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Spotting the quacks

Here is the final instalment in the series I have brought you to help you spot quacks peddling so-called alternative medicines.

21. They Offer to Determine Your Body’s Nutritional State with a Laboratory Test or a Questionnaire.

Various health-food industry members and unscientific practitioners utilise tests that they claim can determine your body’s nutritional state and — of course — what products you should buy from them.

One favourite method is hair analysis. With a lock of your hair, you can get an elaborate computer printout of vitamins and minerals you supposedly need. Hair analysis has limited value (mainly in forensic medicine) in the diagnosis of heavy metal poisoning, but it is worthless as a screening device to detect nutritional problems.

If a hair analysis laboratory recommends supplements, you can be sure that its computers are programmed to recommend them to everyone. Other tests used to hawk supplements include amino acid analysis of urine, muscle-testing (applied kinesiology), iridology, blood typing, “nutrient-deficiency” and/or lifestyle questionnaires, and “electrodiagnostic gadgets”.

22. They Claim They Are Being Persecuted by Orthodox Medicine and That Their Work Is Being Suppressed Because It’s Controversial.

The “conspiracy charge” is an attempt to gain sympathy by portraying the quack as an “underdog”. Quacks typically claim that the American Medical Association is against them because their cures would cut into the incomes that doctors make by keeping people sick. Don’t fall for such nonsense!

Reputable physicians are plenty busy. Moreover, many doctors engaged in prepaid health plans; group practice, full-time teaching, and government service receive the same salary whether or not their patients are sick — so keeping their patients healthy reduce their workload, not their income.

Quacks also claim there is a “controversy” about facts between themselves and “the bureaucrats”, organised medicine, or “the establishment”. They clamour for medical examination of their claims, but ignore any evidence that refutes them.

The gambit “Do you believe in vitamins?” is another tactic used to increase confusion. Everyone knows that vitamins are needed by the human body. The real question is: “Do you need additional vitamins beyond those in a well-balanced diet?” For most people the answer is no. Nutrition is a science, not a religion. It is based upon matters of fact, not questions of belief.

Any physician, who found a vitamin or other preparation that could cure sterility, heart disease, arthritis, cancer, or the like, could make an enormous fortune. Patients would flock to such a doctor (as they now do to those who falsely claim to cure such problems), and colleagues would shower the doctor with awards — including the extremely lucrative Nobel Prize!

And don’t forget, doctors get sick, too. Do you believe they would conspire to suppress cures for diseases that also afflict them and their loved ones? When polio was conquered, iron lungs became virtually obsolete, but nobody resisted this advancement because it would force hospitals to change. And neither will scientists mourn the eventual defeat of cancer.

23. They Warn You Not to Trust Your Doctor.

Quacks, who want you to trust them, suggest that most doctors are “butchers” and “poisoners”. They exaggerate the shortcomings of our health care delivery system, but completely disregard their own – and those of other quacks. For the same reason, quacks also claim that doctors are nutrition illiterates. This, too, is untrue.

The principles of nutrition are those of human biochemistry and physiology, courses required in every medical school. Some medical schools don’t teach a separate required course labelled “Nutrition” because the subject is included in other courses at the points where it is most relevant.

For example, nutrition in growth and development is taught in paediatrics, nutrition in wound healing is taught in surgery, and nutrition in pregnancy is covered in obstetrics. In addition, many medical schools do offer separate instruction in nutrition.

A physician’s training, of course, does not end on the day of graduation from medical school or completion of specialty training. The medical profession advocates lifelong education, and some jurisdictions require it for licence renewal. Physicians can further their knowledge of nutrition by reading medical journals and textbooks, discussing cases with colleagues, and attending continuing education courses.

Most doctors know what nutrients can and cannot do and can tell the difference between a real nutritional discovery and a piece of quack nonsense. Those who are unable to answer questions about dietetics (meal planning) can refer patients to someone who can – usually a registered dietitian. Like all human beings, doctors sometimes make mistakes. However, quacks deliver mistreatment most of the time.

24. They Encourage Patients to Lend Political Support to Their Treatment Methods.

A century ago, before scientific methodology was generally accepted, valid new ideas were hard to evaluate and were sometimes rejected by a majority of the medical community, only to be upheld later. But today, treatments demonstrated as effective are welcomed by scientific practitioners and do not need a group to crusade for them.

Quacks seek political endorsement because they can’t prove that their methods work. Instead, they may seek to legalise their treatment and force insurance companies to pay for it. One of the surest signs that a treatment doesn’t work is a political campaign to legalise its use.

This list is not submitted to cast aspersions on the character of anyone, but who the cap fits I guess they will wear it.

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