Consumer Health Digest #04-40

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
October 5, 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

Educational statistics exaggerate autism rates. James R. Laidler, M.D., who operates Autism Watch, has concluded that educational assessments are a significant factor in the apparent rise in autism rates. Since 1992, in response to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), school districts have been "assessing" children to determine eligibility for special educational assistance. However, the educational criteria tend to be less stringent than those used for the medical diagnosis of autism. Most states follow the diagnostic guidelines in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (4th edition), but others use guidelines that are very different. These educational "diagnoses" are tabulated the U.S. Department of Education. However, because many of the children assessed as autistic by the schools do not meet the medical criteria for autism, educational assessment data overstate the prevalence of autism in the United States. [Laidler JR. How "educational assessments" skew autism prevalence rates. Autism Watch, Sept 15, 2004]

SEC halts cancer investment scheme. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has obtained a temporary restraining order to stop the selling of stock in a bogus biotechnology company that was claimed to be developing a blockbuster cancer drug. The action was taken against Vince Dory, Joshua Adams, and four entities with which they are affiliated: Global Health, Global Clearing, Global Strategies and Goldman Quintero & Associates. The Commission charged that, since early 2003, the defendants had falsely represented that Global Health had developed a cancer treatment that was on the verge of FDA approval and subsequently obtained it. To convince prospective investors, the defendants disseminated letters on an FDA letterhead which stated that Global Health's cancer treatment had been approved by the FDA and could soon be marketed. The complaint alleges that the FDA letters were forgeries and that no Global Health product is undergoing the FDA's approval process. [Court enters order halting ongoing securities fraud involving purported manufacturer of cancer drug. SEC Litigation Release No. 18881, September 10, 2004] Many of the investors were elderly.

Homeopathic products get special airport security exemption. Since February 2004, as part of its efforts to "treat passengers with dignity" while protecting against terrorists, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has permitted passengers who fear that their medication will be damaged by x-ray screening to request that it be inspected visually instead. The policy was set in response to an inquiry by U.S. Senator John Ensign (R-NV) who had written on behalf of several constituents. Ensign, who holds a degree in veterinary medicine, is chairman of the Republican Party's High Tech Task Force, which was established to serve as a "portal for the technology community, where their issues will be heard, addressed, and disseminated among other members of the United States Senate." Ensign's inquiry was sent on behalf of F. Fuller Royal, M.D., who runs the Nevada Clinic (Las Vegas, Nevada) and is president of the Nevada's Board of Homeopathic Medical Examiners. Because homeopathic remedies have no therapeutic value to begin with, there's no logical reason to worry that their "potency" will decrease. Presumably. the government officials who set the new policy realized this but thought that it probably would be more efficient to accommodate Royal's patients than to spend more time dealing with their concerns. [Barrett S. Airport security screening of homeopathic "medicines." Homeowatch, Sept 29, 2004]

Indian remedy can clash with prescription drugs. Researchers at the University of Kansas have concluded that guggulsterone, the active ingredient in the Indian herbal guggulipid, may interfere with many prescription products, including popular anti-cholesterol drugs. In a laboratory study of liver cells, they found that guggulsterone induces changes in certain cells that help the body break down certain drugs. Thus it has the potential to raise blood levels of these drugs and produce toxic reactions. [Brobst DE and others. Guggulsterone activates multiple nuclear receptors and induces CYP3A gene expression through the pregnane X receptor. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics 310:528-535, 2004] Last year, another research team reported that eight weeks of treatment with standardized guggul extract (2.5% guggulsterones) did not improve levels of serum cholesterol and might raise levels of LDL-cholesterol. The guggulipid probably also caused a skin rash in some patients. The study involved 103 adults with high blood cholesterol levels who took 1000 mg or 2000 mg of guggulipid or a matching placebo three times a day. [Szapary PO and others. Guggulipid for the treatment of hypercholesterolemia: A randomized controlled trial. JAMA 290:765-772, 2003]

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This page was posted on October 5, 2004.