Snake oil isn’t always easy to recognize– sometimes it looks just like any other medicine. Some of the most bogus medicines actually have a stamp of approval from your own doctor and the FDA. Thanks to Big Pharma, biased medical research, and the meth-heads of the world, many of the most popular prescription and OTC drugs are actually no more effective than a placebo (and much more dangerous).
Here are just a few of the ineffective, FDA-approved medicines that your doctor has probably recommended.
Thanks to a bunch of junkies with sore-covered faces and decaying teeth, you can no longer buy pseudoephedrine, or Sudafed, without looking like a criminal. Pseudoephedrine is used to manufacture crystal meth, so the government has become ridiculously strict about who can get it and how. Nowadays, you have to provide an ID and put your name on a list of potential meth-makers if you want to buy a pack of real Sudafed.
So what’s the alternative? Store shelves are now lined with phenylephrine, which is in almost every single “decongestant” formula available without a prescription. Phenylephrine is supposed to be an effective alternative to pseudoephedrine, but, when taken by mouth at the recommended dose, it actually doesn’t work any better than a placebo.
Phenylephrine was approved by the FDA based on four tests– two of which were sponsored by the drug companies– suggesting that it might work. Six trials that were more neutral and better-designed– which proved that phenylephrine doesn’t work– were completely dismissed by the FDA. They figured that they could get away with taking away our Sudafed if they convinced us that something else worked just as well.
So you’re stuck with a snotty nose and a completely ineffective product. Thanks, meth-heads.
2. Children’s Cold Medicine
Over-the-counter drugs for kids’ coughs and colds remain very popular, and most still have FDA approval. These contain a number of different tussives, expectorants and decongestants– often including the snake oil product phenylephrine. Despite the fact that the FDA and American Academy of Pediatrics have said for for years that these products do not work, they continue to be sold everywhere in the U.S.
Many parents give their children cold medicine, including young kids under the age of six (a group especially prone to the serious side effects). Most often, this is because the doctor actually recommends it. If your child is sick but not sick enough to warrant the use of prescription drugs, your child’s doctor may recommend ineffective OTC cold medicines just to put your mind at ease.
So they don’t work– but what’s the harm? Unfortunately, children’s cold medicine isn’t just an inert placebo. It’s life-threateningly dangerous. Dozens of children died from OTC cold medicine before the FDA removed their approval for kids under three. How many more must die before they are taken off the shelves entirely?
3. Alli (Orlistat)
The only OTC diet pill approved by the FDA, widely recommended as an alternative to stimulants. At double the OTC strength, it might cause you to lose about 5 pounds a year (in exchange for diarrhea). But few, if any, studies have found the same benefit for the half-strength, OTC version.
Alli is probably safer than prescription diet pills, or OTC diet supplements containing strong stimulants. Nevertheless, a person would be nuts to expect Alli’s benefits to outweigh its risks. Compared to diet and exercise, the level of weight loss is extremely limited. Most people would agree that two pounds of fat loss are worth an entire year of cramping and diarrhea.
Alli does “work” in a way– it is like Antabuse for fat-addicts. It makes you extremely sick if you consume fatty food, so it forces you to eat healthier. But I’d take willpower over stomach cramps any day of the week.
Statins do work to lower your cholesterol. But the entire reason for lowering your cholesterol, supposedly, is to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. Despite their immense popularity and their FDA approval, statins do not work in this regard. There is no evidence that statins reduce your risk of heart disease in any form.
So you get to put up with all the very serious side effects in exchange for a false sense of security. When your cholesterol levels go down, your confidence in your health goes up– but your risk of a heart attack, stroke, blood clot or other serious cardiovascular event stays the exact same.
Unfortunately, dozens of the most popular drugs sold in the U.S. and approved by the FDA are completely ineffective. Your best bet, if you’re sick, isn’t to avoid pharmaceutical medicine entirely. Instead, you should thoroughly consult your physician or other health care provider about the benefits and risks of each drug that you consider taking– whether it is FDA-approved or not. Be your own advocate when it comes to your potential health care options.