Consumer Health Digest #01-01

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 1, 2001

Definition of consumer health. Consumer health encompasses all aspects of the marketplace related to the purchase of health products and services. Positively, it involves the facts and understanding that enable people to make wise choices. Negatively, it means avoiding unwise decisions based on deception, misinformation, or other factors.

Immunization exemptions increase risk of measles and whooping cough. Forty-eight states now permit religious exemptions from mandatory childhood immunizations, and 15 states allow philosophical exemptions. A new study has found that in Colorado, which had more than twice the national rate of nonvaccinated children in 1994: (a) the incidence of measles during 1997-1998 was 22 times higher among exempted school-age children; (b) the incidence of pertussis during 1996-1998 was 6 times higher; (c) among preschool children in day care, these risks were about 62 times greater for measles and 16 times greater for pertussis; and (d) association with nonvaccinated children increased the incidence of these diseases among those who were vaccinated. The last of these findings raises the question of whether some parents should be allowed to place other people's children at risk by refusing immunizations for their own children. [Feiken DR and others. Individual and community risks of measles and pertussis associated with personal exemptions to immunization. JAMA 284:3145-3150, 2000].

Fluoridation progress. Nine of the 18 communities that voted on fluoridation in the 2000 presidential election voted for it. The number of people in the communities favoring fluoridation totaled 3,957,079 . The population where referenda lost totaled 345,883.

Top health-related lobbyists. The Center for Responsive Politics has reported that during the 2000 election cycle, the 12 health-related organizations that gave the most in campaign contributions were: Bristol-Myers Squibb ($1,781,742), Pfizer Inc. ($1,780,322), the American Medical Association ($1,313,256), Eli Lilly & Co. ($1,252,510), the American Hospital Association ($1,159,131), Slim-Fast Foods ($1,149,950), Glaxo Wellcome Inc. ($956,048), Schering-Plough Corp ($953,822), the American Society of Anesthesiologists ($899,002), the American Dental Association ($804,500), Metabolife ($683,750 ), and the American Optometric Association ($643,800). Drug companies topped the list because of their concern about legislation to add prescription drug coverage to Medicare.

Linus Pauling couldn't face the truth. Arthur Robinson, Ph.D., has revealed what ended his lengthy association with Linus Pauling. While working at the Linus Pauling Institute for Science and Medicine, Robinson conducted four studies in which cancerous mice were given different diets and vitamin supplement regimens. Nearly all of the mice developed skin cancers (squamous cell carcinomas) following exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Robinson found that (a) the rate of onset and severity of tumors could be varied as much as 20-fold by just modifying dietary balance; (b) diets with the worst balance of nutrients had the greatest inhibitory effect on cancer growth; and (c) no cures or remissions were observed (although the researchers were not looking for this). [Robinson AB and others, Suppression of squamous cell carcinoma in hairless mice by dietary nutrient variation. Mechanisms of Ageing and Development 76:201-214, 1994.] In 1999, Robinson commented:

The results of these experiments caused an argument between Linus and me, which ended our 16-year period of work together. He was not willing to accept the experimentally proved fact that vitamin C in ordinary doses accelerated the growth rate of squamous cell carcinoma in these mice.

At the time, Linus was promoting his claim that "75% of all cancer can be prevented and cured by vitamin C alone." This claim proved to be without experimental foundation and not true. . . . Vitamin C increased the rate of growth of cancer at human equivalents of 1 to 5 grams per day, but suppressed the cancer growth rate at doses on the order of 100 grams per day (near the lethal dose), as do other measures of malnutrition. [Robinson AB. Nutrition and Cancer. Nutrition and Cancer Web site, Dec 1999.]

Pauling disciple loses libel suit. A judge in Allentown, Pennsylvania, has issued a $5,000 default judgment to Stephen Barrett, M.D., in a suit against Owen Fonorow, of Lisle, Illinois. The suit was based on an article in the Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients in which Fonorow had falsely called Barrett a "Stooge" of drug companies and had claimed that suppression of Pauling's views "by The Stooges and their ilk" is "probably. . . the greatest harm that has ever been perpetrated on humanity." In 1999, the magazine's publisher and co-defendant, Jonathan Collin, M.D., had settled this case and a related California suit with (a) payment of $6,000, (b) a pledge to stop publishing articles in which Barrett is called an insulting name, (c) payment of $1,000 per name if any such name is published, and (d) a free 10-year subscription to the magazine.

Dietary supplement research report. The NIH Office of Dietary Supplements has published its first Annual Bibliography of Significant Advances in Dietary Supplement Research—1999. The 20-page booklet, which contains 25 annotated summaries, is available in PDF format or in print through an e-mail request to ODS.

FTC debunks alleged pain-relieving skin cream. SmartScience Laboratories, Inc., and its president Gene Weitz have agreed to settle FTC charges involving "JointFlex," a widely advertised skin cream claimed to eliminate pain due to disabling joint conditions, crushed vertebrae, herniated disks, and other conditions. The FTC had charged that the ingredients glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate had not been demonstrated to penetrate the skin when applied as a topical cream. The complaint and agreement can be accessed through links from the news release on the agency's Web site

MLM accountability demanded. Pyramid Scheme Alert has launched a public petition drive urging the FTC to force multilevel companies to disclose the true income of their distributors. The requested data would include: (a) the total number of distributors involved in the company for at least three years (or since the company's founding if less than three years); (b) the average incomes of all distributors who have signed up for a distributorship by percentiles, not just the ones deemed "active"; and (c) a "weighted" overall average income of all distributors so that the extraordinary high incomes of the small number at the top are not calculated in with vast majority so as to give a more statistically valid figure. (Thus the top 1/10 of 1%—and certainly the founding distributors ­ would be eliminated from any calculation of average income.) The organization's Web site contains further details and instructions for signing the petition.

Guidelines drafted for "alternative" veterinary practice. AMVA is now considering guidelines which state that the use of "complementary" or "alternative" methods should be based on scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness. The proposal states:

Claims for the safety and effectiveness of CAVM ultimately should be proven by the scientific method. Such proof can be established only by study of a specific therapy in a specific set of circumstances. Veterinarians should be cautious when using studies from one species or set of circumstances as a basis for therapy in another species or another set of circumstances. Such extrapolations might suggest useful veterinary therapies, but they cannot be done with complete assurance of safety or efficacy. Certain limitations, including money, time, and personnel, may mean that the current state of scientific data relative to CAVM is less-than-desirable. Until such data is obtained, veterinarians should be careful in their advocacy of unproven practices. Veterinarians should ultimately discard practices and philosophies that are ineffective or unsafe.

To support adoption of these guidelines, visit the AVMA Web site for the full text. Messages of support must be sent by snail-mail, not e-mail.

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.

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This page was posted on January 1, 2001.