Consumer Health Digest #10-47

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
November 25, 2010

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. 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.

Oregon naturopath/acupuncturist loses licenses. Paul Shandor Weiss, who operated the Arura Clinic of Natural Medicine in Ashland, Oregon, has lost his naturopathy and acupuncture licenses. For several years, the clinic Web site claimed that Weiss "specialized in treating difficult cases and conditions" and that "Whatever your condition is, Dr. Shandor Weiss can probably help." The list of conditions treated included cancer, multiple sclerosis, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), memory loss, and more than 40 other serious problems. In 2007, the Oregon Board of Naturopathic Examiners notified Weiss that it intended to discipline him for mistreating 14 patients, improperly suggesting that he was a specialist, improperly claiming that he had greater skill than fellow physicians, and failing to keep adequate patient records. In one of the cases, Weiss's records stated that the patient's overall diagnosis was a "spirit, or demonic disease." In another case, he tried to sell a patient an allegedly special twin-size mattress for $1,700. In another, he attributed the patient's high blood pressure to electro-magnetic fields. In 2009, rather than facing these charges, Weiss agreed to surrender his naturopathy license. He was permitted to continue practicing acupuncture, but government investigators determined that his clinic Web site misrepresented the status of his naturopathy license and offered services outside the scope of acupuncture. Rather than face new charges, he agreed to surrender his acupuncture license, pay a $50,000 penalty, and permanently stop providing any form of health care in Oregon.

Do-it-yourself urine metal test debunked. Quackwatch has posted a detailed report on the Heavy Metal Screen Test marketed by NissenMedica of Sherbrook, Canada. The test is performed by placing a urine specimen in a test tube that contains dithizone, a chemical that turns color in the presence of various metal ions. The Quackwatch report explains why the test is unreliable and appears to to be a marketing tool—one of several types of scare tactics used to persuade people to undergo chelation therapy. In October the FDA ordered the primary U.S. distributor to stop selling the test and related oral chelation products.

Oprah quacks again. Oprah Winfrey has hosted another dangerous health-related program, this time promoting the alleged "miraculous" healings of João Teixeira de Faria (better known as John of God), a Brazilian grade-school dropout whose Web site claims he has "treated, either directly or indirectly, up to 15 million people during the past 40 years." Although his techniques have been appropriately debunked by James Randi, Joe Nickell, and other skeptics, Oprah's viewers were neither given nor directed to this information. Uncritical promotion of "faith healing" is dangerous because it can induce desperate people to waste large sums of money on travel and can delay the onset of effective treatment. Last year, Newsweek published a cover story describing how Oprah has promoted dubious and sometimes dangerous advice from anti-vaccine activist Jennifer McCarthy and several others. [Kosova W, Wingert P. Live your best life ever! Newsweek, May 30, 2009] Yet Oprah appears to be completely impervious to criticism and clueless about her harmfulness. In a recent discussion on Quackwatch's Healthfraud List, family nurse practitioner Carolyn Ewell made this observation:

Oprah is an entertainer, and providing entertainment content is what she does. Her sponsors stay with her because she brings in the ratings. This directly affects her bottom line. If she can do some good along the way, I'm sure it makes her feel good. But doing possible harm is probably easily dismissed since it's all just entertainment.

Major chiropractic survey updated. The National Board of Chiropractic Examiners has published the results of its periodic survey to which 2,371 randomly selected chiropractors responded last year. Previous surveys, reported under the title Job Analysis of Chiropractic, were performed in 1991, 1998-99, and 2003. The reports are interesting because they provide a basis to assess the minimum extent of irrational practices among chiropractors. The 2003 survey, for example, found that 37.6% used applied kinesiology muscle testing, 69.9% of respondents used activator methods, 38% used "cranial" techniques, 49.6% used sacrooccipital technique, 28% used Logan basic, and 25.7% used Palmer upper cervical, and 15.1% used the meric system. However, unlike the previous versions, the 2009 survey questionnaire did not ask about the use of applied kinesiology or any of the subluxation-based "adjustive procedures" that place chiropractic in an unfavorable light. The 2009 survey found that 38.6% of respondents said they prescribe homeopathic remedies, 13% use acupuncture/meridian therapy with needles, and 41.1% use acupuncture/meridian therapy without needles (acupressure), which it defines as "applying digital pressure to stimulate certain sites on the skin to affect distant functional mechanisms of the body . . . . based on the belief that these sites are organized along meridians that carry life force." The 2009 survey also found that 94.4% of respondents said they offer "nutritional/dietary recommendations," but the number does not indicate the extent to which the recommendations include unnecessary or irrational products. The 248-page report—Practice Analysis of Chiropractic 2010—can be downloaded free of charge or ordered in printed form for $25.

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This page was posted on November 24, 2010.