Getting medical and health advice from your newsfeeds won’t help you get better and can even be fatal.
In an era of non-stop and unfiltered information, people are often desperate to find cures for their medical ailments. The problem with today’s flood of data under the title “medical and health” is that the information isn’t always given by credentialed individuals, and the advice can be dangerous enough to potentially kill.
Fifteen years ago the term CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) was relatively unknown to most people. Those that followed the idea of natural health were typically limited to the small health stores and maybe some of their great-grandmother’s homemade remedies. While
countries around the globe have embraced natural, holistic, and ayurvedic approaches, Western Medicine (aka functional or mainstream medicine) turned its nose to what was considered “pseudoscience.” The rest of the country refers to this as alternative medicine.
While there are many reasons that the Western World populace slowly began to adopt these practices, the main reason was that people were growing suspicious of functional medicine, looking for treatments that were less toxic. The problem with unfettered and unproven medical information is that it opened the doors to the same type of “snake oil salesmen” that our ancestors were exposed to — each one making promises of magical cures while delivering very little. When you add the internet and the volumes of new websites that include medical “word salad,” you have a formula for medical misinformation that can cascade into disasters. Consumers were eagerly accessing any website that might offer them relief, and self-diagnosis became the ultimate fear for most in the medical community.
An essential piece to this puzzle is that the demand for any product that is labeled as “natural or healthy” has become such a fast-moving trend that the speed has overtaken the market. The number of charlatans that are appearing on the net and television has fast-become a major concern as consumers believe what is being told to them and will take just about any chance to be rid of what is ailing them.
It is not to say that there aren’t any natural or holistic treatments that don’t work. Many of the pharmaceutical products that we use today are rooted in ingredients taken from nature. However, there is a difference in science-based evidence and a promise of a cure-all. Additionally, not all of the functional medicine information is incorrect, but the mere fact that people are using so many websites for self-diagnosis and treatment brings their very health in danger.
Enter: Bad Pseudo-Science
We might reach back to the first Earth Day as one of the first moments of enlightenment that realized companies were creating products that were toxic to people, animals, and the environment. This was a moment in time that was fused with the return-to-nature culture that permeated throughout the country and the world. Products were being sold that contained pesticides, carcinogens, and an array of chemicals, which led the average consumer to lose confidence in corporations and the products that they created. Over the years, this has led to the public demand for organic and non-GMO products.
The problem is that when there is a trend, there will be an immediate uptick in marketing approaches to appeal and sell to that market.
The term “natural” has become big business, even though not everything in nature is either healthy or safe.
Fast forward to internet access for a majority of consumers and when we combine the massive number of websites with infomercials touting products that can do everything from grow back hair to losing those extra pounds, and you have a society that is mesmerized by quick fixes that doctors never approved.
Those in the natural health industry turned to verified and credible sources such as Dr. Weil, whose lifelong commitment to health and wellness and an integrative approach is renowned. The acceptance of medical treatments other than mainstream, combined with the full-on embrace of natural products led to such celebrity doctors as Dr. Oz, and eventually such individuals as David Wolfe.
The television show that Dr. Oz hosted had over 3 million viewers, and he became so popular that he only had to mention a product and it flew off of the shelves. This became known as the “Dr. Oz Effect,” and he was more of a salesman, repeating attractive hyperbole to sell-sell-sell. Dr. Oz completely fell apart when he was asked to speak in front of a Senate Commerce subcommittee on the topic of weight loss.
When we turn to David Wolfe, we see a much more dangerous individual. Carrying no medical or health-related credentials, Wolfe has promoted raw foodism, alternative medicine, and vaccine denialism. He has promoted products that he claims are all “natural,” and yet when tested, they are found to contain pesticides.
Medical Misinfo Kills
Natural and alternative health is big business and while many natural health choices are safe, those that have darker interests are using public panic and fear as their weapon. The easiest way to get the general public to increase their suspicion level of mainstream medicine is to create fake news stories that scare people. The goal of those that are spreading these lies is to have it catch on so that people believe, talk about it, and share it on social media so that it goes viral.
