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Health Fraud: A Hardy Perennial

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 October 2011

James Harvey Young
Emory University


Quackery forms a gaudy thread in the fabric of health care through the course of American history. In the colonial years, the American market for commercial self-dosage was dominated by “patent medicines”—some of them actually patented—shipped overseas from the mother country. Packed in containers of distinctive shape, sealed in wrappers printed with boastful therapeutic claims, advertised in the slender newborn press, these British nostrums far overshadowed occasional American imitators.

Copyright © The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA. 1997

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1. The historical section that launches this essay has been adapted from my publications: The Toadstool Millionaires: A Social History of Patent Medicines in America before Federal Regulation (Princeton, 1961)Google Scholar; The Medical Messiahs: A Social History of Health Quackery in Twentieth-Century America (updated edition: Princeton, 1992)Google Scholar; From Hooper to Hohensee,” Journal of the American Medical Association 204 (April 1, 1968): 100104Google Scholar; American Health Quackery: AnHistorical View,” Georgia Journal of Science 38 (1980): 3340Google Scholar; The Foolmaster Who Fooled Them,” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 53 (1980): 555–66.Google Scholar

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17. Ibid., 333–59; Barrett, Stephen and Herbert, Victor, The Vitamin Pushers (Amherst N.Y., 1994).Google Scholar

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44. Young, The Medical Messiahs, 350–54.

45. Ibid., 205–8, 338–59.

46. Ibid., 446–49; Young, James Harvey, “The Agile Role of Food: Some Historical Reflections,” in Hathcock, John A. and Coon, Julius, eds., Nutrition and Drug Interrelations (New York, 1978), 118.Google Scholar

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54. Statement by David A. Kessler … before the Subcommittee on Health and the Environment, Committee on Energy and Commerce, United States House of Representatives, July 29, 1993.

55. Food and Drug Administration, Unsubstantiated Claims and Documented Health Hazards in the Dietary Marketplace, July 1993.

56. FDA News Release, December 29, 1993; Burros, Marian, “Eating Well,” New York Times, December 15, 1993.Google Scholar

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58. Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, An Act to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to establish standards with respect to dietary supplements, October 25, 1994 108 Stat. 4325; Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, [FDA summary], December 1, 1995; Herbal Roulette,” Consumer Reports 60 (1995): 698705Google Scholar; “NIH Office of Dietary Supplements Research,” October 27, 1995; “FDA Published Dietary Supplement Rules,” January 2, 1996.

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63. Ibid., 95–107; Margaret Mason, “Health Quest,” Washington Post, June 26, 1992; Budiansky, Stephen, “Cures or ‘quackery’?” U.S. News & World Report, July 17, 1995, 4851.Google Scholar

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65. Bryant, Jim, “NIH Panel Reviews ‘Unconventional’ Medical Practices,” The NIH Record 44 (July 7, 1992): 1Google Scholar, 6; Barrett, Stephen, “‘Alternative’ Therapy Buzzword for the ‘90s,” Nutrition Forum 10 (January-February 1993): 12Google Scholar; Barrett and Herbert, The Vitamin Pushers, 371.

66. Angier, Natalie, “Where the Unorthodox Gets a Hearing at N.I.H.,” New York Times, March 16, 1993Google Scholar. Jacobs's career is also sketched in Achirov, Marilyn and Kramer, Linda, “Medicine Man,” People 39 (April 12, 1993): 9597Google Scholar, and in McLellan, Diana, “Medicine Man,” Washingtornian 23 (May 1993): 4647, 124–25.Google Scholar

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68. McLellan, “Medicine Man,” 46–47, 124–25.

69. Trachtman, “NIH Looks at the Implausible and the Inexplicable,” 115.

70. Toufexis, Anastasia, “Dr. Jacobs' Alternative Mission,” Time, March 1, 1993, 4344.Google Scholar

71. Trachtman, “NIH Looks at the Implausible and the Inexplicable,” 117.

72. Ibid., 117–19.

73. Bryant, “NIH Panel Reviews ‘Unconventional’ Medical Practices,” 8.

74. Alternative Medicine (Hearing), 105–6; Trachtman, “NIH Looks at the Implausible and the Inexplicable,” 117; Silber, Kenneth, “Alternative Medicine Agency Can't Bridge Gap,” Washington Times, December 8, 1994.Google Scholar

75. Alternative Medicine (Hearing), 116–17, 134.

76. McLellan, “Medicine Man,” 125.

77. Silber, “Alternative Medicine Agency Can't Bridge Gap.”

78. Eisenberg, David M. et al. , “Unconventional Medicines in the United States— Prevalence, Cost, and Patterns of Use,” New England Journal of Medicine 328 (1993): 246–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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80. Ibid.; Gevitz, Norman ed., Other Healers: Unorthodox Medicine in America (Baltimore, 1988)Google Scholar; Stanway, Andrew, Alternative Medicine (London, 1980)Google Scholar; Rasso, Jack, “AlternativeHealth Care: A Comprehensive Guide (Amherst, N.Y., 1994)Google Scholar; Butler, Kurt, A Consumer's Guide to Alternative Medicine (Amherst N.Y., 1992).Google Scholar

81. Trachtman, “NIH Looks at the Implausible and the Inexplicable,” 121.

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83. NIH OAM Grant Recipients, October 6, 1993.

84. Alternative Medicine (Hearing), 7–12; Marshall, Eliot, “The Politics of Alternative Medicine,” Science 265 (September 30, 1994), 20002002CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed; Silber, “Alternative Medicine Agency Can't Bridge Gap.”

85. Alternative Medicine (Hearing), 110; Regan, Mary Beth, “Will a Cup of Cow's Whey Keep the Doctor Away?” Business Week, December 12, 1994, 96.Google Scholar

86. Editorial, “Offbeat Therapies Go to Washington,” Los Angeles Times, October 17, 1994; Regan, “Will a Cup of Cow's Whey Keep the Doctor Away?”

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88. Ibid.; Angier, Natalie, “U.S. Head of Alternative Medicine Quits,” New York Times, August 1, 1994Google Scholar; Budiansky, “Cures or ‘Quackery’?”; Silber, “Alternative Medicine Agency Can't Bridge Gap.”

89. Budiansky, “Cures or ‘Quackery’?”

90. Angier, “U.S. Head of Alternative Medicine Quits.”

91. Marshall, “The Politics of Alternative Medicine.”

92. “Offbeat Therapies Go to Washington.”

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99. OAM Funds Eight Research Centers to Evaluate Alternative Treatments,” Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the NIH 2 (December 1995): 2, 8.Google Scholar

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103. Jonas, Wayne B., “U.S. Health Agency Isn't Pushing Alternative Medicine,” New York Times, January 9, 1996.Google Scholar