Beware the snake-oil merchants of alternative medicine - your life could depend on it

Market for unproven alternative medicines worth over €30bn worldwide

For as long as people have fallen ill, there have been others only too keen to exploit them.

History is littered with charismatic hucksters and misguided fools eager to peddle useless elixirs and ineffectual trinkets for every manner of malady imaginable, from bear-bile to magnetic bracelets. The term “snake-oil” has become something of a catch-all term for any ineffective remedy, sold with a litany of empty promises. While the phrase itself conjures up images of 19th-century fairground shysters, the troubling reality is that we live in an era where snake-oil is more abundant than ever before. And it has never been more imperative that we are able to spot it.

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