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Cigna tip: Health fraud

EDITOR'S NOTE:This article appeared in the Houston Texans Gameday magazine on Nov. 18, 2012, for the Texans' game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Reliant Stadium.

Health Fraud: It may cost more than you think

Each year, Americans spend their hard-earned dollars on products, devices and supplements designed to make them healthier, fit and lean. Products reach the market making outrageous claims that makes their information sound "too good to be true." However, we continue to throw away our very hard-earned money to find something that is new and different. Think of the toning shoes promoted by a former NFL legend claiming to tone your hips, legs and backside. After multiple studies sighting ineffectiveness, a class-action suit has been filed stating the shoes did not tone or promote fitness or changes in body composition. In 2011, the dietary supplements industry surpassed $30 billion in sales despite a sluggish economy, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. In the midst of a growing business, more adverse reactions and contaminated products were reported. Almost weekly, the FDA sends warning letters to supplement companies for false advertising or adulterated or contaminated supplements.

Consumers need to be armed with some basic science to avoid falling prey to unscrupulous companies. Consider being armed with facts as your common-sense 401K. Here are some recent hypes and key science tips to help you avoid health fraud and save your hard-earned money!

  • Cleanses. Eating healthy foods is a natural cleanse. Herbal cleanses are no more than laxatives under a different name. Internet horror stories might lead you to believe that your intestinal tract is a toxic waste dump. Not true. Think of fruits, vegetables and whole grains as nature's scrub brushes. Add in adequate fluid and exercise for colon health. With an optimal diet, your gut doesn't need help to keep clean.
  • Raspberry ketones.This is touted as a secret weight-loss aid, but there are no magical supplements that melt body fat. A few small rat studies suggest that raspberry ketones might break down body fat. Despite being touted on daytime TV, this supplement is not ready for prime time. Try cutting out sweet drinks and eating a high-protein breakfast and lots of fruits and vegetables for a sound dietary plan. Mix in some high-intensity interval training and strength training to round out your program. Just because it is promoted on a daytime medical show designed to entertain doesn't mean it is true!
  • Equipment that exercises for you. We have all seen the infomercials for the "ab belts" designed to help the muscles contract and do "600 sit-ups." The three companies making these belts have made more than $100 million, but the Federal Trade Commission calls their claims false and deceptive advertising. Clearly, consumers are looking for easy ways to reduce abdominal fat and get a six-pack. In order to make a muscle stronger, you must provide an overload, making the muscle do more than it is accustomed to doing. Ask our players how hard they have to work in the weight room. Great bodies are possible, but actual work is required.
  • Muscle weighs more than fat. This is actually a myth. A pound is a pound. Muscle is more compact than fat and clearly looks better in jeans. Think of it this way: Ten pounds of body fat looks like three large grapefruit, whereas 10 pounds of muscle looks like three oranges. One is compact, the other isn't. If your weight is creeping up on the scale, it is not muscle if you aren't working hard in the gym. Adding muscle is hard work, and losing it is easy. If you are not sure, get a body composition test done and answer the important question: Is the extra weight muscle, fat or somewhere in between?

In a world where health fraud is more common than ever, consumers need to be armed with good, solid health information to avoid wasting money and risking your health. Two of my favorite websites are and Be healthy, Texans fans!

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