Consumer Health Digest #03-09

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
March 4, 2003

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.

Ephedra death expedites FDA regulatory actions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has initiated several actions designed to protect Americans from risks associated with use of ephedra products. [HHS acts to reduce safety concerns of dietary supplements associated dietary supplements containing ephedra. FDA fact sheet, Feb 28, 2003] On February 28, the agency issued warnings to 26 manufacturers, challenging them to remove unproven claims or substantiate those claims, with a particular focus on athletic performance-enhancement claims. It also proposed that all ephedra products be labeled with warnings that serious adverse events and death have been reported after using ephedra and that risks of adverse events are particularly high with strenuous exercise and/or use of stimulants including caffeine. The agency's actions are based in part on a RAND Corporation report which concludes:

Ephedrine, ephedrine plus caffeine, and ephedra-containing dietary supplements with or without herbs containing caffeine all promote modest amounts of weight loss over the short term. There are no data regarding long-term effects on weight loss. Single-dose ephedrine plus caffeine has a modest effect on athletic performance. The available trials do not provide any evidence about ephedrine or ephedra-containing dietary supplements, as they are used by the general population, to enhance athletic performance. Use of ephedra or ephedrine plus caffeine is associated with an increased risk of gastrointestinal, psychiatric, and autonomic symptoms. The adverse event reports contain a sufficient number of cases of death, myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular accident, seizure, or serious psychiatric illness in young adults to warrant a hypothesis-testing study, such as a case-control study, to support or refute the hypothesis that consumption of ephedra or ephedrine may be causally related to these serious adverse events. [Shekelle P and others: Ephedra and ephedrine for weight loss and athletic performance enhancement: Clinical efficacy and side effects. Feb 2003]

Ephedra's dangers were recently highlighted by the death of Baltimore Orioles pitching prospect Scott Bechler. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who is quackery's most important supporter in the U.S. Senate, applauded the actions of the FDA but criticized it for not acting sooner. In a press release, he claimed that the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) was "written to provide the agency with enhanced tools to ensure that the public has access to safe dietary supplement products and information about them." [Hatch responds to HHS action on ephedra. Press release, Feb 28, 2003] Hatch's statement is a bald-faced lie. The true purpose of DSHEA, which he spearheaded, was to cripple the agency's ability to regulate the herbal and dietary supplement marketplace. Since its passage, the marketplace has been flooded with products marketed with false and misleading claims. [Barrett S. How the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 weakened the FDA. Quackwatch, May 18, 2002] Moreover, Hatch helped obstruct previous FDA efforts to limit ephedra dosage.

Spurious amalgam suits dismissed. A New York State Supreme Court Judge has dismissed two amalgam-related lawsuits against the American Dental Association and two New York dental groups. The suits, filed in 2002 by Los Angeles attorney Shawn Khorrami, are identified in court records as Campbell vs. ADA, et al. and Kids Against Pollution vs. ADA, et al. Both suits claimed that the defendants had (a) deceived the plaintiffs and the public about health risks allegedly associated with dental amalgam; (b) concealed information about amalgam's environmental impact; (c) promoted false scientific studies, (d) barred dentists from informing patients about alleged health effects of amalgam, (e) misrepresented amalgam as "silver" fillings, and (f) concealed their own economic stake in these alleged misrepresentations. The plaintiffs had sought an injunction, restitution, punitive damages, reimbursement for legal fees, and establishment of a fund to cover the costs of testing and monitoring the plaintiffs' alleged "mercury poisoning." The judge ruled that the plaintiffs lacked "personal jurisdiction" and had failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted. Similar suits are pending in California and Maryland. The suits were groundless because no evidence exists that dental amalgam is dangerous.

Court upholds suspension of "orthomolecular practitioner." The New York State Supreme Court has upheld suspension of the license of Charles Gant, M.D., who practiced "orthomolecular medicine" in Solvay, New York. In 2001, after evaluating complaints from nine of his former patients, a Bureau of Professional Medical Conduct committee concluded that Gant had failed to obtain complete medical histories; failed to perform required physical examinations; failed to document his diagnoses, prescribed medications without documenting an adequate medical indication; ordered tests from a laboratory not certified to do such tests; used diagnostic codes which did not accurately reflect the treatment actually provided; provided patients with erroneous diagnostic codes on their billing statements; and misrepresented his credentials. The committee also concluded that Gant had improperly prescribed nutritional supplements sold by a company in which he had an interest and from which he received consideration. Gant's license was suspended for six months plus up to four and a half more years if he failed to complete remedial courses. Quackwatch has additional details.

Christian Science declining. Listings in the Christian Science Journal indicate that membership in the Christian Science Church has been declining steadily. From 1971 to 1996, the number of practitioners and teachers dropped from about 5,000 to about 1,800; and from 1971 to 2003, the number of churches has fallen from about 1,800 to about 1,100. Christian Science contends that illness is an illusion caused by faulty beliefs, and that prayer heals by replacing bad thoughts with good ones. Christian Science practitioners work by trying to argue the sick thoughts out of the patient's mind. There is no scientific evidence that Christian Science methods influence the course of any disease.

Antiquackery conference scheduled. Three NCAHF board members will speak at a conference entitled "Consumer Health Reality Check: Making Informed Health Decisions," on Friday, May 2 from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm at the FDA facility at 19900 MacArthur Blvd, Suite 300, Irvine, California. Wallace I. Sampson, MD will speak about "Alternative Medicine"; Ellen Coleman, RD, MA, MPH will cover "Popular Dietary Supplements"; William T. Jarvis, PhD will cover "Dubious Doctoring"; and a prosecution panel will discuss legal actions that can protect consumers. Continuing education credits are available for nurses and health educators. The $30 registration fee includes parking and lunch. For more information, see the program brochure or call Isabel Simard, MS, RD, CLE, at (714) 834-7874.

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This page was posted on March 4, 2003.