How To Avoid Bogus Cures

photo by epso .de via Flickr 

Bogus cures–we’ve all seen them. They offer a pseudo-scientific shortcut to better health, all while playing on the desperation of those in need. Unfortunately for those looking for help, they’re not just utter quackery, but sometimes utterly dangerous.

Fake miracle supplements and treatments claim to solve a host of moderate to severe medical problems, from obesity, to sleep apnea, and even HIV and Cancer. Some are easy to spot, others are masked by medical jargon, pseudo science, and false labeling.

These cures can be defined as quackery, but in many ways such a word may understate the seriousness with which these medicines can affect those in need.

Not only do such treatments and supplements subvert the attention given to measured and effective methods, but they can sometimes, like in the case of some purported cancer cures, exacerbate the same illness they’re marketed to relieve.

While the FDA is tasked with regulating drugs that make it to market, they have no oversight in items marketed as supplements–making such an arena rampant with false claims.

Ailments and their purported cure

Below are some ailments commonly targeted by snake oil pseudoscience and the supplements and flawed treatments that have been marketed as a cure.


One of the most deplorable markets for bogus miracle cures is unfortunately also one of the most populated. According to the FDA, there are at least 187 “fake cancer cures” that consumers should avoid.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), who is also responsible for regulating drugs, some common, and ineffective, substances marketed towards cancer patients are:

  • Black salve
  • Essiac tea
  • Laetrile

In their warning, the FTC also points out that there is no all-encompassing cure for cancer, as every case should be assessed on an individual basis.


Much like fake cancer cures, fraudulent HIV and AIDS medication and treatments also play on the desperation of those infected with a serious virus.

Though there exists some legitimate and helpful medicines in managing the virus and its symptoms, there is also ample pseudoscience which may do the opposite. Among the strangest is the use of electromagnetic energy, which has been purported (and later disproven) to wipe out the AIDS virus.

Some common medicine imposters include:

In the case of St. John’s wort, the FTC states that some studies have proven that the use of such an herb may even render legitimate HIV treatments less effective.


False treatments for arthritis come in a number of different varieties, from herbal and “natural” supplements to gimmicky bracelets, all of which lack legitimate medical foundation.

Some common fake cures include:

  • Mussel extract
  • Shark cartilage
  • Honey and vinegar mixtures
  • Magnets and copper bracelets

The takeaway

While at a distance it’s easy to scoff at those who are roped into miracle cures, they may sometimes be harder to detect than initially thought (i.e. seemingly reputable supplements like melatonin)

To steer clear of bogus miracle cures, the FTC and others recommends some helpful practices:

  • Never make spontaneous decisions – always consult a doctor or other healthcare professional before making the decision to invest in, much less use, any supplement or alternative treatment


  • Assess the legitimacy of a clinic – before seeking medical council or treatment at an alternative clinic make sure to contact a state or foreign country’s health care officials to make sure the clinic is licensed and safe
  • Be skeptical – always be skeptical. Before taking the plunge into the unknown, or more accurately, the untested, it may be of use to ask ‘what’s in it for them’– them being the company making the purported medication.
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James Pero