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5 Medicines That are Usually a "Waste of Money"

Stop throwing away your money on these useless medicines.

There is a huge amount of money to be made in convincing people to buy "miracle" cures and "ancient" remedies—but just because a highly convincing snake oil-peddler is wearing a white coat does not mean the (often eye-wateringly expensive) snake oil actually works. With so much misinformation, pseudoscience, and quackery out there, how do you know what's worth spending your money on? Here are five so-called medicines that are a complete waste of money. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Essential Oils

You might need to pull out the lavender oil for this one: There is very little scientific evidence that essential oils can treat any kind of illness or health condition, despite claims to the contrary. "So many people are ill, and are looking for something to help them feel better, it's hard for them to walk away from a simple and natural therapy such as essential oils," says Felice Gersh, an ob/gyn and founder of the Integrative Medicine Group of Irvine, California. But what about all those anecdotal stories from people who say essential oil boosted their libido, or stopped their dog from having an anxiety attack? "Across many conditions, including anxiety, depression, and pain, when people believe something is helpful, they sometimes experience benefit," says Keith Humphreys, a psychiatrist at Stanford Health Care in Stanford, California. "Any claims of healing power beyond the placebo effect should be regarded with extreme skepticism." 

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Bizarre COVID-19 "Cures"

Close up of Clorox bleach containers with the new splash-less necks

The COVID-19 pandemic has opened the floodgates to some truly nonsensical treatments. The bottom line is this: If it wasn't prescribed or recommended by your physician, it's probably useless (if not outright harmful). "Cow urine, bleach and cocaine have all been recommended as COVID-19 cures — all guff," says University of Alberta professor Timothy Caulfield. "And countless wellness gurus and alternative-medicine practitioners have pushed unproven potions, pills and practices as ways to 'boost' the immune system. There is some evidence that alternative treatments and placebo effects can relieve distress — a common justification for tolerating unproven alternative treatments. But it's inappropriate to deceive people (even for their benefit) with magical thinking, and it is inappropriate for scientists to let such misinformation go unremarked." 

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Speaking Of "Boosting" Your Immune System…

juice bottles

Guess what—you can't "boost" your immune system, and trust us, you shouldn't want to—an overactive immune system is why so many people suffer from terrible allergies. All you need is a balanced immune system, which has significantly more to do with a healthy lifestyle than it does a magic potion. "The medical profession still doesn't know exactly how to influence the immune system despite what supplement products may claim," says Julie Stefanski, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

"Obviously good and balanced nutrition is important, but I actually do not think there is any strong scientific evidence for any specific type of food being linked to better immune function, and certainly there is no serious work on the area that I am aware of," says Shiv Pillai, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Harvard immunology program.

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Himalayan Salt

Sea salt

Are you paying a ridiculous amount of money for pretty pink salt because a wellness influencer told you it was better for you, health-wise, than other salt? That maybe you could "detoxify" your skin with this magical elixir? You might want to stop doing that. "Himalayan salt does contain trace amounts of minerals like potassium, magnesium, iron, and more, but the amounts are insignificant and afford no additional health benefits," says Jeff McGrath, a clinical dietitian at Westchester Medical Center, the university hospital of New York Medical College. 

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Over-the-Counter Cold Medication

Pharmacist wearing protective hygienic mask and making drug recommendations in modern pharmacy

According to a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice, phenylephrine hydrochloride (PE HCl)—an ingredient commonly used in over-the-counter treatments for nasal congestion—is no better than a sugar pill at effectively treating symptoms of a cold. Why? Thanks to an unfortunate predilection some people showed for concocting meth out of cough medication, the formula was changed, and subsequently made useless. "A lot of these medications used to use pseudoephedrine, a different chemical—it's what's found in Sudafed, for example," says Dr. Devi Nampiaparampil, a clinical associate professor at NYU School of Medicine. "Instead, they've been using phenylephrine now in a lot of the over-the-counter decongestants. The problem is, if it doesn't work as well, what's the point of people spending so much money on those medications and then still having the symptoms?" And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan
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