Alternative Therapy Risks

Some people swear by them. Of course, all of their practitioners swear by them too. Alternative therapies have moved into the mainstream. Many hospitals and national health insurance schemes now offer them, as do numerous health maintenance organisations (HMOs) in the United States. And many insurance plans now cover them. Nonetheless, many alternative therapies are often nothing more than alternative therapy scams.

The most common alternative therapies are:

  • Acupuncture
  • Alexander technique
  • Aromatherapy
  • Ayurveda
  • Bach flowers
  • Bowen technique
  • Buteyko method
  • Cranial osteopathy
  • Ear candles
  • Feldenkreis method
  • Homeopathy and homeopathic vaccines
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy
  • Iridology
  • Lymphatic drainage massage
  • Magnet therapy
  • Metabolic therapy
  • Myofascial release
  • Naturopathy
  • Okinawa flat belly tonic
  • Phytotherapy
  • Pilates
  • Qigong
  • Reflexology
  • Rife machines
  • Reiki
  • Rolfing and structural integration
  • Shiatsu
  • Spinal manipulation and  vertebral subluxation, two core concepts of chiropractic  
  • Tai chi
  • Twinna

What Makes an Alternative Therapy an Alternative Therapy Scam?

By definition, alternative therapies are not mainstream. The bulk of scientific evidence does not support many of the benefits their advocates claim exist. In certain cases, there is sufficient scientific evidence to prove they don’t work. For all intents and purposes, that puts those specific alternative therapies in the same category as voodoo.

Keep in mind that these are alternatives to modern medical or pharmaceutical interventions. Therefore, their practitioners may not even have relevant academic degrees. They might even not hold government-issued licences. Physicians and other health professionals, of course, do. Even if their professions do have official recognition in your country, that doesn’t mean they are licensed in the country where you choose to undergo treatment. Under those circumstances, anyone can call himself a practitioner of that particular therapy and get away with it. And that means you can’t sue for malpractice.

From time to time the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issues warnings about specific alternative products that are advertised as pseudo-therapeutic. In December 2020, for example, the FDA warned that it had purchased on Amazon and eBay 50 different male enhancement and weight loss remedies that contained active pharmaceutical ingredients that were not listed on their labels that could ‘pose a significant health risk’ to consumers. ‘These products may cause potentially serious side effects and may interact with medications or dietary supplements a consumer is taking.’ Moreover, the FDA advised that consumers considering ‘any over-the-counter product marketed for sexual enhancement, weight loss or bodybuilding, or any product marketed as a dietary supplement for pain relief’ should always consult with a medical professional first. 

Looking for a quick cure for something as simple as a hangover? Think twice about that too.

Alternative Therapies and Celebrities

Some alternative therapies quickly become fads, often due to celebrities who publicise undergoing their own treatments. Madonna, for example, is a believer in autohemotherapy. That’s a controversial procedure in which the patient’s blood is mixed with ozone gas before it is transfused back into the body. Supposedly, the procedure is enhanced when ‘eerie noises’ are created for purposes of background music by rubbing Tibetan bowls together.

The diva is also known to drink urine following an ice bath.

Alternative Therapy Scams Targeting Terminal Patients

Clinics and websites offering alternative therapies for cancer patients are a big business. Unfortunately, many are outright scams. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns that some of the remedies they peddle are both ineffective and dangerous. These include black salve, essiac tea and laetrile (the so-called ‘vitamin B17’). Advertisements for these products typically call them ‘natural’ and ‘effective.’ But the human body can convert laetrile into cyanide, a deadly poison. It can do the same with amygdalin, a dietary supplement that scammers claim treats cancer and prevents high blood pressure and arthritis. 

Another controversial cure available is cannabidiol (CBD), which is sold either as a drop, capsule, syrup, tea, lotion, or cream. Cannabidiol, a derivative of the marijuana plant, is touted by some as a cancer cure, but currently only has FDA approval to treat juvenile epilepsy. ‘To date, no large-scale studies have shown CBD to have benefits for the treatment of people with cancer,’ The American Society of Clinical Oncology reported in September 2020. ‘Most studies have been done evaluating CBD as a cancer treatment were in mice or in human cells in the lab.’ In 2019 and 2020 the FDA issued warnings to companies that market products containing CBD for other purposes in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. 

Cancer clinics catering to medical tourism routinely hype these and other quack medicines. At best, there is no proof yet that they are effective. At worst, controlled clinical trials show that they are useless or even dangerous.

Some cancer treatment scams go beyond fake medicines. In December 2020 a Tennessee man was charged with four counts of bank fraud, six counts of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for running a Ponzi scheme that targeted cancer patients. He pleaded guilty and in 2021 was sentenced to eight years in prison and ordered to reimburse 80 of his victims the sum of $693,128.66.

To underscore how desperate these cancer patients were, one of them who lacked the cash handed over the title to his house in lieu of payment. 

The scammer convinced all 80 to sign up for a supposed naturopathic cure by claiming that he had used it to cure himself of cancer. The ‘cure’ was to have included nutritional supplements, blood tests, and nutritional advice, as well as exercise coaching, gym memberships, massages, and acupuncture. Instead, he cynically pocketed most of their funds instead.

Stem Cell Therapy

Another lucrative scam involves stem cell therapy. Unregulated clinics in countries as diverse as Argentina, China and Russia claim they can treat, or even cure, a long list of diseases. These include muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, spinal cord injuries, and strokes. The clinic will inject stem cells into the patient’s body. In theory, the stem cells could grow a missing nerve, muscle or organ. They theoretically could repair damage caused, say from a stroke or injury. However, in practice it never works out that way. In fact, the patient’s condition can even deteriorate. These sorts of stem cell therapies, for example, can trigger the appearance of malignant tumors. If you are interested in the FDA’s regulations on stem cell usage, see their warning here.

If you think you’ve been the victim of an alternative therapy scam, consult with the fund recovery experts at MyChargeBack.