4 Rules I Use To Avoid Wasting My Money On Bullshit “Health” Products


I admit I’m a bit of a hypochondriac. Okay, I’m a total hypochondriac. Luckily, I have a parent who’s a retired nurse and a sister who’s almost a doctor (she graduates next year; we’re all so proud!). They can’t always keep me from worrying that that spot on my nose is the first symptom of bird flu, but over the years they have taught me how not to waste my money on health-related scams. Now I’m here (at least, until the bird flu gets me) to share their tips with you.

1. Detox means nothing (unless you’re drunk, on drugs, or poisoned).

There’s a lot of products out there that claim to “detox” you. The truth is, you can only be detoxed from toxic substances that could poison you, which include alcohol, most drugs, and poisons such as cyanide. Food (even extra-greasy burgers and dayglo orange corn chips) doesn’t qualify. You can certainly make your body healthier by eating better, which is great, but there’s no way to flush out fat, artificial chemicals, etc. once you’ve consumed them. I also believe there is no way to boost your metabolism by going on a “cleanse”; once you start eating solid food again, you’ll put the weight right back on. What can I say, sometimes the truth hurts.

2. Make sure the seller has the right credentials before you buy.

I mean, obviously, you’re not going to buy magic healing crystals from someone with a degree in Angel Therapy. But there are some health scams out there sold by people whose meaningless titles look legitimate at first. A great way to check if the impressive-sounding place someone graduated from is accredited by a recognized accreditation agency or not is to look it up on Credential Watch, which keeps a list of “schools” that aren’t that at all.

You’ll also want to make sure the person’s area of expertise corresponds to what they’re selling. A degree from the Harvard School of Medicine is certainly something to take note of, but if she used it to become a cardiologist and she’s trying to sell pills to boost your brainpower, more than a little skepticism is in order. And please, don’t take the health advice of some celebrity just because he looks hot and you want to know his secrets (spoiler alert: they’re good genes, endless time and money so it doesn’t matter if he wastes some of it on scams, a personal chef and trainer, and the knowledge that his career is riding on his pretty face and ability to turn down dessert).

3. I probably don’t need vitamins.

Of course, if your doctor says you do because of a medical condition, by all means, listen to them. However, if you’re healthy and the only reason you’re buying vitamins is out of a belief that they’ll keep you that way, you should know that (unless you’re reading this from a 17-th century pirate ship) there’s no reason you can’t get your vitamins from regular food and drink, which is much cheaper as well as more convenient. As the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine memorably titled one of their articles, “Enough Is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.” 

4. “Natural” isn’t a synonym for “healthy.”

Not only do plenty of unhealthy substances come from nature (for example, arsenic), but many natural flavors in food consist of the exact same chemicals as those in artificial flavors, just produced from other foods rather than created directly by mixing chemicals, which makes them more expensive. Do we really need to pay more to have food that’s been flavored by using outdated technology? Honestly, any hope of “natural” meaning “better for you” went away when Frito-Lay started touting their naturally-flavored Cheetos (seriously).

*****

It goes without saying, hopefully, that you should always take your doctor’s advice first and foremost, and I concede I’m not any kind of medical professional. But just as you don’t have to be an accountant to figure out you’re better off turning down that Nigerian prince’s generous offer, there are some health scams we can all learn to avoid. Your wallet (and your body) will thank you for it.

Jane Silver is a freelance writer from Pennsylvania.

Image via Unsplash

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  • Piggy

    Excuse me, I live on a 17th-century pirate ship and I take offense to all of this. WHAT IF I GET SCURVY?
    Just kidding. This is brilliant. I am surrounded by people who go on regular “detoxes” and I feel like I’m beating them back with a broom every time they invite me to join them. Pseudo-science has no place in personal health.

    • I never want to hear the word “detox” again in my life. THIS IS WHAT YOUR ORGANS ARE FOR.

      • Piggy

        Right? Like I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure that’s like the whole purpose of your liver and kidneys…

  • Steph

    While I 100% agree with the detox thing, it is important to note that many Americans are lacking essential nutrients and do need to supplement. Vitamin D and Omega-3s come to mind as things lacking from most diets. Yes, you can get these from food, but most of us don’t. And even if people are supplementing, they are buying sub-par products and throwing away money. Instead of skipping supplements entirely, take your time, do your research and invest in high-quality supplements.

    • Vivian

      I agree with this! I actually just bought a supplement that has both 1200 mg fish oil (approx 300 omega-3) and 1000 IU of vitamin D. Didn’t think I would find that combination but it was just the two types that I was looking to supplement.

      I just got blood work and came back with sub-optimal levels of vitamin D. I eat very healthy — lots of eggs and fish but it’s actually quite hard to get enough vitamin D through food alone. I work in an office all day — so getting sun exposure is what I struggle with.

      • Steph

        You likely still need a stronger fish oil – most research suggests that a minimum of 3000mg of Omega-3 are necessary, and it is important to note that EPA and DHA levels are more important that total Omegas. It’s nearly impossible to take too much fish oil, especially if you take a high quality with not heavy metals, so that shouldn’t be a concern. I take over 7000mg daily of EPA and DHA and credit it for minimal injuries following a head injury recently. If you are interested in a higher concentration fish oil with Vitamin D, check out a brand called SFH. They offer a liquid fish oil that actually tastes amazing and has 1000IU of vitamin D and over 3500mg of Omega-3s. The differences I’ve seen since making the switch to this brand has been huge.

    • Lauren

      Agree, especially for vegetarians. I take a vitamin that is fortified with iron because even though I eat as much spinach as I can, I know I could probably use more.

      • Kayla Sweeney

        Yes, I’m a vegetarian who leans more heavily plant-based and I take B12. If you’re on a special diet and/or not eating certain kinds of food you should definitely talk to your doctor about any nutrients you might be missing.

  • Darlene

    Superb article. I’m currently a senior-level student, going on to a dietetic internship, and hopefully getting my registered dietitian (RD) credential afterward, and I couldn’t agree more.

    Supplements are SUCH a waste of money. Food has many more benefits than the sole nutrients they provide. Props on this article, I really enjoyed it!

  • Yes, right on! Also – if someone is trying to sell you shakes/powders/patches/pills as part of a multi-level marketing scheme they’ve fallen into, they probably have no business giving you health advice. Run.

  • Completely agree with everything written down. My only way to be healthy is to not eat processed food, focus on veggies and some non gluten options, and keep the portions right. Every pill, every detox miracle, every shake, every amazing new product just won’t do – keep it simple and you’re always good!

  • Mireille Cecil

    It’d also add to this ‘just because it says natural doesn’t mean it’s a safe’. I help run a small essential oil company with my mother and am the lead aromatherapist. Let me tell you, the kinds of things people do things with essential oils that are wasteful, counterproductive and downright dangerous drive me up the wall. You shouldn’t be taking something internally without medical supervision, for the most part you shouldn’t be using EOs on your skin undiluted and you shouldn’t be subjecting small children to potentially irritating eos like peppermint or cassia to ‘cleanse’ the air or their immune system. These are potent substances folks, you shouldn’t just use them willynilly.

  • Louise Fox

    I would definitely like to spend a little extra £ quality food than any supplements.