On 10/19/92, a North Dakota regulatory agency and the Attorney General sent a letter of warning to Gold's Gym of Venice, Calif. regarding the promotion of their Nutritionalysis weight management program done at seminars throughout the state. The letter stated that Gold's Weight Loss Powder contains ingredients that have been banned because of unproved effectiveness. Further, the product was being misrepresented as "FDA approved."
Several individuals involved in the promotion have fraudulently misrepresented their credentials. Specifically, one person claimed to have a "PhD in Nutritional Science" from the College of Life Science, Austin, Texas, which is under injunction by the State of Texas [Editor's note: this is the same diploma mill alma mater of Harvey Diamond (Fit For Life) Judy Mazell (The Beverly Hills Diet) and Anthony Robbins (Unlimited Power]. Another falsely claimed to be a Registered Dietitian.
The State also issued a press release warning consumers to beware of weight loss and body building supplements being sold at health food stores and fitness centers.
Terry Gould describes the weird world of zealous health food hucksters who are working overtime to destroy the benefits of consumer protection law in America in "When the health food circus comes to town" (Eating Well, March-April, 1993).
Gould captures the spirit of the health food industry's holy war on the FDA as it fights hard for its ability to promote pseudonutritional medicine. This article is must-reading for everyone who values truth in labeling and advertising of health products.
Fleetwood Manufacturing, Inc. of Mesa, AZ, have agreed to settle charges that they made false weight-loss claims for their continuous motion passive exercise tables. The company is prohibited from making such claims in the future. (FTC News Notes, 2/22/93)
The Wall Street Journal (3/18/93) described current marketing efforts of chiropractors (DCs) to expand their practices to pediatric care. The piece focused upon the application of chiropractic's theory that manipulating the spine improves the body's healing by removing "subluxations" thus improving "nerve signals from the brain."
Instances are cited of DCs discouraging immunization and antibiotic treatment of ear infections, substituting manipulations instead. Some results have been tragic leaving children with partial deafness and paralysis. The article describes aggressive marketing strategies which are being systematically taught to DCs who want to expand into medicine's arena. Although alarmed, physicians are reluctant to speak out due to the antitrust lawsuit that DCs won against the AMA in 1987.
Comment: The WSJ article really got the attention of the chiropractic public relations people. On March 22, the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) ran a full-page ad with "An open letter to the readers of the Wall Street Journal." The quickness of the ACA's response suggests that it was mainly a PR piece aimed at damage control, but it had significant content.
For the first time that we know of, the ACA has openly condemned substituting spinal manipulation for antibiotics and childhood vaccinations. We suspect that the fact that the Clinton Administration is redesigning health care, and favors immunization for all children, played a major role in the ACA's reaction. While we applaud the ACA statement, we would have been more impressed if a general meeting of ACA members had voted a resolution supporting antibiotic therapy and immunization.
The PR nature of the message was also clear by its portrayal of chiropractic as a separate healing system, and by reciting its line that "no single healing art has all the answers to the many health problems affecting mankind" and pitching the idea of DCs "working as a team" with other health practitioners. Translation: DCs should be accepted as equals to MDs. This is a continuation of the ACA's strategy of selling DCs as full-fledged doctors (see "Inside the ACA: selling the chiropractor as a 'family doctor'," NCAHF Newsletter, J/F, 1983).
The effectiveness and potential adverse effects of several alleged athletic performance aids (aka, ergogenic aids) was reviewed by Smith and Perry (The Annals of Pharmacotherapy, 1992; 26:653-9). Included were:
Growth hormone: ineffective; potential adverse effect is acromegaly (giantism), but this is vaguely reported.
Amphetamines: Mixed results. May aid under-conditioned and highly motivated performers, but not those who are highly-conditioned or not highly motivated. Adverse effects include serious psychological and behavioral distortions, cardiovascular and gastro-intestinal problems, and death. Abrupt withdrawal from high doses produces another set of adverse reactions.
Cocaine: No good data, but should have similar effects as amphetamines. Adverse effects are similar to those of amphetamines with numerous reports of strokes and heart attacks.
Other sympathomimetics: Nine are listed, the most popular of which are ephedrine and the weight loss aid phenylpropanolamine (PPA). Both effectiveness and adverse effects are similar to amphetamines.
Caffeine: Doesn't affect high-intensity, short-term performance, but may prolong endurance. Adverse effects are well-established signs of caffeine intoxication.
Blood doping (intravenous blood infusion to increase O2 capacity): 15-30% improvement in endurance with better fit athletes improving the most. Adverse effects include elevated blood viscosity leading to deceased cardiac output, blood flow velocity and peripheral blood O2 concentration; risk of blood clots; and usual transfusion risks.
