Consumer Health Digest #05-29
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
July 19, 2005
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.
Aetna uncovers plot to intimidate dental licensing boards. Documents presented to the U.S. District Court for Colorado suggest why "biological dentists" helped fund the lawsuit that Cavitat Medical Technologies filed against Aetna, Inc. last year. [Barrett S. Documents suggest why bogus "racketeering" suit was filed against Aetna. Casewatch, July 15, 2005] Cavitat markets an ultrasound device that is claimed to help dentists diagnose "neuralgia-inducing cavitational osteonecrosis (NICO)," a condition that lacks scientific recognition. In 2002, Aetna issued a Clinical Policy Bulletin explaining why it would not cover diagnostic or treatment procedures related to use of the device. In 2004, Cavitat and its owner filed a lawsuit falsely accusing Aetna of "racketeering" and other wrongdoing. After the court dismissed the racketeering charge, Aetna filed a countersuit charging Cavitat and its owner with malicious prosecution. Documents filed with the court indicate that Cavitat's lawsuit was backed by "biological dentists" who purchased shares that would entitle them to a percentage of any money collected if Cavitat prevailed. These documents also indicate that the shareholders also planned to add dental boards as defendants in their racketeering suit if they did not agree to stop disciplining dentists who diagnose and treat "NICO." One describes the funding scheme, and the other states: "We are trying a different tactic with the state dental boards but if they do not comply, they will be named in the Aetna legal action as co-defendants, individually and as a board." One of the shareholders is Tim Bolen, a "publicist" who has issued false and defamatory statements about participants in several regulatory proceedings.
Medical Letter updates vitamin supplement recommendations. The Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, which is highly respected within the scientific community, has updated its supplement advice in light of recent research findings. The current issue concludes:
- Supplements are necessary to assure adequate intake of folic acid in young women and possibly of vitamins D and B12 in the elderly.
- There is no convincing evidence that taking supplements of vitamin C prevents any disease.
- Women should not take vitamin A supplements during pregnancy or after menopause.
- No one should take high-dose beta carotene supplements.
- A balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables may be safer than taking vitamin supplements. No biologically active substance taken for a long term can be assumed to be free of risk. [Vitamin supplements: Who should take them and who should not. Medical Letter 47:57-58, 2005]
Metabolife files for bankruptcy. Metabolife International has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Its alleged weight-loss product, Metabolife 356, achieved sales totaling over $1 billion between 1997 and 2003, but falling sales and serious legal problems have placed the company at great risk. The trouble arose because the company's main product, Metabolife 356, contained ephedra, which has been implicated in the death and injury of many of the product's users. According to a company press release, "Metabolife successfully transitioned its business to ephedra-free products by December 2003, but has had to commit inordinately large resources and time to defending lawsuits filed by ephedra product users." [Metabolife announces Chapter 11 bankruptcy and proposed sale of assets. PR Newswire, July 1, 2005] Metabolife has asked the bankruptcy court to permit the sale of its assets for $23.5 million to IdeaSphere Inc., subject to competitive bidding at an auction in September. The motion states that 182 lawsuits have been settled for an average of $62,000 each (a total of $11.3 million) and that about 350 more suits are pending. [Crabtree P. Money, suits key issues in Metabolife bankruptcy: $70-million-plus could be divided in the proceeding. San Diego Union-Tribune, July 16, 2005] The FDA banned the sale of ephedra-containing dietary supplements last year. [Rados C. Ephedra ban: No shortage of reasons. FDA Consumer, March/April 2004]
Bill would help FDA ban supplements that pose unreasonable risks. US Representative Susan Davis (D-CA) has introduced a bill that proposes to revise the “unreasonable risk” clause of 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and education Act by reducing the FDA’s burden of proving that an ingredient is unsafe for use in dietary supplements. The Dietary Supplement Access and Awareness Act (HR 3156) is similar to a version that was introduced last year but contains new provisions intended to nullify the recent Utah Court ruling that the FDA could not ban small amounts of ephedra based on a comparison of benefits and risks. HR 3156 states:
- In the absence of a sufficient benefit, the presence of even a relatively small risk of a serious adverse health effect to a user may be considered unreasonable.
- A determination with respect to the risk of a product may be made on the basis of any science-based evidence of risk, without the need to prove that the substance has actually caused harm in particular cases.
- A determination that a product presents an unreasonable risk may be made even though there are uncertainties as to the levels of a dietary ingredient that may present a risk.
Meanwhile, the FDA has appealed the judge's ruling.
Supplement huckster charged with murder. Doug Grant, 39, who has been promoting dietary supplements with false claims for many years, has been charged with first-degree murder. In September 2000, Grant reported that he had found his wife, Faylene Eaves Grant, unconscious in a bathtub located in their home in Gilbert, Arizona. After she was pronounced dead, an autopsy determined that the cause was drowning, secondary to intoxication with Zolpidem, a sleeping medication. Suspicious circumstances surrounding the incident led the local police to investigate further. Quackwatch has a detailed report on Grant's background.
Skeptics conference October 13-16 in Brussels. The European Skeptics Congress will host a conference on "Pseudoscience, Alternative Medicine and the Media" in Brussels, Belgium, October 13-16th, 2005. The "alternative medicine" session will include political and legal aspects as well as reports on quackery and scams. The media session will discuss how information on extraordinary claims is processed, lobbied, fairly represented, or manipulated and biased. The conference language will be English. Click here for further information.
This page was posted on July 19, 2005.