Consumer Health Digest #02-15

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
April 9, 2002

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.

FTC organizes international anti-spam campaign. Since 1998, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has collected more than 10 million unwanted spam messages that have been sent to the agency's database address, About two years ago, the FTC joined eight state law enforcers in the United States and four Canadian agencies in an initiative targeting deceptive spam and Internet fraud. One project tested whether "remove me" or "unsubscribe" options in spam were being honored. From the FTC database, the agencies culled more than 200 e-mails that purported to allow recipients to remove their name from a spam list. When the agencies set up dummy e-mail accounts to test the pledges, they discovered that the vast majority of addresses to which they sent the requests were invalid and that most of the "remove me" requests did not get through. Based on what happened, the FTC has sent more than 75 letters warning spammers that deceptive "removal" claims in unsolicited e-mail are illegal. [International netforce launches law enforcement effort. Sweep targets deceptive spam and Internet fraud. FTC news release, April 2, 2002]

Obesity program costs are tax-deductible. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has ruled that commercial weight-loss programs may be tax-deductible if undertaken for the treatment of medically diagnosed obesity. The new policy applies to 2001 and previous years in which an amended return can be filed. The deduction may be taken for program fees and instructional materials but not for special foods. Although "diet foods" may be part of a weight-loss program, these substitute for food normally eaten to satisfy nutritional requirements are are not deductible, even for people whose disease qualifies them to deduct program costs. Programs to improve general health or appearance are still nondeductible personal expenses. [Weight-loss programs may be tax-deductible. IRS news release IR-2002-40 , April 2, 2002] In 2000, the IRS ruled that weight-loss programs were deductible if recommended by a physician to treat a specific disease (such as high blood pressure or diabetes). The new ruling classifies obesity itself as a disease. Taxpayers who itemize deductions can include qualifying medical expenses to the extent that they exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income.

Experts issue ADHD consensus statement. More than 90 prominent scientists, researchers, and clinicians who treat ADHD and other mental disorders have released a statement reiterating that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a legitimate diagnosis and that media reports to the contrary can be very harmful. [Barkley RA and others. International Consensus Statement on ADHD, January 2002] The statement, which was authored by Dr. Russell Barkley, University of Massachusetts Medical School, makes several key points:

Dubious MS remedy (Prokarin) studied. Researchers who conducted a small controlled study of Prokarin have reported that it reduced the incidence of fatigue in patients with relapsing/remitting or progressive multiple sclerosis. [Gillson G and others. A double-blind pilot study of the effect of Prokarin on fatigue in multiple sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis 8:30-35, 2002] Prokarin (also called Procarin) is a skin cream that is administered using a patch that enables its ingredients to be absorbed. The treatment is based on a hypothesis that involves histamine and dates back to the 1940s. The primary promoter is Elaine DeLack, a nurse who "discovered" and patented a mixture of histamine and caffeine. Compounding pharmacists prepare the product, which is inexpensive to manufacture but is sold for about $250 for a month's supply. The study compared 21 people who took Prokarin with 5 who took a placebo. All participants were asked to limit their intake of caffeinated beverages to one cup of regular coffee per day. The authors concluded that Prokarin produced a "modest" lessening of fatigue, which is a troublesome symptom for many people with MS. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society advises that the study is difficult to interpret because the number of participants was small; the numbers in the Prokarin and placebo groups were very different; the fact that Prokarin contains caffeine might mix up the results; and other reasons. [NMSS Research Programs Department. Results of Prokarin to treat MS fatigue. National Multiple Sclerosis Society Research/Clinical Update, Jan 30, 2002]. The Society has also warned that Prokarin lacks a scientifically plausible rationale and has not been proven to modify the course of the disease.

"Immune eggs" under scrutiny. A federal grand jury in Columbus is investigating OvImmune Inc., of Richwood, Ohio, after the FDA accused the company of developing and selling unapproved drug products for AIDS, and other infections. [FDA says biotech company's eggs with antibodies should be regulated as drugs. Associated Press news release, April 1, 2002] Last July the agency warned company president Marilyn A. Coleman, PhD, that it is illegal to market eggs containing antibodies produced by immunization of chickens with investigational vaccines. The letter objected to claims on the company's Web site that the eggs can replace the immunity lost during AIDS, burns, and cancer; ameliorate the effects of routine infections; and "potentially treat all known diseases." The Web site is no longer operating.

FTC attacks bogus cancer therapy. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has filed suit in Seattle, Washington to permanently bar David L. Walker, (individually and doing business as DLW Consulting, Inc.) from claiming that his "CWAT-Treatment: BioResonance Therapy," is effective against cancer. The FTC's lawsuit charges Walker with falsely claiming that his treatment makes surgery, chemotherapy, and other conventional cancer treatments unnecessary and only 15 out of 745 users have not survived. His system, which sold for between $2,400 and $5,200, included herbal products, dietary supplements and an electrical device called the "Molecular Enhancer." The FTC is asking the court to bar the unsubstantiated claims permanently and to order consumer redress. Walker's Web site was taken down a few months ago after the State of Washington's Attorney General filed a similar action.

Fredrick J. Stare, leading quackery opponent, dead at 91. Fredrick J. Stare, M.D., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus and founder of Harvard's Department of Nutrition, died on April 7. He was well known for his books, articles, and scientific papers in the field of nutrition, and for several years wrote "Food and Your Health," a popular column published by the Los Angeles Times syndicate. Despite his extraordinarily gentle nature, he was one of the 20th century's staunchest opponents of nutrition quackery. He chaired Harvard's nutrition department from 1942 through 1976 and, in 1978, co-founded the American Council on Science and Health.

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This page was posted on April 9, 2002.