Consumer Health Digest #02-32
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
August 6, 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.
Report suggests that all MLMs are pyramid schemes. Robert L. FitzPatrick, president of Pyramid Scheme Alert, has written a 64-page booklet which states that the entire network marketing industry is based on fraud. His key points include:
- MLM companies entice people with false promises of extraordinarily high income. However, fewer than 1/2% of those who enroll as MLM distributors make a net profit after product purchases and related costs are factored.
- Top distributors with Amway Corporation earn most of their money from selling "tools" (sales aids) to recruits rather than from product sales.
- Private lawsuits among top-level MLM insiders document systematic fraud and deception.
- An FTC trade regulation rule that forces honest disclosure of potential income is desperately needed.
- Since 1991, Amway and affiliated donors have contributed more than $10 million in direct and indirect contributions to the Republican party.
- Several years ago, when the Federal Trade Commission prosecuted Equinox International as an illegal pyramid scheme, economist David Scheffman had testified that the company's business model was legitimate. Last year, Scheffman was appointed director of the FTC's Bureau of Economics. (According to press reports, Scheffman had also testified for the tobacco industry that it was implausible that they conspired to suppress research on safer cigarettes because it would have been in their own interest to create a more healthful product and thereby increase sales.)
- Efforts are under way to weaken the ability of state agencies to prosecute MLM frauds.
Copies of "Pyramid Nation" are available for $13 for the first copy and $8.95 for each additional one from FitzPatrick Management, Inc., 1235-E East Blvd, #101, Charlotte, NC 28203. These prices include first-class postage.
Pyramid Scheme Alert and Quackwatch are sponsoring a campaign to petition the FTC to force MLM companies to disclose how much distributors can realistically expect to earn. The petition can be viewed in HTML and PDF format.
Chiropractors lobbying for Medicare coverage expansion. An American Chiropractic Association official has urged chiropractors to ask their Senators to include a pro-chiropractic amendment if a Senate Medicare prescription drug bill comes up for a vote. [Witter J. Medicare Legislative Alert, Aug 2, 2002] Current law covers "manual manipulation of the spine to correct a subluxation." The proposed amendment parallels the Chiropractic Patients' Freedom of Choice Act of 2001 (H.R. 902), introduced last year by Wes Watkins (D-OK). This would add coverage for "all related diagnostic and therapeutic services," which would include physical therapy, x-rays, other imaging procedures, and laboratory testing. Many chiropractors—probably a majority—provide such services inappropriately.
Erratic quality control for saw palmetto products. A study of dietary supplements and herbs commonly used to treat prostate disease has found great variability between the label amounts and the contents. Vitamin D and selenium were close to the label amounts, vitamin E ranged from -41% to +57% lycopene was between -38% and +143 %, and saw palmetto ranged from -97% to +140%. Three of the six brands of saw palmetto products contained less than 20% of the stated dose of the fatty acids and sterols commonly found in the products used in published clinical trials. The authors expressed concern that many people who take saw palmetto for urinary symptoms may unknowingly be taking a product that has no beneficial potential. [Feifer AH and others. Analytical accuracy and reliability of commonly used nutritional supplements in prostate disease. Journal of Urology 168:50-154, 2002] In 1999, ConsumerLab evaluated 27 leading brands of saw palmetto and concluded that 17 contained appropriate amounts of the fatty acids and sterols, but 15 of these contained other ingredients whose benefit was uncertain.
Black cohosh review calls for more research. A review of published clinical trials of black cohosh has concluded that it has not been proven effective against menopausal symptoms and that additional well-designed clinical trials are needed. [Borrelli F, Ernst E. Cimicifuga racemosa: A systematic review of its clinical efficacy. European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 58:235-241, 2002]
Germany bans kava products. The German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) has canceled the registrations of all products containing significant amounts of the herb kava (kava kava, Piper methysticum) or the synthetic lactone kavain because of the risk of liver damage. The decision, which also calls for removal of the products from retail shelves, was based on reports on more 40 adverse reactions. Homeopathic kava products, which presumably do not contain enough kava to exert any detectable physiologic effect on the body remain legally marketable but foolish to use.
Diet pill scammers traced. Investigative reporters for Canadian Television News have concluded that the operators of the 16 Point Macerat Weight-Loss Plan are Patrice Runner and Daniel Sousse. The product, one of several sold through a Canadian mail drop, has been falsely advertised in many major American and Canadian magazines and newspapers. The product is an herbal mixture that contains laxatives and is worthless for weight control. Many customers have complained about unfilled orders and lack of requested refunds. In the mid-1990s, Runner and Sousse were involved with various companies that paid large fines in the United States and Canada for selling bogus diet products, including one called the Svelt-PATCH. See Quackwatch for additional details.
"Remote healing" researcher dies. Elizabeth Targ, M.D., a psychiatry professor at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, died July 18 of glioblastoma, a brain tumor, while conducting a study into the efficacy of prayer on patients with the same cancer. She was 41. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Targ was also founder-director of Complementary Medicine Research Institute at the California Pacific center and a research fellow at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, a group that promotes paranormal concepts.
This page was posted on August 6, 2002.