Consumer Health Digest #03-50

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 23, 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.

PC-SPES adulterators settle criminal charges. The sellers of an alleged herbal cancer cure entered "no contest" pleas and signed consent agreements to settle criminal and civil charges brought by the Los Angeles District Attorney that they illegally added prescription drug ingredients to their allegedly "natural" products. The products were marketed by International Medical Research, of Brea, California, which did business as BotanicLab. Under the agreements, John Chen, sister Sophie Chen, and Allan Xuhui Wang admitted to single misdemeanors involving the marketing of misbranded and adulterated food. Their defunct company pleaded no contest to the felony count of producing a product that presents a danger to the public. The corporation agreed to pay $350,000, the Chens agreed to pay $46,500 each, and Wang agreed to pay $56,500. The defendants had claimed that their products were breakthrough herbal formulas supported by years of research by MD and PhD scientists. PC-SPES was also said to be a centuries-old Chinese remedy that could fight prostate cancer by boosting the immune system. However, samples of PC-SPES and a similar product (SPES) were found to contain indomethacin (an arthritis drug), warfarin (an anticoagulant), and diethylstilbestrol (DES), a source of estrogen. The DES content may explain why preliminary studies of PC-SPES found some effectiveness against prostate cancer. State health officials asked BotanicLab to recall these products and, shortly afterward, cancer survivors who had used PC SPES filed a class-action lawsuit. In June 2002, the company went out of business, saying it was devastated by the costs of the lawsuit and the recall of the two drugs. That same month, the state health department warned that seven other BotanicLab products (Arthrin, HepaStat, Neutralis, OA Plus, Osporo, Poena, and RA Spes) might be contaminated with prescription-only ingredients. The agreements also bar the defendants from marketing dietary supplements in the future. The defendants still face civil suits related to the injury or death of former customers.

Naturopathic agency regains recognition. In September, the U.S. Secretary of Education granted two-year approval to the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME) as an accrediting agency for the full-time naturopathy schools. CNME was originally recognized in 1987 but was denied renewal in 2001 based on evidence that it had not responded appropriately to violations of its standards at one of the schools. Naturopathy, sometimes referred to as "natural medicine," is a largely pseudoscientific approach said to "assist nature," "support the body's own innate capacity to achieve optimal health," and "facilitate the body's inherent healing mechanisms." Naturopaths assert that diseases are the body's effort to purify itself, and that cures result from increasing the patient's "vital force." They also claim to stimulate the body's natural healing processes by "detoxification." U.S. Government recognition of the agencies that accredit professional schools is not based on the scientific validity of what is taught but on such factors as record-keeping, physical assets, financial status, makeup of the governing body, catalog characteristics, nondiscrimination policy, and self-evaluation system. So far, agencies have been recognized for acupuncture, astrology, chiropractic and massage therapy schools, most of which advocate methods that are unsubstantiated and lack a scientifically plausible rationale. Naturopaths are licensed as independent practitioners in 13 states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington) and the District of Columbia, and can legally practice in a few others. Their most recent political success -- in California -- was supported by a $100,000 donation by Metagenics, a company that sells many products through offbeat practitioners. The other corporate sponsors were American Specialty Health Plans, Thorne Research, Biogenesis, Capsugel, Douglas Labs, Integrative Therapeutics Inc, New Hope Natural Media, Pure Encapsulations, Specturm Organic, and Whole Foods Market. Quackwatch has a detailed report about naturopathy's shortcomings.

Report doubts chiropractic manipulation helps colicky babies. A literature review by the Canadian Coordinating Office for Health Technology Assessment (CCOHTA) has found no evidence that chiropractic treatment helps colicky babies. [Husereau D and others. Spinal manipulation for infantile colic. CCOHTA Technology Report, Issue 42, November 2003] Colic, characterized by excessive fussiness and crying, affects about 25% of babies between the second and sixth weeks of life and tends to resolve on its own by three months of age. The cause is unknown, but some chiropractors claim it is related to spinal misalignments that they can fix by pressing on the spine with their fingertips. After reviewing four randomized controlled trials that compared chiropractic spinal manipulation to other therapy, the CCOHTA expert panel concluded that none of the trials met a high standard of quality and that:

The panel did not mention the fact that no plausible reason exists to believe that colic has a spinal cause or that chiropractors should treat infants. The full 45-page report is available online.

FTC stops phony Canadian charity that falsely claimed to help hospitalized children. A federal judge has shut down a cross-border telemarketing scam that solicited contributions from small businesses to donate children's books to hospitals. The FTC complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Seattle stated that the books were never delivered to hospitals or given to children. The default judgment entered against DPS Activity Publishing, Ltd., doing business as Healing Hands Busy Book, and principals David Suggitt (aka David Sumner) and Tabea Suggitt, permanently bars the defendants from making false claims regarding the marketing of any products or services for donation. The FTC will disburse approximately $80,000 in consumer redress from returned donation checks, and the court ordered that defendants pay an additional $500,000 in consumer redress. [Court closes the book on charity scam: Defendants solicited donations for books for hospitalized children. FTC news release, Dec 17, 2003] The attorneys general of Michigan and Washington have also taken action.

FTC snares more "radiation protection" device scammers. Another distributor of the "WaveShield" radiation patches that were claimed to block up to 99% of electromagnetic radiation emitted by cell and cordless phones have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that their claims were unsubstantiated and false. The settlement with Interact Communications, Inc., of Boca Raton, Florida, and its president, Sheldon Kalnitsky, bars false or unsubstantiated claims about radiation-blocking phone shields or similar devices. The company sold the product to California-based Comstar Communications, Inc., which settled similar FTC charges in April 2003. [Marketers of cell phone radiation protection patches settle FTC charges. FTC news release, Dec 15, 2003]

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This page was revised on January 1, 2004.