Forty-two physicians, pharmacologists, physical scientists, nutrition experts, consumer advocates, journalists, and other prominent critics of quackery and pseudoscience have asked the FDA to curb the marketing of homeopathic products. The group has petitioned the agency to issue a public warning and stop the sale of all products not proved effective for their intended purposes.
The petition, which was initiated by Stephen Barrett, MD, noted that public fascination with "alternative" medicine had boosted homeopathy from a historical curiosity to a $250 million-a-year scam. The petition included a copy of the NCAHF position paper on homeopathy and the chapter entitled "The Ultimate Fake" from Barrett's forthcoming book The Vitamin Pushers. In effect, the petition merely asks the FDA to apply the same rules to homeopathy that it applies to standard drugs. FDA regulations require the Commissioner to respond within 180 days. USA Today reported on the petition on 8/29 which generated interest by several other national media sources.
Joseph Jacobs, MD, resigned as director of the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM). Jacobs said that he grew tired of working with "political people" who scoffed at using conventional research methods to test unconventional therapies.
Jacobs told Newsday (8/8/94) reporter Beth McMurtie that meetings with members of his ad hoc advisory committee had often been contentious and that he had been in "what some would characterize as an abusive relationship." NCAHF was told that Jacobs complained that Sen. Harkin was holding the entire NIH budget hostage until it was agreed to put Frank Wiewel, Ralph Moss and Berkley Bedell on the new permanent advisory panel.
Wiewel's interest in "alternative" medicine stems from a referral agency for questionable cancer therapies that he operates out of his home in Otho, Iowa, called People Against Cancer (PAC). PAC was originally called the "IAT Patients Association" named for his advocacy of immunoaugmentative therapy (IAT). IAT is the scheme of the late zoologist Lawrence Burton at Kingsport, Grand Bahama Island.
Moss publishes The Cancer Chronicles (TCC), a tabloid that attacks science-based medicine and the regulatory process. His publication is used by agencies like Wiewel's to document their assertions. Moss, who was fired as assistant director of Public Affairs at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center for failing "to properly discharge his most basic job responsibilities," has made a career out of attacking cancer researchers and standard therapy.
Bedell's qualifications are that he is a former Iowa Congressman (who got Harkin to introduce the bill establishing the NIH OAM. He believes that a special milk produced by a Minnesota farmer cured his lyme disease, and also that a notorious fake cancer remedy from Canada cured his prostate cancer. Harkin himself is on record as believing that bee pollen cured his allergies. Dr. Victor Herbert has urged NIH officials to investigate whether or not Wiewel and Moss listed PAC and TCC on their conflict-of-interest statements.
The Vitamin Pushers: How the Health Food Industry is Selling America a Bill of Goods, is a detailer investigative report explaining why the health food industry should be considered a form of organized crime. Written by NCAHF board members Stephen Barrett, MD and Victor Herbert, MD, JD, the 548-page book covers propaganda techniques, "nutrition insurance," "stress vitamins," the pharmacy connection, "ergogenic aids," dubious diagnostic tests, fad diagnoses, nutrition cultism, the endless parade of gurus, the multilevel mirage, "chiropractic nutrition," homeopathic fakery, elaborate marketing schemes, nutrition and the media, "vitamin wars," companies that have marketed illegally, and a glossary of supplements and "health foods." One hundred illustrations detail the industry's marketing tactics.
Postage-paid prices: $33.50 (NCAHF members $30); Canada $35 (NCAHF members $32). Order from NCAHF Books, P.O. Box 1747, Allentown, PA 18105.
"The Senator and the strange cure" (Private Eye Weekly, 6/8/94) provides insight into just how offbeat Orrin Hatch really is. It says that last spring Hatch paid several visits to Dr. Robert Morrow, a Utah orthopedic surgeon after being referred by "homeopathic physician Floyd Weston" (Weston is not an MD, but a former insurance executive who was a key figure in a 1987 expose of quackery in Nevada by the Las Vegas Review).
