Saturday, September 13, 2008


Recently I came across an article on an MS website that read like a PR campaign for alternative products. The headline was sensational and the article was described as having come from a newspaper, indicating it was a researched story from a reporter.

Halfway through the article I realized it WAS an advertisement for another website belonging to someone who was peddling alternative treatments, supplements, and books about the benefits of these things.

As a member of the media and a sometimes PR person myself, I recognized the "article" for what it was - an ad. I informed the author of the MS website of what he had just published and what it actually was, and he removed it from his site.

Am I against alternative therapies or complimentary medicines? Generally, no. If it works for you, it's not draining your pocket book at the expense of "proven" medicine, and it does no harm to you, then go for it. But remember, most of these therapies or supplements or regimens are not FDA approved (Health Canada in Canada) nor have they any scientific evidence to back them up. As a matter of fact, the website I was directed to, said at the very bottom in small print that nothing on that website had been approved by the FDA. But too many CAMS (complementary and alternative medicine) rely on anecdotal evidence to prove they work.

People with catastrophic illnesses or situations are targeted because many are desperate for a cure or relief from symptoms. As a student of science and the scientific method, I have a healthy skepticism about any treatment or supplement touted to be the "next great cure". Any time I come across these things, I check to see what studies have been done to back up the claims. No scientific studies, no consideration on my part.

If a CAM has a plausible mechanism of action, I will consider it. And chances are good, that if it has a plausible mechanism of action, there are probably current studies under way to determine effectiveness. For example, evening primrose oil has been recommended to me (and other MSers) as a supplement to help with MS symptoms. Turns out that the oil contains essential fatty acids (the good fats) necessary for good health and body function. So a recommendation to take evening primrose oil supplements has merits. But rather than spend money on the supplement, I choose to add nuts and seeds to my diet as a source of both protein and the essential fats I need.

The point of this whole diatribe is to encourage everyone to be aware of any recommendations made to you. Ask questions about why something is being recommended, if anyone gains from the recommendation (besides you), and always remember if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.




It seems that more and more "articles" are cleverly veiled advertisements.

For instance, there was a NYT article in the Health section which featured The MS Recovery Diet as well as books written by guys associated with The Rocky Mountain MS Center. The piece even took a defensive approach to the lack of scientific research to prove the benefits of the featured materials.

Then when the NMSS included a number of articles featuring recommended nutrition guidelines, the authors of The MS Recovery Diet cried foul. They even pointed to the belief that NMSS are so closely tied to the pharma-industry (where there's no money in researching diet) that they fail to recognize and support the benefits.

Objectivity is too often lacking in the presentation of information. Follow the money and look at the motives. And thank you for this reminder.

Merelyme said...

Yeah it is hard to know what is what out there. Just saw a site where the author talked about how she "beat MS" I would like to see that! I actually do think some of the natural supplements can help you to be more healthy and that doesn't hurt. But cures or miracles...I don't think so. I have seen this youngest son has autism and the people promoting cures just come out of the woodwork. If we believed all this stuff...there would be no diseases...and people would just live forever.

Anyways...good post. Thought provoking indeed.

Shauna said...

Lisa, Merelyme, and anyone else,

I know that the media needs readers, listeners, and watchers, but I think it highly unfair that they too often don't have "science" reporters with a background in science. I think that is the biggest problem. If there were "science" reporters, we'd likely have less charlatanry - if that's even a word.


Lanette said...

Well said. Many times it is just too good to be true and that's the big hint.

Denver Refashionista said...

Nice points here. Thanks for the reminder.

Mandy Crest said...

Thank you for a great heads up. MS cure testimonials are my pet peeve. Too many people are willing to take advantage of our desperation and separate us from our money.

We always have to research the facts and educate ourselves... and others.