Consumer Health Digest #09-03

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 15, 2009

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.

Feds attack bogus cancer cures. The Federal Trade Commission has taken action against eleven marketers of bogus cancer cures. [FTC sweep stops peddlers of cancer cures. FTC news release,, Sept 15, 2008] Six cases were resolved by settlements:

The FTC filed suit against five cases:

Action in the above cases began through an Internet surf conducted in June 2007 by the FTC, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and Competition Bureau Canada. Following the surf, the FTC sent warning letters via e-mail to 112 Web sites between August 2007 and January 2008. Of these, nearly 30% either closed their sites or removed the problematic cancer treatment claims. The remainder were reviewed to determine whether a law enforcement action was warranted or whether they should be referred to the FDA or the Competition Bureau. The FDA sent warning letters to 23 U.S. companies and two foreign individuals. The Competition Bureau sent warning letters to nearly 100 Canadian companies, almost all of which have adequately corrected their marketing materials.

Desiccated (Armour) thyroid criticized. Desiccated thyroid extract, made from dried animal glands, was the most common form of treatment for hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone levels) before the individual thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) were discovered and became commercially available. During the 1960s, science-based physicians stopped using it because its potency can vary from batch to batch, which would make it harder to optimize the patient's thyroid hormone levels. Today, is is marketed as Armour Thyroid® by Forest Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a subsidiary of Forest Laboratories, Inc., of St. Louis. Doctors who prescribe desiccated thyroid typically diagnose "hypothyroidism" (underactive thyroid gland) in people with normal thyroid function. Many of these doctor base their diagnosis on "low" temperature readings determined by placing the thermometer under the armpit. This is not a valid test of thyroid function. Proper diagnosis requires blood tests that measure thyroid hormone levels. The Forest Pharmaceuticals Web site has a "Physician Locator" database that contains about 960 names. Because synthetic hormones are more reliable, the prescription of desiccated thyroid should be considered a sign of poor medical judgment. [Barrett S. Desiccated thyroid: Be wary of doctors who prescribe it. Quackwatch, Jan 13, 2008] Quackwatch has also posted an index to regulatory actions related to its use.

Top infomercial scammer hit for $37 million penalty. A federal judge has ordered Kevin Trudeau to pay more than $37 million for violating a 2004 stipulated order by misrepresenting the content of his book, “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.” [Judge orders Kevin Trudeau to pay $37 million for false claims about weight-loss book. FTC news release, Jan 15, 2009] In August 2008, the judge had fined him $5 million (a conservative estimate of his royalties from the book) and banned him for three years from producing or publishing infomercials for products in which he has an interest. The ruling confirmed an earlier contempt finding, the second such finding against Trudeau in the past four years. Urged by both the FTC and Trudeau to reconsider aspects of its August order, the Judge raised the judgment to $37,616,161 (the amount consumers paid in response to the deceptive infomercials). After noting that "Mr. Trudeau has proven himself incapable of respecting this court's narrowly tailored injunctions," the judge also revised the three-year ban to prohibit Trudeau from disseminating or helping others to disseminate any infomercial for any informational publication in which he has an interest. Trudeau is appealing to a higher court, but the judge ruled that the order will remain in force during the appeal process.

New book debunks AIDs denialism. Springer Science & Business Media has published Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy, a brilliant book about the activities and effects of people who deny that AIDS is caused by a virus, will be published next month. The foreward is posted on Quackwatch. Amazon Books is accepting orders.

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This page was revised on January 16, 2009.