Consumer Health Digest #09-07

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
February 12, 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.

Court rules out autism-vaccination link. The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has found no link between autism and vaccination. In a stunning trio of decisions, Special Masters have concluded that no credible evidence exists that MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) or thimerosal-containing vaccines can combine to to cause autism. The decisions completely debunked these notions and implied that doctors who base their treatments on them are unscientific and unethical. More than 5,000 families who claim that vaccines caused their children to become autistic are seeking compensation under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). The decisions came in three cases selected to "test" how similar cases should be handled. One Special Master said, "Sadly, the petitioners in this litigation have been the victims of bad science, conducted to support litigation rather than to advance medical and scientific understanding." Another said that the child's parents had been misled by doctors who were guilty of "gross medical misjudgment." Autism-Watch has posted key findings and links to the hearing transcripts and decisions.

Quackwatch discusses chelation therapy "board certification." Quackwatch has posted a report about the American Board of Clinical Metal Toxicologists (ABCMT). Originally called the American Board of Chelation Therapy, it is part of chelation therapists' effort to make themselves look more legitimate. ABCMT's current online membership directory lists 76 "diplomates" and 39 "diplomate candidates." However, it is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties, which sets the certification standards for in the United States. [Barrett S. Be wary of "board certification" in clinical metal toxicology. Quackwatch, Feb 13, 2009]

Most "clinical metal toxicologists" claim that "heavy metal toxicity" is an underlying cause of heart disease, autism, and many other diseases, including cancer. Their favorite test for diagnosing this alleged toxicity is a "provoked" urine test for which urine is collected after a chelating agent is administered. Chelation and other methods are then used to "detoxify" the body, which proponents say will enable it to heal whatever disease they claim to treat. Provoked testing is a fraud [Baratz RS. Dubious mercury testing. Quackwatch, Feb 19, 2005], and chelation therapy has no rational use against the diseases that "clinical metal toxicologists" claim to treat. [Green S. Chelation therapy: Unproven claims and unsound theories. Quackwatch, July 24, 2007] ABCMT's chairman, Rashid A. Buttar, D.O. is facing charges of financially exploiting patients brought by the North Carolina Board of Medicine. During a hearing held last year, Buttar indicated that nearly all of his patients are diagnosed with heavy metal toxicity and receive chelation therapy. Five of ABCMTs' other 12 officers, directors, and advisers have had legal and/or regulatory trouble in the past.

JAMA commentary rebukes Connecticut attorney-general. Two attorneys from the O'Neill Institute of National and Global Health Law have criticized Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal for forcing the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) to withdraw its 2006 clinical guidelines for diagnosing and treating Lyme disease. There is a clear scientific consensus that it is pointless to administer antibiotics for many months after the causitive organism is eradicated. [McSweegan E. Lyme disease: Questionable diagnosis and treatment. Quackwatch, March 12, 2007] Nevertheless, soon after the guidelines were issued, an organization that advocates long-term antibiotic use persuaded Blumenthal to investigate whether IDSA had violated state antitrust law by excluding opposing viewpoints and permitting members with financial ties to marketers of Lyme-related products to serve on the guideline committee. After its legal costs passed $250,000, the IDSA agreed to reassess its guidelines even though they were based on sound science. The commentary authors noted:

While it is unlikely IDSA's guidelines will change due to the investigation, the daunting potential for litigation by those unhappy with the outcomes of treatment guidelines may well chill the willingness of medical associations to make appropriate scientific evaluations of controversial topics—a development that would significantly threaten patient care and increase medical costs.

[Kraemer JD, Gostin LO. Science, politics, and values: The politicization of professional practice guidelines. JAMA 301:665-667, 2009]

Multivitamins flunk another prevention trial. A study of postmenopausal women has found no associations between the use of multivitamins and the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, or overall death rate. The study included 161,808 participants from Women's Health Initiative clinical trials involcing hormone therapy, dietary modification, and calcium and vitamin D supplements and 93,676 participants in an observational study. The participants were followed for a median of 8 years. About 41.5% of them used multivitamins. The researchers concluded that "the study provided convincing evidence that multivitamin use has little or no influence on the risk of common cancers, cardiovascular disease, or total mortality in postmenopausal women [Neuhauser ML. Multivitamin use and risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease in the Women's Health Initiative cohorts. Archives of Internal Medicine 169:294-304, 2009] This study adds to the evidence that well-balanced diets are more likely than dietary supplements to promote health.

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This page was posted on February 13, 2009.