Epoetin (a red cell production stimulating hormone): Epoetin is supposed to accomplish the same benefits as blood doping without the inconveniences and risks of transfusion. There is little evidence to support its effectiveness, and ethical considerations are hampering further studies. Adverse effects are similar to those named above involving increased blood viscosity.
A health food supplement, gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB; aka, somatomax and sodium oxybate), a substance marketed to fill the gap left by L-tryptophan as a sleep aid, was responsible for a near-fatal episode in a 24-yr-old man. After drinking several beers, the man took a small amount of GHB to get "high." A while later he vomited and collapsed. During attendance by emergency medical service, he suffered respiratory arrest, but was saved by a respirator. He was discharged 24-hrs later in normal physical health. [Texas Med, 1992;88:(12):10]
Body Wise International is another multi-level marketing firm which offers dubious health care products. Some are common vitamins, minerals or nutrients with exaggerated claims. At least one constituent, germanium, is potentially dangerous.
The unwise part of the Body Wise package is a monograph to be read by distributors and their customers What Symptoms to Expect When You Improve Your Diet by Stanley Bass, ND, DC, PhC (Philosopher of Chiropractic). Bass encourages people to not only ignore adverse reactions to herbs and supplements, but to rejoice in them because they represent poisons being released from the body. He claims that the worse these reactions are, the worse would be future diseases if the toxins were not expelled.
The symptoms Bass names are headaches, fever, colds, skin rashes, bowel sluggishness, diarrhea, tiredness, weakness, nervousness, irritability, mental depression, and more. A few years back, Bass's advice caused an Herbalife distributor, former pro football player Bivian Lee, to ignore adverse symptoms that proved to be a fatal cardiomyopathy.
Herbalife settled out-of-court for an undisclosed amount for wrongful death based upon the theory that the misinformation caused Lee to ignore symptoms that normally would have led him to seek medical help (see NCAHF Newsletter, Jul-Aug, 1986).
Sharks Don't Get Cancer, a book popularized by CBS's 60 Minutes (2/28/93) goes against what is generally taught regarding the biology of cancer, that all species of animals get cancer, and that even plants have neoplastic diseases.
The claim underlies the allegation that since sharks have cartilaginous skeletons, and cartilage may have a factor that inhibits the growt h of blood vessels which tumors must have after they reach a certain size. This claim leap-frogs over the reality that cartilaginous tumors (chondro-sarcomas) occur in humans. Upon checking with Scripps Institute of Oceanography, we were told that the data on the topic are insufficient. In fact, the authors hedge by stating that sharks "almost never get cancer" (p.37) and, "few, if any, sharks get cancer" (p.57).
The worst thing about 60 Minutes's broadcast was that it made a pretense of having competent experts evaluate the value of treating cancer with powdered shark cartilage. It brushed off considerations of safety without acknowledging that introducing a substance into the body that can affect blood vessel development might adversely affect circulation in vital organs. The test it showed which was monitored by the Cuban Medical Corps (!) did not differentiate between different types of cancer. Mike Wallace was shown jogging with an old man with prostate cancer who couldn't walk before treatment, but now could jog. No one noted that this kind of variation is not unusual for prostate cancer patients.
Space prevents listing all of the flaws in the coverage, but they were numerous and caused us to wonder who at CBS is the zealot who decides to do such irresponsible journalism.
It appears that Orrin Hatch's support of the supplement industry stems from more than simply responding to his constituency and his ideological support of an "anything goes" health market-place. A 2/12/93 Los Angeles Times report says that his bill which put a moratorium on FDA's regulatory work benefitted a firm in which he holds stock
Time (3/1/93) failed to tell the real story that the new NIH Office of Alternative Medicine was created by the political influence of Washington insiders, not because of the merit of so-called "alternative therapies," and that this is unjustified in a period of tight budgets and runaway health costs.
Author Anastasia Toufexis's "Holistic Sampler" badly misinformed readers. It says that chiropractic is "proved effective for relieving low back pain," but the RAND study(1) concluded that "the efficacy of spinal manipulation is neither proven nor disproven at this time." It says that acupuncture is "effective for chronic pain and addictions," but meta-analyses concluded that "the efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of chronic pain remains doubtful" (2), and "claims that acupuncture is efficacious for cigarette smoking, heroin or alcohol addiction are ... not supported by results from sound clinical research."(3)
Touflexis says that homeopathic medicines have been "found useful for influenza, headaches and allergies," but meta-analysis of homeopathic clinical trials concluded that evidence was "not sufficient to draw definitive conclusions because most trials were of low methodological quality..."(4). This adds to the disservice done by Time's 1991 cover story which overstated the popularity of nonscientific "alternative medicine" based upon a nonrepresentative Time/CNN telephone survey.
