Snake Oil

Pseudoscience in the Midst of a Pandemic

A public health emergency can have an unfortunate side effect. With the coronavirus pandemic, pseudoscience, quackery, and fraud are emerging, too. Diets and supplements to “boost” your immune system are a common form of this fraud. Honestly, sometimes this sort of misinformation flies under the radar of normally discerning people.

But we praise Dietitians of Canada for offering clear guidance on such fraud and misinformation. In short, they say you cannot boost your immune system through a specific diet. No specific food, supplement, or natural health product will keep you from getting the coronavirus.

Washing your hands, keeping them away from your face, and keeping your distance from other people will help. Not magic pills, supplements, diets, or foods.

But What About Foods That Are Good for My Immune System?

It’s true. Good nutrition is good for your body. If your body is well-nourished, you’ll be in better shape to weather the storm of a respiratory infection – including COVID-19. So yes, of course you should make sure you’re eating a well-balanced and healthful diet. Duh.

However, that doesn’t mean your diet will prevent you from becoming infected with the new coronavirus. For prevention, focus on what works: hand washing, social distance, and hands off your face. It really is that simple.

A Strong Stand Against Fraud

As for the people selling frauds to profit from the coronavirus, the FDA and FTC took unusually strong and unequivocal action last week. Jointly they warned seven companies to knock it off. FTC Chairman Joe Simons expressed strong resolve:

These warning letters are just the first step. We’re prepared to take enforcement actions against companies that continue to market this type of scam.

Separately, the New York Attorney General issued a cease and desist order to Alex Jones for selling fake coronavirus treatments.

Perhaps this pandemic can sharpen our critical thinking. Pseudoscience in the midst of a pandemic is really intolerable. But why should we put with it – ever?

Click here for a primer on how to prevent the new coronavirus from spreading and here for more on nutrition for a strong immune system.

Snake Oil, photograph © Robert Patton / flickr

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March 18, 2020