Consumer Health Digest #01-24

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
June 11, 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.

Florida enacts a pro-quackery bill. Florida has enacted a Health Care/Alternative Treatment Act (S 1324), which states that licensed health-care practitioners can recommend any mode of treatment (including alternative or complementary treatments) they believe is in the patient's best interest. The bill was reportedly introduced on behalf of a powerful Republican Party supporter and moved quickly toward passage with minimal public notice. Only one legislator voted against it.

A second bill, the Access to Medical Treatment Act (S 1128), was passed unanimously but vetoed by Governor Jeb Bush. S 1128 would authorize licensed medical and osteopathic physicians to treat any life-threatening illness, disease, or condition by means of any investigational medical treatment provided that, "when used as directed, there is no reasonable basis to conclude poses an unreasonable and significant risk of danger to the individual."

Both bills include consent procedures that, if followed, might protect the practitioner from being charged with unprofessional conduct. The bills also state that they do not change the scope or standards of care, including the prohibition of fraud and exploitation. Because these provisions are vague and conflicting, the actually effect of such legislation is difficult to predict.

Chelation therapy for autism. Some chelation therapists are advising parents of autistic children that the cause is mercury poisoning. After administering an improper test, these practitioners state that the child's mercury level is high and that chelation therapy is needed to lower it. There is no scientific evidence that autism is caused by mercury poisoning or that chelation therapy will benefit autistic children. Practitioners who advocate it should be reported to their state licensing boards.

FDA warns against herbal food additives. The FDA has begun warning companies that adding herbal ingredients could subject them to regulatory action. The first three warnings were issued to Hansen Beverage Company, U.S. Mills, and Fresh Samantha (owned by Odwalla). The ingredients challenged were ginkgo biloba, Siberian ginseng, and echinacea. Federal law permits food manufacturers to add ingredients that are generally recognized as safe by scientists. Otherwise, the agency can deem the products adulterated and move to order them off the market. Total sales of herb-containing foods and beverages have increased from $20 million in 1997 to $700 million in 2000. [Winter G. F.D.A. warns food companies about herbal additives, New York Times, June 7, 2001]

Chiropractic victim report. Chirobase has posted a detailed report by a woman who was permanently injured by chiropractic procedures that were promised to cure her of multiple sclerosis. The chiropractor also claimed falsely that x-ray examination showed that her spine was severely curved. [Smith K. How a chiropractor ruined my life.] Few victims of quackery are willing to speak out publicly about their experience.

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This page was revised on August 13, 2001.