to avoid a mammogram. I read the news story about Dr. Joseph Mercola's claims that thermography can be a replacement for mammograms -- that got my attention.

One of my aunts died from breast cancer. She wouldn’t or couldn’t afford to get tested. I know this. Yet I can rationalize about postponing the test.

If there was another way, other than compression x-rays, would I rush to get tested?

I have no way of knowing what is the truth about Dr. Mecola’s claims. After visiting his main site it seems to fit the pattern of both a possible pioneer and medical quackery.

I am disposed to want to believe. Yet my mind will not stop asking questions. A bit of history can shed a light on possible answers.

How Can I Figure This Out?

Old Medicine Bottles


We have survived a long line of dubious medicine. Caroline Rance at The Quack Doctor has a wonderful collection of old medical ads, cons and questionable treatments that really show how much we have not changed over the course of time.

By reading her blog for historical examples of quackery and reading current health fraud information from U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), I can get a better idea of what to look out for when dealing with health claims and promises.

Reading over the entries, some of the common elements are the sense of urgency, time, testimonials and making the impossible affordable.

As you visit her blog, keep these tips by the FDA in mind:

  • Does one product seem to have an ever expanding list of non-related treatments?
  • Is this “the cure?”
  • Where is the proof and the documentation? It can’t just be anecdotal. Can another person replicate what you claim to have discovered?
  • Is there an use of anonymous testimonials?

Charlatans know it is hard to lose money selling anything to do with sexual potency. This was true in the 1900s with medicinal drugs like Gordon’s Vital Sexualine Restorative or Dr. Velpeau’s Magnetic Love Powders.

The pattern fits when you can see that across time, the ads play to the needs and emotions of the reader. It is the human example of “step into my parlor, said the spider to the fly.”

Another cool place to visit is the Kansas Historical Society Cool Things page on which you can look at some of the objects from the 1950s and 1960s. There is also an audio podcast from the museum about items in their collections.

Moving Past the Fear

In the shadows stands a legion of people ready to fleece suckers with the whiz bang treatment of the moment.

The problem is that we want the fast cure. We want the fix that will transform us to our other, better self. No matter how intelligent you think you are, there is a space that a huckster is looking for to crowbar open your wallet.

It is not about reason. It is about seeking one more chance. Redemption. The path to fitting in. I know just how strong that call is: When I was a teenager, I bought a $40 bottle of liquid protein in order to lose weight.

I did it because every day there was a news story about liquid protein, ads in my local paper and other people talking about the product. I was young and had so much pressure to lose weight that I locked onto “the cure.”

I absolutely lost weight. I also gained a lovely case of hepatitis. I wasn’t the only one. The product was soon banned for consumption. I was lucky, there were other women who didn’t get the chance to learn from their error in judgment.

Thermography looks appealing, but I’ll get the mammogram. I might have fears, but there is nothing wrong with being an informed consumer.

Gena Haskett is a BlogHer Contributing Editor. My Blogs: Out On The Stoop and Create Video Notebook

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