Hitting a Nerve

Standards for health claims in advertisements need to go up


Three months is how long I’ll leave a magazine out in my waiting room. When its lobby lifespan is up, I’ll usually recycle it, though sometimes will take it home to read myself when I have down time.

A pile of magazines pinkomelet/Thinkstock

Leafing through an accumulated pile of them over the recent holiday break, I was struck by how many carry ads for questionable “cures”: magnetic bracelets for headaches, copper-based topical creams that claim to cure diabetic neuropathy. Another was from a company with something that looks like a standard tanning bed advertising that it has special lights to “alternatively treat cancer.”

How on Earth is this legal?

Seriously. Since college I’ve been through 4 years of medical school, another 5 combined of residency and fellowship, and now 21 years of frontline neurology experience. And if, after all that, I were to start marketing such horse hockey as a cure for anything (besides my wallet), I’d be hounded by the Food and Drug Administration and state board and probably driven out of practice.

Yet, people with no “real” (science-based) medical treatment experience are free to market this stuff to a public who, for the most part, don’t have the training, knowledge, or experience to know it’s a crock.

I’m sure some of the people selling this stuff really believe they’re helping. Admittedly, there are a lot of things we don’t know in medicine. But anything that’s making such claims should have real evidence – like a large double-blind, placebo-controlled trial – behind it. Not anecdotal reports, small uncontrolled trials, and patient testimonials. The placebo effect is remarkably strong.

Dr. Allan M. Block, a neurologist is Scottsdale, Ariz.

Dr. Allan M. Block

There are also some selling this stuff who are less than scrupulous. They’ll claim to have good intentions, but are well aware they’re bilking people – often desperate – out of their savings. They’re no better than the doctors who make headlines for Medicare and insurance fraud by performing unnecessary surgeries and billing for medications that weren’t given.

Either way, the point is the same. Unproven treatments are just that – unproven – and shouldn’t be marketed as effective ones. If it works, let the evidence prove it. But if it doesn’t, no one should be promoting it to anyone, regardless of how long (and where) they went to school.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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