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Alternative medicine also has its abundance of unethical sharks, charlatans and quacks.

Alternative Medicine also has its abundance of unethical Sharks, Charlatans and Quacks

Because orthodox medicine has failed to fulfill the sometimes unrealistic expectations of the public, modern medical science is faced with unprecedented skepticism about the doctor's role in society.

Many people are turning to alternative methods because medical treatment cannot produce the "cures" expected. Among the serious diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer, the best that "successful" doctoring can produce is some alleviation of the problems, hardly any cures.

The disillusionment is not a symptom of our times alone. Purveyors of cure-all remedies, historically typed as "snake-oil salesmen," have always been "camp followers" of human distress.

In fact, the Food and Drug Administration was created to deal with the wide-ranging abuses of patent medicines - the name that identified products sold for self-healing in the 19th century. These homespun medications were sold by itinerant hucksters, pharmacies, and by whoever could spellbind a listener with lofty promises of cure.

Some of these concoctions, usually worthless, did have a saving grace. They were harmless compounds of herbal extractions or merely colored water. Because the sufferer wanted desperately to be cured, the placebo effect sometimes worked. Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound was one such example of a harmless product that often worked (when it did not keep the patient from seeking needed help for truly serious conditions).

In our era, however, for every Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound that usually caused no harm, there are dozens of treatments marketed within the bounds of legality that can cause serious damage. Such efforts usually prosper because so many people have been deeply disappointed by unethical or careless medical teatment.

Dentists have been known to urge their patients to rip out all mercury fillings from their teeth to improve health. No doubt, mercury is not an ideal substance to harbor during one's life, but the alternative can pose much more serious problems. Apart from the physical trauma of extraction, jaw alignments have been distorted, dormant populations of bacteria released into the bloodstream, and irreparable damage to the excavated tooth structures inflicted. Many of these practitioners advertise themselves as "holistic dentists."

Arthritic "cures" that have caused pain and disenchantment among sufferers include snake venom, healing waters, and copper bracelets. Too often these bizarre remedies have been given extensive publicity by the media. Television news magazines are among the most gullible proponents.

Other unproven arthritis remedies include dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), an industrial solvent that penetrates the skin. It can carry contaminants on the skin into the bloodstream.

Hormone therapy for arthritis consists of unproved steroid-containing products that can produce serious side effects. These products can cause fluid retention, which has been known to aggravate cardiac problems, intensity prostate growth, and promote problems far removed from arthritic pain.

Chelation therapy, recommended by orthodox physicians for emergency removal of lead poisoning, has become a battle cry among alternative practitioners for removal of plaque and other impediments in the arterial system.

There are few reliable statistics to endorse chelation therapy's successes, but evidence does exist that the procedure can be life threatening.

Promoters of chelation therapy for heart disease patients claim that the intravenous infusion of ethylenediamine tetra acetic acid (EDTA) combines with unwanted compounds in the blood and renders them harmless. But chelation therapy can also remove necessary substances from the vital organs.

The elderly are especially vulnerable to health fraud. Several products promise renewed energy (to be read as "regained sexual power") and anti-aging properties.

The health-food store, usually an oasis in a desert of junk foods, has too often joined the polluters of the food supply, offering products high in sweeteners (honey is no less dangerous than white sugar in the diabetic's diet, for example). Does the designation health food store harmonize with the sale of chicken, fish, or meat?

Television hucksters have raised cereal products to the pinnacle of health foods. Few, if any, of their products are not laden with inimical ingredients such as sugar, fructose, malt barley and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), an antioxidant (present in the box cardboard and relatively harmless in small quantities but toxic in large doses because of accumulation).

To invoke federal and local government regulations would do little to change the ways of those who foist useless products upon anxious health seekers. Education in the form of more extensive label information may help. The prospects are not encouraging, however, because experience with tobacco warnings on individual packages has hardly deterred the inveterate smoker.

Also, in fairness to many products that have been condemned by the medical profession as "quackery," some have come to be accepted by medical science. The science of herbology is an outstanding example of such cynicism. Today, such organizations as the National Institutes of Health are pursuing botanicals with fervor. It is believed that medications of the future will rely heavily upon these discoveries.

The seeker of health and well-being will have to assume the burden of an inquiring mind, depend less upon headline news and the implorations of the dispensers of wild claims, and spend more time and energy in personal investigation. The enemy may be everywhere.
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Title Annotation:includes related articles on quackery and advertising, dental fillings, acupuncture and growth hormone treatments for aging
Author:Renaurd, William, Jr.
Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Sep 22, 1990
Previous Article:Medical news as entertainment.
Next Article:Examining Holistic Medicine.

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