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Beware of infomercials

Q: I've seen people on TV infomercials claiming to be experts on natural cures and natural health. Should I believe them?

You're probably referring to those infomercials where the speaker tries to convince you to order the "free" natural health book or product. Maybe he uses all the right catch-phrases and seems to know the latest about natural health. Perhaps the infomercials are carefully staged to resemble talk show interviews, and you might almost forget that they're paid advertisements - if not for the 800 number that reappears on the screen every few minutes, urging you to take advantage of a special offer by calling in the next half hour.

The effectiveness of natural medicine has led to enormous popularity; as a result, a whole new breed of self-appointed natural health "authorities" has suddenly emerged from the woodwork - or the network. Everywhere you look, it seems natural medicine is being oversimplified and marketed by people with no training or legitimate degrees in natural medicine.

Depending on what channels you watch, the people you're referring to may range from slightly dubious purveyors of partially incorrect information to outright scam artists. You may even find one of them posturing as your personal hero and representative, as if bravely standing up to the FDA and the big drug companies on your behalf, at his own risk. He may claim to be single-handedly "exposing" the hidden agenda of the pharmaceutical giants - which he points out is to profit from your health problems - while trying to conceal that his own hidden agenda is precisely the same.

I'm all for the dissemination of information about natural health, but I've found that what these people have to say is frequently of poor quality, inaccurate, and may contain misleading advice that could be harmful. Because of their lack of training in natural medicine, there are often huge gaps in their understanding of the complex issues involved in providing natural health. It appears that they select the most salable "gems" of information about natural cures, and try to recycle them in sensationalized ways designed to tantalize you into buying their books, supplements, or other products.

Make no mistake: these people may not know a lot about natural medicine, but they are very good at what they do, which is marketing. Their ads can be highly seductive, and they know how to say just the right things to make you want to "impulse buy". Bottom line: the products that the infomercialists peddle may make them wealthy, but won't necessarily make you healthy.

Dr. Laurie Steelsmith is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Honolulu, as well as author of the new book Natural Choices for Women's Health, published by Random House. You can reach her and read her past columns at www.DrSteelsmith.com. This column is for information only. Consult your health provider for medical advice.

 

 

 
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