Late Night Snake Oil Salesmen (and Women)

The hardest thing anyone can hear from a doctor is that the patient has a health issue that can be traced to a specific diagnosis.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a visible or invisible disability.  It’s never easy to hear a doctor say, “The tests indicate that the patient has such-and-such a disability/disease/disorder.”

For some, they find ways to roll with the punches.  For others, it takes a period of time to grieve the diagnosis before they are able to find ways to roll with the punches.  And many others fall somewhere in between those two extremes.  However, out there in the world, there will always be those who are looking for ways to make a quick buck on the backs of those who are interested in finding ways to wrestle a diagnosis to the ground and make it manageable.

There are ways to spot modern day snake oil salesmen (and women).  It starts by asking some very important yet basic questions.

If the cure or treatment is being promoted by paid advertisement through the media (magazines, TV, parenting publications), chances are it’s not the cure or treatment it promises to be.  Scientifically proven cures and treatments come with scientific studies, published findings, have been peer reviewed and, finally, are recognized by medical bodies such as the FDA and Health Canada as a cure or treatment.  Real cures and treatments don’t have to be packaged in paid advertising wrapping paper; real cures and treatments can be discussed with your primary medical care practitioner in his or her office.

If the cure or treatment uses scientific language but presents no clear evidence, chances are there is no evidence by way of scientific studies, published findings, peer-reviewed articles, or approval by medical bodies such as the FDA and Health Canada.  Your primary medical care practitioner has information at his or her fingertips that he or she is willing to share with you should you be interested in specific cures or treatments that address the diagnosis.

If the cure or treatment claims to be popular with medical ‘experts’ but these experts can’t be found anywhere in the world or have a speciality in something other than what the cure or treatment is purported to be able to cure or treat or isn’t reputable, chances are the cure or treatment isn’t reputable either.  Real medical experts don’t run around doing paid advertisements for cures and treatments.  Real medical experts are busy doing research or presenting findings based on research or writing papers on their findings or doing more research in a recognized research facility or any number of other reputable endeavours that one can expert from a real medical expert.

If the marketing tools — websites, brochures, et al — have a number of personal stories or testimonials extolling the virtues of the cure or treatment, changes are that either the personal stories and testimonials were paid for by the advertiser or the personal stories and testimonials were written by a copywriter or an ad executive.  It doesn’t matter than Amy C from Pennsylvania and Dave W from Louisiana say it’s the best thing since sliced bread.  Just like the Internet, with paid commercials, a person can be whoever he or she pretends to be.

So why do people fall for snake oil cures and treatments?  There are lots of different reasons but the main reasons appear to be these four.

1.  The cure or treatment sounds plausible.  Sometimes the cure or treatment make a promise that the listener has been desperately seeking.  Sometimes the cure or treatment carries a feel-good angle.

2.  The cure or treatment promises results in a very short period of time.  For those who either have suffered for a long period of time or who have watched a loved one suffer any period of time, the promise of a quick turn around can be a very attractive lure. 

3.  The cure or treatment is promoted by a popular celebrity who claims to have a connection with the disease or disability the cure or treatment is meant to address.   If a celebrity says it works, then it must work otherwise why would a celebrity say it works?

4.  The cure or treatment claims to cure a number of disabilities from weight gain to acne, and autism to chicken pox.  For those who are busy trying to cope with multiple disabilities at the same time, hearing that a cure or treatment can address more than one health issue promises stress relief and for those dealing with health issues on a regular basis, stress relief is a much sought after goal.

But here’s the rub.  When a cure or treatment sounds plausible, it’s important to scratch the surface of the claim to see if it’s a golden claim or merely claim that’s dipped in gold leaf.  In other words, it’s important to find out how reliable that cure or treatment is by discussing it with your primary medical care provider.  And when there’s a promise of a quick turn-around time for getting better, it’s important to get the real 4-1-1 on that claim.  Why does it work so quickly and why didn’t the patient’s primary medical care provider know about this miracle cure or treatment?  After all, primary medical care providers don’t enjoy watching patients suffer.  They don’t want to be known as cruel and inhumane medical practitioners.

Now, the problem with celebrity endorsements is that there’s no real way to confirm that the celebrity has a connection to a particular disease or disability.  There have been a number of celebrities in the past who have used their own health issues or their children’s health issues as marketing tools to maintain their presence in the limelight.  And in the end, celebrity endorsements are always paid for which, in itself, speaks loudly to the veracity of a celebrity claim.

And finally, the one-size-fits-all style of practicing medicine is a dangerous horse to which you might think of tethering your wagon.  Nothing in life — but especially when it comes to one’s health — is truly one-size-fits-all.  Medicine is very personal and so are treatments and cures.  What works for one person may not work for another.  Likewise, what addresses one health issue rarely addresses another health issue with equal efficacy, never mind a raft of unrelated health issues.

Living with a serious health issue is never easy.  Living with a number of serious health issues is every more trying both for the person living with the diagnoses and for those who care for and about them.  Don’t let desperation lead you to considering desperate and untested measures.  Know what treatments are out there that have reliable track records that can be confirmed with respected and reputable sources and individuals who truly are experts in the field. 

Don’t take a chance on your health or the health of someone you love by jumping at the smoke-and-mirrors promises of a snake oil salesman (or woman).

Elyse Bruce
Founder and Creator

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One Response to “Late Night Snake Oil Salesmen (and Women)”

  1. renaissanzelady Says:

    Thak You Elyse for a practical article with timely advice.


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