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The Short Version: If you don’t have a medical education, it can be hard to discern what medicines, vitamins, and treatments are legit. There’s so much conflicting advice and information on the web, and it’s easy for patients to fall for phony remedies and quack medicines. That’s why Quackwatch monitors the health marketplace and challenges misleading information. Its informative articles help average individuals and families decide what treatments are right for them. Such weighty decisions, like whether to vaccinate your children, can have lasting consequences on a person’s life and relationships. As the website’s Founder Stephen Barrett, M.D., said, “Marrying someone with non-reconcilable differences in health opinions or practices is a good way to ruin your life.”
My dad’s side of the family isn’t exactly doctor friendly. They’re proud West Virginians who are more inclined to wait a sickness out than get it looked at by someone who, as my dad says, has an incentive to find something wrong with you and then charge you for it.
This skepticism has been a perennial source of conflict in my family because half of us have to badger the others to go to the doctor. A couple years ago, my mom forced my dad to see a doctor about what he dismissed as stress-related chest pains, and it turned out he’d been ignoring a heart attack for two days.
My dad’s stubborn resistance to doctors, hospitals, and health insurance has become a major life-and-death issue in our family, but, on their first date, my mom was more concerned with their three-year age difference than his medical beliefs. You don’t always know what latent personality traits are going to have a long-term repercussion on your relationships, and that’s why it’s good to be upfront and talk about health issues early on.
“It probably won’t affect most couples, but it could lead to conflict if you don’t share similar health beliefs,” said Quackwatch Founder Stephen Barrett, M.D. “You should imagine the possible consequences of living with a person who holds very different beliefs.”
Quackwatch is an informational resource that combats health-related frauds, myths, fads, and fallacies that can keep otherwise functional individuals, like my dad, from making responsible choices regarding their health.
The browsable online database makes it easy for individuals to read through articles that clear up common misconceptions and make a compelling case for science and against pseudoscience.
Stephen keeps his finger on the pulse of the health marketplace to help consumers understand what issues may negatively impact their lives. “I write primarily because I think it’s a good public service,” he told us. “It’s not easy for someone who’s not highly trained to determine what’s good. I tell people how to spot things and people they should run away from.”
With help from consultants, Stephen works to determine which organizations and websites are trustworthy and which are not. They point out the good and censure the bad to help regular people avoid getting misled. Stephen has been working on this project for over 20 years now and looks at about 100 websites per day. Many of his topics are responses to news stories or reader-submitted questions.
Everything on Quackwatch is backed by reliable source materials. Stephen carefully composes articles based on his own extensive files — which he’s been collecting for over 50 years — as well as online research. “There’s no formula I can give to individuals for avoiding everything that’s quack,” he said, “but I can give a lot of tips. It helps to be logical. It helps to go to medical school, too.”
Readers can learn to spot common medical ploys by picking up on deceptive marketing language like “no side effects,” “think positive,” and “we treat medicine’s failures.” As Stephen wrote, “The main reason for quackery’s success is its ability to seduce people who are unsuspecting, gullible, or desperate.”
But Quackwatch helps put people on their guard by telling them about ways to spot quacks and common misconceptions about quackery. If your significant other falls down the rabbit hole of vitamins, holistic treatments, or other alternative health treatments, you can turn to Quackwatch for a straight answer on what’s proven and what’s unsubstantiated by modern science.
Throughout our talk, Stephen emphasized the importance of familiarizing yourself with your date’s health views before deciding to commit to that person. After all, a little consideration now could save you a big headache (and a potentially messy divorce) later.
Stephen’s passion for raising health awareness began back in the 1960s. He wanted to curb non-legitimate health practices associated with pseudoscience by writing articles about what’s true and what’s false. Essentially, he fights fire with facts.
“Over the centuries, the scientific method has evolved to test what works and what doesn’t,” Stephen explained. “Today’s scientific knowledge is the result of hundreds of thousands of scientists working in parallel and setting up studies to determine what’s useful.”
“Reliable health information comes primarily through exposing hypotheses (assumptions) to critical examination and testing.” — Dr. Stephen Barrett in “Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions”
For the past 50+ years, Stephen has compiled an impressive amount of medical knowledge and launched 25 websites, including Quackwatch, relating to dentistry, autism, acupuncture, multilevel marketing, and other hot topics in the health industry. These sites see over 100,000 monthly views collectively, and his newsletter has over 11,000 subscribers interested in learning from Stephen’s research.
Below, we’ve pulled a few fact-based articles relevant to singles and parents trying to navigate sensitive issues.
AIDS-related quackery is not only unethical — it’s dangerous. Some misguided AIDS patients could put their trust in unproven remedies and believe themselves to be cured when, in actuality, they’re only making their situation worse and putting their sexual partners at risk.
Those diagnosed with HIV are mostly adults in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, many of whom may not be familiar with how to get proper medical treatment. In a thorough article, Stephen warns against dietary supplements that are falsely claimed to “boost your immune system” and offbeat clinics that falsely claim to cure HIV-infected patients.
To use Stephen’s words, “The fact that AIDS causes great suffering and is deadly has encouraged the marketing of hundreds of unproven remedies to AIDS victims.”
If you’re pregnant, you’re probably paying closer attention to what you eat and want to pack your body with vitamins. However, dietary supplements may not be as helpful as you think. According to Stephen’s research, many people are taking vitamins they don’t need.
“Don’t buy more than you need,” Stephen said. “No seller should be trusted for health information because most of them won’t tell you who doesn’t need to take their products.” When in doubt, you should consult a registered dietitian to ascertain if your diet is adequate.
Active daters often obsess over how they look and feel anxious to cultivate smooth skin, shiny hair, and a fit physique. Sometimes people turn to self-help products to boost their attractiveness, but such beauty-enhancing and intelligence-boosting products often don’t have the science to back up their promises. Stephen details questionable self-help products in a well-researched article.
Aromatherapy, for example, may seem like a rejuvenating way to prep for a date, clearing your mind and lowering your stress levels; however, aromatic oils have no medical relevance beyond making it easier to relax.
Quackwatch encourages singles to avoid subliminal tapes, biofeedback gadgets, brainwave synchronizers, and other self-help products that promise amazing results but have no basis in science.
My parents may disagree about what constitutes responsible health care, but they both agree that my mom saved my dad’s life by making him go to the doctor. His health scare didn’t change his mind about modern medicine, though. He still prefers to take care of himself and disregard the recommendations of his doctors as well as the protestations of his wife.
When you love someone, you accept all their flaws, but young lovers shouldn’t enter into such relationships with blinders on. They should know what they’re getting into before making a commitment. By doing your research, talking to your date, and cultivating an informed opinion about proven health practices, you can come one step closer to truly standing by your partner in sickness and in health.
Quackwatch’s resources can help couples rid themselves of misconceptions and avoid conflict on health-related issues down the line. “It’s a good idea to determine what your health outlook is early in life. That’s an important feature in your relationships, too,” Stephen said. “A person’s health and lifestyle choices are definitely something you should evaluate when trying to connect with someone.”