Consumer Health Digest #11-10

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
April 28, 2011

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.

Mercola ordered to stop thermography marketing claims. The FDA has ordered Joseph Mercola, D.O. to stop making claims for thermography that go beyond what the equipment he uses (Meditherm Med2000 infrared camera) was cleared for. [Silverman S. Warning letter to Dr. Joseph Mercola, March 22, 2011] The warning letter said that statements on Mercola's site improperly imply that the Meditherm camera can be used alone to diagnose or screen for various diseases or conditions associated with the breast, they also represent that the sensitivity of the Meditherm Med2000 Telethermographic camera is greater than that of machines used in mammography. The statements to which the FDA objected included:

The Chicago Tribune has reported that Mercola has not complied with the FDA's order and intends to "fight the FDA . . . if they decide to take it further." [Tsouderos T. FDA warns doctor: Stop touting camera as disease screening tool. Chicago Tribune, April 26, 2011]

Mercola, who practices in Schaumburg, Illinois, also operates one of the Internet's largest, most trafficked, and least trustworthy health information sites. Mercola states that his site has over 300,000 pages and is visited by "millions of people each day" and that his electronic newsletter has over 1,600,000 subscribers. Quackwatch has additional information about his activities.

Anti-vaccination ad blasted. A 21-second video ad displayed on CBS's jumbotron billboard in New York City's Times Square has been severely criticized. The ad, issued by the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) and sponsored by, is intended to suggest that vaccination risks deserve greater attention.

New book criticizes anti-vax reporting. Former Newsweek senior journalist Seth Mnookin has detailed how the concerns of frightened parents have been magnified by "the willingness of the press to parrot quack claims" under the guise of reporting on these concerns. The book highlights the phony autism-vaccine link, but also describes how other scare campaigns have damaged public health. [Mnookin S. The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011] In February, during an interview with CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Bill Gates expressed similar concerns about vaccination fears. [Dellorto D. Bill Gates: Vaccine-autism link 'an absolute lie.' CNN Health, Feb 4, 2011]

Review downplays reported benefits of stanol/sterol esters. A literature review has concluded that margarines containing plant stanol/sterol esters should be viewed more skeptically. [Doggell SA. Lowering LDL cholesterol with margarine containing plant stanol/sterol esters: Is it still relevant in 2011? Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 19:37-46, 2011] Since 2000, the FDA has permitted manufacturers of spreads and salad dressings that contain plant sterols (also called phytosterols) to say that consuming specified amounts of these substances as part of a healthy lifestyle may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by lowering blood cholesterol levels. However, based on subsequent studies, the review's author has concluded:

The most widely marketed phystosterol-containing spread is Benecol.

ACCC attacks alleged "cancer cure" provider. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has discontinued legal proceedings in which it charged that Gwyneth Graham during had falsely represented on the Internet that she and/or others associated with her could and did cure cancer. The ACCC alleged that from at least January 2011, Ms. Graham, who was associated with The Spiritual Healing Association of Western Australia and the Australian & International Peace Operations Limited, promoted cancer-cure services on at least five Web sites. The sites are now disabled, but ABC News has reported that she promised 100% effectiveness and that her price list offered a full healing for $450. The ACCC initially sought injunctions, civil penalties, corrective notices, and costs. However, its Web site now states:

After considering all the circumstances of the case, including the immediate cessation of the allegedly contravening conduct, that no consumers appear to have been adversely affected and the personal circumstances of Ms Graham, the ACCC determined that it was no longer in the public interest to continue the proceedings. The court agreed to the ACCC discontinuing the proceedings on 21 April 2011. [ACCC takes action over cancer cure claims on the internet, ACCC news release, Feb 25, 2011, updated April 2011]

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This page was revised on May 1, 2011.