Consumer Health Digest #02-38

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
September 17, 2002


Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.


Magnet study contradicts "increased circulation" claim. A well-designed study has found that application of a disk-shaped 1000-gauss magnet produced no magnet-related changes in skin blood flow. The study involved 12 healthy volunteers who were exposed to either the magnetic disk or an identically appearing disk that was not magnetic. No change in the amount or speed of blood flow was observed when either disk was applied. The study was done to test the claim that commercially available magnetic products can increase circulation to nearby areas of the body. [Mayrovitz HN and others. Assessment of the short-term effects of a permanent magnet on normal skin blood circulation via laser-Doppler flowmetry. Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine 6(1):9-12, 2002] The magnets were manufactured by Magnetherapy, Inc, of Riviera Beach, Florida. In 1997, the FDA warned Magnetherapy to stop claiming that its products could reduce many types of pain and inflammation by increasing blood and oxygen flow to afflicted areas. In 1998, the company entered a consent agreement with the State of Texas to pay $30,000 and to stop making a long list of claims that were unsubstantiated and lacked FDA approval.


Peter Breggin debunked. Quackwatch has posted an article sharply criticizing psychiatrist Peter R. Breggin, M.D., and The Ritalin Fact Book, Breggin's most recent commentary about attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The article notes that the book exaggerates (a) the problem of misdiagnosis, (b) what non-drug treatment can accomplish, and (c) the extent of side effects from Ritalin and similar medications. Breggin has been improperly criticizing mainstream psychiatric practices for many years. The book's back cover describes him as "the conscience of psychiatry," but Quackwatch's board chairman Stephen Barrett, M.D., asserts that it would be more accurate to characterize him as "a harmful nuisance whose views can undermine trust in the medical profession and frighten people away from helpful treatment." [Barrett S. Some Notes on ADHD and Peter R. Breggin's Attack on Ritalin. Quackwatch Web site, posted Sept 12, 2002]


Cancer scammer receives 88-month prison sentence. James Gary Davidson, operator of a Mexican cancer clinic that treated people with a fraudulent magnetic device, has been sentenced to 88 months in a federal prison followed by 2 years of supervised release. In June 2000, he and five others were charged with criminally defrauding investors as well as clinic patients. In March 2002, he pleaded guilty to mail fraud and money laundering and agreed to pay $675,000 in restitution, which he paid on the day he was sentenced. For additional information see Quackwatch.


FDA issues "cyber letters." In January 2000, FDA began issuing "cyber" letters (letters sent electronically via the Internet) to Web sites whose online sales of prescription drugs, herbs, or dietary supplements may be illegal. The letters warn these website operators that they may be engaged in illegal activities and informs them of the laws that govern prescription drug sales. [FDA launches "cyber" letters against potentially illegal, foreign-based online drug sites. FDA Talk Paper T00-8, Feb 2, 2000] Since August 2000, the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition has ordered about 85 website operators to stop claiming that various supplement and herbal products can mitigate, treat, cure, or prevent a specific disease or class of diseases. The letters are archived at http://www.fda.gov/cder/warn/cyber/cyber2002.htm


Olympic Committee finds hormone precursors in "dietary supplements." The Medical Commission of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is warning athletes that many "supplement" products contain hormone precursors that could damage their health and/or disqualify them from competing. Its tests of 634 samples found that 94 (14.8%) contained hormone-related substances, not listed on any label, that would have led to a positive "doping" test. Of the 94 samples, 23 contained precursors (building blocks) of both nandrolone and testosterone, 64 contained precursors of testosterone alone, and 7 contained precursors of nandrolone alone. In addition, 66 others (10.4%) returned borderline results for various unlabeled substances. The products were gathered from 215 providers in 13 countries from October 2000 to November 2001. Ninety-one percent of them were purchased in stores or over the Internet. The rest were obtained from the manufacturers. Under the Olympic Movement's rule of strict liability, athletes are responsible for whatever substance is found in their body. The IOC Medical Commission has been warning against the potential risks linked to the use of nutritional supplements since 1997. It has also called for industry and government action to ensure their quality. [IOC nutritional supplements study points to need for greater quality control. IOC press release, April 5, 2002]


Class action suit against Rexall Sundown moves ahead. A Florida judge has certified a nationwide class composed of consumers in 49 states who were misled into purchasing Cellasene, a herbal concoction that Rexall claimed would remove "cellulite." (Cellulite is a common nonmedical termused to describe the lumpy, irregular fatty deposits that appear as dimpled skin around the hips, buttocks and thighs.) [Brown L. Order granting plaintiffs' motion for class certification. LaRaia et al. v. Rexall Sundown, Inc., Case No. CL 00 7021 AF, Circuit Court for the Fifteenth Circuit, Palm Beach County Florida.] Rexall is appealing the order, but the appeal does not delay the underlying suit from progressing. The 50th state (California) has a class of its own certified in a parallel case. The Federal Trade Commission is also suing Rexall for false advertising. Medical authorities agree that cellulite is simply ordinary fatty tissue that assumes a waffled appearance because fibrous tissue prevents the skin from fully expanding in areas where fatty tissue accumulates. Waffling may be decreased if an individual loses weight, but no pill or potion can selectively reduce a body part. Quackwatch has further information on this topic.


Judge orders parents not to smoke near child. A judge in Lake County, Ohio, has barred the estranged parents of an eight-year old girl from smoking or permitting anyone else to smoke in her presence. Chinnock WF. In re Julie Ann, a minor child. Case No. 97-PR-755. Court of Common Pleas, Juvenile Division, Lake County, Ohio] During a hearing on custody and visitation, the judge raised the issue of the danger of secondhand smoke to children and discussed this with the mother and her significant other with whom the child lives. After citing a long list of reports about the dangers of secondhand smoke, the judge concluded:

There is a superabundance of scientific evidence that demonstrates secondhand smoke is harmful to children. This evidence of manifold harm from secondhand smoke to children is consistent and robust, and gives rise to a duty upon family courts (and the legislature) to take action to reduce children's involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke. . . .

Moreover, perhaps even more significantly, parental smoking is a key factor in children becoming active smokers after involuntarily being passive smokers; children of smokers are almost twice as likely to smoke as children of nonsmoking parents. . . .

The overwhelming authoritative scientific evidence leads to the inescapable conclusion that a family court that fails to issue court orders restraining persons from smoking in the presence of children under its jurisdiction is failing the children whom the law has entrusted to its care.

For these compelling reasons, the mother and father are hereby restrained under penalty of contempt from allowing any person, including themselves, to smoke tobacco in the presence of the minor child Julie Anne. If smoking is allowed in the house in which the child lives or visits on a regular basis, it shall be confined to a room well ventilated to the outside that is most distant from where the child spends most of her time when there.

Courts in several states have ruled that secondhand smoke can be a factor in a custody case. Many divorce decrees include agreements to avoid smoking around the children, but this is probably the first case in which the issue was initiated by a judge.


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This page was posted on September 17, 2002.