Alternative Medicine

Three Natural Treatments Debunked by Science

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By Kate Wharmby Seldman

Scientific evidence has recently debunked a handful of natural treatments for various ailments. Among the casualties: acai berries, ginkgo biloba, and POM Wonderful juice.

Time Magazine’s It’s Your Money blog ran a recent article profiling 10 less-than-miraculous miracle products. Number 1: POM Wonderful pomegranate juice. POM’s advertising has included slogans like “Cheat Death”: the company claims its pomegranate juice contains antioxidants called phytochemicals that can treat conditions ranging from erectile dysfunction to heart disease. There’s no scientific evidence to back up these claims: in fact, clinical research shows POM is about equal to a placebo in preventing or curing these conditions. In 2010, the FDA issued a legal order forbidding POM from making what it called “false and unsubstantiated claims” about the powers of its juice products.

Acai berries are also too good to be true: the South American fruit has been turned into a dietary supplement that promises to help people lose weight fast. Instead, it often causes diarrhea, nausea and stomach cramps. Central Coast Nutraceuticals, one of the companies marketing acai berry weight loss products, said that its products were backed by “iron-clad, double-blind, placebo-controlled weight loss studies from the medical establishment,” but the Federal Trade Commission, who filed a lawsuit against the company, says that’s simply not true. Scientists who examined the products for the FTC’s lawsuit said their main ingredients were laxatives.

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Gingko biloba has long been touted to improve memory and perhaps even reverse the memory-sapping effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. A University of Virginia study is the largest and longest research undertaking ever to examine the efficacy of ginkgo biloba: research conducted on 3000 elderly volunteers between the ages of 72 and 96 showed that ginkgo didn’t have the ability to help these patients perform better on several different kinds of memory tests. The rate of change in performance on these tests, which were conducted over six years, were about the same whether the patients took ginkgo or a placebo.

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