Consumer Health Digest #15-05

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
February 1, 2015

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.

FTC green coffee bean settlement implicates "Dr. Oz Show." Lindsey Duncan and the companies he controlled have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they deceptively touted supposed weight-loss benefits of green coffee bean extract through a campaign that included appearances on The Dr. Oz Show. [Marketer who promoted a green coffee bean weight-loss supplement agrees to settle FTC charges used appearances on Dr. Oz, other shows to launch ad campaign. FTC news release, Jan 26, 2015] The agency charged that Duncan and his companies, Pure Health LLC and Genesis Today, Inc., deceptively claimed that the supplement could cause consumers to lose 17 pounds and 16% of their body fat in just 12 weeks without diet or exercise and that the claim was backed up by a clinical study. Under the settlement, the defendants are barred from making deceptive claims about health benefits or efficacy of any dietary supplement or drug product and will pay $9 million for consumer redress. The FTC's complaint describes in remarkable detail how Duncan's guest appearance was set up:

A producer with "The Dr. Oz Show" first contacted Duncan about appearing as a guest to discuss GCBE in the morning of April 5, 2012. A Dr. Oz Show producer wrote: "We are working on a segment about the weight loss benefits of green coffee bean and I was hoping that Lindsey Duncan might be available to be our expert. Has he studied green coffee bean at all? Would he be able to talk about how it works?" At that time, Duncan had no familiarity with the purported weight-loss benefits of GCBE, nor did Defendants sell GCBE. Nevertheless, within a few hours, a senior member of the Defendants' public relations team replied: "Awesome! Thanks for reaching out, Dr. Lindsey does have knowledge of the Green Coffee Bean. He loves it!" Later that day, Defendants contacted a manufacturer of GCBE and, on or about the same day, submitted a wholesale order for GCBE raw material.

The complaint also notes that shortly after Duncan agreed to appear on Dr. Oz, he began selling the extract and tailored an elaborate marketing campaign to capitalize on the "Oz effect"—wherein discussion of a product on the program causes an increase in consumer demand. After the show aired, Duncan's companies sold tens of millions of dollars' worth of the extract. In previous appearances on the Oz Show and elsewhere, Duncan represented himself as a naturopathic doctor with an N.D. degree. However, his "degree" was from Clayton College of Natural Medicine, which was never accredited and is included on the Texas Higher Education Coordination Board's list of Institutions Whose Degrees Are Illegal to Use in Texas. In December 2014, the Texas Attorney General filed a lawsuit accusing Duncan of violating the state's Deceptive Trade Practices-Consumer Protection Act and asking the court to issue an injunction and assess a substantial monetary penalty. Scott Gavura, R.Ph., has pointed out that if Oz and his producers had any interest in protecting their audience, they could easily have determined that green coffee extract had no proven benefit and that Duncan lacked respectable credentials. [Gavura S. Lies, fraud, conflicts of interest, and bogus science: The real Dr. Oz effect. Science-Based Medicine Blog, Jan 29, 2015]

More Burzynski associates facing charges. Four staff members of the Burzynski Institute are now facing charges of unprofessional conduct. Owner Stanislaw R. Burzynski, M.D. was charged in 2013. In 2014, the complaint was amended and additional complaints were filed against Zanhua Yi, M.D.; Alejandro F. Marquis, M.D.; and Stanislaw's son Gregory Burzynski, M.D., each of whom had treated some of the patients mentioned in the original complaint. The various complaints describe alleged patterns of substandard care that included (a) improperly accepting retainers prior to providing services, (b) failing to adequately evaluate tumor status, (c) lacking a plausible rationale for the drug regimens, (d) failing to provide adequate informed consent, (e) doing unnecessary tests, (f) failing to keep adequate medical records, (g) charging exorbitant prices for drugs and services, and (h) billing insurance companies improperly.

British electroacupuncture device marketer ordered to stop making extravagant claims. The British Advertising Standards Authority has ordered Bicom UK, based in Leeds, West Yorkshire, to stop claiming that its "bio-resonance" machines are effective against allergy; food intolerance; bacterial and fungal infections; viruses; toxins; cancer; depression; smoking; weight gain; sports injuries; digestive and skin problems; neurological disorders; irritable bowel syndrome; Crohn's disease; neurodermatitis; ADHD; dental problems; and even Ebola. The ASA also objected to claims that the company's home blood tests were reliable for diagnosing allergies. The ruling was triggered by a complaint by the Nightingale Collaboration, which has posted a detailed analysis on its Web site. A Bicom Optima brochure—still posted on Reson8's Web site—states:

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This page was revised on February 2, 2015.