Consumer Health Digest #06-50

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 12, 2006

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.

FTC conducts massive funeral home investigation. The Federal Trade Commission has announced the results of enforcement sweeps of more than 100 funeral homes in seven states to assess their compliance with the FTC’s Funeral Rule. During the past year, undercover visits in California, Georgia, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas found violations at 12 funeral homes. Faced with the prospect of FTC lawsuits that could lead to a court order and civil penalties, these facilities elected to participate in a 5-year monitoring program, the Funeral Rule Offenders Program (FROP). The FTC also warned 32 other funeral homes to correct technical violations. [FTC tests funeral homes for compliance with Funeral Rule; new brochure explains consumer rights under federal law. FTC news release, Dec 13, 2006]

The rule, which was established to counter widespread fraud and deception, took effect in 1984 and was revised in 1994. Its aim is to help people select what they want and to pay for only what they select. Regulation is needed because survivors of the deceased are emotionally vulnerable and typically have little time to do comparison shopping. Under the rule:

Since the FROP was established in 1996, the FTC has investigated than 1,850 funeral homes in 33 states and referred about 240 to the FROP. The FTC's new brochure, Paying final respects: Your rights when buying funeral goods & services, provides more information about the rule and additional tips for consumers. The agency has also published a more comprehensive report called Funerals: A Consumer Guide.

Doctor facing disciplinary action for use of a black salve. Jerome W. Craft, M.D., a surgeon who practices in West Palm Beach, Florida, is facing disciplinary action related to his use of an escharotic salve that injured a patient. The salve contained bloodroot, a caustic herb that destroys whatever tissue it encounters. [Barrett S. Don't use corrosive cancer salves (escharotics). Quackwatch, December 13, 2006] The case arose after a woman consulted him about excess skin under her nose. The complaint stated that he had failed to perform a biopsy, determine the exact nature of her condition, or refer her elsewhere when the salve destroyed much of her nose. Meanwhile, two other victims have gone public with their stories. One was inspired to use escharotic products after reading an article written by Andrew Weil, M.D. [Hurley D. Natural Causes: Death, Lies, and Politics in America's Vitamin and Herbal Supplement Industry. New York: Broadway Books, 2006] The other was treated by her sister who has practiced for many years as a "master herbalist."

Major report on low-carbohydrate diets issued. The International Life Sciences Institute has released a detailed summary of its April 2005 workshop on low-carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins diet. [Levine J and others. Low-carbohydrate diets: Assessing the science and knowledge gaps, summary of an ILSI North America workshop. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 106:2086-2094, 2006] The workshop assembled experts to explore the definitions and health effects of low-carbohydrate diets and to identify key research needs. The points of agreement included:

ConsumerLab tests probiotics. Probiotic products contain helpful bacteria and/or yeasts that can help balance the levels of microorganisms that live in the human intestines. Probiotic organisms are available in yogurt, other cultured-milk foods, capsules, tablets, beverages, and powders. The normal human gastrointestinal tract contains hundreds of different species of bacteria. When their balance is disturbed by illness or antibiotic treatment, the most common effect is diarrhea. Probiotics can recolonize the intestine and crowd out disease-causing bacteria, thereby restoring balance. To be useful, the organisms must be alive or able to "come alive" from an inactive state. ConsumerLab's tests found that 14 of 22 products provided the recommended minimum of at least 1 billion organisms per daily dose. Access to its report requires a subscription or payment of a $10 fee.

CSICOP changes its name. After three decades of examining fringe and pseudoscience claims, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal has officially changed its name. Its popular name, "CSICOP," has been halved to CSI (pronounced C-S-I) which stands for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. The change was made because the word “paranormal” caused some people unfamiliar with the group to misunderstand its goals. CSI will continue to:

CSI offers inexpensive associate memberships that include a subscription to its quarterly Skeptical Briefs newsletter. Its flagship publication, Skeptical Inquirer, is issued bimonthly.

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This page was revised on February 12, 2007.