Weston said that Hatch received "10 or 12 chelation therapy treatments with the drug EDTA," but Morrow says that he gave Hatch several infusions of intravenous vitamins. Morrow, who claims to have invented a solution that might cure AIDS, formed Medical Discoveries, Inc (MDI) and took it public on the penny-stock market. Hatch is reportedly helping Morrow as he seeks FDA approval for MDI-P, which is alleged to be an "electrolyzed saline solution" that can "eradicate viruses" from instruments (for sterilization) or the human body (ie, HIV).
Morrow's claim to be the inventor of the electrolyzing process is disputed by Tim Themy-Kotronakis who says that he invented it and taught Morrow how to use it. Information presented about Utah's penny-stock market adds another bizarre dimension to the story. A 1989 report by the North American Securities Administrator's Association declared that "penny-stock swindles are now the #1 threat of fraud and abuse facing small investors in the United States," and it turns out that Hatch has a "wheeler-dealer past" in Utah's penny-stock market.
In 1973, one of Hatch's clients, George Norman, was sentenced to prison for fraud but released to Hatch's custody to take care of some last minute affairs. Norman reportedly managed to ditch Hatch, fled in a car borrowed from a friend (a state Supreme Court justice), and has been a fugitive ever since. An indication that Hatch doesn't like the Security and Exchange Commission any more than he does the FDA is that in 1988 when defending the decision of Judge David Sam (a former missionary companion who he had nominated to the federal court) to reduce the prison term of swindler Carvel Shaffer, Hatch was quoted as saying that Shaffer was prosecuted in the "rotten, lousy area of security law."
On July 5, NBC aired Cured! Secrets of Alternative Healing. Olympia Dukakis and Kenneth Harvey served as shills as skits depicted people alleged to have been cured by homeopathy, herbalism, Mesmerism, and acupuncture. The production fulfilled classical criteria given for spotting quackery:
This was not the show's only revision of medical history. It also falsely presented Hippocrates as the originator of homeopathy's "treating like with like" when it was Hahnemann's rejection of Hippocrates' humoral theory in which symptoms were treated with opposites that led him to his Law of Similia.
The producers also took outrageous liberties with statements by Stephen Barrett, Saul Green, Victor Herbert, and Jack Raso who were used to portray the skeptics view. Green's comments were edited in such a way as to turn a criticism into an accolade! Cured! was an infomercial for quackery that failed to warn its viewers of its self-serving nature. Its coming at a time when Congress was deciding what should be included in a national health care program was no coincidence.
California college student death
On August 14, a 24-year-old San Jose State University student collapsed after taking an extract of pennyroyal to induce an abortion. She died later that day at the San Jose Medical Center. The woman's parents have filed a lawsuit against the Bread of Life health food store in Campbell, Calif. and Gaia Herbs, a Massachusetts company that manufactured the product. Neither provided warnings of the product's dangers. The victim was described as "a strict vegetarian who was involved in holistic medicine." She also ran the school's student art program.
[San Jose Mercury News, 8/20/94]
Texas woman dies
An Austin, Texas woman who used the herbal product Formula One (manufactured by Alliance USA of Richardson, TX) for weight loss and "to feel peppy" collapsed and died of cardiac arrest on a tennis court. During the same month, eight others, including six teenagers, were treated in emergency departments for palpitations and anxiety attacks related to the use of the product which combines ephedrine and caffeine. The health department sought a recall citing the company for not listing ephedrine or caffeine on the label and for not providing adequate warnings. Due to a technicality, however, a Texas judge refused a restraining order allowing Alliance to continue marketing the product.
[Emerg Med News, 8/94]
Canada birth anomaly
A Canadian woman (a nurse), who used Siberian ginseng to control irritability and mood swinging, gave birth to a child with reversible genital hirsutism suggestive of a drug effect. The mother reported increased hair growth while using the product. Her baby was born with thick black pubic hair and hair over the infant's entire forehead. Research reports that ginseng may increase specific hormones led to a test of the mother that confirmed suspicions. Greater regulation of herbal products is called for.
