“By Chris Woolston, Special to The Times
December 11, 2006”

By law, ads and labeling for over-the-counter health products can’t be false or misleading. But enforcement is so light and sporadic that the law is barely noticeable on the airwaves, the Internet or drugstore shelves. In fact, says Matthew Daynard, a senior attorney in the Federal Trade Commission’s advertising practices division, ads and product packages are minefields of deception, misdirection and outright fraud. Some products, he says, live up to their billing and deliver on their claims, but many other promises go unfulfilled…

The deep desire to feel better can easily push aside questions and doubts, he says. “Quack treatments appeal to emotions. People stop thinking with the organ above their neck. They think with their heart or their gut.”

We may know more about health and medicine than previous generations, but all of that progress hasn’t dampened our wishful thinking, especially in the face of illness, Nickell adds. “A little voice may tell you that it’s a long shot, but you put that voice aside,” he says…

Before you stake your health or your money on this or that product, the first thing you can do is some online sleuthing. [see full article]

• Scientific smoke and mirrors. In the modern marketplace, even reassuring phrases such as “scientifically tested” and “546% more effective” can be red flags…. Unless consumers can verify the studies with a reputable source — perhaps a medical journal or a website of a major health organization — they can’t be sure the study ever existed or that the results are meaningful or relevant….
• The list of potential uses is longer than the list of ingredients.
• Treatment claims…. By law, marketers aren’t allowed to claim that herbs and dietary supplements can cure or treat any specific condition.
• A promise to “promote.” Supplements can legally claim to “promote” the health of specific body parts as long as they don’t mention a particular illness…. “The word ‘promote’ is a weasel word,” he says. “It means nothing.”
• Weight-loss miracles… the only proven methods for long-term weight loss — eating less and exercising more
• All-natural ingredients. Lead, arsenic and rattlesnake venom are all-natural products, but you wouldn’t want them in your multivitamin. Not all herbs are safe, either.
• Echinacea or lawn clippings?… choose only products that have been certified by the USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia) or NSF International. These organizations, upon the request of manufacturers, will verify the contents….
• Testimonials and money-back guarantees. Marketers often try to deflect doubts by using these confidence boosters…. As for risk-free trials or money-back guarantees, companies often fold up shop before they have to issue refunds, a strategy that’s especially easy in this age of Internet marketing.
• FDA-approved?… The FDA does classify the Chi Machine as a Class 1 medical device, — but all that means is it is considered harmless. The agency never tested the product’s effectiveness or approved it for anything.

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