Posted by: notdeaddinosaur | July 20, 2013

Death by Commercial

Have you heard this radio commercial:

Do you suffer from hot flashes, weight gain, bloating, fatigue, nausea? It’s probably hormonal imbalance. Now there’a Amberen, a completely natural cure for all these symptoms.

I saw a woman yesterday who had most of those symptoms for a couple of years. The radio commercial guaranteed relief from all of them, “with no big changes in lifestyle”, and included a free 30-day supply of the product. She’d been using it for over a year now, and she finally came in to see me because it wasn’t really doing anything much for her. She complained of bloating, weight gain, nausea, and increasing difficulty eating. I wasn’t surprised. She had an enormous abdominal mass extending up from the pelvis that turned out to be an advanced case of ovarian cancer.

As a point of information, you should know that “hormonal imbalance” is not a diagnosis. Symptoms of perimenopause — signs of impending age-related cessation of ovarian function — are caused by falling levels of estrogen. During the menstrual years, the body produces progesterone during the second half of the menstrual cycle (and during pregnancy) and together the “balance” of these hormones results in regular menses and completed pregnancies. The term “hormonal imbalance” is less than meaningless.

So if you have weight gain, bloating, and nausea, you should probably go talk to a doctor. Most of the time, you won’t have cancer or any other life-threatening condition. But you also won’t have wasted your money (after the first 30 days) on an expensive placebo.

Amberen: clinically proven to cause death by misleading women into wasting their money on useless nostrums in lieu of seeking actual, appropriate medical care.



  1. Annd then there’s the 67 year old who comes in after listening to the radio ad and wants her “hormones checked” because she’s convince it’s the answer to all her complaints. Madam, you have no female hormones, that is what menopausal means. I have seen a couple of cases of endometrial hyperplasia and postmenopausal bleeding caused by these quacks excuse me, hormone “clinics”

  2. Bravo. Thanks for calling out one of the may versions of snake-oil masquerading as legitimate alternatives to medicine, but really just old-fashioned quackery for profit.

  3. I have just been reading your blog a little bit (delving around in the archives to be honest!). I am an Australian General Practitioner (the closest equivalent in the US would be a family physician I think). I work in a smallish country town and do some work at our local hospital. I am intrigued by all your insurance stuff as our system seems very different. No-one is covered by our Medicare programme to see a specialist without seeing a GP first and being referred. Inappropriate or unnecessary referrals are frowned upon. Medicare is entirely government funded and every Australian has access, meaning that health care costs the individual very little and often nothing. Although obviously we all pay tax!

    I find it interesting that patients can go straight to a specialist in the US (or maybe I have misunderstood your system which is very possible). I doubt there is a huge difference in health outcome in either country as both have excellent levels of health care overall.

    And I completely agree about your red yeast/statin post! Marketing can be very confusing for consumers. I also hate the inference my patients often make that anything “natural” is safe. I seem to always be telling patients that tiger sharks are natural and they definitely don’t want to go swimming with one!

    I am really enjoying your blog – one thing is for certain – our systems sound different but the patients and the actual practice sound very similar! (And I spend a lot of time dealing with your Dinosaur Laws numbers 4, 5 and 9 in particular….)

  4. […] This one is about her encounter with a patient who relied for a whole year on a commercial product’s claim that it would help her to deal with her “hormonal imbalance.” Only problem is, there is no such diagnosis. Worse yet, in this woman’s case, the right diagnosis was an advanced case of ovarian cancer, the kind where a patient doesn’t have a year to vamp before seeking medical care. How many other lives have been lost through “death by commercial?”  […]

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