[Can J Clin Pharmacol, 1994;1:13-16]
Stephen Barrett, MD, describes Contact Reflex Analysis (CRA), an elaborate pseudodiagnostic system in which the prescription of supplements is based upon the presence of "abnormal reflexes." CRA's cofounder and chief proponent is chiropractor D.A. Versendaal of Holland, Michigan. Versendaal claims that CRA can "test every conceivable condition in the human body ... help that patient, and know how long it will take for that patient to get well." Testing is done by pulling on the patient's outstretched arm while placing the finger or hand on one of about 75 reflex points on the body (he states that the front of the hand is electrically positive, the back negative, and the fingers neutral).
Most of the products Versendaal prescribes are capsules of dehydrated vegetable powders and animal organs marketed by Standard Process Laboratories, a division of Vitamin Products Co. of Palmyra, Wisconsin which was founded in 1962 by Royal Lee, a dentist who never practiced. In 1963, Lee was described by a prominent FDA official as "probably the largest publisher of unreliable and false nutritional information in the world." Barrett describes Versendaal's bizarre claims and methods.
[Skeptical Briefs, 1994;4:(2)]
[Note. Lee was a rabid antifluoridationist and was Kurt Donsbach's mentor.]
New York has become the fifth state (others are Alaska, Washington, North Carolina, and Oklahoma) to enact a law permitting physicians to employ nonstandard methods without fear of discipline for unprofessional conduct. The NY law also requires that at least two such "physicians who dedicate a significant portion of their practices to the use of unconventional medicine" (ie, quacks) be put on the state medical board. The bill was introduced by legislators from the district where quackery is well-organized and was heavily lobbied by mavericks and their patient groups.
Motivated by the fear that national health care reform could impose standards they could not meet, promoters of "alternative" and "complimentary" medicine have pulled out all of the stops in their political action efforts. Their success has been stunning.
Through the years Congress gradually established scientific medicine as the national standard. Progress in consumer protection law paralleled the development of the Federal government's health science edifice. The U.S. Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requires drugs and medical devices to be proved safe and effective for their intended purposes, and accurately labeled. The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 strengthened food labeling requirements. The Centers for Disease Control is an institution of epidemiological science that monitors and investigates health and disease in this country and serves as a resource for the world community. The National Institutes of Health is world-class in health and medical research. The Department of Agriculture boosts agricultural science and helps oversee the safety and healthfulness of the food supply.
Unfortunately, some politicians have been able to subvert the scientific edifice by patching-in irrational amendments (e.g. recognition of the homeopathic Pharmacopeia as an official drug compendium; the Delaney Amendment which falsely distinguishes between natural and artificial carcinogens; and the Proxmire Amendment which made nutritional uselessness and irrationality the legal standard for "dietary supplements"), but nothing compares to what has happened recently:
The fact that legislation that erodes science and consumer protection is even get to first-base in the legislative process is shocking, and makes many wonder about the kind of people we have elected to Congress. It is not surprising to find a few deviants in Congress, and everyone understands the influence of special interest groups (e.g. Utah's $700 million dietary supplement industry; and, Harkin's Iowa constituency which includes the "Fountainhead" of chiropractic, Maharishi International University, and Wiewel's People Against Cancer agency).
What is hard to understand is why other lawmakers go along, and why the mass media doesn't raise a howl in its job as public watchdog. A large part of the reason seems to be the influence of quackophiles (lovers of quackery) who rally for legislators to pass "health freedom" bills. They encourage the cavalier attitude that all victims of quackery are fools who wish to exercise their freedom to choose badly. In fact, the most of the itical action groups have strong industry connections. In any case, lawmakers seem to miss the point that lowering consumer protection standards increases people's risk of injury and needless death, and that even when people willingly accept the risk of injury and needless death, and that even when people willingly accept the risk that quackery may shorten their lives they are engaging in something akin to euthanasia. The comparison is more compelling given the fact that Dr. Kevorkian's patients want to die, but victims of quackery do not.
The idea that wheatgrass can benefit serious disease sufferers was conceived by Ann Wigmore, a Boston area resident. Wigmore (1909-94) was born in Lithuania and raised by her grandmother who, Wigmore said, gave her an unwavering confidence in the healing power of nature.
