Consumer Health Digest #04-42

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
October 19, 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

CortiSlim/CortiStress marketers charged with false advertising. The Federal Trade Commission has charged the marketers of CortiSlim and CortiStress with making false and unsubstantiated claims that their products can cause weight loss and prevent or reduce the risk of several serious health conditions. The agency's complaint was filed against Los Angeles-area marketers Window Rock Enterprises, Inc. and Infinity Advertising, Inc., their principals, Stephen Cheng and Gregory Cynaumon, and business partner and product formulator Shawn Talbott, Ph.D. The claims were made primarily through 30-minute infomercials which falsely alleged that persistently elevated levels of cortisol, the "stress hormone," are the underlying cause of obesity and that CortiSlim causes substantial weight loss by controlling cortisol levels. The FTC objected to claims that CortiSlim: (a) causes weight loss of 10 to 50 pounds for virtually all users; (b) causes users to lose as much as 4 to 10 pounds per week over multiple weeks; (c) causes users to lose weight specifically from the abdomen, stomach, and thighs; (d) causes rapid and substantial weight loss; (e) causes long-term or permanent weight loss; and (f) causes weight loss. The FTC also objected to the claim that more than 15 years of research have demonstrated that CortiSlim and its ingredients are effective. The defendants also alleged that persistently elevated levels of cortisol are the underlying cause of "every modern lifestyle disease that is associated with this fast-paced 21st century lifestyle" and that CortiStress controls cortisol and thus should be taken "for as long as you want to have good health." The FTC also challenged claims that CortiStress prevents or reduces the risk of conditions such as osteoporosis, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. The Window Rock defendants have signed a stipulated interim agreement to stop making the claims to which the FTC objected and to refrain from making unsubstantiated claims in the future. [FTC targets products claiming to affect the stress hormone cortisol. FTC news release, Oct 12, 2004]

In a related development, the FTC sent warning letters to more than 25 Web site operators and others who have been marketing products with similar claims. In August, the FDA warned Cheng and Window Rock Enterprises, Inc. to stop claiming that CortiSlim "eliminates cravings," "controls appetite," "burn[s] calories more efficiently and naturally through thermogenesis," and "diminishe[s] hunger and stress eating." The FDA also said that claims that CortiSlim "supports healthy cortisol levels" or "supports weight maintenance efforts" would be unsubstantiated and therefore illegal. [FDA warning letter to Stephen Cheng, Aug 19, 2004]

FTC settles another weight-loss product case. A Canadian-based fulfillment company doing business as Beauty Visions Worldwide and SlimShop, and its principal Robert Van Velzen, have agreed to settle FTC charges that they made false and unsubstantiated weight-loss claims for two purported weight-loss patches, "Hydro-Gel Slim Patch" and "Slenderstrip." Under the settlement, the defendants are prohibited from representing or helping any other entity to represent that these or any other product causes rapid or substantial weight loss without the need to diet or exercise. The settlement requires the defendants to pay $72,422 for consumer redress, and contains a $1,422,481 avalanche clause, which would become effective if the court were to find that the defendants misrepresented their financial situation. [Canadian marketers of fraudulent weight-loss products pay redress to settle FTC charges. FTC news release, October 12, 2004] The products have been marketed in the United States as well as in Canada.

Herbalife class action suit settled. Herbalife International and several leading distributors have agreed to settle a class action suit filed in 2002. The plaintiffs charged that (a) the defendants set up a promotional organization within Herbalife called "The Newest Way to Wealth (NWTW)"; (b) the set-up constituted an illegal pyramid scheme that Herbalife should have corrected; and (c) the eventual loss to more than 5,000 persons will probably total more than $40 million. [Nancy Jacobs et al. vs Herbalife International et al. U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Los Angeles Division, Case No. 02-01431 FMC, filed Feb 15, 2002] Each of the plaintiffs had invested at least $4,000 to meet Herbalife requirements for "supervisor" status and had also purchased NWTW materials. Without admitting fault, the defendants agreed to offer a total of $6 million in rebates and refunds and to require distributors who sell independently produced marketing materials to provide refunds if the materials are returned within 90 days.

In January 2004, in a separate action, Herbalife distributors Kurt and Cindy O'Connell agreed to pay more than $150,000 in forfeiture and court costs and about $50,000 in restitution to settle charges by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture that they had illegally advertised and misled prospective distributors. According to Agriculture Department news releases, the O'Connells had illegally posted ads offering "Work at Home, Earn $3000-$5000/mo?" on telephone poles, light poles, and elsewhere and had used inflated income claims to induce people to invest hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Homeopathic proponent dies. Jacques Benveniste, the French immunologist who claimed that water has a memory that could justify homeopathy, died on October 3 after heart surgery at age 69. In 1988 he coauthored a paper in the journal Nature in which he claimed to have demonstrated that a solution diluted to the extent that no molecules of active ingredient remained could still exert a measurable biological effect. To gain publication, Benveniste agreed to repeat the test in the presence of independent observers. The observers included Nature's editor and James Randi, who set up safeguards to ensure that the study was performed double-blind so that the experimenters couldn't tell which samples contained the homeopathic product. Under these conditions, Benveniste's claims could not be validated.

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This page was posted on October 23, 2004.