Reader's Guide to "Alternative" Health Methods, published by the American Medical Association (1993), is written by two AMA library officials, Stephen Barrett, MD, and NCAHF president William Jarvis, PhD. The 370-page book cites and analyzes more than 1,000 reports on "unproven, disproven, controversial, fraudulent, quack, and/or otherwise questionable approaches to solving health problems." The introductory section contains many new insights, and each major topic includes an overview by the authors. The book not only covers a wide range of topics, but also tells where to get further information. Available from NCAHF Books, P.O. Box 1747, Allentown, PA 18105, for $34.50 (NCAHF-members $31.00) postpaid; Canada orders add $1.
Note: This is not A Consumer's Guide to "Alternative Medicine," (Prometheus Books, 1992) by Kurt Butler, described in the Sept-Oct, 1992 NCAHF Newsletter (whose title we listed incorrectly). That book, which is based largely on investigations by its author, is also a worthwhile addition to a consumer health education activist's library. It is also available from NCAHF Books for $20 postpaid; $18 to members, plus $1 for Canadian orders. Both books may be ordered simultaneously from NCAHF Books for $53 postpaid ($47 for members) plus $1.50 to Canada.
On March 10, 1992, a Wisconsin judge enjoined Vital Products, Ltd of Muskego, WI, and its president Conrad LeBeau, from promoting and selling hydrogen peroxide (H202) products for treating serious diseases such as AIDS and cancer. In 1989, FDA seized $1,300 worth of LeBeau's products which contained 35% and 17.5% H202. The products had been distributed along with a brochure, Hydrogen Peroxide Therapy: New Hope for Incurable Diseases that made many unsubstantiated claims (including that these products would lessen the effects of Downs syndrome!). The FDA had considered the brochure to be an extension of the label for the products. LeBeau asked FDA if he could sidestep labeling law requirements by having the products and brochure shipped from separate points. FDA denied this stating that as long as the products and promotional materials come together at some point it constitutes labeling. LeBeau refused to comply with FDA's request to desist, and continued his unlawful promotions (which included other Vital Health products White Birch Mineral Water, Licorice Root Tea, and Lymph System). The judge also ordered LeBeau to notify his customers that these products were illegal and can no longer be distributed. [FDA Consumer (Nov) 1992;26:(9):43-4]
Two Tennessee physicians, Therial Bynum (of Murfreesboro) and Everett Echols (of Shelbyville), lost their medical licenses after perpetrating a scheme in which AIDS patients were recruited by telling them that the doctors needed to document 100 cures before coming forth with their FDA approved drug program. It was claimed that the identity of the drugs had to remain a secret in order to keep others from stealing or misusing the program. Patients were told to stop using AZT because it could "mask" the effects of the secret remedy. The FDA was alerted when a patient became suspicious. The state's Board of Medical Examiners conducted an investigation which eventually led to prosecution and license revocation. [FDA Consumer, (Nov) 1992;26:(9):40-1.]
Comment. Claiming to have a "secret" remedy is a fundamental tip-off to quackery.
Obesity & Health [Nov-Dec, 1992] reports that despite stronger action against weight loss fraud in 1992 by federal regulatory agencies, a new crop of questionable products is thriving. Listed are 18 products, their claims and locations. Included are: Systematic and Permanent Weight Loss Method, Glandiet, Acu-stop 2000, Thermoslim, Fat Eliminator, Dr. Johnson's Method, Kyo-Chrome, Pound Control 4040, Beldoxinal, Bodi-Trim, Liptrol, Diet to End All Diets, Fat-Erasers, Sugarol, No More Diets, Ming Dynasty Patented Formulas, Body Shaper and Dr. James Method. Promoters of 8 of the 18 products are located in New York, 3 in Florida (with 2 more from Georgia by a Florida physician Roy Kupsinel, founder of the American Quack Association). Other promoter's locations were Utah, Connecticut, New Jersey and the Philippines.
Just as we feared, a bill prohibiting the FDA from responsible regulation of food supplements, herbal remedies and other such scams, passed as a rider on the appropriations bill on Oct.7. Sources told NCAHF that Sen. Hatch agreed not to oppose another amendment to the bill in exchange for passing his measure. A CBS news report stated that Hatch was motivated by "the $700 million supplement industry within his state of Utah." Buccaneer entrepreneurialism has won a big one over consumer protection on this one. It is to be strictly "buyer beware" when it comes to purchasing dietary supplements.
