Consumer Health Digest #08-18

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
April 29, 2008


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.


MLM mockumentary available on DVD. "Believe," a comedy about multilevel marketing, tells the story of Adam Pendon, a steel mill truck driver struggling to support his family. When the mill closes unexpectedly, Adam's life looks grim until he is approached by a slick salesman who offers a business opportunity and quick fix to Adam’s sudden financial problems. Despite his wife’s concerns, Adam joins Believe Industries and begins to succeed despite himself. He rockets to super-stardom as his wife grows increasingly concerned with how the business is changing him. When Adam realizes Believe is misleading his fellow Believers at the company’s convention, he has to decide whether turn a blind eye and enjoy the wealth and fame he is amassing or to walk away from it all. The movie is based on actual experiences by writer-director Loki Muhlholland during years of undercover research. In addition to being funny, it is a wake-up call for MLM enthusiasts, their families, their friends, and their prospective customers. [Barrett S. Believe—A hilarious movie about multilevel marketing. MLM Watch, April 29, 2008]


Appeals court upholds huge penalty against defunct MLM company. The U.S. Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court ruling requiring Seasilver USA, Inc., AmericAloe, Inc. and their principles Jason and Bela Berkes, to pay nearly $120 million for failing to comply with a 2004 stipulated judgment that required payment of $3 million in consumer redress. The 2004 order barred the defendants from making false or misleading claims and suspended a $120 million judgment if they paid the lesser amount within a specified time. In February 2006, the FTC asked the court to impose the full obligation because the defendants had paid only $763,000 and had not made a significant payment since May 2005. The defendants claimed that they had been unable to do so because revamping their products and advertising materials was expensive, the number of distributors had dropped from about 8,000 to about 1,500, and the company's annual sales had dropped from about $200 million to $10 to $12 million. The also told the court that they expected to be able to pay in a year or two. The FTC countered that since Seasilver USA was forced to stop making false claims for its product, it lost money and appeared headed for extinction. In June 2006, the court ordered payment of $119,237,000 plus interest. At various times before the FTC clamped down, Seasilver USA and its distributors had falsely claimed that their product (Seasilver™) was effective against hundreds of diseases, including cancer and AIDS, and would cause rapid, substantial, and permanent weight loss without dieting. The FDA also took vigorous enforcement action. Seasilver USA shut down in December 2007. Quackwatch has a detailed report on its history.


Ernst blasts chiropractic. Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary Medicine at Exeter University, has issued a copiously referenced analysis of chiropractic history, theories, and therapeutic value. He concludes:

Chiropractic is rooted in mystical concepts. This led to an internal conflict within the chiropractic profession, which continues today. Currently, there are two types of chiropractors: those religiously adhering to the gospel of its founding fathers and those open to change. The core concepts of chiropractic, subluxation and spinal manipulation, are not based on sound science. Back and neck pain are the domains of chiropractic but many chiropractors treat conditions other than musculoskeletal problems. With the possible exception of back pain, chiropractic spinal manipulation has not been shown to be effective for any medical condition. Manipulation is associated with frequent mild adverse effects and with serious complications of unknown incidence. Its cost-effectiveness has not been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt. The concepts of chiropractic are not based on solid science and its therapeutic value has not been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt. [Ernst E. Chiropractic: A critical evaluation. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management 35:544-562, 2008]


Popular dietary therapy for autism unsubstantiated. A Cochrane review of gluten- and/or casein-free diets for autism has concluded that "current evidence for the efficacy of these diets is poor." The reviewers found only two reports of randomized controlled trials (totaling 35 subjects) that had mixed results and lacked important details. [Millward C and others. Gluten- and casein-free diets for autistic spectrum disorder. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews Issue 2. Art. No.: CD003498. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003498.pub3, 2008]


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