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‘Graywashing’ takes billions a year from older consumers

People of all ages want to look and feel their best. At a time when many older Americans resolve to improve their health, let’s urges consumers to beware of false promises and products with little health benefit. Unfortunately, as people over 50 pursue this goal, many succumb to what I call graywashing – claims that chip away at older adults’ nest eggs with dubious promises of renewed youth and health.

There is no shortcut to health. Yet people spend billions of dollars a year on products that claim there is. Many products also say they will turn back time. But research shows these claims to be unsubstantiated.

A statement by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), a component of the US National Institutes of Health, states: “Despite claims about pills or treatments that lead to endless youth, no treatment has been proven to slow or reverse the aging process.” Be aware, as health fraud scams are abundant.

According to NIA, common health scams include:

  • Dietary/weight loss supplements. Americans spend a small fortune on potions claiming to help shed pounds, many sold over the counter. Some supplements contain hidden illegal drugs and other chemicals that could cause serious harm.

  • Arthritis remedies. Magnets, copper bracelets, chemicals, special diets and electronic devices are expensive, potentially harmful, and unlikely to help

Health scams often target common, chronic or incurable medical issues in an attempt to trick people who are desperate for any remedy they can find. Buzz words to beware of include: “quick fix,” “secret ingredient” or “scientific breakthrough.”

Don’t be swayed by personal testimonials featuring “real people,” or “doctors,” played by actors claiming amazing results. Testimonials are no substitute for real scientific proof, and can tip you off to a scam. In general, never purchase or start taking a medical treatment without first talking to a healthcare professional, particularly if you already take other prescribed drugs.

Weight loss, sexual enhancement and bodybuilding “supplements” are especially suspect. Some vitamins may help, but some supplements can harm people taking certain medicines or with some medical conditions. In particular, avoid those supplements claiming to shrink tumors, solve impotence or cure Alzheimer’s.

The solution? Be knowledgeable about the products you recommend, sell or buy. Among the things NIA recommends is to question what you see or hear in ads or online; ask your doctor, nurse, pharmacist or other healthcare provider about products you’re thinking of buying; and avoid products that:

  • Promise a quick or painless cure.
  • Claim the product is made from a special, secret or ancient formula.
  • Come only by mail or from one company.
  • Use statements or unproven case histories from so-called satisfied patients.
  • Claim to be a cure for a wide range of ailments.
  • Claim to cure a disease (such as arthritis or Alzheimer’s disease) that medical science has yet to cure.
  • Require advance payment and claim a limited supply of product.

Science may be getting closer to a Fountain of Youth, but we’re not there yet. Be wise and use your common sense. If something seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is.

The pillars of healthy aging are simple. They include a sensible diet, regular exercise, good sleep habits, meaningful relationships, and engagement in life.

Colin Milner, CEO, International Council on Active Aging®

Note: This information is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from research. The view expressed here are not necessarily those of the ICAA, we encourage you to make your own health and business decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified professional.


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