CAM Tries to Cash in on Swine Flu (H1N1) Fears

As I’ve pointed out before, the image of CAM providers as selfless promoters of health without the venal concerns for profit of mainstream medicine and Big Pharma is advertising spin, not reality. A nice example of that has been the recent attempts of many snake oil peddlers to cash in on fears about swine flu (H1N1 Influenza). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) keeps a list of Fraudulent H1N1 Products. Of course, not all the products are CAM-related, since greed knows no loyalties. However, the majority of the products making unsubstantiated claims about preventing or treating the swine flu make similar claims about disease and health in general, and they include a number of CAM standbys.

Dr. Andrew Weil, a paragon of woo, has received a cease and desist order from the FDA regarding claims, subsequently removed, about his dietary supplement line. The FDA list contains a large number of herbs, vitamins, supplements, and even some teas. Despite the frequent claim that Big Pharma has no interest in these kinds of therapies because they cannot be patented and so there is no money to be made from them, there seem to be a lot of folks making money selling them for many uses, whether they work or not.

Some products are obvious attempts to cash in on flu fears, such as the Flu Away inhaler containing eucalyptus and tea tree oil. Others play more subtly on the fears of H1N1, marketing bogus “information” about the flu along with a broad collection of products and services designed to “promote health.” It is encouraging that the FDA is doing what it can, with limited resources and less public and even government support than it should have, to prevent unscrupulous individuals and companies from making a profit selling useless products and a false sense of security to people with legitimate concerns about the H1N1 pandemic.

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2 Responses to CAM Tries to Cash in on Swine Flu (H1N1) Fears

  1. Bartimaeus says:

    One of Weil’s supposed flu fighting supplements contains a Chinese species of Astragalus. There are many species of astragalus, and some of them in the US are fairly toxic. Some are selenium accumulators, and some can cause birth defects, abortions, and neurological problems in animals (hence the common name locoweed). I could not find any evidence anywhere that the Chinese species has been thoroughly tested for potential toxic side effects-indeed some of the recent studies on PubMed show that the Chinese are still evaluating the plant under different growing conditions.
    There are also dozens of studies in vitro and in a variety of animals that seem to demonstrate some type of immune-modulating activity. Pretty much all of these studies are from China, and while indicating a potential for an active compound or compounds, are far from evidence that it is effective against influenza viruses in humans. Add to that the notorious unreliability of herbal products from China (mislabeling, contamination, etc.) and I would be very cautious about taking such a supplement, or recommending it to any patients.

  2. skeptvet says:

    Absolutely! It astounds me that someone like Weil can be so successful at pushing this kindly sage persona when what he recommends includes large doses of experimenting with untested and potentially dangerous chemicals.

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