Consumer Health Digest #03-40

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
October 14, 2003


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.


St. John's wort products widely mislabeled. Researchers who tested 54 commercial St Johns wort products purchased in Canada and the United States have found only two products with a total hypericin content (hypericin plus pseudohypericin) within 10% of the amount stated on the label. The percentage of the label claim varied from 0% to 108% for capsule products, 31% to 80% for tablet products, and total hypericin content of tinctures also varied widely. On average, most products tested contained half of the labeled amount of hypericin. [Draves AH, Walker SE. Analysis of the hypericin and pseudohypericin content of commercially available St John's wort preparations. Canadian Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 10:114-118, 2003]


Groundless lawsuit targets school computer network. The Oak Park Elementary School District (near Chicago) has been sued by parents who are worried that exposure to radio waves in the school's wireless network could harm their children. The setup, installed in 1995, enables students to access the Internet from their desks. The plaintiffs, who are seeking class action status, hope to stop the use of wireless networks. The Wi-Fi Alliance says Wi-Fi networks are safe, use the same frequency as wireless home phones, and have one-thirtieth the power of cordless phones. [Parents sue school over wireless network. Reuters News Service, Oct 9, 2003]


California enacts naturopathic licensing law. California has passed a law (S.B. 907) under which licensed naturopaths can call themselves doctors, diagnose and treat disease, perform physical exams and, in collaboration with a medical doctor, deliver babies and prescribe medications. A two-year study will determine whether they will also be allowed to prescribe medications and perform minor surgery. Licensure requires graduation from a an approved four-year naturopathic program. Naturopathy is a largely pseudoscientific approach said to "assist nature," "support the body's own innate capacity to achieve optimal health," and "facilitate the body's inherent healing mechanisms." Naturopaths assert that diseases are the body's effort to purify itself, and that cures result from increasing the patient's "vital force." They claim to stimulate the body's natural healing processes by ridding it of waste products and "toxins." Naturopaths are licensed as independent practitioners in 13 states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington) and the District of Columbia, and can legally practice in a few others. Quackwatch has a detailed report about naturopathy's shortcomings.


Seasilver sales resume under strict guidelines. Seasilver USA, which has been sued by the FTC for false advertising, has agreed to institute some of the strictest compliance guidelines ever issued as a result of a health-related enforcement action. The guidelines prohibit claims that Seasilver is effective against cancer, including multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, lung, breast, prostate cancer or brain tumors; diabetes; AIDS or HIV infections; pulmonary diseases; Lyme disease; heart disease; hypertension or stroke; hepatitis; depression; and typhoid or anthrax. They also forbid "ANY" use of claims about product performance, testing or ingredients (except as described on the product label and in product literature), as well as the use in weight control or blood pressure control. The new rules also state:

In the past, Seasilver USA, Inc. and its Independent Business Associates have used testimonials or testimonies of consumers who have used the product. Those testimonials have included the reported experiences of these individuals. NO TESTIMONIALS related to the performance of the Seasilver® product previously sold may be used because the product has changed and the claims made in many of those testimonials are prohibited. No new testimonials may be used unless they are pre-approved in writing by Seasilver USA, Inc. You should know that claims in testimonials must be claims that are substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence. The word of one person will not suffice.

The rules also prohibit distributors with Web sites from using site names or meta tags that suggest any prohibited claim, including such tags as absorption, alternative medicine, amino acids, antioxidant, assimilation, bio-elements, blood, cancer, Candida, cells, cellular level, colloidal silver, detoxification, diabetes, digestion, disease, elimination, enzymes, homeopathic, immune system, liquid nutrients, malabsorption, memory, minerals, natural health, naturopath, naturopathic, nutrient, nutrients, organic, oxygen, oxygenates, and phytonutrients. In June, company operations were temporarily shut down by joint action of the FTC and FDA. Quackwatch has comprehensive information.


FDA curbs dubious weight loss and erectile dysfunction products. The FDA has obtained a permanent injunction against Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals, National Urological Group, National Institute for Clinical Weight Loss, American Weight Loss Clinic, United Metabolic Research Center, and Jared R. Wheat, president of these corporations, to prevent the sale and distribution of unapproved and misbranded products. The action was taken because the defendants repeatedly sold dietary supplements making disease claims for the treatment of obesity and erectile dysfunction. On June 20, 2003, FDA warned consumers not to purchase or consume certain dietary supplements sold by Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and National Urological Group, because FDA tests found adulteration with taldalafil, a prescription drug ingredient that can interact with nitrates (such as nitroglycerin) and to lower blood pressure drastically. Danger exists that these products may be taken by patients who take nitrates, since erectile dysfunction is often a common problem among smokers and people with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease. [FDA stops sale and distribution of dietary supplements making misleading claims about obesity and impotence. FDA news release, Oct 8, 2003]


New Zealand homeopath de-licensed. Richard Warwick Gorringe, MB, ChB, of Hamilton, New Zealand, has been ordered to pay NZ$104,096 and has been struck off the medical practitioner's register, which means that he can no longer legally practice medicine. Several months ago, he New Zealand's Medical Practitioners' Disciplinary Tribunal found Gorringe guilty of professional misconduct and disgraceful conduct in relation to his care of two patients he treated in 1998. Gorringe is a general practitioner who uses homeopathy and other methods that he refers to as "complementary." Documents in the case indicate that Gorringe based his diagnoses on "peak muscle resistance testing (PMRT)," a procedure in which he observed whether the subject's opposed thumb and fourth fingers can be pulled apart before and after exposure to glass vials containing various substances. Proponents of PMRT, which is also referred to as bi digital O ring testing (BDORT), claim that "weakness" of the fingers means that test substance is problematic. According to news reports, Gorringe intends to continue practicing as a naturopath. Quackwatch has additional details.


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This page was posted on October 14, 2003.