Consumer Health Digest #10-30
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
July 29, 2010
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. 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.
CDC blasts improper hair and urine tests. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has severely criticized the misuse of hair and urine tests to diagnose heavy metal toxicity. Last year, investigators from its National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) evaluated a suspected outbreak of antimony toxicity among fire fighters in Boca Raton, Florida who had been wearing fire-retardant pants that contained various chemicals. The investigation was triggered by hair analysis and urine toxic metal tests that had been ordered by a chelationist (Leonard Haimes, M.D.) and performed by a commercial laboratory (Doctor's Data). Doctor's Data's reports alleged that all 30 of the fire fighters who had undergone hair analysis had antimony levels much higher than the "reference range" and that 23 who also had urine toxic metal testing showed "high" mercury levels. After a thorough evaluation found no real evidence of toxicity, the investigators advised:
The decision to perform laboratory testing for heavy metals, including antimony and mercury, should be based on whether or not documented health symptoms are consistent with overexposure to these metals. It is important to use reliable and recommended testing methods with well-validated reference ranges to measure the concentration of heavy metals in the body. Because results from elemental hair analysis and post-chelation-challenge urine tests do not provide sufficient evidence of heavy metal toxicity, they should not be used to justify searching the workplace for exposures or to treat heavy metal toxicity. In particular, they should not be used to justify chelation therapy, which can be potentially harmful to a patient. [dePerio MA, Durgam S. Evaluation of antimony and mercury exposure in firefighters. [Health Hazard Evaluation Report HETA 2009-0025 and HETA 2009-0076-3085. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, June 2009]
After the CDC investigation was completed, most of the Boca Raton firefighters were reassured and withdrew their workers compensation claims. The rest of the claims were dismissed by the city, but the financial and/or emotional damage to the participants was considerable. At least 30 fire fighters spent about $500 each for their worthless evaluations by Dr. Haimes. The improper assessments caused widespread concern among the fire fighters, many of whom sought further medical evaluation elsewhere. Although most feel reassured, some have lingering doubts about what to believe. The City of Boca Raton, which is self-insured, spent money processing the worker's compensation claims, and the manufacturer of the fire-retardant pants lost sales of a perfectly good product. Quackwatch has additional information on hair analysis and the urine toxic metals test.
Consumer Reports examines the supplement/herb marketplace. Consumer Reports (September 2010) has published a multi-part cover story about dietary supplements and herbal products.
- One part identifies "the 12 most dangerous supplements" as aconite, bitter orange, chaparral, colloidal silver, coltsfoot, country mallow, germanium. greater celandine, kava, lobelia, and yohimbe.
- Another part describes how current laws hamper the FDA's ability to protect consumers and what the U.S. Congress should do about this.
- Another part reports on the quality and cost of competing multivitamin products and suggests who might need them. It also notes that "the benefit of a daily multivitamin for the average person is murky and getting murkier." However, it fails to mention that consumers who seek what they believe will be "nutrition insurance" from a multivitamin supplement can save money by taking it every two or three days rather than daily.
- Another part lists eleven "supplements to consider," but the comments that accompany them are too skimpy to provide adequate guidance. In addition, some should be used only as part of a comprehensive, medically designed and supervised regimen and at least two (glucosamine and St. John's wort) have done badly in well-designed clinical trials. The list is accompanied by advice to "talk to your doctors before starting any supplement." This advice is impractical because (a) doctors could not possibly handle the resultant volume of discussion, (b) many pharmacists do not give trustworthy advice about supplements, and (c) most pharmacists are not qualified or legally permitted to advise people on how to treat their medical or psychological problems.
Stem cell scammer arrested. Alfred T. Sapse, 84,of Las Vegas, Nevada has been charged with mail and wire fraud in connection with a scheme to market purported stem cell therapy. The indictment states that he:
- Falsely represented that he could cure or ameliorate diseases such as multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy.
- Falsely claimed he would "revolutionize medicine" and that "wheelchair bound patients would definitely walk again.
- Falsely claimed to be doing legitimate medical research
- Set up a corporation called Stem Cell Pharma to give the appearance of running a legitimate drug company
- Persuaded more than 100 chronically ill patients to undergo stem cell implant procedures
- Failed to tell prospective patients and investors about adverse effects suffered by previous patients
- Received approximately $1 million from patients and investors.
This page was revised on August 2, 2010.