Consumer Health Digest #01-12

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
March 19, 2001

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.

Mistletoe extract flunks as cancer remedy. A clinical trial has found that cancer patients receiving mistletoe extract in addition to standard treatment did no better than similar patients who received standard treatment alone [Steuer-Vogt and others. The effect of an adjuvant mistletoe treatment programme in resected head and neck cancer patients: A randomised controlled clinical trial. European Journal of Cancer 37:23-31, 2001]. The study involved 477 patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma who were followed for an average of four years., during which time they showed no beneficial effect on survival, quality of life, or cellular immune reactions.

Mistletoe extract (marketed as Iscador) was first proposed for the treatment of cancer in 1920 by Rudolph Steiner, a Swiss physician who espoused occult beliefs. Steiner founded the Society for Cancer Research to promote mistletoe extracts and occult-based practices he called anthroposophical medicine. Various mistletoe juice preparations have been studied with the hope of finding an effective anticancer agent. However, a meta-analysis published in 1994 concluded that 10 "positive" studies were poorly designed and one well-designed study showed no benefit. The new study is both the largest and the best-designed study of mistletoe extract ever reported. The full text of the report can be downloaded after registering on the journal's Web site.

Argyria reported in colloidal silver user. A 56-year-old man who had sold and used colloidal silver for three years developed blue/gray discoloration of his fingernails accompanied by a very high blood level of silver. [Gulbranson SH and others. Argyria following the use of dietary supplements containing colloidal silver protein. Cutis 66:373-375, 2000.] Argyria is a condition in which silver salts deposit in the skin, eyes, and internal organs, and the skin turns ashen-gray. Many cases occurred during the pre-antibiotic era when silver was a common ingredient in nosedrops. When the cause became apparent, doctors stopped recommending their use, and reputable manufacturers stopped producing them. The FDA has banned the use of colloidal silver or silver salts in nonprescription products, but many people are selling them under the pretense that they are "dietary supplements."

Temporary vaccine exemption based on "chiropractic religion." A federal district judge has issued a temporary injunction ordering a local school district in Syracuse, New York, to permit 5-year-old girl Victoria Turner to attend school even though she has not been immunized. Her mother, a chiropractic assistant, is claiming that Victoria should be excused on religious grounds. The tenets of this "church," which was founded by a chiropractor, state that its lay members "shall be composed of those seeking spiritual and physical health combined by unequivocal adherence to the principles of the Congregation and the laying on of hands on their vertebrae." They further state that the use of medication—whether by ingestion, injection, application, or inhalation—is a sacrilege. The injunction will last until the case comes to full trial, but the judge indicated that the family is likely to win its case. [O'Brien J. Girl stays in school without shots: Judge says Liverpool district must admit child until court rules on mother's case. Syracuse Herald American, March 14, 2001.]

Congressional resolution to support chiropractic introduced. On March 1, 2001, Representative Donald Manzullo (R-IL) introduced House Concurrent Resolution 46 calling for mandatory chiropractic inclusion under federal employee health plans. The document, which supports chiropractic's nebulous subluxation concept, typifies how chiropractors seek political support for beliefs and practices that lack scientific support. It states, in part:

It is the sense of the Congress that the Federal Government should make the benefits of chiropractic care available as a covered benefit in any Federal employees health plan, consistent with the following basic principles:

The resolution was referred for further consideration to the House Committee on Governmental Reform, whose Chairman, Dan Burton, is probably the House's most consistent promoter of quackery.

Cigarette marketing expenses hit record while sales fall. The Federal Trade Commission's annual report on cigarette marketing states that in 1999:

The report, released on March 13, 2001, includes data back to 1963, the year the FTC began collecting it from the cigarette industry.

Internet libel suit partially settled. The estate of Philip Heggin (formerly of Rogue River, Oregon) has paid $5,000 to settle its share of a libel suit filed by Dr. Stephen Barrett. The matter arose because Heggin sponsored a Web site on which antifluoridation activist Darlene Sherell posted false and defamatory statements about Dr. Barrett. The suit was originally filed in Pennsylvania (Barrett's home state) against Sherell, who resided with Heggin. When a federal judge denied jurisdiction, it was refiled in Oregon. Heggin was later added as a co-defendant but died a week after receiving the suit papers. The action against Sherrell continues.

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This page was posted on March 19, 2001.