In an era of non-stop and unfiltered information, people are often desperate to find cures for their medical ailments as well as deter from products that can harm them. 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-grandmothers 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 the first moment of enlightenment that 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.
If there is one thing that everyone needs to be aware of it’s that when there is a trend, there will be an immediate uptick in marketing approaches to appeal and sell.
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 the consumers and when we combine the massive number of websites with infomercials touting products that can do everything from return hair to the balding individual to losing those extra pounds, and you have a society that is mesmerized by potentials that their doctors never referenced.
However, credibility is always a topic in question and to enhance the websites and videos, many incorporated so-called “Doctors” to proclaim the advantages of products, approaches, treatments, and even diets. 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. They 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.
Good/Bad Medicine Advice
As 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 ALL, 80 percent of Internet users, or about 93 million Americans, have searched for a health-related topic online, according to a study released Wednesday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. That’s up from 62 percent of Internet users who said they went online to research health topics in 2001, the Washington research firm found.”
The article also included:
“The new study indicates that looking for health or medical information is one of the most popular activities online. Only e-mail, which is used by 93 percent of the Internet population, and researching a product or service before purchase, 83 percent of users, top it.”
In the haste to chastise the medical community and especially the pharmaceutical companies, some of these so-called “specialists” in natural health have promoted everything from ear candling to coffee enemas, and with each new trend, the public goes wild.
Even some of the websites that are devoted to offering health information with symptom-checkers go completely awry by scaring patients so severely that they are afraid to go to their doctor for verification.
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 medications. They 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 taking the direction for a healthier lifestyle that includes an integrative approach in a combination of natural and functional medicine. However, those that embrace the extreme trends have led themselves down the path of potential other health hazards.
There is also the danger of medicinal and natural combinations and interactions that most people are entirely unaware of. A case in point is the 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, being done for sales only, or could cause harm if ignored. In the same NBCNews.com article they state:
“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]
‘A lot of people aren’t finding what they need,’ says Fox. “That points to the need for better health literacy and search engines paying attention to health as (an in-depth) topic.’
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 [sic] sites like the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINEplus, but there’s a lot of junk, too, researchers note.
URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission, a 20-year-old nonprofit that helps set standards for health care companies, is working with health providers, researchers, consumers organizations and search engines, including Google, Yahoo! and AOL, on a project intended to improve results for consumer health searches online, says vice president Liza Greenberg.”
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, and it appears that we require a form of software advisor to help protect ourselves from ourselves.