Consumer Health Digest #20-29

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
July 26, 2020


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.


Groups call for enforcement against Mercola. Justice Catalyst Law, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the People's Parity Project have jointly sent letters urging the Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission to bring enforcement proceedings against Dr. Joseph Mercola nd his companies because of false claims that at least 23 vitamins, supplements, and other products available for sale on Mercola's website can prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19 infection. [FDA and FTC urged to bring enforcement proceedings against Joseph Mercola for false COVID-19 health claims. CSPI press release, July 21, 2020] Quackwatch and Science-Based Medicine have detailed articles about Mercola's background and previous wrongdoing.


Marketing of "stem cell treatments" for COVID-19 blasted. A recent paper reveals the widespread problems of: (a) direct-to-consumer marketing of purported ''stem cell treatments'' and ''preventive therapies'' for COVID-19, (b) biobanking pitched as ''biological insurance'' for the future treatment of COVID-19, and (c) misleading and hyped media reporting of preclinical and clinical stem cell research findings. [Turner L. Preying on public fears and anxieties in a pandemic: businesses selling unproven and unlicensed "stem cell treatments" for COVID-19. Cell 26:806-810, 2020] Marketing of unproven "stem cell treatments" has been forcefully condemned by the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR), the International Society for Cell and Gene Therapy (ISCT), the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine, EuroStemCell, the Stem Cell Network of Canada, Stem Cells Australia, and the Stem Cell Network North Rhine-Westphalia. Nevertheless, the paper notes that at least two professional "organizations are engaging in activities that risk propagating the misrepresentation that there are evidence-based stem cell therapies now available for COVID-19": the American Academy of Stem Cell Physicians and American Society for Interventional Pain Physicians. The paper concludes:

The commercial and clinical activities of businesses selling purported stem cell treatments and preventive measures for COVID-19 constitute sufficient risks to patient safety, public health, and truthfulness in advertising and commerce to warrant further investigations and enforcement actions. Patients need evidence-based therapies, preventive measures, and supportive care for COVID-19 rather than unproven and unapproved products marketed as effective treatments.


Omaha stem cell therapy clinic sued. The attorneys general of Iowa and Nebraska have each filed complaints against Omaha Stem Cells, LLC, Regenerative Medicine and Anti-Aging Institutes of Omaha, LLC, Stem Cell Centers, LLC and Travis and Emily Autor. The defendants allegedly:

The Iowa complaint seeks an injunction against the defendants, consumer restitution, and civil penalties of up to $40,000 for each violation of the Consumer Fraud Act and $5,000 for each violation of the Older Iowans Law. According to the Nebraska Attorney General's office, the Autors have also been affiliated with clinics in Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. [Schulte G. Officials: Stem cell firm bilked consumers in Iowa, Nebraska. Huron Daily Tribune, July 16, 2020]


Harmful impact of coronavirus conspiracy theories exposed. In a 22-minute video, comedian John Oliver has provided with help from several celebrities one of the most entertaining illuminations available of the harmful impact of the current pandemic of coronavirus conspiracy theories. [Coronavirus: Conspiracy Theories. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO), July 19, 2020] Oliver discusses the importance of raising three questions in response to conspiracy theories:

At least eight other Last Week Tonight with John Oliver videos about the novel coronavirus are available on YouTube.


FDA warns consumers to avoid HCG weight-loss products. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is advising consumers to avoid human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) weight-loss products. These products are typically sold in the form of oral drops, pellets and sprays, and can be found online, at weight loss clinics and in some retail stores. Claims that HCG can "reset your metabolism" and change abnormal eating patterns are unsubstantiated. HCG is a hormone produced by the placenta during pregnancy. The FDA has approved HCG as a prescription drug for the treatment of female infertility and for other medical conditions, but not for weight loss and not for use without a prescription for any purpose. Marketing of HCG for weight loss is typically accompanied by the recommendation to limit calorie intake to 500 per day, which is dangerous. [Avoid dangerous HCG products. FDA consumer update, July 13, 2020]

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This page was posted on July 27, 2020.