Think Twice about Trusting Your Pharmacy and CAM

Posted by in Health Matters, Lessons Learned

CAMYou’d think with all of the information available to us via the Internet that we’d be better off from a health perspective. We have reputable sites like to help us understand different health conditions. We have fitness trackers and websites to food journal. Unfortunately, the health world is more complex and riddled with CAM scams than ever.

False Hopes from CAM

CAM or complementary alternative medicine has gotten a foot hold in mainstream health markets. It would be nice if they delivered the wonderful promises they make. By and large, the only benefit they offer is the placebo effect.


Chances are your local pharmacy carries a lot of homeopathic “medicines.” I use the quotes for a good reason; it’s all a scam. A recent review by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council concluded “…that there is no good quality evidence to support the claim that homeopathy is effective in treating health conditions. “

Despite what bloggers and marketers may tell you, the bottom line is that they do not work. The British Medical Association has gone so far as to call it witchcraft.

Detox Products

Again, a likely find at your local drug store, but yet another example of marketers gone wild. If your body has trouble excreting toxins, you don’t need a diet, pill, or tea. You need a doctor. Your kidneys and liver have been doing this job quite well for millions of years.

A study in the Journal of Family Practice put it more bluntly:

“Despite colon cleansing’s long history and current popularity, the literature does not support its purported benefits.”

Researchers go on to warn that not only are they not effective, but cleansing products carry serious health risks.

“Some herbal preparations have also been associated with aplastic anemia and liver toxicity.”

So just because you see it on the shelves in your pharmacy does not mean it is safe or effective.

Why Are These Products Available?

Several factors have set up this Wild West scenario in the health industry. First, there isn’t a rigorous system of screening products. Current practice by the FDA do not prevent the sale and manufacture of dietary supplements. Rather, the agency steps in if a product harms.

The FCC acts if false advertising is involved like the charges brought against Airborne. It doesn’t work. Save your money and the elbow grease to clean your glasses after you dissolve the tablets.

Second, there are the marketers, bloggers, and snake oil salespeople like the Food Babe. Anyone with basic chemistry knowledge is one up on her. Her beef is chemicals. Chemicals are everyone. That apple you ate has over 300 volatile chemicals, including formaldehyde, acetone, and cyanide.

Unfortunately, marketers will surf that line between legal and not legal so closely that it’s almost a game with what they get away with. The FDA does send warning letters and does take action. However, if the word’s out, the damage is already done.

Third, then, we have the enablers. These are high profile people like Oprah and Dr. Oz who use their status to promote crap. They talk a good talk, but the science is lost. While you may argue that Dr. Oz is well, a doctor, let’s not forget the green coffee bean “miracle cure” he promoted. This case was another one that prompted FCC action for false advertising claims. And let us not forget that the same doctor promoted homeopathy. Enough said.

The Changing Landscape

Finally, navigating the landscape of health products is challenging to say the least. When products like the ones I mentioned are sold in pharmacies like Walgreens, science faces a huge obstacle. We trust our pharmacies.

They give us medicine, which is good. We tend to give that same pass to all the products they carry. We assume they’ve been screened for effectiveness, or at the very least, safety. Some health professionals argue that the fact that they sell such products is unethical. For my part, I agree.

It’s difficult as well when CAM finds its way into mainstream medicine. How do you know what is right and what is not? First, check your sources. Any site such as the likes of are not to be trusted. Stick with the reliable ones detailed in this post as alternatives.

Second, look out for the buzzwords that signal a BS alert, such as scientifically proven. Science does not prove things; it explains them.

Third, go to the original source. If it is a scientific paper, look for these signs of unreliable data:

  • No control group, i.e., a group not taking the treatment to compare results with one who is
  • Non-human subjects as basis for a human health claim
  • Small sample size; a sample of less than 30 is not definitive
  • Misuse of correlation and causation; only an experimental study can draw conclusions, whereas an observational study cannot
  • Sensational headlines
  • Any mention of the cure that doctors don’t want you to know about

Beware the one-off study or book. The very essence of science depends upon it self-correcting system of replication. One study does not decide the science. That’s why statements claiming to know a secret smack of pseudoscience or non-science. In order for any study or discovery to be validated, it must be scrutinized and replicated by independent researchers; there is no other way. As Carl Sagan famously said,

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

More than ever, it is essential to vet your sources of health information. Critical thinking and rational skepticism will do more for your health than a Google search. I can recommend the blog for a good start for your fact-based search.

By Chris DR/

photo credit: via photopin (license)