Consumer Health Digest #08-26

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
June 24, 2008

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.

Medical centers urged to curb drug industry support of medical education. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has urged all medical schools and teaching hospitals to adopt policies that prohibit drug industry gifts and services to physicians, faculty, residents, and students, and to limit industry support of continuing medical education activities. The recommendations were part of a new AAMC report Industry Funding of Medical Education, unanimously approved by the association's Executive Council. Mounting scientific evidence indicates that gifts, favors, and other marketing activities, both explicit and implicit, can prejudice independent judgment in unconscious ways. The report proposes that academic medical centers:

A few academic medical centers have already implemented policies of this type. The AAMC report expressed hope that the rest will do so by July 1, 2009. The AAMC is a nonprofit association that represents all 129 accredited U.S. and 17 accredited Canadian medical schools; nearly 400 major teaching hospitals and health systems, including 68 Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers; and 94 academic and scientific societies. Through these institutions and organizations, the AAMC represents 109,000 faculty members, 67,000 medical students, and 104,000 resident physicians.

Herbalife products accused of causing liver toxicity. Phyllis Chen, a 29-year-old woman who acquired acute liver problems after taking Herbalife products is suing the company and several others that manufacture its products and ingredients. The complaint states that Chen suffered acute liver problems that required hospitalization as a result of using a combination of Herbalife products. Chen is suing for breach of express warranty, breach of implied warranty, strict liability, negligence, and fraud. In a press release, Chen's attorney Christopher Grell stated that Chen's health had deteriorated within a few months after she began taking 23 Herbalife products. She could not hold food down, was nauseous, and was constantly fatigued. Her symptoms stopped when she stopped taking the products and returned (worse) after she resumed their use. She sought emergency care after she noticed blood in her urine, and the doctors opined that the most likely cause of her liver problems were the Herbalife products and instructed her to stop taking them immediately. Two recent journal articles have reported on 22 other cases of severe liver toxicity associated with the use of Herbalife products. [Schoepfer AM and others. Herbal does not mean innocuous: 10 cases of severe hepatotoxicity from dietary supplements from Herbalife. Journal of Hepatology 47:521-526, 2007 and Elinav E and others. Association between consumption of Herbalife nutritional supplements and acute hepatotoxicity. Journal of Hepatology 47:514-520, 2007] Tests commissioned by the Fraud Discovery Institute (FDI) have found high levels of lead in at least two of the Herbalife products that Ms. Chen had consumed. FDI findings led to the recent resignation of Herbalife president, Gregory Probert for including a nonexistent MBA degree on his resumé.

San Diego will fluoridate. The San Diego City Council has voted unanimously to begin implementation of equipment that that will fluoridate San Diego's public water supply by 2010. California state law requires cities with 10,000 or more water customers to fluoridate drinking water if they receive funding from an outside agency. The funding will come from the First 5 Commission of San Diego, which allocates funds from tobacco taxes to help promote the health and well being of children age 5 and younger. San Diego is the largest nonfluoridated city in the United States. Crozier S. San Diego authorizes community water fluoridation. ADA News, June 16, 2008]

Attorney sanctioned for abusing autism quackery blogger. A U.S. District Court Judge has sanctioned Attorney Clifford E. Shoemaker for issuing an abusive subpoena to someone who was not a party to a client's suit. Shoemaker represents many families who contend that vaccination caused their children to become autistic. The subpoena was issued to Kathleen Seidel, whose Web site features investigative reports about the lawyers, purported "experts," and entrepreneurs who promote the scientifically unsupported assertion that most instances of autism are a consequence of vaccine injury. The subpoena—issued shortly after Seidel wrote about fees Shoemaker had obtained in Vaccine Injury Compensation Program proceedings—requested a huge amount of information that had no relevance to his case. The judge quashed the subpoena and later stated that the subpoena was "an abuse of legal process, a waste of judicial resources, and an unnecessary waste of the time and expense" to Seidel. Shoemaker told the court that his request was based on his belief that Seidel was "not a mere mother of an autistic child," but was conspiring in some way to obstruct justice." However, the judge noted that Shoemaker did not offer "a shred of evidence to support his speculations." The judge ordered Shoemaker to take a continuing education course on ethics and on the discovery rules in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. He also asked that the appropriate professional conduct committee of Virginia State Bar be notified so that it could consider whether further action is needed.

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This page was posted on June 26, 2008.