The anti-vax “movement” has become so dire that the World Health Organization is announcing it as a 2019 world health crisis.
Hundreds of websites have been created to offer miracle cures that touch on natural health. Just as the snake oil salesmen of the past, they tap into what the public is interested in and spin it so that they turn to an alternative due to falsehoods told about standard medical treatments. Watchdog organizations continue to try to report these bogus sites, but there are millions of people turning to them for hopeful cures. The continued stream of fake news not only takes advantage of people but sows seeds of doubt for standard medical therapies and the physicians themselves.
The Federal Government put in place laws that will fine, take down, or put out of business any natural health supplier that misrepresents and or advertises their products as a possible “cure” for a disease state, but this hasn’t stopped many people that continue to turn to everything from vitamins to oxygen to try to combat serious diseases including cancer. Medical organizations around the globe are expressing grave concerns as they see patients turning to extremist alternative modalities to fight major diseases.
We have seen financially driven outbreaks of fake news in the medical world for years. Tobacco companies underwrote studies that promoted the health benefits of smoking cigarettes and many physicians were paid to validate this fake information. Once the risks were discovered, they pushed for legislative and health changes to occur to warn the public.
The problem with the internet is that it distills very complex treatments that have involved years of study into explanations that are far too simple. Without the fact checkers of the past, anyone can create fake medical information and it can spread like wildfire. The public is already suspicious of medical and pharmaceutical industries so it is far easier to buy into a treatment that comes from nature which sometimes grave consequences.
Good/Bad Medicine Advice
An NBCNews.com article entitled More People Search for Health Online includes the following:
“The number of people turning to the Internet to search for a diverse range of health-related subjects continues to grow, according to a new study. But the majority of Web health-seekers tend to be affluent, well-educated and female, which means millions of Americans are cut off from the Internet at a time when the federal government is pushing the health industry to post more information online.”
In the haste to chastise the medical community and especially pharmaceutical companies, some of these so-called “specialists” in natural health have promoted everything from ear candling to coffee enemas which each spawn cult followings.
A significant problem in our social realm is that most people can’t separate factual information from medical misinformation, and the gullible will believe anything. This attitude has led to an alarming list of problems including those that harbor conspiracy theories regarding vaccinations to those that refuse to take any forms of functional medicine and in doing so, put themselves, their families, and other members of their community in danger.
We Need a Medical and Health Truth Filter
There is nothing wrong with wanting a healthier and more natural lifestyle that includes an integrative approach in a combination of natural and functional medicine. However, those that embrace extreme trends can often become easily deceived which can lead them down the path of potential health hazards.
There is also the danger of medicinal and natural combinations and interactions that most people are entirely unaware of such as red rice yeast supplement. Red rice yeast contains a natural ingredient that is supposed to reduce bad cholesterol. The problem is that so many patients were taking red rice yeast in combination with their prescription statins that it was causing grave health issues. The FDA had to request that the manufacturers of red rice yeast remove the ingredient that emulates the medication.
As a society, we are stuck in a misinformation cycle, with few guides to assist in what is credible, a hoax or money motivated.
“Search engines are the first stop for 8 out of 10 people seeking health information, but often people are not able to locate the most current or accurate Web sites, says Fox [Susannah Fox, Pew Research’ director of research]
The Pew study backs up other research that has found a significant problem with the quality of health-related search results. There are a number of high-quality sites like the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINEplus, but there’s a lot of junk, too, researchers note and many can’t tell the difference.
We are at a crossroad of misinformation and in desperate need of a controlling factor that can intelligently compare all forms of data in nanoseconds and then offer up what is credible, real, and truthful, as well as not proven. The mere fact that so many people adopt extreme approaches merely because they heard it or read about it on the internet is a dangerous aspect of our social attitude. There needs to be a better way to make sure everyone has a safe and fact-based approach to their own medical treatment.
This Is Why We Fight,
We are fighting in the war against misinformation to create a more empowered critical thinking society.
To find out more about our team and the Blackbird.AI Mission, visit us at www.blackbird.ai