Saturday, October 9, 2010

How Not to Get "Quacked"

All of us would like to become younger, sexier and thinner, and to live longer! Given these universal needs, it is hardly surprising that quackery flourishes all over the world. 'Quackery' is derived from the word quacksalver (a throwback to the days when travelling salesmen would boast about the healing powers of their salves). Since quacks quack, quackery's paramount characteristic is hype and promotion rather than simply fraud, greed, or misinformation - though these qualities often go hand in hand! Much quackery is involved in informing people that something is bad for them (such as food additives) and selling a substitute (such as 'organic' or 'natural' food). Quackery is also involved in misleading advertising of dietary supplements, homoeopathic products, ayurvedic medicines and some non-prescription drugs. In many such instances no individual 'quack' is involved - just deception by manufacturers and their advertising agencies. Remember that quackery is not an all-or-nothing phenomenon. Some products can be useful for some purposes, but worthless for others. For example, vitamin BÙ12 shots can be life-saving in cases of pernicious anemia, but giving them to 'pep you up' is a form of medical fraud. Similarly, while certain ayurvedic herbs can be very useful, often the mass-manufactured ayurvedic medicines available in chemists' shops are completely useless, because they do not contain what they are supposed to! While there is no doubt that homoeopathic medicines can be helpful, the concept of a standard homoeopathic remedy for common illnesses such as headaches and colds flouts a basic homoeopathic principle, which states that remedies need to be tailor made for a particular person and only a skilled homoeopathic physician can identify the required medicines properly.

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