The survey results, coupled with a misuse of Eisenberg et al (NEJM, 1993;328:246-52) has become the basis for numerous other media articles making the same assertion. Americans should be able to expect more from a leading national news magazine than it has been getting on the important topic of nonscsientific health care.
Citations:(1) Shekelle, et al, The appropriateness of spinal manipulation for low back pain. Santa Monica:RAND, 1991. (2) Riet, et al, "Acupuncture and chronic pain: a criteria-based meta-analysis," J Clin Epi, 1990;1191-9. (3) Riet, et al, "A meta-analysis of studies into the effect of acupuncture on addiction," Brit J Gen Med Pract 1990;40:379-82. (4) Kleijnen, et al, "Clinical trials of homeopathy," Brit Med J, 1991;316-23
Thousands of people are selling health products as "independent distributors." Product lines typically include vitamin supplements, weight loss formulas, fiber-containing snack bars, and/or herbal remedies. NCAHF receives so many inquiries about such products that it has developed some general caveats.
In the 1970's, I predicted that the 1990's would be plagued by doomsday cults, and that some would be associated with the Seventh-day Adventist church (SDA), of which I am a member. These predictions were not based upon clairvoyance, but a knowledge of history. The approach of the year 2,000 has great religious significance to some, just as did the approach of the end of the first millennium (New-Agers also are excited about the numerological significance of a new millennium; many look for the "dawning of the Age of Aquarius."). Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (Mackay, 1841), a book that recounts the history of human irrationalism, described the scene:
It was universally believed that the end of the world was at hand; that the thousand years of the Apocalypse were near completion, and the Jesus Christ would descend upon Jerusalem to judge mankind. All Christendom was in commotion. A panic terror seized upon the weak, the credulous, and the guilty, who in those days formed more than nineteen-twentieths of the population. Forsaking their homes, kindred, and occupation, they crowded to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Lord, lightened, as they imagined, of a load of sin by their weary pilgrimage. To increase the panic, stars were observed to fall from heaven, earthquakes to shake the land, and violent hurricanes to blow down the forests. All of these ... were looked upon as the forerunners of the approaching judgments. Not a meteor shot athwart the horizon that did not fill a district with alarm, and sent away to Jerusalem a score of pilgrims... Men, women and children, trudged in droves to the holy city, in expectation of the day when the heavens would open, and the Son of God would descend in his glory.
The resulting clash between the Christian pilgrims and the Moslem world was more than two hundred years of holy war known as the Crusades. It was a time before the printing press when few had access to the scriptures, for the Bible did not say that Christ would return at the end of 1,000 years, but that following his second coming the redeemed would spend a millennium residing in heaven with him. Applying the analogy of creation's six days of work and a one-day rest, some believe that the sinful earth will last for 6,000 years followed by a 1,000 year symbolic sabbath rest in heaven. Using Bishop Usher's calculations that the earth was created in 4004 BC, the 6,000 years would be up in 1996. The date can't be certain due to calendar changes and possible calculation errors, plus a statement that God's work "would be cut short for righteousness sake." All this allows for a number of different theoretical doomsday dates and variety of cults. I am not aware of any religious denomination that formalizes these ideas, so I assign them to the category of folk religion. When I hear these theories discussed I like to point out that the year 2000 will be 4698 according to the Chinese calendar and 5741 according to the Jewish version. The Chinese may be dismissed as pagans, but the Jewish calendar can hardly be ignored!
The SDA church began as a remnant of the early 19th Century Millerite movement that expected Christ to come in 1844. The bitter experience known as the "great disappointment" taught SDA's to pay closer attention to the scriptures which said that "no man knows the day or hour of his reappearing." It also made people realize that doomsday is a very personal matter that every individual experiences at death. Those who study the psychology of death say that people perceive death in two different ways. The death of others and the death of myself. People accept the death of others as an everyday experience with little emotion, but the death of myself is the end of all things, oblivion, the greatest possible personal disaster, total annihilation, doomsday! When someone we know personally, or something that is part of our lives (even a pet) dies, we experience a bit of the death of myself. Rational SDAs have developed a healthy mental attitude toward death and the Second Coming. Rather than doomsday, the event is seen as joyous deliverance and an end of human suffering. Doomsday cultists see it as a time of chaos and despair. Accounts from the Millerite movement of sexual orgies and mass suicides remind us of the danger of irrationality on this topic. The Waco, Texas massacre is a reminder of the fragility of human sanity when thinking about doomsday.
[For an account of the early adventist experience see "Unfulfilled prophecies and disappointed messiahs," Chapter one in When Prophecy Fails (Festinger, New York: Harper & Row, 1956)]