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  • Writer's pictureDoug Joachim

Quack Watch: How to Spot a Snake Oil Salesman a Mile Away

Updated: Nov 20, 2020

evidence based health
snake oil sales

Unfortunately, my field of exercise and nutrition is replete with hucksters, snake oil salesmen, frauds, quacks, charlatans, phonies and hacks. Sometimes it can be a Sisyphean feat telling the difference between a legitimate evidence-based practitioner and a quack. The majority of individuals who peddle pseudoscience, I believe, have good intentions. However, there are many that are just out to make a buck. Many hucksters depend on their clients' ignorance. They commonly use technical jargon to impress and obstruct rational thought. Armed with this technobabble and the lack of absolutes in medicine and health it is easy for a skilled hack to fool even the smartest among us. This is especially true when someone is sick and can not find a cure for what ails them. As a health condition degrades and there becomes fewer and fewer treatment options, the tendency to try something alternative becomes attractive. For obvious reasons, this can be dangerous.

Here are some ways in which you can tell if someone is a charlatan or not:

  1. If the practitioner states with certainty they can 'cure' or 'fix' your issue

  2. Uses scientific-sounding language (often incorrectly; e.g. “energy transfer”)

  3. Contradicts known scientific principles or laws of nature

  4. If the claim is based on a secret or ancient knowledge

  5. Somehow tied into a conspiracy theory where the powerful are holding back the treatment

  6. Many of these claims cannot be falsified

Here is an abbreviated list of pseudoscience words and phrases that are not evidence-based and usually mean you are dealing with alternative 'woo':




#Miracle cure



#Magnetic healing

#Instant results

#Secret trick

#PH-balancing food/water

#Chemicals in food



#Energy flow


#Quantum healing

#Eat right for your blood type

#Adrenal fatigue

#Applied kinesiology

#Cupping therapy

#Faith healing




#Urine therapy

#QuackWatch #pseudoscience

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