2016’s Most Ridiculous Health Claims (So Far)

By Katharine Paljug  @kpaljug
July 19, 2016

Four health claims that don’t live up to the hype.

The year may be only half over, but 2016 has already seen several ridiculous health claims come and go. From reversing aging to preventing autism, there are a lot of wacky ideas floating around. Luckily, good research has thoroughly debunked most of these claims.


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Stem cell injections will prevent aging (and other diseases)

A new study in the journal Cell Stem Cell found a worrisome trend: hundreds of clinics are offering “stem cell treatments” for everything from aging skin to muscular dystrophy

These clinics, which are largely unregulated, promise cutting edge treatments and cures. Some clinics claim to be able to reverse visible signs of aging by injecting stem cells directly into the skin. Others offer to treat autism by using stem cells to heal intestinal imbalances. They rely on the mystique of stem cells to lure patients in, but there’s no medical research to support their claims.

Scientists can manipulate stem cells, which are found throughout your body, to produce other cells. As a result, they are used to research many diseases and as part of treatment for others, including bone marrow transplants and other cancer treatments. But most stem cell treatments are still new and very experimental. The Food and Drug Administration regulates stem cell therapy in the U.S., and there are no approved stem cell treatments for muscular dystrophy, autism, or cosmetic procedures. 

A smartphone app will improve your brainpower

Makers of the app Luminosity recently agreed to pay $2 million in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission for misleading claims about their product.

Luminosity was advertised as improving performance at work and school, boosting intelligence, slowing cognitive decline, and fending off a host of disorders including Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, there’s no scientific evidence to back these claims up.

Research has shown that activities such as crossword puzzles or learning a new language can stimulate cognitive function, delay the onset of dementia, slow the memory decline often associated with aging. But there’s no single app that can improve your intelligence and prevent Alzheimer’s. 


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“Brain training” programs can treat ADD and traumatic brain injury

Luminosity isn’t the only company in trouble with the FTC. LearningRx, the company behind several popular “brain training” programs, has recently been fined $200,000 and ordered to change many of its marketing claims.

LearningRx offers customers one-on-one sessions with a brain trainer and a variety of programs designed to boost cognition. But they also claimed to be able to reverse conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, brain injury, and Alzheimer’s. 

The website made claims about their programs effectiveness such as, “With the right program, most children who have been labeled as having ADHD, ADD or other learning disabilities can improve from three to five grade levels and about half the students no longer require medication.” Marketers for LearningRx used targeted ads to find customers searching online for keywords such as “autism cure” and “severe traumatic brain injury cure.”

Much like Luminosity, though, the company did not have science evidence to back these claims up. In the section of their website devoted to research and studies, LearningRx now qualifies its programs with the statement, “You or your child may or may not see the same improvements seen in these studies.”

Vaccines cause autism in children

In the spring of 2016, the Tribeca Film Festival announced that it would include a screening of “Vaxxed,” a controversial documentary claiming to reveal secrets that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention covered up about the link between autism and vaccines. The film’s inclusion caused so much outcry among the scientific and health community that it was eventually pulled, but not before its presence ignited (once again) the argument over the safety of childhood vaccines.

Scientifically, no link has ever been found between autism and vaccines. The original study linking autism to the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine was published by Andrew Wakefield, the man who created “Vaxxed.” Wakefield’s study was discredited soon after it was published under suspicion that he had faked his results. He was stripped of his medical license and the study was retracted by The Lancet.

Since then, many studies have examined the relationship between vaccines and autism, and none of them have ever proved Wakefield’s original conclusions. One of the most thorough studies to date, involving over half a million children, specifically concluded that there was no link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Other research has also thoroughly debunked the idea that vaccinating children against diseases causes autism. 


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July 19, 2016

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN