Consumer Health Digest #04-22

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
June 1, 2004

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.

Atkins diet promoters sued. Jody Gorran, a 53-year-old Florida business executive, has filed suit against Atkins Nutritionals, Inc. and the estate of Robert C. Atkins, M.D., for negligent misrepresentation, product liability, and deceptive and unfair trade practices. The suit charges that Gorran's total and LDL-cholesterol levels shot up from very low to abnormally high within two months after he began following the Atkins diet, but he continued using it because passages in Atkins's book and Web site reassured him that it was safe to do so. About two years later, Gorran developed angina and required angioplasty to unblock a coronary artery that had nearly closed. His suit seeks damages plus a court order to force Atkins's books, Web sites, and product promotions to warn that low-carbohydrate diets can be hazardous to health and increase the blood level of LDL-cholesterol. The suit document is posted to Quackwatch.

"Paranormal" researcher pleads guilty to fraud. Daniel Wirth and Josepf Steven Horvath have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and bank fraud and agreed to forfeit assets of more than $1 million acquired through various schemes. Documents in the case indicate that the pair used assumed names, obtained bogus identifying documents, and obtained employment with a large financial institution from which Horvath improperly paid Wirth for alleged services. According to a report in the Allentown Morning Call, the men met while pursuing master's degrees in parapsychology at John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, California, in the late 1980s. Wirth completed the program, earned a law degree from the University of Santa Clara, and subsequently co-authored reports of studies of the effects of prayer and therapeutic touch. Wirth's long pattern of dishonest behavior raises the question about whether the studies actually took place and, if so, whether their results were reported honestly. The most notable report claimed that remote prayer had doubled the success rate of in vitro fertilization. [Flamm B. Faith healing by prayer: Review of a questionable study. Quackwatch, June 1, 2004]

Court bans unreliable HIV/AIDS home test kits. Responding to an FTC request, a U.S. District Court has issued a Temporary Restraining Order to halt U.S. sales of a the "Discreet" HIV/AIDS home test kit and ordered that any kits that are imported into the United States be seized. The FTC's complaint states that Seville Marketing, Ltd., a British Columbia, Canada, corporation, and its principal, Gregory Stephen Wong, have marketed the kits with claims that, "Over the past two years we've had three independent studies done on Discreet and our 99.4% accuracy rate is based upon these studies." However, tests by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 15.4% of the kits gave erroneous readings after 3 minutes; 29.6% registered inaccurate results after 8 minutes; and 59.3% gave inaccurate results after 15 minutes. Moreover, the kits showed both inaccurate positive results and inaccurate negative results. The kits cannot legally be sold in the United States because the defendants lack FDA approval. [FTC halts U.S. sales of defective "Discreet" HIV home test kits. FTC news release, June 1, 2004]

Germanium marketer warned to stop cancer claims. The U.S. Food and Dug Administration has warned HBX of Elmhurst, New York, to stop claiming that its germanium sesquioxide products are useful for people who are recovering from cancer operations, undergoing chemotherapy, or afflicted with diabetes, arthritis, paralysis and Alzheimer's disease. [Baca JR. Warning letter to HBX, Inc., May 13, 2004] The claims appeared on the company's Web site, which is no longer accessible. Oral germanium products have not been proven effective against cancer. Several cases of kidney failure have been reported among long-term users.

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This page was posted on June 1, 2004.