Buying Health Products: Be Very Skeptical

Preying on the old, sick and dying with promise of hope is sickening but it happens at all levels. I have seen so-called good Samaritans trying to hawk purported drugs or tablets that they claim can cure or treat cancer. For example, if you go online, you will find many products that makes wild claims complete with convincing testimonials. There are also pyramid marketing schemes that put on road shows parading to would-be sales agents “personal success stories”. If you think that scammers are the only ones doing this, think again. Seemingly legitimate companies are also cashing in on the game. Seniors who are not well versed in the deceptive nature of the internet are the best customers for these less than scrupulous sellers. Here is what you should do.

  • First, be very skeptical – or at least approach everything you see or read especially on the internet – with a healthy dose of skepticism. Do not belief simply because the website looks real or the testimonials are convincing. There are website designers who are truly good at doing everything they can to convince you of what they are selling – including creating fake scientific papers or testimonials from fake doctors. In most cases, it is easy to uncover such scams if you “peel the onion” by looking deeper into their claims. Any product that lacks any real science will try to convince you through your heart and not your head — that is the first red flag you should look for. Also, any products sold through some kind of pyramid or friends-and-family sales schemes should immediately be suspect.
  • Be smart and verify to see if the product is approved and if it works. In Singapore, the Health Science Authority (HAS) is tasked with protecting the public from unsafe and fraudulent health products and they do a good job. HSA maintains a website that you can check for products that they have approved or products that they have found in the market that are questionable or even dangerous. Cancer is big business and if you are planning on taking alternative medicines for cancer, the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s website on “herbs, botanicals and other products” provides simple and authoritative facts that would help you.
  • Avoid shopping online from overseas suppliers when it comes to drugs or supplements – even if it is the brand that you want. Always know the source you are buying from because even for proprietary drugs manufactured by famous pharmaceutical companies, there are a lot of fakes out there. The sellers may lead you to think that you are buying from a US or EU company – but that can also be faked and the drugs may be shipped from anywhere. Even shopping from neighboring countries like Malaysia, you have to be careful — if you must, make sure you buy from reputable chain pharmacies.
  • There are cases where the fake products contain no active ingredients and are just placebo made to mimic the real thing. In others, the products may actually contain harmful ingredients. Before you start taking any supplements, especially chinese herbal medicines – check with your doctor or pharmacist. Drug interaction can be dangerous. Just because your friend has taken it and said it is safe is not enough proof!

If you are unlucky enough to suffer adverse problems with any supplements, first thing is to stop taking it and see you doctor immediately. Save the supplement’s box and container and show them to your doctor. You may even wish to report it to the HSA. Every year, HSA issues safety alerts on unapproved products reported by the public.

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