Beginning with this blog entry, I will start a discussion on the topic of health literacy.  This is not just the ability to read and write, but it means having knowledge about important health issues that we face from day to day.

Vunerability to health misinformation is one result of inadequate health literacy.  Sometimes the deception is deliberate, as in health care scams, promoting worthless and occasionally dangerous products like drugs and supplements or devices like magnets and crystals, just to name a couple.  Or sometimes the misinformation is from well meaning friends and relatives, passing on information they believe to be true.

What kinds of misinformation is most likely to be accepted as true?  Unfortunately, there are still many health conditions for which there is no easy treatment and a few that have no cure at all.  People with these conditions are often frightened and in pain and want nothing more than to have an easy fix.  We also live in a culture that emphasizes a youthful appearance and all that most honest doctors can offer is advice to eat healthy, exercise, get enough sleep and don’t smoke tobacco–not always what the patient wants to hear.

In the days of the proverbial snake oil salesman, all he could do to attract an audience was to post flyers before his appearance selling his cure all for everything from baldness to toenail fungus.  Today, these hucksters have TV “infomercials” and access to the World Wide Web with an audience numbering in the millions.  He can create genuine appearing credentials from fake accrediting organizations.  When caught, these people can close up their virtual shop one minute and sell their relabled product under a new name the next minute.

So what can you do?  First of all, always be skeptical.  The adage, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.” is good advice.  What are other clues that a treatment might be a scam?  Look for remedies that promise a cure for many unrelated diseases and is quick, easy and painless.  Or words that say that the newly discovered cure is based on some ancient, secret formula, only available now in limited quantities and you must act now.

Next, if you’re still interested, do some digging on your own to find out more.  Ask your doctor if he has any information.  Be careful if you look for information from the internet.  Trustworthy sites for more information include:

The Mayo Clinic at www.mayoclinic.org

National Institutes of Health at http://www.nccih.nih.gov

US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) http://www/fda/gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm278980.htm

Quackwatch http://www.quackwatch.org

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