Consumer Health Digest #03-49

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 16, 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.

FTC identifies bogus weight-loss advertising claims. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has released tips intended to help advertising outlets to screen out bogus weight-control claims for nonprescription drugs, dietary supplements, creams, wraps, devices, and patches. [FTC releases guidance to media on false weight-loss claims. FTC news release, Dec 9, 2003] Using an expert panel, the agency has identified seven claims that should be regarded as fraudulent because they are not scientifically feasible:

The FTC has also released a staff report which describes how the guidelines were formulated. Many media officials have claimed that they lack the time and expertise to screen out bad ads. But because the guidelines reflect impossible claims and require very little effort to apply, failure to implement them will be inexcusable. Quackwatch has posted summaries of the FTC's analysis of these claims.

Suits filed after chelation therapy disasters. Lawsuits have been filed in two cases where the patient's heart stopped beating during chelation therapy:

Chelation proponents claim that their procedure is safe and effective against coronary atherosclerosis. However, there is no scientific evidence that this is true, and the Federal Trade Commission has obtained a cease-and-desist order prohibiting the American College of Advancement of Medicine from advertising any such claim.

Review agencies urged to stop promoting untrustworthy sites. Dr. Stephen Barrett has urged Health on the Net (HON) Foundation and Healthfinder to stop endorsing sites that promote unreliable health information. HON permits sites that subscribe to its principles to display the HONcode seal. Healthfinder includes sites in its searchable database after "careful review" of their contents. However, Quackwatch has listed more than 40 sites that inappropriately display the HONcode seal or should not be in Healthfinder's database. The most egregious is Healthfinder's listing of the American College of Advancement of Medicine, which, despite the FTC order, still misrepresents chelation as effective against coronary artery disease.

British cancer quack convicted of fraud. Reginald Gill, 68, a self-described "wellness practitioner" from Bournemouth, England, has been found guilty of deceiving a dying man by selling him a briefcase-size IFAS high-frequency device with claims that it would "kill" his pancreatic cancer. Testimony in the case indicates that Gill treated the patient several times and then sold him the device for £2500 after having bought it from an Australian company for less than £200. The patient died ten weeks later. The device is said to work on the same principle as a car ignition coil. Gill testified that he had not promised a cure but merely said the device would "help the body heal itself" and would enable the body to use nutrients in a drink he provided to heal itself of the cancer. The jury took just over an hour to convict him of making a false statement about services provided on May 10, 2002, and supplying goods with a false description on May 17, 2002.

Lab study raises alarm about DHEA. The Journal of the American College of Cardiology has published the results of a laboratory study which found that dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a sex hormone precursor marketed as an "anti-aging" dietary supplement, may promote the formation of fatty plaques in arteries. In the study, cultured human macrophage cells were exposed to either DHEA and/or an androgen receptor antagonist while other unexposed cells were used as a control. The DHEA produced a dose-dependent effect that resembled an early stage in the formation of fatty plaques within the lining of coronary arteries. The researchers also noted epidemiologic evidence linking higher natural DHEA levels with higher rates of coronary disease. [DHEA linked to early signs of atherosclerosis: Popular hormone increases macrophage foam-cell formation, an early stage in coronary artery disease. American College of Cardiology news release, Dec 2, 2003]

Steroids found in "herbal" eczema creams. So-called "natural" creams for eczema marketed in the United Kingdom have been found to contain potent steroid drugs not disclosed on the product labels. Researchers from Sheffield found that 18 of 24 products that parents bought from herbalists, clinics, and by mail order for treating their children contained traces of the drugs. No parents were aware of the steroid content. Although topical steroids are part of standard eczema treatment, medical supervision is important because overuse can cause permanent skin damage. [Ramsay HM and others. Herbal creams used for atopic eczema in Birmingham, UK illegally contain potent corticosteroids. Archives of Disease in Childhood 88:1056-1057, 2003]

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This page was posted on December 16, 2003.