Consumer Health Digest #04-35
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
August 31, 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
FTC curbs chitosan marketers. Pinnacle Marketing, LLC, based in Biddeford, Maine, marketed a purported weight loss system called "Ultra Carb" consisting of two tablets: a "carb blocker" with white kidney bean extract, chromium picolinate, and other ingredients; and a "fat blocker" with chitosan. Pinnacle's advertisements claimed that Ultra Carb would block the absorption of carbohydrates and fat in the body, enabling users to lose a substantial amount of weight -- as much as 20 pounds and two to three dress or pant sizes in one month -- without diet or exercise. A two-month supply of Ultra Carb cost $99 plus shipping and handling. The FTC's complaint names Pinnacle Marketing, LLC (also doing business as Health Remedies, Acadia Skin Care, Atlantic Skin Care, Atlantic Skin Care Products, and Pinnacle Marketing Group, LLC), and its principals, Todd Flaherty, Matthew Tasker, and Kevin Curty. The proposed stipulated final order prohibits the defendants from:
- Representing that Ultra Carb, or any other dietary supplement, food, nonprescription drug, or device causes substantial weight loss by blocking the absorption of fat, or causes quick and substantial weight loss without diet or exercise
- Representing that Ultra Carb, or any other product, service, or program that purportedly provides health benefits, causes rapid or substantial weight loss or fat loss, or causes substantial weight loss by blocking the absorption of carbohydrates, unless the representation is true and supported by scientific evidence
- Making false or unsubstantiated claims about the benefits, performance, efficacy, safety, or side effects of any product, service, or program that purportedly provides health benefits.
The order requires the defendants to pay $219,000 in consumer redress or disgorgement. The order also contains an "avalanche clause" which provides that $22.5 million will become due immediately if the court finds that the defendants misrepresented their financial condition.
The FTC has also obtained a consent agreement with VisionTel Communications, which advertised that "Chito-Trim" can "attract fat like a magnet, forcing your body to pass it out of your system naturally, giving you the benefits of dieting without the hassle of calorie counting." The FTC's complaint names VisionTel Communications, LLC, also doing business as Vision Laboratories, and its officers, Michael McNaboe, Robert Dall and David Amato, all based in Eliot, Maine; MJ Management, based in Scarborough, Maine; and MAD Marketing, Inc. and LLAD Management, Inc., both based in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. The FTC action also covered another phony weight-loss aid and supposed sex aids for men and women. The consent order includes a $750,000 penalty with a $35 million "avalanche clause." [Two Maine dietary supplement marketers pay nearly $1 million to settle FTC deceptive advertising complaints. FTC news release, Aug 27, 2004]
Another study finds chitosan ineffective for weight control. A 24-week randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, conducted at the University of Auckland has found no clinically significant differences in weight or cholesterol levels between people who took chitosan and those who took a placebo. Chitosan, a shellfish derivative, is alleged to decrease body weight and serum lipids through gastrointestinal fat binding. The average difference in weight between the two groups was approximately 1.8 pounds, which was not clinically meaningful. No difference was found in cholesterol levels. [Mhurchu CN and others. The effect of the dietary supplement, Chitosan, on body weight: a randomized controlled trial in 250 overweight and obese adults. International Journal of Obesity Research 28:1149-1156]
Another ephedra victim wins suit. A California man who suffered a stroke after taking an ephedra product won a $4.1 million jury award against Fox Nutrition, the retailer that sold the product to him. Suits are pending against many other ephedra marketers. [Crabtree P. $4.1 million awarded in retail ephedra case. Man sued store after having stroke. San Diego Tribune, Aug 26, 2004]
"Advisory board" scheme bilks doctors. Medical Economics has warned doctors to be wary of companies that invite them to join their advisory board in return for shares of stock and then invite them to profit greatly by investing in a private stock offering. The article highlights three cases:
- Vector Medical Technologies, which claimed to have developed a "breakthrough" transdermal patch capable of delivering insulin and other drugs.
- Nutrition Superstores.com, which claimed to be a distributor of health and nutritional products that it sold through retail stores, health clubs, shopping malls, and the Internet.
- Medical Research Industries, which promised to manufacture and market transdermal patches for weight loss, sexual problems, and sleep disorders. The company's major product was "SlimPatch," which it described as a "revolutionary homeopathic remedy" made from "a blend of 27 natural ingredients."
All three companies bilked investors out of millions before the Securities and Exchange Commission forced them to stop. [Rice B. Beware the "advisory board" scam. Medical Economics 81(15):33-37, 2004]
This page was posted on August 31, 2004.