Consumer Health Digest #07-45

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
November 20, 2007

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.

Infomercial scammer cited for contempt of court. A federal judge has ruled that Kevin Trudeau violated an injunction against false advertising issued in 2004. The ruling came in response to an FTC suit that accused Trudeau of misrepresenting the contents of his book, The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About. In several infomercials, Trudeau claimed that the plan outlined in the book is easy to do, can be done at home, and ultimately allows readers to eat whatever they want. However, the book actually describes a complex plan that requires severe dieting, daily injections of a prescription drug that consumers cannot easily get, and lifelong dietary restrictions. In a 2004 order settling FTC charges that Trudeau had falsely claimed that his calcium product could cure cancer and other serious diseases, the same judge banned him from using infomercials to sell any product, service, or program except for books and other publications. Although Trudeau remained free to publish his opinions, the order specified that he must not misrepresent what is in the publications. This time, while noting that he is "one heck of a salesman," the judge concluded that Trudeau had misrepresented the content of his weight-loss book. The penalty for violating the injunction will be decided later.

Barry Bonds indicted. Barry Bonds, who holds major league baseball's record for most career home runs, is facing four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice. The indictment accuses him of lying about his use of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing substances during testimony before the federal grand jury that was investigating the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO). BALCO, headquartered in Burlingame, California, offered blood and urine analyses and dietary supplements. In 2003, however, it came to light that the company had been marketing a hitherto undetected performance-enhancing steroid to Olympic athletes and other well known sports stars. BALCO's president Victor Conte served a 4-month prison sentence after he pleaded guilty in 2005 to money laundering and running a steroid distribution ring. Sprinter Marion Jones, a three-time Olympic Gold medalist pleaded guilty last month, and several others are awaiting trial.

Chelationist will face trial for manslaughter. Roy Kerry, M.D., whose administration of chelation therapy resulted in the death of a 5-year-old autistic child, has been ordered to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter. A district judge has determined prosecutors have enough evidence to proceed with the case. Kerry is also facing a civil suit by the child's parents and disciplinary action by the Pennsylvania Board of Medicine. There is no scientific evidence that autism has a toxic basis or that chelation therapy has any therapeutic value for autistic children.

Mannatech attacked again. A controversy has erupted between prominent glycoscientists and Mannatech, the Texas-based company that markets complex sugar-containing molecules. (Glycoscience is the legitimate study of the structure and function of sugars.) The controversy was triggered by online publication a scathing critique in the journal Glycobiology by two glycobiologists who accused the company of inappropriately using research discoveries to support unproven claims for its products. Mannatech, which sells glyconutrients through a large distributor network, advertises that its main product (Ambrotose) is “a blend of specific plant saccharides that support the immune system” and “support optimal cell-to-cell communication.” The critique stated that health claims for Ambrotose products are either unproven or have been disproved.

According to a report in this month's issue of Science, the Glycobiology article was withdrawn from the Internet after Mannatech complained and threatened legal action, but the journal's publisher has indicated that it will be republished with revisions. Another scientist quoted in the Science report stated that the notion that supplementary saccharide mixtures will improve health is flawed because most people's cells can make all the sugars they need from glucose in the diet. [Kaiser J. Who owns glycobiology? Science 318:734-737, 2007] In July, the Texas Attorney General charged Mannatech with carrying out an illegal marketing scheme that includes health claims that are not supported by legitimate scientific studies.

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