Laurie Tarkan does a superior job of warning the public about bogus nutritionists who prey upon the public's ignorance about diets and foods. The article gives a substantive overview of the types of practitioners involved, kinds of credentials, and what various states are doing in an attempt to regulate the problem. Included is information on laws regulating the use of specific titles (but not the practices), those that regulate practices per se (the best in our view), and voluntary licensing or registration. Tips on how to spot a quack are also provided. This is the best article we've seen on the topic. [Fitness, Oct. 1992]
Pharmacist Earl Mindell's Herb Bible (Simon & Schuster, 1992) has failed to impress a leading expert in the field of herbal medicines. Varro Tyler, PhD, is a professor of pharmacognosy at Purdue University, and an author of the standard textbook on the topic, Pharmacognosy (Lea & Febiger). Mindell states that he owes his lifelong interest in herbs to a college course, Pharmacognosy 101. Tyler states: "as a professor in that discipline, I must say that it is unfortunate that he did not go on to Pharmacognosy 102." Tyler describes the Herb Bible as "woefully inaccurate," and wonders why a major publisher is willing to put its imprint on such a book. He predicts that it will do well as a sales tool for health food stores, but "fails miserably as a 'bible'." [Nutrition Forum, (Sept-Oct) 1992;9:40]
CULTOLOGISTS SUE SOCIAL SCIENCE ASSOCIATIONS
Two UC Berkeley professors who study cults have filed a RICO lawsuit against the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association alleging that several top executives attempted to destroy their careers. Drs. Margaret Singer and Richard Ofshe charge that from 1986 to the present the defendants resorted to improper influence of witnesses in state court litigations, filed untrue affidavits, attempted to obstruct justice in federal litigations, deceived federal judges, and committed wire and mail fraud. Plaintiffs say that these actions damaged their reputations as forensic experts in the fields of psychology and sociology in the area of coercive persuasion thus preventing their testimony against cults. Acts of collusion between several of the defendants and cult groups are specified. [The Cult Observer, 1992;9:(8):3-4]
Comment: Although we do not have knowledge of the facts in the above case, we are aware of two generalizations about cult activities on higher education campuses. One is the presence of cultists within academia who work behind the scenes on behalf of their groups. The other concerns a failing within the intellectual climate pervading many university campuses characterized by an inability to make critical judgments about ideological propositions. This failing is based upon two false assumptions: (1) nothing can be known for certain; and (2) anything is possible; therefore, tolerance is the only virtue. These ideas are so close to the open-mindedness of science that some people cannot tell the difference. In fact, physical laws represent known principles, and help us understand the limits of what is possible (science involves not only the discovery of what is, but also what isn't so. Anti-science cults dub science as "western" and posited its methodology as "only one way of discovering truth," with "truth" being entirely subjective and personal. Physical laws of science are denigrated as just a paradigm that will someday be refuted. The usual example cited is the displacement of Newtonian physics by Einstein's theory of relativity. It's error is the failure to realize that Newtonian physics, which still explain earthly phenomena, was not refuted but only revised to reflect the physics of outer space. Scientific tolerance is a virtue which is balanced by a responsibility to expose nonsense within a scientist's area of expertise, and to warn the public when such error are being promulgated. The on-campus popularity of anti-science cults may be a reaction to the failure of a kind of "religion of science" in which science is offered as the method for answering all questions. Science's self-imposed limits reduces its ability to fulfill emotional needs. The mind-control cults are most active within the academic community conducting self-serving "research," publishing intellectually-appealing materials, and, in some cases, even buying financially-strapped colleges to provide a respectable base for their operations. We believe that the legal action taken by Singer and Ofshe to be highly significant and well worth watching.
