Consumer Health Digest #17-06
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
February 5, 2017
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 Chair clarifies MLM requirements. Edith Ramirez, outgoing chairman of the Federal Trade Commission has summarized what multilevel marketing (MLMs) firms must do to avoid enforcement action by the Commission. In theory, MLM distributors can earn money by selling products and/or by recruiting others who do the same. However, enforcement actions have made it clear that if most of the income comes from selling distributorships, the setup can be considered a pyramid scheme. In a letter to the Direct Selling Association (which represents more than 100 MLMs), Ramirez said:
- Distributor compensation should be based on actual retail sales that are profitable, verifiable, and primarily to customers outside the distributor network—and not on recruitment of additional participants.
- The FTC and the courts have demonstrated skepticism regarding "'personal consumption." Although salespeople may enjoy purchasing the products they supposedly sell at retail, they should be compensated only for sales made to retail customers, not for buying the product for themselves or from other distributors.
- MLMs should have effective monitoring programs to ensure earning claims are truthful and non-deceptive.
- The recruitment process should not include unrealistic "lifestyle" testimonials that are true for only a tiny minority of participants.
Recent FTC actions against Herbalife and Vemma suggest that the agency will be looking more closely at the MLM industry. Whether the Trump Administration will interfere with this activity remains to be seen.
Education Secretary nominee linked to questionable treatment. The nomination of Betsy DeVos for U.S. Secretary of Education has led several major press outlets to investigate Neurocore Brain Performance Centers, a clinic chain in which she and her husband are the principal investors. Neurocore's Web site states that its primary approach—which it calls neurofeedback, EEG biofeedback, and/or quantitative EEG (qEEG)—is effective against attention attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD, anxiety, autism, depression, memory disorders, migraines, sleep disorders, and stress. The main treatment consists of hooking up patients to a device that records their brain wave patterns, showing movies to to them, and interrupting them when they become distracted. Neurocore asserts that this process "retrains" brains. In interviews, former employees expressed skepticism and child psychiatrists and psychologists with expertise in autism and ADHD questioned some of Neurocore's assertions, advertising, and methods. [Fink S and others. Betsy DeVos invests in a therapy under scrutiny. New York Times, Jan 30, 2017] Another press report noted that Michigan's Department of Insurance and Financial Services recently denied a claim for Neurocore's services for treating migraine. [Robinson B. Betsy DeVos is not just unqualified, she's dangerous. Electa Blog, Jan 22, 2017] DeVos, who is a billionaire, is also the daughter-in-law of one of Amway's founders.
In a video interview, referring to depression, anxiety, and ADHD, Neurocore's CEO asserted—witout providing evidence—that (a) medication can be helpful but is only a short-term fix that masks symptoms, (b) therapy can help in some cases but really just gives compensating behaviors, and (c) unlike these, Neurocore's neurofeedback deals with the root cause. Dr. Stephen Barrett believes that these statements range from false to unproven. Most notably, psychotherapy often addresses the sources of anxiety and depression. Similar claims appeared on Neurocore's Web site but were removed after press scrutiny began. For example, two weeks ago, its autism page stated that, "The positive effects of our autism treatment are proven and long lasting" and mentioned three studies as supportive evidence. The site also stated that "Neurofeedback relieves the symptoms of autism." Today, the "proven" claim is gone and the site says that neurofeedback "may reduce" the symptoms. Regardless, Dr. Barrett believes that cited studies are too small and preliminary to justify commercial use of the methodology.
Larry Lytle indicted. Last month, Robert J. Lytle and three of his associates were charged with conspiracy in connection with the sale of QLaser devices and one of the three pleaded guilty. Lytle (better known as Dr. Larry Lytle), had begun manufacturing and distributing low-level laser devices in 1997, shortly before the South Dakota Board of Dentistry had revoked his dental license for fraud and substandard patient care. In 2014, a federal complaint charged that Lytle, doing business as QLasers PMA and 2035 PMA, had marketed a dozen devices with illegal claims that they could treat "over 200 different diseases and disorders," including cancer, cardiac arrest, deafness, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, macular degeneration, and venereal disease. However, court documents indicate that although the FDA obtained a permanent injunction, Lytle continued selling the devices through the other distributors. Device Watch has additional information about low-level lasers and the relevant legal documents.
This page was posted on February 6, 2017.