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Buyer Beware!

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Don’t automatically trust info online or in ads

By Jonathan Evans
Herbal Information Specialist for The Herbarium

Editor’s Note: Instead of his usual column outlining the use and properties of helpful herbs and vitamins, Jonathan is addressing some concerns he has about the recent promotion of some questionable products purporting to improve health.

Caveat emptor!

     There will be no reader questions this month. Instead, I have to go on a bit of a rant. This is given as a public service.

‘New’ is not always better

     As many of my older readers know, before I joined up with Herbarium, I was a talk show host on the late, great, WREB. I won numerous awards for consumer affairs programs and helping to educate people on their rights and protections.

     Now, as an herbal information specialist, it’s my job to investigate and report on some truly misleading ads pertaining to health matters. With that said, in recent weeks I have been bombarded with people coming into the shop with products they heard about on the radio or saw on the internet.

     It pains me to pick on radio because of my many years in the industry and the fact that my wife and I hosted our own radio program here in Western Mass for many years. The difference I need to point out is simple; On our show, we were local people there to answer questions, not to run half-hour canned infomercials touting a particular company or product.

     For years I told people to “believe 50 percent of what these programs claimed and don’t buy their product.” Meanwhile, folks have been coming in with “research” off the internet that seems to center around some “new, obscure herb or whatever” with near miracle results. (FYI there are many herbs out there, but not all are “herbs of commerce,” meaning they exist but are not important or safe enough for regular supply that you can only buy online.)

     Most people do not know how to cite information from reliable and legitimate sources. Company websites and Facebook pages are not the best source for information, especially when all you see are glowing reports about a product.

     After being in this industry for 40 years, we have seen many obscure herbs that suddenly become the greatest thing since sliced bread. Really?! After all these years and using these herbs, we have never heard of some of their miraculous benefits. Usually, these new miracles tend to be way overpriced for my taste.

There’s no “free’ product

     When someone says, “buy one get two free!”  run away. Especially when this special offer is available week after week. Simple economics tells us a business cannot give away two thirds of their product and make any money if it is a quality product.  If your automobile dealer offered you two free cars if you bought one of his specials, what’s the first question you would ask?

     If they can give two away for free, you are paying too much for the first bottle. If you order from these people, you have to buy three months’ worth. Why? And why can you only buy online?

     If the product is that good, retail places should be able to offer it to you.

Five antibiotics? Why?

     One particular commercial that concerns me is a company offering five different antibiotics in their kit with fear driving the ad. Yes, there is a shortage of antibiotics right now, but more concerning is that most antibiotics have been overused or misused and have lost their effectiveness for many conditions. Add to the fact you are getting five different ones (Why? What are they used for?) These products have shelf lives. These drugs are prescribed for specific conditions and for limited times. What “board certified physician” would be part of such a scheme? This sounds like fearmongering and appeals to people’s anxiety.

‘Natural’ does not always mean effective

     Another burr under my saddle are television ads for “natural products” and pharmaceuticals. Two that stand out recently are for a brain booster extracted from jellyfish. This product was offered to us many years ago. We got some samples, tested it with some customers and found very little effect. We never carried it. Now I see testimonial commercials with people claiming they are sharper after using it. But try to read the fine print under the people; It states these testimonials came from a subgroup in their study that suffered little or no cognitive problems. Hmmm, if you didn’t have a problem, how can you improve?

Heed the side effects

     My final concern is for people with insufficient pancreatic function. You need a prescription for this helpful drug but listen to the many nasty side effects in using it.

     There are a variety of pancreatic enzymes available at health food stores that are safe, effective, do not require a prescription and don’t cause myriad side effects. Digestive health has been a big sector of our product lines for many years and will be the subject of an upcoming column.

     Sorry to have to go through all this but I feel it is necessary for your health and your wallet.

     Okay, I feel better now.

— Jonathan

    Send questions on botanical remedies to: Nature’s RX: Jonathan Evans at or by regular mail to: The Herbarium, 254 Exchange St., Chicopee, MA 01013. If requesting info., please include a stamped, self-addressed envelope.