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Live Healthy, Atlanta! Thought Leader

Be on Alert for Digital Snake Oil Salesmen

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

In the 1860s, hucksters proselytized about the benefits of snake oil. Salesmen promised the oil, taken from a rattlesnake, would soothe tired muscles, cure measles, typhoid fever — anything that ails you! Although the original oil actually worked, inferior versions that didn’t contain any snake oil at all were developed and sold by these salesmen who hawked their goods at “medicine shows” that featured a carnival-like atmosphere. The term snake oil salesman is still used to mean anyone who sells something they know is fraudulent. Thanks to the Internet, these hucksters don’t even need to stage medicine shows any more.

Thanks to a Google alert, I receive daily emails about restless leg syndrome (RLS). I noticed a common thread in the alerts right away — each email includes at least one link to a site promising a cure for RLS. Digital snake oil salesmen promise to cure restless legs with magnets, a diet of carrot juice, crystals, or by aligning chakras.

There are some home remedy sites that contain some good information. Many suggest increased exercise and not resisting the urge to move, good advice that I’ve shared before on this blog. These same sites wax poetic about the benefits of large quantities of ginseng, incense, and “controlling your energy by balancing your chakras.”

The symptoms of RLS are often infuriating for those who suffer from the disease. It’s understandable to turn to the Internet searching for new ways to alleviate discomfort. I’ve written about methods of coping on this blog, hoping to help anyone looking for credible information.

The Internet is a fountain of information and we’re forced to use our best judgment whenever we hit “Search.” A few months ago, I published an article about treating a poison ivy rash at home, which is something that can be done safely and effectively.

But some illnesses cannot be treated without the care of a doctor. Websites directed at diabetics contain dangerous misinformation. One site recommended standing on the leaves of a damp herb to bring high blood sugar back down to normal. Such information is frightening. So too are the websites that caution against vaccinating yourself or your children. When the pseudoscience peddled on the Internet seems credible to a large number of people, there can be deadly consequences.

When you go online looking for a remedy, be cautious. Use your best judgment – visit well-known websites with a credible history. The Mayo Clinic’s website is a great place to start. Be skeptical – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. When in doubt, remember that your best resource is always a healthcare professional. Call your clinic or doctor’s office and schedule an appointment or a phone call to discuss your symptoms, what you’ve read, and what they recommend. As the medical community continues to study RLS, we’re learning new ways to help those struggling to ease their symptoms.

Note: Last week, news outlets across the country were reporting on the worst measles outbreak in more than 15 years. As I write this, there have been 159 reported cases. Unfounded fears about a connection between vaccinations and autism persists, but the concern is unwarranted. Vaccines save millions of lives every year. Their invention is one of the greatest advancements in medical history – before the measles vaccination became commonplace 50 years ago, 500 people died of the illness each year. Please don’t hesitate to protect yourself and your family by getting vaccinated today!

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