Consumer Health Digest #09-32

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
August 6, 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.

Leading vaccine scaremonger debunked. John Snyder, M.D. has published a detailed analysis of the misinformation promoted by "Dr. Bob" Sears, author of The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for your Child. Sears's book discusses common fears, but instead of rebutting them, he suggests giving fewer vaccines or administering the recommended vaccines over a longer period of time (which leaves young infants unnecessarily vulnerable to several diseases). Snyder states:

Instead of accurately discussing the science for concerned parents, correcting the pervasive vaccine myths, and misinformation so prevalent in the media, on-line, and in our communities, he distorts, misinterprets, and misleads. Dr. Sears has either a very poor understanding of how to read the scientific literature, and of the scientific method itself, or he is intentionally misleading his readers. Either explanation indicates an unacceptable and egregious abuse of his public and professional responsibilities. Dr. Sears is not as blatantly anti-vaccine as others. In the beginning of the book he informs his readers that it “is not an anti-vaccine book” (his emphasis), and that other books over-emphasize the dangers of vaccines and do too much to scare parents. This is a nice set-up for the book, allowing parents to believe they are getting the straight, unbiased story from a doctor that really wants to inform. While Dr. Sears’ brand of fear-mongering is more subtle than some, it is at least as dangerous. [Snyder J. Cashing in on fear: The danger of Dr. Sears, Science-based Medicine Blog, July 30, 2009]

"Bioesthetic" dentist and collaborator sued. Carey Bertsch, of Scottsdale, Arizona is suing two local dentists for negligence, battery, lack of informed consent, and conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with treatment they administered to her. Bertsch's complaint states that in 2004, she sought advice from general dentist Thomas Wais about replacing a recently extracted tooth with a bridge or implant. Wais recommended treatment that included wearing braces and resurfacing and realigning many of her teeth. Collaborating with Wais, orthodontist Karen Berrigan administered procedures that the suit alleges were unnecessary and improper. As treatment progressed, Bertsch developed increasingly severe jaw, head, and neck pain that Wais falsely attributed to mercury poisoning. In 2008, Bertsch consulted a specialist in temporomandubular joint disorders who concluded that her pain was due to a bite dysfunction caused by the inappropriate treatment. The suit also charges that Wais failed to disclose that he was following the principles of "OBI dentistry." (also called "bioesthetic dentistry"), an unsubstantiated approach which postulates that an ideal model of jaw and tooth alignment provides a blueprint for optimal dental care. Bioesthetic dentistry offers a very expensive way to improve appearance by extensive application of crowns and other restorations. It is claimed to greatly improve function and to provide health benefits as well. Before-and-after pictures indicate that many patients improve their appearance. However, preparation for crowning requires removal of healthy tooth structure; and disturbing healthy, functional teeth can, in the long run, result in complications. [Barrett S. Baratz RS. Does "bioesthetic dentistry provide good value? Dental Watch, Aug 1, 2009]

Fibromyalgia zealot loses chiropractic license. The California Board of Chiropractic Examiners has revoked the license of Paul Whitcomb, D.C., who claimed to have developed a unique method for curing fibromyalgia. In November 2008, the board accused Whitcomb of incompetence, gross negligence, and unprofessional conduct, based on his management of seven patients. The accusation states that he (a) administered excessive treatments, (b) failed to provide adequate structural examinations, (c) failed to develop treatment plans that were medically necessary, (d) failed to perform sufficiently detailed follow-up examinations to gauge patient progress, and (e) advertised with sensational statements that were intended to deceive the public. The number of neck manipulations ranged from 60 to 143 [6]. In June 2009, an administrative law judge upheld these charges and recommended against probation:

The factors that militate against granting a probationary license are the breadth of respondent's failures to abide by the standard of care, his hubris and zealotry, his inability to recognize that he has harmed patients and his contempt for these patients, his inability to recognize that his treatments have the potential to harm other patients and his inability to recognize the importance of routine responsibilities; such as appropriate charting. Essentially, respondent has indicated repeatedly, by word and conduct, that he has discovered a cure for fibromyalgia and that nothing should stand in the way of his disseminating information about this cure and profiting from his discoveries. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to fashion restrictions under a probationary license that would put these concerns to rest.

In July, the chiropractic board revoked Whitcomb's license (effective August 31) and ordered him to pay $23,502.50 for the cost of its investigation.

Nature's Sunshine fined for alleged bribery. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has filed a settled enforcement against Nature's Sunshine Products Inc. (NSP), its chief executive officer Douglas Faggioli, and its former chief financial officer Craig D. Huff. The SEC's complaint alleges that in 2000 and 2001, when faced with changes to Brazilian regulations that resulted in classifying many of NSP's products as medicines, NSP's Brazilian subsidiary paid more than $1 million in cash to customs brokers and officials to import unregistered products into the country. The three defendants, without admitting wrongdoing, have consented to the entry of final judgments that would enjoin each of them from future violations. The judgment also calls for civil penalties of $600,000 for NSP and $25,000 for Faggioli and Huff. Nature's Sunshine is a publicly held multilevel company that markets nutritional, herbal, and personal-care products. It is alleged to have 730,000 distributors in 21 countries worldwide. A class-action lawsuit by stockholders is pending in federal court. The suit alleges that NSP officers misled investors and the SEC about the company's financial situation, causing an abrupt drop in share prices and delisting of the company from the Nasdaq stock exchange. [Harvey T. SEC fines Nature's Sunshine for bribing Brazilian officials. Salt Lake City Tribune, July 31, 2009]

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This page was revised on August 7, 2009.