An analysis of nutritional supplement advertisements in 12 health and body-building magazines by scientists at the Centers for Disease Control led to the conclusions that physicians need to be concerned about supplement use and abuse. They say that unanticipated effects may occur with supplement use because many ingredients are not readily identifiable, and even for those which are identifiable, all potential effects of side effects may not be known. Also, supplement users may combine two or more products, and may set their own dosage regimens. Physicians and other health professionals are urged to routinely ask about supplement use when taking health histories. [JAMA, 1992;268:1008-11]
Flintstone vitamins tell kids that their product helps them grow big like the dinosaurs; Centrum Plus tells oldsters that its formulation incorporates the latest science on special needs of aging; General Nutrition Centers advertise that its biotin formulation will help prevent baldness. These messages are blatantly false or misleading, but where is the Federal Trade Commission? These may be examples of only "soft core quackery" (ie, it only costs money), but the impact has deeper meaning as health and nutrition misinformation become reinforced in the public's mind. With almost no regulation of dietary supplements for safety or effectiveness (see "Hatch Bill Passes") the long term effects could be serious for our democratic society. Democracy depends upon a well-informed electorate. Health policies which determine how we distribute our resources have been, and no doubt will continue to be, effected by the reinforcement of health misinformation in the public mind by slick advertising.
The Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) of Tulsa, Oklahoma, a subsidiary of the American International Hospital of Zion, Illinois, has filed libel suits against four physicians quoted in a June 21, 1992, Dallas Morning News article that was critical of the program (see Sept-Oct, NCAHF Newsletter). Curiously, the newspaper was not named in the lawsuit, only individual physicians (Drs. Charles Moertel, Arnold Relman, Victor Herbert, and Roger Winn) who made critical comments. The suit alleges that the doctors' comments were malicious because they were made without having conducted first-hand investigations, visitations, clinical record reviews, and so forth.
Comment. The CTCA action appears to be a SLAPP suit (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation). Of grave concern is the effect this action may have upon the willingness of experts to speak to the media. Reporters often complain that doctors and scientists are too closed-mouthed as it is. Although SLAPP suits are generally dismissed, they can be costly and time consuming making it easier to remain silent. Those of us who have seen the effect of anti-trust suits on the willingness of medical organizations to speak out on consumer issues have good reason for concern.
According to a health food industry report, 75 million Americans take a daily dietary supplement, and supplement sales account for 37% of all health food store sales (a whopping $1.4 billion). The top ten best sellers include 11 (two are tied for 5th), they are: #1 multi-vitamins; #2 vitamin C; #3 Vitamin E; #4 Calcium; #5 (tied) B complex & Beta carotene; #6 zinc; #7 calcium magnesium; #8 multiminerals; #9 potassium; #10 iron. The industry argues that these are safe because the National Poison Control Centers report few poisonings from supplements. The article also discusses the increasing market for herbal products and "nutraceuticals." [Health Foods Business, 8/92]
Comment. The facts are that there is so little oversight on the possible harmful effects of supplement abuse that even potential widespread dangers (such as the effects of iron on serum ferritin which may interact with other factors to cause serious diseases and premature death) go unassessed. The health food, herbal and supplement industries have acted as obstructionists to responsible regulation. In 1988 the industry tried to stop the reporting of adverse effects due to supplements. This year it lobbied hard for and achieved having dietary supplements exempted from meeting basic consumer protection standards of safety. If there is so little problem, why do these industries fear responsible oversight?
The political destruction of responsible medicine took a giant step forward in Alaska when Gov. Hickle appointed Robert Jay Rowen, MD, to the state medical board. This added to Alaska's systematic dismantling of consumer protection which included passing a so-called "medical freedom" law which only disciplines maverick doctors if their nonstandard methods cause harm to a patient (see "Those misguided medical freedom laws," Sept-Oct, 1992, NCAHF Newsletter). Rowan practices chelation therapy for circulatory diseases, homeopathy, and blood cleansing. He is anti-fluoridation, anti-dental amalgam and anti-aluminum cookware. Rowan has treated Hickle and other state officials. He claims to have cured the Lt. Governor's wife of back pain by ordering the extraction of an endodontically-treated tooth allegedly linked to her problem through "acupuncture circuits." The Alaska State Medical Association wrote to Hickle opining that Rowan has strayed so far from the diagnostic and therapeutic measures taught in medical schools that he no longer practices medicine, and that he should not sit on a board with authority over real MDs. At least one medical board member has resigned refusing to be associated with the board if the likes of Rowan are to be a part of it. Medical mavericks are delighted with this turn of events and refer to Alaska as "the medical freedom" state
Note: Alaska was also the first state to legalize the quack cancer remedy laetrile. It was a meaningless law because in order to circumvent the federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act no part of laetrile could cross state lines. Apricot pits don't grow in Alaska, nor was there a licensed drug-maker to produce the product there. The only value of the law was for propaganda use by laetrile promoters. Twenty-six states eventually passed similar laws with no subsequent benefit to cancer patients. The Rowan affair is detailed in the American Medical News, 10/2/92.
