Beware of the Snake Oil Salesman

Snake-oilThe term “Snake Oil” has been around since the 19th century . The term was not confined to the United States, but also to Europe where Viper Oil was sold. Now, there are some benefits to the Chinese Version of snake oil from water snakes, which contains EPA, a type of Omega 3 Fatty Acid. The problem began when snake oil salesmen began selling oils with “secret ingredients” that claimed to be cure-alls.

In 1917, the US government stepped in to analyze a snake oil sold by Clark Stanley which contained mineral oil, fatty oil (Presumed to be beef fat), turpentine, red pepper, camphor and NO traces of snake oil. A lawsuit ensued and the term “snake oil” was adopted to identify supplements that claim to be cure-alls. Unfortunately not much has changed today, so beware of the snake oil salesman.


As a functional health coach, I’m in a VERY special position. I get contacted by network marketing companies to promote their products  because whatever supplement or product they sell is the next “miracle cure” for all ailments. Don’t get me wrong, there are some really good products out there offered by network marketing companies. However, because I’m a functional health coach, I won’t recommend any supplements to my clients that belong to a network marketing company because I’m just not interested in participating in that type of business, I’m not out to make money on supplements and the supplements I do recommend are not for the purpose of treating or healing one problem but instead, I look at what the body needs and provide the support needed according to those needs. Because we are all so different, a supplement that might be beneficial to one person, might not be beneficial for another one so I also have to take that into consideration.

Last night, I received a private message on Facebook by someone telling me about her product. It was a product that I had never heard of (and I will not name here because it’s not necessary). So the FIRST claim that she made when I asked if it was a multi-level marketing company was that “Most people don’t know it’s an MLM because they hear about the product from their doctors”. Now, I worked with doctors from around the country for almost 10 years and I never once heard about this product.  A lot of supplement companies make claims that they are cure-alls. Here are a few things that raised red flags for me during the conversation:

  1. The product will claim to be a cure all. The person will say that it lowers blood sugar levels, blood pressure, that it will even out cortisol levels, ease joint pain and treat other symptoms.
  2. There is no explanation as to how the product actually works. In fact, they will use BIG words that sound all science-based to back up their claims. They will say things like: “It’s a guaranteed Potency Functional beverage”, but what exactly DOES that mean?
  3. They will claim to have “rare compounds”. But how do we know if the “compounds” or ingredients are the ones our body needs? And how much of those ingredients or compounds are in their product?
  4. They will claim to be in business for many years and yet, you will find little information about them online. And even certain supplement companies that have been in business for a long time have a questionable reputation.
  5. And the very last one that did it for me was how aggressive this person became when I told her that due to the work I do, I am unable (refuse, really) to be part of a network marketing company. Her response was that I was “discriminating a product, based on how it was distributed.” I’m not, truly. I only recommend products that I believe in and based on my interaction with this person, the health claims were too outrageous to even consider recommending them, much less distributing them.

So next time someone recommends a product that claims to treat everything, make sure to look for the red-flags before buying into it. The bottom line is that these supplement companies are truly ONLY trying to make sales. We have to be smarter consumers. Check ingredients. Do your research, and be cautious.