Miracle Health Claims

People spend billions of dollars a year on health-related products and treatments that not only are unproven and often useless, but also sometimes are dangerous. The products promise quick cures and easy solutions for a variety of problems, from obesity and arthritis to cancer and AIDS. But the "cures" don't deliver, and people who buy them are cheated out of their money, their time, and even their health. That's why it's important to learn how to evaluate claims for products related to your health.

Produced in cooperation with the Food and Drug Administration

Are You a Target for Health Fraudsters?

You’ve seen miracle claims for products related to health. It’s no wonder. People spend billions of dollars a year on fraudulently marketed health-related products and treatments that not only are unproven and often useless, but sometimes also are dangerous. 

Health fraud trades on false hope. It promises quick cures and easy solutions for a variety of problems, from obesity and arthritis to cancer and AIDS. But the “cures” don’t deliver. Instead, people who buy them are cheated out of their money, their time, and even their health. Fraudulently marketed health products can have dangerous interactions with medicines people are already taking, and can keep them from getting a proper diagnosis and treatment from their own health care professional. Many unapproved treatments are expensive, too, and rarely covered by health insurance. 

Health fraudsters often target people who are overweight, have serious conditions like cancer, or conditions without a cure, like:

  • multiple sclerosis
  • diabetes
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • HIV/AIDS
  • arthritis

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say it's important to learn how to evaluate health claims, especially if you have a serious condition. 

Cancer

If you or someone you love has cancer, you may be curious about supposed “miracle” cancer-fighting products — like pills, powders, and herbs — that you’ve seen advertised or heard about from family and friends. Scammers take advantage of the feelings that can accompany a diagnosis of cancer. They promote unproven — and potentially dangerous — substances like black salve, essiac tea, or laetrile with claims that the products are both “natural” and effective. But “natural” doesn’t mean either safe or effective, especially when it comes to using these products for cancer. In fact, a product that is labeled “natural” can be more than ineffective: it can be downright harmful. What’s more, stopping or delaying proven treatment can have serious consequences.

The truth is that no single device, remedy, or treatment can treat all types of cancer. All cancers are different, and no one treatment works for every cancer or every body. Even two people with the same diagnosis may need different treatments. That’s one more reason to be skeptical of websites, magazines, and brochures with ads for products that claim to treat cancer, and to decide on treatments with your health professional. 

People with cancer who want to try an experimental treatment should enroll in a legitimate clinical study. The FDA reviews clinical study designs to help ensure that patients are not subjected to unreasonable risks.

For information about cancer treatments, contact the American Cancer Society. You can find your local chapter at cancer.org

For free publications on cancer research and treatment, or to learn about clinical trials, call the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) or visit cancer.gov.

HIV and AIDS

Although proven treatments can extend and improve the quality of life for people with AIDS, so far there is no cure for the disease. If you’ve been diagnosed with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, you may be tempted to try untested drugs or treatments. But trying unproven products or treatments — like electrical and magnetic devices and so-called herbal cures — can be dangerous, especially if it means a delay in seeking medical care. 

For example, the herb St. John's Wort has been promoted as a safe treatment for HIV. But there’s no evidence that it is effective in treating HIV; in fact, studies have shown that it interferes with medicines prescribed for HIV. 

You also may have considered home test kits. But claims for these products could be misleading. Safe, reliable HIV testing can be done only through a medical professional or a clinic, or through the Home Access Express HIV-1 Test System, the only FDA-approved system for home use. 

The U.S. government has a toll-free HIV/AIDS Treatment Information Service, 1-800-HIV-0440 (1-800-448-0440), which is staffed by English- and Spanish-speaking health information specialists. Learn more at AIDS.gov.

To find a nearby HIV testing center, visit hivtest.org, a website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

Arthritis

There’s no shortage of people selling unproven arthritis remedies, which include thousands of dietary supplements and so-called natural cures like mussel extract, desiccated liver pills, shark cartilage, CMO (cetylmyristoleate), honey and vinegar mixtures, and gimmicks like magnets and copper bracelets. But these remedies aren’t backed adequately by science to demonstrate relief.

For up-to-date accurate information on arthritis treatments and alternative therapies, call the Arthritis Foundation at 1-800-283-7800, or visit arthritis.org.

Avoiding Shady Sellers and Practitioners

It's easy to see why some people believe product claims, especially when successful treatments seem elusive. But pressure to decide on-the-spot about trying an untested product or treatment is a sure sign of a fraud. Ask for more information and consult a knowledgeable doctor, pharmacist, or other health care professional. Promoters of legitimate health care products don’t object to your seeking additional information — in fact, most welcome it. 

The same goes if you’re considering a clinic that requires you to travel and stay far from home for treatment: check it out with your regular doctor. Although some clinics offer effective treatments, others:

  • Prescribe untested, unapproved, ineffective, and possibly dangerous "cures"
  • Employ health care providers that may not be licensed or have other appropriate credentials

For information about a particular hospital, clinic, or treatment center contact the state or local health authorities where the facility is located. If the facility is in a foreign country, contact that government's health authority to see that the facility is properly licensed and equipped to handle the procedures involved. For information about facilities in Mexico, contact the Secretary of Health (Secretaria De Salud) in the Mexican state where the facility is located.

This article was previously available as 'Miracle' Health Claims: Add a Dose of Skepticism.

Report Scams

If you believe you’ve responded to a scam, file a complaint with: