Consumer Health Digest #18-39

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
September 30, 2018

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H., with help from Stephen Barrett, M.D. 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. Its primary focus is on health, but occasionally it includes non-health scams and practical tips.

Web site ads for stem cell treatments analyzed. Based on a series of Web searches, a researcher has identified 30 companies in Canada engaged in direct-to-consumer marketing of stem cell treatments offered at 43 distinct clinics in six provinces, with most located in Ontario. Her findings included:

The researcher was quoted by CTV News:

I think there are degrees in terms of the outrageousness of the claims, but I think the larger problem with this marketplace is that you have businesses kind of attaching themselves to the magic of stem cells, almost portraying stem cells as these magical entities that can do all kinds of things. And the problem is, they don't really have the kind of evidence that you need to support these claims. [Otis D. Dozens of clinics in Canada offer 'unproven' stem cell treatments: study. CTV News. Sept 26, 2018]

MCS guru dies. William James Rea, M.D., the leading promoter of the multiple chemical sensitivity concept, died on August 16 at age 83 after 45 years in private practice. Rea founded and directed the Environmental Health Center in Dallas, Texas. MCS promoters assert that the immune system is like a barrel that continually fills with chemicals until it overflows and symptoms appear. Some also say that a single serious episode of infection, stress, or chemical exposure can trigger "immune system dysregulation." The alleged stressors include practically everything that modern humans encounter, such as urban air; diesel exhaust; tobacco smoke; fresh paint or tar; organic solvents and pesticides; certain plastics; newsprint; perfumes and colognes; medications; gas used for cooking and heating; building materials; permanent press and synthetic fabrics; household cleaning products; rubbing alcohol; felt-tip pens; cedar closets; tap water; and even electromagnetic forces. Rae's 1996 book, Chemical Sensitivity, stated that he had treated more than 20,000 environmentally ill patients and stated that they "may manifest any symptom in the textbook of medicine." Rea also served as president of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), nearly all of whose members have espoused dubious concepts of multiple chemical sensitivitytoxic mold, and/or yeast overgrowth. At least 28 AAEM members, including Rea, have been subjected to licensing board actions.

In 2007, the Texas Medical Board charged Rea with (a) using pseudoscientific test methods, (b) failing to make accurate diagnoses, (c) providing "nonsensical" treatments, (d) failing to properly inform patients that his approach is unproven, (e) practicing in areas for which he has not been trained, and (f) representing himself certified by a board that is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. The case was settled in 2010 with a mediated agreed order that required Rea to revise the form he used to obtain consent to treat patients with injections of environmental substances. The form was required to state that (a) his injections contain only the "electromagnetic imprint" of the agents in question, (b) the therapy is not FDA-approved, and (c) the therapeutic value of the therapy is disputed. In addition, he could not start using formulations that contain any amounts of substances classified as hazardous or carcinogenic by the Environmental Protection Agency or any other federal or state regulatory agency. Other charges not related to informed consent were dropped as part of the settlement. After learning about the Texas case, the Ohio Board of Medicine ruled that even though Rea was not practicing in Ohio, where he also had a license, it would hold him to the same restrictions. Rea appealed this decision, but in 2013, the Franklin County (Ohio) Court of Common Pleas upheld the Ohio Board's ruling.

California's "Patient's Right to Know Act" will require discipline disclosure. California's new Patient's Right to Know Act of 2018, which takes effect July 1, 2019, requires physicians, podiatrists, naturopathic doctors, chiropractors, and acupuncturists who are placed on probation by their state licensing board to inform to their patients, patients' guardians, or health care surrogates, prior to the first visit, about the causes, length, and any practice restrictions of their probationary status. They must also disclose the board's telephone number and explain how to find further details on the licensing board's Web site.

Thyroflex testing scrutinized. Dr. Stephen Barrett has examined claims that Thyroflex testing is more accurate than standard blood testing relevant to thyroid function. The Thyroflex system, which uses a spring-loaded reflex hammer connected to a computer, is leased by NiTek Medical, of Scottsdale, Arizona to practitioners in many countries. The device is not cleared or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It is merely registered as a percussion instrument, which the FDA classifies as  a neurological diagnostic device that is exempt from premarket notification procedures as it is "used . . . to provide light blows to a body part," as "a diagnostic aid during physical examinations." However, NiTek's claims go beyond what is permissible for exempt devices. [Barrett, S. A skeptical look at Thyroflex testing. Quackwatch. Sept 25, 2018]

Woman charged with unlicensed dental practice. Krista Szewczyk, 47, who allegedly pulled teeth, applied fillings, replaced crowns, and wrote prescriptions for pain medications at her Marietta, Georgia office, County Dental, was arrested on August 23rd after a Paulding County grand jury indicted her on 40 counts of practicing dentistry without a license, three counts of writing unlawful prescriptions, one count of forgery, and three counts of insurance fraud. The indictment states that her actions date back at least six years. One former patient claims he had to have emergency surgery for an abscess after she pulled two of his teeth, and additional patients are expected to come forward. [Stevens A. Woman accused of posing as a dentist also under investigation in Cobb. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Aug 28, 2018] She was arrested a second time two weeks later following numerous tips from other alleged victims. [Stevens A. Woman accused of posing as dentist arrested again. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Sept 6, 2018] A reporter discovered that she was performing dental work between her two arrests. The City of Marietta has revoked and suspended the business license for County Dental, which was improperly licensed as a "management consulting" business. [Carr N. Business license revoked for office run by woman accused of posing as a dentist. WSB-TV. Sept 11, 2018]

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This page was posted on September 30, 2018.