Wigmore believed in astrology, and described herself (a Pisces) as a dreamer who saw life from the spiritual viewpoint to the neglect of the physical. Wigmore's theory on the healing power of grasses was predicated upon the Biblical story of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar who spent seven years, insane, living like a wild animal eating the grass of the fields. Because he recovered, Wigmore theorized that the grasses had cured his insanity. [The Bible says that a prescribed seven years of insanity was visited upon the King as Divine punishment for his arrogance. (Dan 4:31-7).] The common observation that dogs and cats nibble on grass, presumably when they feel ill, also strengthened Wigmore's belief in the healing power of grasses.
Wigmore theorized that rotting food in the intestine forms toxins that circulate in the bloodstream (aka, the intestinal toxicity theory) and cause cancer. She taught that the life span of the wheatgrass juice was less than three hours so it had to be cut from growing plants, juiced and consumed fresh. She speculated that the enzymes found in raw wheatgrass were alive** and could "detoxify" the body by oral ingestion and by enemas.
It was the chlorophyll in wheatgrass that enthused Wigmore. She called chlorophyll "the life blood of the planet." Wigmore believed that cooking foods "killed" them because this deactivates enzymes. She held that the moment the "sacred" 7.4 acid-alkaline balance (the same as human blood) is "killed" that its effectiveness would be reduced. [For information on exaggerations about the similarities between hemoglobin and chlorophyll see "Amazing claims for chlorophyll' (Lowell) Nutrition Forum, 7/87.]
Wigmore displays profound ignorance of both the Bible and biology. Daniel 4:31-7 says that a prescribed seven years of insanity was visited upon the King as Divine punishment for his arrogance. Nowhere does it imply that the grasses healed him.
Enzymes are not "alive." Biological criteria for a "living thing" are that they (1)consist of cellular units; (2) possess reproductive ability; (3) demonstrate irritability; (4) carry on metabolism; (5) grow. Enzymes do none of these. Enzymes are complex protein molecules produced by living organisms exclusively for their own use in promoting chemical reactions. Orally ingested enzymes are digested in the stomach and have no enzymatic activity in the eater (specially-coated enzyme pills are designed to to partially thwart this natural process.)
The fact that grass-eating animals are not spared from cancer, despite their large intake of fresh chlorophyll, seems to have been lost on Wigmore. In fact, chlorophyll cannot "detoxify the body" since it is not absorbed. Although it is conceivable that enzymes present in rectally-administered wheatgrass juice could have chemical activity, there is no evidence that this is beneficial. In fact, when challenged legally, Wigmore backed away from healing claims stating that she merely had an "educational program" to teach people how to "cleanse" their bodies and make vegetable juices (she also offered for sale a variety of juicers and other "health" paraphernalia).
In 1988, the Massachusetts Attorney General sued Wigmore for claiming that her "energy enzyme soup" could cure AIDS. Suffolk County Judge Robert A. Mulligan ruled that Wigmore's views on how to combat AIDS were protected by the First Amendment, but ordered her to stop representing herself as a physician or as a person licensed in any way to treat disease. This was not the first time Wigmore had run afoul of the law. In 1982 the Attorney General of Massachusetts sued Wigmore for claiming that her program could reduce or eliminate the need for insulin in diabetics, and could obviate the need for routine immunization in children. She abandoned those claims after losing in court.
Wigmore wrote at least 15 books, established the Hippocrates Health Institute (c.1963) which later was renamed the Ann Wigmore Institute (AWI). Wigmore claimed to have a Doctor of Divinity (DD) from the College of Divine Metaphysics in Indianapolis. She also listed a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and a Doctor of Naturopathy (ND) degree at different times. None of her credentials appear to have been from accredited schools. Among other things, Wigmore also promoted "natural hygiene," spiritual healing, zone therapy, hydrotherapy, acupuncture, color therapy, and spot therapy. A number of "Living Foods" groups around the world espouse Wigmore's teachings.