Staff writer Ames Alexander [Asbury Park Press (NJ) 10/6/92] details the methods of several chiropractic practice consulting firms which teach what appears to be thinly disguised lessons in insurance fraud. Alexander presents detailed facts which makes it apparent that health fraud and abuse are hard nuts to crack. Much of what is done is not actually illegal. Practice-building firms discussed in his report include Peter Fernandez (Practice Management Associates), Reggie Gold, Ron Halstead, Larry Markson, Terry Rondberg (Vertebral Subluxation Research Institute), and David Singer (the Scientology-linked firm). Representatives of NCAHF and the National Association for Chiropractic Medicine are widely quoted in this insightful article. The piece is one of a four-part series on health care fraud.
Scott Sokol, MD, raises a poignant question in the CHILD Newsletter ((1992, #2) when he asks how legislators can on one hand exempt Christian Scientists who let their children die from treatable disorders from prosecution for manslaughter, but charge people with murder who engage in mercy-killing. Both involve the law's response to the loss of life due to the actions of loved ones. We add that this is particularly puzzling when one considers that most of the objects of euthanasia are older adults whose lives are behind them while children lose most of their lifetimes. The answer to Dr. Sokol's question is probably that people wanting mercy-killing aren't well-organized as is Christian Science. The CS church has made a point out of securing special treatment for itself, even in the face of the Constitution which forbids Congress from recognizing the establishment of any religion. Dr. Sokol's question is one that ought to make legislators of conscience think.
Despite the fact that the Amish are a people living apart from the 20th Century, modern quackery has managed to find them! As a scholar interested in the behavioral psycho-social dynamics of quackery due to case reports of Amish people who have been victimized, I have long sought reliable information on the Amish. John A. Hostetler provides insight into Amish health practices and their vulnerability in his book Amish Society (Johns Hopkins Press, 1980) He says:
During recent years the Amish have been disproportionately influenced by articulate "back to nature" movements, special health-food interests, and vitamin and food-supplement industries that seek to sell their literature, ideologies, and products. The Amish lack of familiarity with good medical practices has made them vulnerable to such influences. (p.318)
Although there is nothing in the Amish's religion that precludes standard medical care, members often forego vaccination (only 26% had been vaccinated for polio in 1978), and often prefer chiropractors to MDs because they talk to them on a simpler level and lay on hands as part of treatment. Amish folk healers sometimes mimic chiropractic treatment in their practices. Another factor in Amish's vulnerability to quackery is found in their magical traditions that they brought with them from Europe. Magical beliefs and the metaphysical aspects of vitalism are inseparable. Vitalism is: "the doctrine that the functions of a living organism are due to a vital principle distinct from physicochemical forces." Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary; or as Dorland's Medical Dictionary puts it: "the theory that biological activities are directed by a supernatural force; opposed to mechanism." Vitalism underlies nearly every pseudomedical system of health care although it goes by different names among the various nonscientific healing belief systems:
Prana Hinduism (ayurvedic medicine)
Ch'i (Ki, Qi) Taoism and ancient Chinese medicine
Mana Polynesian folk medicine
Orenda American Indian medicine
Animal magnetism Franz Anton Mesmer
The Innate Chiropractic (D.D. Palmer)
Orgone energy Wilhelm Reich
Vital energy Homeopathy (Samuel Hahnemann)
Vis Medicatrix Naturae Naturopathy (misadapted from Hippocrates*)
*Hippocrates is credited as being the originator of scientific medicine because of his teaching that disease and healing resulted from natural, not supernatural (ie, the gods), forces. He named the natural healing force Vis Medicatrix Naturae. Naturopaths misrepresent Hippocrates' vital healing force when they present it in metaphysical terms.