Watch out for CAM 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 CAM 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 conventional 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. Alternative medicine associations will often provide a list of certified practitioners in your area. To find the addresses and phone numbers of these associations, check the Directory of Health Organizations online compiled by the National Library of Medicine.
  • Call your local health department. Ask if they know of 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.

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. For your safety, be sure to tell your doctor about all alternative treatments you use.

Oct. 22, 2011 See more In-depth