Here are some sources on herbs and supplements:
Food and Drug Administration: www.fda.gov.
Federal Trade Commission: www.ftc.gov.
National Center of Complementary and Alternative Medicine: www.nccam.nih.gov.
Office of Dietary Supplements IBIDS Database: http://ods.od.nih.gov/databases/ibids.html.
Quackwatch Medical Fraud Homepage: www.quackwatch.com.
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database: www.naturaldatabase.com. (requires a subscription).
Here are reliable sources on cancer:
National Cancer Institute: www.nci.nih.gov.
American Cancer Society: www.cancer.org.
Cancer Care Inc.: www.cancercare.org
There's nothing more craven than selling phony cures to sick, desperate people. Pushing phony cures to cancer patients is the nadir of nastiness, lower than dirt.
While alternative medicine is full of practitioners moved by lofty goals of rehumanizing the health care system or broadening our understanding of other cultures, there are not a few who have a baser motive: greed. They are riding happily on the coattails of the movement, raking in the dirty bucks.
Many of them reside in the shadowy virtual world of the Internet, able to elude the Food and Drug Administration, which is in charge of dietary supplements, or the Federal Trade Commission, which regulates advertising. Several weeks ago both agencies stepped up efforts to crack down on unscrupulous Internet marketers, going after six companies making false claims about their supplements.
But there are more out there. The problem has been - and continues to be in the absence of good science - trying to tell the difference between a promising alternative treatment and snake oil. And given the Internet's wide influence and the lack of oversight, how do you figure out if a health Web site is legitimate?
There's no question we use the Web for health information. About 55 percent of the more than 100 million Americans on the Internet use it for health information, according to a Pew Internet & American Life survey released last year. Close to half said the Web influences their decision about how to treat an illness or condition. Yet despite their impact, close to two-thirds said they don't know anything about the Web sites they are using.
Dr. Robert Alan Bonakdar, soon to join the staff at the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in LaJolla, Calif., presented a study at a recent scientific conference on alternative medicine looking at herbal cancer cures on the Web.
His purpose was to determine how many Web sites focusing on herbs and cancer complied with the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. The act regulates what health claims a dietary supplement, including herbs, can make.
In essence, it says supplement makers can't say a supplement cures, treats or prevents a disease; if they do, it must be classified as a drug and go through the FDA's review and approval process, which requires clinical trials that show it works and is safe. Supplement makers can, however, make what are called structure and function claims. They can't say, for instance, that the herb echinacea prevents or cures colds; they can say it promotes respiratory health.
What Bonakdar found is fairly appalling. Using seven popular search engines, he got 11,730 to 58,605 hits from each search engine using the words "cancer" and "herb." Using master search engines, he whittled that down to 61 sites, 27 of which were noncommercial and 34 of which were commercial. Of the commercial sites, six were outside the United States; the rest were based in this country.
Among the commercial sites, he found that 92 percent said their product prevented cancer; 89 percent said they treated cancer, and 58 percent promised to cure cancer. "All of them are breaking the law," Bonakdar said.
Most of them - 89 percent - relied on glowing testimonials from patients; about 40 percent included doctors who recommended the product. Many also used "pseudo-medicalese," but only 30.6 percent cited research to back up their claims, Bonakdar found. By comparison 92.6 percent of the noncommercial sites provided references to research.
The worst offenders, Bonakdar said, were the international commercial sites, all of which claimed to cure cancer. One Canadian site (www.holisticcenter.ab.ca) claims: "Here at the Holistic Herb Health Center, we specialize in curing cancer naturally without negative side effects... Our programs kill the cancer and not just treat it until one dies."
By comparison, the "vast majority" of noncommercial sites, run by nonprofit groups or government agencies, "were reasonable," Bonakdar said. They didn't promise to cure, treat or prevent cancer and provided research to support their claims.
The bottom line? "If it sounds too good to be true, don't bother with it," Bonakdar said.
The FTC says consumers should be suspicious of any of the following:
Claims that the product is "natural" or "nontoxic," suggesting it does not have side effects.
Testimonials from people who claim amazing results.
Claims that a product is a "scientific breakthrough," "miraculous cure," "secret ingredient" or "ancient remedy."
Claims that the product is an effective cure for a wide range of ailments.
Claims that use impressive-sounding medical terms.
Claims that the product is available from only one source, and payment is required in advance.
Claims of a "money-back" guarantee.
Web sites that fail to list the company's name, address, phone number or other contact information.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.