Monday, January 9, 2017

Superstition and Health

Last time I gave an example of how one food company tried to use modern day superstitious ideas about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to try to hype their tomato products.  They touted the fact that none of their tomatoes were genetically modified, in the sense of being tinkered with in some lab, implying that others were and the only way to be sure is to use their products.  They were caught in the act, so to speak, because there are no genetically modified tomatoes; and even if there were, scientists have concluded that GMO products are safe.  The fear of GMOs is a good example of food-related superstition.  If their errors had not been so obvious, they may have slipped by the critics leaving misinformed people to the mercy of more misinformation.

Closely related to food superstitions are those about health and longevity.  Everyone is interested in living longer and healthier, but different people go to different extremes, some wasting money on worthless and potentially dangerous products.

One example that came to my attention recently is essential oils.  Used in aromatherapy, they are believed to produce numerous health and wellness benefits from pain relief and antidepressant effects to digestion aid and hormone enhancement.  One website shows a grid of over 40 aromas with a check in the box showing which of 27 benefits each provides.  That they may be an effective deodorant is not a stretch, but at least one is listed as having both calming and stimulant effects.

Of course the National Institute of Health (NIH) sees it differently, concluding after extensive study:  Lack of sufficiently convincing evidence regarding the effectiveness of aromatherapy combined with its potential to cause adverse effects questions the usefulness of this modality in any condition.”  Another website discusses further disappointing study results.

Another area of health that is all the rage is detoxing.  This CBS news item highlights a couple of people who were hospitalized as a result of following the herbal, all natural detox plans.  Experts told them, “while ‘detoxing’ can be a necessary process for people addicted to drugs and alcohol, the average person does not need to take extreme steps to cleanse so-called 'toxins' out of their system. In fact, the body detoxes naturally” nor is there any way to artificially enhance this process.  They also remind readers in the course of the explanation, “Despite marketing suggesting otherwise, all-natural products are not without side effects.”

A second site is even more blunt on the subject.  “Products that promise ‘detox’ are a sham. Yes, all of them.”  It’s not magic; it’s a rip-off and potentially dangerous.

Finally, here is an example from Consumer Health Digest (#17-01).  It describes the website of a doctor (MD) who offered alternative health solutions and was recently charged with unprofessional conduct and refusing to release records to investigators.  “In 2013, the DeOrio Wellness Medical Center Web site offered a ‘comprehensive holistic evaluation and treatment program’ that included ‘specialized laboratory testing,’ Oriental pulse and tongue diagnosis; homeopathic interview and treatment; acupuncture; nutrition and diet consultation; ‘structural and biomechanical integration’; ‘emotion and spiritual counseling’; and ‘infra-red sauna baths combined with IV vitamin therapy for the newest, safest and most effective detoxification program available.’ "

When you see a laundry list of magical health remedies like this, run! 

A century ago it was called “snake oil.”  A slick salesman drove his wagon into town touting the wonders of who-knows-what in a bottle, often arranging for a shill to be in the crowd to praise the product.  Then he would drive away with the cash and disappear before anyone could complain.  Now, even with better education, it’s the same; except the slick salesmen use the Internet with endorsements coming from Facebook to lure the desperate or others susceptible to the quick-fix enticement. 

The ones above and many other wonderful cures based on ancient wisdom and clinically proven treatments are looking to use the placebo effect to separate you from your money.  Due to the web, 24-hour news and social media, critical thinking was never so important in keeping us safe from the health-related superstitions of the day.

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