It is a very positive thing that so many people these days are interested in their health and keen to do whatever they can to improve their performance and prevent illness. An indifference to health would be a terrible thing indeed and could very quickly lead to a number of problems and general deterioration of the population.
That said though, our natural inclination to remain healthy also puts us at risk from those who would try to abuse that interest by using it to sell us fad diets, fake medicines and ineffective gadgets. Unfortunately there are plenty of these things around, and thus taking an active interest in your health necessarily requires us to be highly cautious about who we believe and to approach our goals with a healthy dose of scepticism. To help you avoid some classic mistakes let's take a look at some of the most prolific, unabashed scams out there.
5. Ear Candles
Ear candling is the bizarre practice of lying down with a candle poking out of your ear in an attempt to 'draw out' blockages. The misguided principle behind this idea is that the candle will burn up the oxygen thus reducing air pressure and creating a vacuum.
Aside from the fact that vacuuming your ear wouldn't be a good idea even if it worked, a candle simply isn't capable of creating this kind of vacuum. In fact ear-candling is likely to block your ears further by dripping wax into them, and if you're unlucky you could pick up an infection. Best case scenario? You lie there looking like an idiot with a candle in your ear.
4. Acupuncture & Reiki
This one is a controversial entry because at one point people really did believe that acupuncture worked. It's an ancient tradition and one that many people regard highly.
Unfortunately, any way you look at it there is no evidence to support its effectiveness (and plenty to disprove it). It can work as a placebo sure, but there are many other much cheaper and less invasive ways to get placebo effects and this is a weak excuse for selling something that doesn't work as described. When people are paying large sums of money for a treatment that doesn't do as advertised, how is that anything than false advertising?
Reiki meanwhile is worse in many ways that acupuncture. At least in acupuncture the practitioner is actually doing something, and some people may find it therapeutic. Which Reiki on the other hand, the practitioner does nothing other than to hold their hands over your bad back and then claim they're sending you 'good chi' – and faith healing is essentially the same thing. Again this is 'awkward' because some of these people really believe that they're doing good, but that doesn't change the fact that there is no evidence for their practices. And when people are charging hundreds, thousands or even millions of dollars for a service that doesn't work, it's pretty hard to excuse. Especially when they offer to do it over Skype. Come on people…
3. Magnetic Bracelets
While all health fads get me pretty riled, few upset me in quite the same way as magnetic bracelets. That's because these bracelets so patently don't work and yet charge so much for the privilege of using them. You hear all kinds of nonsense about how these bracelets can alter the 'harmonics' of your cells among other things, but there is countless evidence out there demonstrating conclusively that they don't work. The 'science' used to explain how these things work is based literally on made up words, and even if your cells were affected by magnetism there's no way these magnets would be strong enough to affect you through your skin.
One website selling 'bioflow' magnets opens with the following statement:
'The medical profession accepts and supports the use of electrically generated pulsed magnetic fields to help relieve pain. Bioflow mimics these through a patented static magnetic field known as 'Central Reverse Polarity'. As blood passes through the field it is subjected to a magnetic pulsing effect which we believe helps the body maintain a balanced PH (the information base for pain) and maintain good conductivity in the cells, essential for good health.'
That first line is a complete lie: the professional medical community vehemently denies the effectiveness of magnetic therapy. 'Reverse polarity' means nothing in this context. There is no 'pulsing' effect from a magnet and PH levels indicate acidity which has nothing to do with pain (what is an 'information base'?). Also our cells are not 'conductive' in that sense. Simply put, these should be illegal to sell and any celebrity that endorses them should be drawn and quartered.
2. Fad Diets
Fad diets deserve the number two spot on this list as they are so widespread and potentially so dangerous. In some cases fad diets are relatively harmless if misguided. In others they encourage people to fast for long periods of time, to cut out entire food groups and to consume large amounts of diuretics until they can barely stand. I actually know someone who permanently damaged their teeth while on a juice fast and the Atkin's diet is now infamous for its potentially dangerous side effects and inefficiency. Nevertheless people continue to follow these diets in their droves owing yet again to celebrity endorsements. If Lady Gaga bases her diet on the cycles of the moon then it has to be a sensible approach to dieting, right? The clue is in her name…
While all of these scams are wastes of money and are sometimes potentially dangerous, homeopathy is probably the worst of the bunch. Not only is this an entire industry unto itself but it is also responsible for thousands of people abjectly refusing proper medical attention and preferring to use their 'natural' remedies.
Not all natural remedies are bad, but all homeopathic remedies are without question. The entire basic principle of homeopathy is based on inaccurate ideas and it only gets worse from there.
Homeopathy was originally invented by Samuel Hahnemann who 'observed' that 'like cures like' and on the basis of very little evidence decided that substances that reproduce the symptoms of a disease or condition should thus be able to help the body 'cure itself' of those ailments.
In fact most people who used these early treatments didn't fare so well – it turns out that the equivalent of bashing someone around the head who is suffering from a migraine doesn't always work. As such Hahnemann recommended that his homeopathic cures be 'diluted' to the point where they are no longer effective. In 99% of cases homeopathic treatments are diluted to the point where there is no remaining active agent. In other word you are consuming nothing but sugar and water but at a premium. Studies have shown time and again that homeopathic remedies are ineffective (as though they were needed) and it is indisputably classified as a 'pseudoscience'.
This is absolutely unacceptable when these products are marketed and sold as viable alternatives to proper medical intervention and treatments such as chemotherapy or HIV medication. As a result, homeopathy doesn't just waste people's money, but is often indirectly responsible for killing them. There is no excuse for this industry's continued existence and the sooner it is made illegal to sell these scam products the better. And that goes for all five entries on this list.