Pseudotherapies. What are those? Are they dangerous?

Today I am going to talk about what made me want to be a science communicator, pseudotherapies.


Pseudotherapies or pseudoscientific therapies are things we have to do or take, that are supposed to be good for our health but haven’t proven to work.


They don’t have scientific evidence, that is, they are not based on biology, chemistry, physics, or medicine and haven’t passed the tests that medicine or drugs have to overcome. 


In the best scenario, they will do nothing more than relieve some minor symptoms, which can be explained by the placebo effect. That is, we think something will stop hurting, convince ourselves of it, and it stops hurting.


One of the strategies of the clinics that offer pseudoscientific therapies is to propose that, to start feeling better, we need to attend many sessions. That way they make sure we go (and pay) many times. And those “treatments” are not cheap. 



Here you have some of the words or expressions they use so you can identify people trying to sell pseudotherapies. 



-‘It works for me’.


-With no chemicals.


-‘You cure yourself’.

-With no side effects.

-‘The doctors/pharma industry don’t want you to know’.

These kind of practices can not only cost us money but also our health. Some of them, as we’ll see later on, can lead to infections, poisonings, and even more serious issues.

Some of the most famous pseudotherapies are homeopathy, Bach flowers, la acupuncture, naturopathy, Chinese traditional medicine, Indian traditional medicine or ayurveda and reiki. 


Homeopathy was invented by Samuel Hahnemann in the eighteenth century, and he based it on two concepts:


  1. Treat likes by likes. For example, if an animal poison causes a disease, the same poison in a tiny amount can heal that disease. Doesn’t make any sense, right?
  2. A substance has a greater effect the more you dissolve it in water.

Homeopathic preparations (no, they are not medicines), are made by mixing substances coming from plants, minerals or animals in huge amounts of water. So immense that in the end there is nothing left of those substances in the final product. In short, you are paying for taking water. And, if the preparation is a pill, you are taking water with sugar. Did you know that there are homoeopathic products for animals



The same story applies to the Bach flowers, only that the substances they use come from flowers of certain species. These are mixed with water and brandy and are let out in the sun or boiled. Supposedly they are useful to alleviate mental problems that, according to its inventor, are responsible for physical diseases.



If you want me to tell you more about those practices I will, but now I want to focus on the therapies based on energies.

Based on the yin-yang theory and believes such as the 5 elements equilibrium. According to the people who practice it, there is a vital energy inside our body called chi o qi, that moves through it within channels called meridians.


They say that diseases appear because that energy loses its balance. To heal we have to re-establish that balance through massages, diet, tea, meditation or acupuncture.


This ‘medicine’ is not only based on magical thinking, but it is also dangerous as it can cause problems such as intoxication. Also, some remedies use wild animal parts, threatening them to be at risk of extinction.


  • Acupuncture tries to repair this vital energy by injecting needles into the channels I mentioned earlier on, the meridians. Where are the channels? Well, it depends on the acupuncturist. Each one follows a different philosophy or school, so we can’t know.


Acupuncture can be dangerous. It can lead to infections if needles are not sterile. Don’t forget that there are serious diseases such as hepatitis B or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that are transmitted by pricking with needles that other people used before. 


It can also lead to a pneumothorax, that is, prick a lung and provoke the air inside it to go outside. And, in the case of apipuncture, (acupuncture with bees), it can cause allergic reactions in some patients. 

It was created in 1922 by the Japanese zen budist Mikao Usui.

Presumably, vital energy travels through our body and, if it stops, we get sick. Reiki consists of a person transmitting vital energy through the laying of hands, which means, putting their hands close to our body without touching. That’s how it cures.


Obviously, this is not going to have a therapeutic effect on our body. 

This type of massage, within reflexology, is based on the belief that certain parts of our body (hands, ears, feet…), reflect the estate of the rest of the body. Like in acupuncture, people who practice reflexology say that, putting pressure on a specific part, they can alleviate the discomfort of another point of the body or heal certain organs as, they say, energy channels get repaired.



Depending on the part of the body, there are different types of reflexology:

  • Podal: massage in the feet.
  • Massage of the palms: massage in the hand’s palms.
  • Nasal: massage in the nose.
  • Auricular: massage in the ears.

This “therapy” doesn’t make sense because the feet or the palms are not connected to the stomach or other organs. Or a migraine is not going to heal if you touch your ear in a specific point. Our body doesn’t work like that.

Its origin belongs to sacred books, in which we come across the book of the science of life or ayur-veda. In this case, they also talk about a vital energy and an equilibrium among energies, represented by the Earth’s elements. Same story, if there is an energy imbalance we get sick. 

As in Chinese traditional medicine, they make preparations out of plants, and minerals and they meditate. That’s why it can also be dangerous, because it can lead to intoxication, specially with heavy metals such as mercury or lead. 

According to this technique, created in the USA, in our body, we have energy points called chakras. These points, as in the pseudotherapies we have seen before, lose their balance causing the energy and the magnetic field to change and making us getting sick.


In theory, each gemstone or semi-precious stone has a purpose and will have an effect on the body depending on where it is placed. 


Amethyst to remove toxins, quartz to improve digestion, emerald to bring more oxygen to cells, topaz for depression… 



Again, no science to be seen.

This pseudotherapy belongs to the New Age movement, which says that diseases appear because the pH of our body changes. Meaning, our body becomes more or less acidic.


Warning: That does not happens because our body has mechanisms that maintain our pH steady within a range. If it goes out of that range we die.


What these people say is that if we place magnets in different parts of the body we regulate pH, and so, we get rid of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. According to them, those would be the only cause of diseases.


Another lie, many diseases are not caused by any of them. And yes, if you change pH some of those little bugs die. But if you change a person’s pH you may kill that person as well. 


The magnetic devices, magnets, that they sell as “therapeutic” can be bracelets, insoles, wristbands, kneepads, braces for the neck or the back, even pillows and mattresses!


Can you imagine the amount of money that their supporters get selling magnets that don’t do anything? 

These are just a few, but there are way more pseudotherapies. 


If you have doubts about any medical treatment you can ask for a second opinion by attending another doctor’s consultation, you have the right to do so as a patient. But don’t get fooled by quacks or comments on social media. 


If you stopped a treatment that your doctor prescribed to change it to one of these pseudoscientific therapies, but you want to go back to the medical treatment, because you see that your problem is not getting any better or you feel worse, please do it. Don’t feel ashamed to go back to the doctor, they are there to help you, not to judge you.


Many of these charlatans sneak into patient’s forums or Facebook groups of people with chronic diseases (diabetes, cancer, lateral amyotrophic sclerosis (ALS), cystic fibrosis, AIDS…) and they announce their therapies in the comments, many times introducing themselves as patients that say ‘this works for me and changed my life’… and so on.


If you have doubts, always check the information on websites from reliable sources with information based on scientific evidence.

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