Consumer Health Digest #03-28

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
July 15, 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.

Time writer accuses Erin Brockovich of "junk science." Senior Time Magazine science writer Leon Jaroff has concluded that lawsuits filed this year by the firm where Erin Brockovich works are based on an analysis that constitutes "junk science." The suits -- filed against 25 oil and gas companies and the city and school district of Beverly Hills -- charge that emissions of benzene, hexane, and other substances on the Beverly Hills High School campus have caused hundreds of cases of cancer among those who graduated between 1977 and 1996. Jaroff notes, however, that (a) the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which monitors air quality in the region, has reported that levels of these chemicals are not abnormal; (b) a private testing company hired by company currently operating the oil wells has reached the same conclusion; and (c) epidemiologists point out that the relevant disease rates in Beverly Hills are no different from those in surrounding areas. Jaroff also notes that the suit popularized in the movie that made her famous was similarly unfounded. [Jaroff L. Erin Brockovich's junk science: Her new suit against oil companies and Beverly Hills has little scientific grounding. Time Online, July 11, 2003]

Study finds natural products for "hot flashes" ineffective. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of menopausal women has found that isoflavone extracts made from clover had no effect on their menopausal symptoms. The study involved about 250 women, aged 45 to 60 years, who had been experiencing at least 35 hot flashes per week, with an average of about 8 per day. The women received either Promensil (average 82 mg/day of isoflavones), Rimostil (average of 57 mg/day), or an identical placebo for 12 weeks, during which time the number of flashes gradually dropped to about 40% of their original levels. The drop was fastest for Promensil users, but there was no significant difference between the treatment and placebo groups during the final month -- and women in all three groups were still averaging about 5 per day. The researchers concluded: "Although the study provides some evidence for a biological effect of Promensil, neither supplement had a clinically important effect on hot flashes or other symptoms of menopause." [Tice JA and others. Phytoestrogen supplements for the treatment of hot flashes: The Isoflavone Clover Extract (ICE) Study. JAMA 290:207-214, 2003]

Bogus bust developers busted. Wellquest International, Inc., and others have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they made false and unsubstantiated claims for Bloussant (sold for breast enhancement), EnerX (sold for men's virility) and D-Snore (sold to relieve snoring). The principal defendants are Wellquest and its president, Eddie Mishan, and Tony Hoffman Productions, Inc. (THPI), and its president, Anthony Hoffman. The complaint also named Wellquest shareholders Jeffrey Mishan, Steven Mishan, Isaac Mishan, Morris Mishan, and Al Mishan as "relief defendants" who did not participate in the deceptive practices but profited from them. Wellquest has offices in New York City and in Thousand Oaks, California. THPI, based in Newbury Park, California, produced many of the challenged ads and provided telemarketing services for Wellquest's products. The complaint also named Mark Buchfuhrer, M.D., as a defendant in connection with his endorsement of the D-Snore product. The proposed settlement requires the defendants to (a) pay $3.2 million in consumer redress; (b) possess scientific substantiation before making certain claims about dietary supplements, foods, drugs, or cosmetics; and (c) comply with the FTC's newly amended Telemarketing Sales Rule. [Marketers of Bloussant breast enhancement product to stop making false and unsubstantiated claims. FTC news release, July 10, 2003] Information about Bloussant and some of the prohibited claims for EnerX and D-Snore have been removed from Wellquest International's Web site, but former versions can be viewed via the Wayback Machine.

Italian cancer quack dies. Luigi Di Bella, a retired physiology professor who claimed to cure cancer with a combination of somatostatin, vitamins, retinoids, melatonin, and bromocriptine, died July 1. Di Bella achieved notoriety in 1997 when a judge in Southern Italy ordered the local health authority to fund his treatment of a two-year-old girl with brain cancer. The patient died about seven months later, but the publicity attracted desperate patients from all over the world. Cancer patients supporting Di Bella organized demonstrations in the streets with chants of "freedom of treatment." Spurred by publicity, the Minister of Health ordered that clinical trials be carried out in public hospitals. The experimenters found that Di Bella treatment was not beneficial and, in some cases, had proved toxic. Quackwatch has additional details.

Lifestyle Fascination hit for third violation. Lifestyle Fascination, Inc., of Lakewood, New Jersey, has agreed to pay a $175,000 civil penalty to settle charges that it violated a 1994 Federal Trade Commission order prohibiting unsubstantiated claims. In 1997, Lifestyle agreed pay $60,000 to settle FTC allegations that it had violated the 1994 order by making unsubstantiated claims for a pain-relieving device, a pest- control device, and an antenna substitute. The company, which markets through print and online catalogs, sells electronic items, gadgets, toys, household goods, cosmetics, dietary supplements, and other health-related products. The claims challenged in this action included:

The FTC also charged that Lifestyle failed to honor its satisfaction guarantee and promise of a 100% refund. [New Jersey mail order company settles allegations it violated a 1994 FTC order: FTC news release, July 10, 2003]

"Herbal healer" restrained. The Arkansas Attorney General has settled the suit filed last year against Marijah McCain and the Herbal Healer Academy, Inc. The suit accused the defendants of falsely claiming that courses offered they offered were accredited and would provide a basis for state licensure. The court-approved consent judgment states that McCain and her school has paid $10,000 to the State of Arkansas and must not:

For additional information, see Quackwatch.

"Miracle water" embargoed. The Ohio Department of Health has embargoed 730 gallons of bottled water at the Leroy Jenkins Evangelistic Association in Columbus after finding that water contained coliform bacteria. The department has also obtained a temporary restraining order prohibiting Jenkins and his associates from selling the water. [Ohio Department of Agriculture embargoes Jenkins "Miracle Water." ODA news release, July 2, 2003] Last year, the association was found guilty by Delaware, Ohio's Municipal Court for failing to obtain a license to bottle the water. Jenkins was ordered to pay $500 plus court costs on each of two counts of "bottling license required," with $400 on each count suspended, provided the association obtained a bottling license. Since then, the association has not applied for a license through the department but an undercover agent purchased the water that was found to be contaminated. A hearing on the restraining order is scheduled for August 8th.

Food irradiation update. The American Council on Science and Health has updated its position paper on irradiated foods. Its conclusions include:

An overwhelming body of scientific data from around the world indicates that irradiated food is safe, nutritious and wholesome. Health authorities worldwide have based their approvals of food irradiation on the results of sound scientific research. When combined with proper hygienic practices in handling, processing, storage and distribution, irradiation increases the safety profile of a variety of foods.

The 48-page report, Irradiated Foods, can be viewed online or purchased in booklet form for $5 from ACSH, 1995 Broadway, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10023.

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This page was posted on July 15, 2003.