Overindulge over Christmas? Can’t shake those extra kilos? Is your arthritis giving you trouble or are your hot flushes getting you down? Could it be your sex life needs a little help? Perhaps your Qi needs boosting or your charkas need balancing. Have no fear! There’s a product or two that maybe just right for you and they’re government approved — but does that really mean that they work?
Search the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)’s Public Summaries for fat and cellulite reduction and you’ll find 26 ultrasound and radio frequency machines.
Many of these are described as “non-invasive alternatives for liposuction” that reduce fat cells by emulsifying them with heat producing energy waves. Costing upwards of $2000 for treatments, they are used by doctors and cosmetic therapists and they do seem to give a “temporary improvement in the appearance of cellulite”, but do they really remove your fat?
A lower-cost option may be a magnetic therapy device that claims to increase your metabolism, but if you’re not into gadgets there are also about 1000 complementary medicines also making weight loss claims.
Natural pain relief is always a big money spinner for the therapeutic goods industry. There are more than 60 magnetic therapy-based products approved by the TGA including mattress underlays, pillows, support straps, jewellery and shoe innersoles.
Some of these products also state they can help allergies, arthritis, asthma, bed sores, blood pressure, carpal tunnel, chilblains, headaches, sciatica, sinusitis, shingles, toothache and tinnitus and that’s only half of the conditions listed!
If your sex life needs a lift, there’s a “penile rigidity device“, which claims “to help overcome impotence and incontinence”. Consisting of four pieces of plastic with two metal bits (which you join together to clamp around your wedding tackle) they sell for more than $600. Apparently, as you walk, the galvanic current generated between the metal bits, supposedly improves your libido.
If “period pain for pre- and post-menopausal women” is your problem then magnetic therapy might help. For other symptoms there’s black cohosh, dong quai, red clover and soy-based complementary medicines, that are meant to reduce them.
If you want the benefits of acupuncture without the needles, there’s even a reflexology product approved as well, but if it’s your vital force that needs a boost, there are pills claiming to “strengthen kidney organ meridian energy to supply healthy liver Qi“.
Despite all these products having TGA’s approvals there is no evidence to support any of these claims. Energy generating machines can’t remove fat or cellulite, magnets are a placebo and the concept of Qi, meridians and reflexology are all based on pseudoscientific nonsense.
For the symptoms of menopause there is no convincing evidence that any natural product can help and some may even cause liver damage, bleeding complications or “harmful effects on hormone-sensitive tissue“.
Some consumers and health professionals are fighting back with some success and new guidelines of evidence for weight-loss pills are to be implemented, which should clear the shelves of these products.
There is also the TGA’s Complaints Resolution Panel, which has upheld complaints against many of the advertising claims for products including wave-generating machines and magnet therapy devices, but they have no power to enforce sanctions, so the advertising remains.
The TGA is funded by the industry it is meant to be regulating and this is easy money for them, so there is no incentive for it to clean up its act. While this situation exists, creative sponsors will undoubtedly keep targeting vulnerable and gullible consumers, by obtaining TGA approvals that enable them to sell product that claim to treat real and imaginary conditions, with a growing range of pills, potions, photons and other placebos.
*Loretta Marron, a science graduate with a business background, was Australian Skeptic of the Year for 2007.