Watch out for scams

Scammers have perfected ways to convince you that their alternative medicine products are the best. These opportunists often target people who are overweight or who have medical conditions for which there is no cure, such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS and arthritis. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Be alert for these red flags:

  • Big promises. Advertisements call the product a "miracle cure" or "revolutionary discovery." If that were true, it would be widely reported in the media and your doctor would recommend it.
  • Pseudomedical jargon. Although terms such as "purify," "detoxify" and "energize" may sound impressive and may even have an element of truth, they're generally used to cover up a lack of scientific proof.
  • Cure-alls. The manufacturer claims that the product can treat a wide range of symptoms or cure or prevent a number of diseases. No single product can do all this.
  • Testimonials. Anecdotes from individuals who have used the product are no substitute for scientific proof. If the product's claims were backed up with hard evidence, the manufacturer would say so.
  • Guarantees and limited offers. These pitches are intended to get you to buy before you can evaluate the product's claims.

Choose practitioners wisely

Take care when choosing an alternative medicine practitioner. Picking a name out of the phone book isn't the safest way to select a practitioner. Instead, try these tips from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM):

  • Talk with your doctor. Ask your primary care doctor for recommendations. He or she can also be a source of advice about any recommendations you get from an alternative medicine practitioner.
  • Contact a local hospital or medical school. They often keep lists of area CAM practitioners. Some have their own CAM practitioners on staff.
  • Check the national association. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine can give you a list of licensed practitioners in your area. This organization can be reached at 904-598-1005. The American Massage Therapy Association can provide a list of certified massage therapists near you. The number to reach this group is 877-905-0577 (toll-free).
  • Call your local health department. Ask about state or local certifying, licensing or accreditation bodies for the alternative medicine practice you're considering.
  • Ask questions. Ask CAM practitioners about their education, training, licenses and certifications. Ask if they specialize in particular diseases or health conditions and whether they frequently treat people with problems similar to yours. Also ask what treatments cost — and find out if your health insurance covers them.
  • Be wary. As with supplements, be concerned if you hear big promises from a practitioner. Again, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

CAM starts with complementary

Ideally the various forms of treatments you select should work together with the care of your conventional doctor. You may find that certain alternative treatments help you maintain your health and relieve some of your symptoms. But continue to rely on conventional medicine to diagnose a problem and treat diseases.

Don't change your conventional treatment — such as your dose of prescribed medication — without talking to your doctor first. Delaying conventional treatments can be dangerous, particularly for certain conditions, such as cancer or HIV/AIDS. For your safety, be sure to tell your doctor about all alternative treatments you use.

Sep. 20, 2014 See more In-depth