Magic magnets, ear candles, brain stimulators, and other candidates for the Quack Hall of Fame.
Health hokum is big business. And there's more at stake than dollars and cents. "By pinning your hopes on worthless gadgets, you could actually be missing out on a treatment that really will work for you," says James Dillard, MD, co-author of Alternative Medicine for Dummies. Here are five products you should definitely stay away from.

1. Pain-relief guns: These devices are supposed to relieve pain by applying mild electrical charges to afflicted areas. "The charge may serve as a brief counterirritant so you don't notice as much pain, but any effect would be minor and temporary," says Dillard. He suggests trying a licensed acupuncturist or massage therapist instead.

2. Magic magnets: Since a small study published in 1997 found that 29 patients with post-polio problems reported less pain when treated with magnets, marketers have claimed that magnets will alleviate just about any ailment. But it's far from proven. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission cracked down on Magnetic Therapeutic Technologies for telling consumers that magnets were effective for treating HIV, cancer, arthritis, and other diseases. And last year the Consumer Justice Center filed suit against Florsheim for saying its MagneForce shoes reduced pain and enhanced circulation.

3. Ear candles: Since nothing inside your head can pass through an intact eardrum, these candles won't clear out sinuses or relieve tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and may deposit their own wax. Worse yet, doctors may have to treat burns, obstructions, and even eardrum perforation on patients who use the candles.

4. Brain stimulators: The Micro-400 cranial electrical stimulator is a small battery-powered box promoted as a "brain tuner." It allegedly improves your mood, health, intelligence, and sleep; you can also apply the electrodes to the body to relieve sore muscles and zap parasites. But don't bank on this doing anything except draining your checking account of $195.

5. Pinhole eyeglasses: "Most vision disorders CAN BE REVERSED!" proclaims an ad for these glasses, whose opaque lenses are studded with pinholes. Not so, according to Russell Worrall, OD, an optometrist and associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He says vision problems are caused by abnormalities in the eye's lens and shape; therefore no amount of peering through the pinhole shades will help.   Do you know the difference between a cure and a scam? Take the quiz!


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