Consumer Health Digest #02-52

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 24, 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 moves toward national "Do Not Call" list. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has amended its Telemarketing Sales Rule to include development of a national "do not call" registry that will enable consumers to stop many unwanted calls. The other amendments include new provisions that will crack down on unauthorized billing, require marketers to transmit caller-ID information so recipients can identify their source, and restrict "call abandonment" (hangups when multiple dialing reaches more recipients than the callers can handle). Most of the changes take effect immediately, but creation of the "do not call" will not begin until about four months after Congress approves its funding. [FTC announces final amendments to Telemarketing Sales Rule, including National "Do Not Call" registry. FTC news release, Dec 18, 2001] The agency has set up a Do Not Call Registry Web site to explain the new policies and monitor their implementation.

Calls by banks, telephone companies, airlines, insurance companies, credit unions, charities, political campaigns, and political fundraisers will be exempt because they are outside the FTC's jurisdiction. People opposed to intrusive telephone solicitation should ask their Congressional representatives to approve the necessary funds and to give the FTC jurisdiction over calls by the entities now exempted.

Homeopathic research blasted. Edzard Ernst, MD, PhD, FRCP, professor of complementary medicine at Exeter University (England), has concluded that published research does not support the use of homeopathic products. [Ernst E. A systematic review of systematic reviews of homeopathy. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 54 :577-82, 2002] After evaluating 11 previous reviews, he concluded:

Collectively they failed to provide strong evidence in favour of homeopathy. In particular, there was no condition which responds convincingly better to homeopathic treatment than to placebo or other control interventions. Similarly, there was no homeopathic remedy that was demonstrated to yield clinical effects that are convincingly different from placebo. It is concluded that the best clinical evidence for homeopathy available to date does not warrant positive recommendations for its use in clinical practice.

Homeopathy is a 200-year-old pseudoscience based on notions that (a) substances that produces symptoms in a healthy person can cure ill people with similar symptoms and (b) infinitesimal doses can be highly potent. Although a few hundred studies have been published, the vast majority were poorly designed and several of the allegedly well-designed "positive" studies involve faulty statistical analysis. The FDA tolerates the marketing of homeopathic products as drugs even though they have not been proven effective. [Barrett S. Homeopathy: The ultimate fake. Quackwatch, revised Aug 26, 2001]

Another negative echinacea study. A study at the University of Wisconsin has found that unrefined echinacea showed no benefit when given for 10 days to college students with sore throats and stuffy noses. The study included 73 students who received echinacea and 75 who received a placebo made of alfalfa. The severity and duration of symptoms were similar in both groups. The authors concluded: "This particular form of echinacea provides no benefit for common cold symptoms in young, healthy adults. It will be necessary to perform similar careful studies of other echinacea preparations, which could differ from the preparation used in this study." [Barrett BP. Treatment of the common cold with unrefined echinacea: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Annals of Internal Medicine 137:939-946, 2002] An accompanying editorial noted that evaluating echinacea is difficult because three different species are used for medicinal purposes and medicinal preparations can vary with the part of the plant used, the method of extraction, and even the season in which the plant is harvested. [Turner RB. Echinacea for the common cold: Can alternative medicine be evidence-based medicine? Annals of Internal Medicine 137:1001-1002, 2002] In April, The Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics concluded that, "There is no convincing evidence that echinacea decreases the severity or shortens the duration of an upper respiratory infections" and that positive studies have not been well designed. [Echinacea for prevention and treatment of upper respiratory infections. Medical Letter 44:29-30, 2002]

Psychologist Roger Fisher to surrender license. Roger H. Fisher, Ph.D., an Ohio psychologist who provided expert testimony in many child custody cases, will surrender his license effective February 28, 2003. The surrender is deemed to be a permanent revocation based on grounds of "competence, negligence, impaired objectivity, and dual relationships." In June 2002, Fisher entered a consent agreement with the Ohio Board of Psychology to restrict his practice. Under Ohio law, psychologists involved in custody cases can only testify about parents they examine and should not offer opinions about who is the best parent. In the consent agreement, Fisher admitted that he had violated two of Ohio's Rules of Professional Conduct (negligence and competence) in connection with testimony about the behavior and mental state of a woman he had not examined. According to a report by WLWT Eyewitness News, the board had received many angry complaints about him. Quackwatch has additional details.

"Yeast Connection" author dies. William G. Crook, M.D., who promoted the bogus diagnosis of "candidiasis hypersensitivity," died October 19 at the age of 85. As a pediatrician, he promoted the notion that "hidden food allergies" cause hyperactivity, learning disabilities, and a long list of other problems. His book The Yeast Connection, originally published in 1983, stated that even when clinical signs of infection are absent, yeast-related problems can trigger a long list of common symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal bloating, mood swings, depression, anxiety, dizziness, unexpected weight gain, difficulty in concentrating, muscle and joint pain, cravings for sugar or alcoholic beverages, psoriasis, hives, respiratory and ear problems, menstrual problems, infertility, impotence, bladder infections, prostatitis, and "feeling bad all over." The book also stated that, "If a careful check-up doesn't reveal the cause for your symptoms, and your medical history [as described in the book] is typical, it's possible or even probable that your health problems are yeast-connected." The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology issued a position statement that the concept of candidiasis hypersensitivity should be regarded "speculative and unproven" [a polite way of saying it was hogwash] unless supported by competent research. [Anderson JA and others. Position statement on candidiasis hypersensitivity. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 78:271-273, 1986] But Crook maintained that he had no responsibility for scientifically testing his theories because he was "a clinician, not a researcher." [Barrett S. Dubious yeast allergies. Quackwatch, revised Dec 18, 2002]

Skin infection outbreak linked to dirty acupuncture needles. At least 20 persons appear to have acquired an uncommon skin infection following treatment by acupuncturist Sandra Testaguzza, who operated two clinics in the Greater Toronto Area. According to reports in the Toronto Star, Testaguzza has admitted reusing needles even despite trouble with her sterilizing equipment. Acupuncturists are unregulated in Toronto. [Edwards P. More patients have skin disease: Number rises from 12 to 20 .Acupuncture clinics still closed. Toronto Star, Dec 24, 2002] The infectious organism, Mycobacterium abscessus, is usually harmless unless it gets into a wound, an infected device is placed under the skin, or the exposed person is immunosuppressed.

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This page was posted on December 24, 2002.