Consumer Health Digest #05-35

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
August 30, 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.

Lancet blasts homeopathy. Researchers who compared 110 controlled clinical trials of homeopathic treatment with 110 "matched" trials of standard medical treatment have concluded that the reported benefits of homeopathic treatment are likely to be placebo effects (rather than real treatment effects), whereas the reported benefits of standard treatment are likely to be due to the treatment. [Shang A. Are the clinical effects of homoeopathy placebo effects? Comparative study of placebo-controlled trials of homoeopathy and allopathy. Lancet 366:726-732, 2005] This somewhat convoluted language should not be interpreted to mean that homeopathic products are more effective than doing nothing. To determine whether homeopathic products influence the course of an ailment, it would be necessary to compare homeopathic and placebo treatment with no treatment, but few studies have done this.

The research report was accompanied by an editorial stating that "for too long, a politically correct laissez-faire attitude has existed towards homeopathy" but that "doctors should be bold and honest with their patients about homeopathy’s lack of benefit." [Editorial. The end of homeopathy. Lancet 366:690, 2005] The editorial also pointed out that the Swiss Government has withdrawn insurance coverage of homeopathy because it does not meet efficacy and cost-effectiveness requirements.

Courts rule against two Trudeau lawsuits. Courts in Washington, D.C. and New York have ruled against suits filed by Kevin Trudeau against government regulatory agencies. In February 2005, five months after signing a stipulated judgment that limits his ability to promote products,Trudeau sued the Federal Trade Commission because he didn't like the news release the agency had issued about his case. The FTC replied that its release was accurate, that releases about agency actions are not subject to judicial review, and that court acceptance of such cases might wreak havoc on the ability of federal agencies to report on their activities. Last week, the Washington judge agreed and dismissed Trudeau's suit against the FTC. The relevant documents are archived on Casewatch.

The FTC settlement permanently bans Trudeau him from doing infomercials for products other than his own books and newsletters. Shortly after the FTC settlement took place, Trudeau began marketing a self-published book called Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About. In frequently aired infomercials, Trudeau claims that the book is filled with information about cures that government agencies and drug companies don't want the public to find out about. Although this description is false, his approach has resonated with enough people to drive it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and trigger a flood of news reports about its commercial success.

Earlier this month, the New York State Consumer Protection Board (CPB) warned that the infomercials are misleading and said it would ask television stations to stop running them. [Cancer ‘cures’ are empty promises in Kevin Trudeau’s ‘Natural Cures’ book. CPB news release, August 5, 2005]

Before entering the infomercial business, Trudeau served a brief jail sentence after pleading guilty to grand larceny in a Cambridge, Massachusetts state court. (The offense involved depositing worthless checks at a bank.) In 1991, he pled guilty to credit-card fraud in Boston federal district court and was sentenced to 22 months in prison. Casewatch has archived the federal indictment and a psychiatric report that includes information about the first offense.

Whole-body hyperthermia practitioner facing serious charges. Haim Bicher, M.D., who operates the Valley Cancer Institute (VCI) in Los Angeles, is facing charges that could result in revocation of his medical license. This is the third time the Medical Board of California is examining Bicher's practices. In 1995, the board filed an accusation that ultimately resulted in an order for 18 months of probation. In 2004, in response to new charges, an Administrative Law Judge concluded that Bicher had been grossly and repeatedly negligent, had failed to maintain adequate records, and had exaggerated the value of hyperthermia. The board placed Bircher on probation for five years, during which he must either engage a practice monitor or participate in a professional enhancement program that includes periodic assessment of his work. The current accusation, filed in July 2005, alleges "gross negligence," "repeated negligent acts," "failure to maintain adequate and accurate medical records," and "dishonesty" in billings to Blue Cross of California. VCI's Web site describes the VCI as "one of the largest non-profit hyperthermic research and patient treatment center in the USA." Hyperthermia is a type of cancer treatment in which body tissue is exposed to high temperatures (up to 113°F). Studies have shown that local and regional hyperthermia may enhance the effect of radiation and chemotherapy for a few cancers. However, whole-body hyperthermia, which VCI features, is considered experimental.

Social workers attack inappropriate restraint. The National Association of Social Workers has resolved that physical restraint of children for purposes other than safety violates the organizations code of ethics. The resolution was a response to the abusive restraint that is integral to "attachment therapy."

Doctor charged with facilitating dubious cancer treatment. Lois March, M.D., an ear, nose, and throat specialist who practices in Cotrell, Georgia, is facing charges that she improperly helped Dan Raber, an unlicensed person who treats patients for cancer. Press reports indicate that Raber is being investigated and might be charged for practicing medicine without a license. Meanwhile, Georgia’s Composite Board of Medical Examiners has accused March of providing pain management to several patients whom Raber treated with a bloodroot paste, including one man whose flesh was eaten so badly from his shoulder that the bone was exposed. March has told reporters that she is innocent. The board's accusation is posted on Casewatch.

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This page was revised on October 9, 2005.