"Impediments to basing government health policies on science in the United States," (Soc. Sci. Med., 1992;35:531-40) by Rutgers University's Michael Greenberg examines an issue that is fundamental to NCAHF's existence.
Greenberg covers a wide scope of inconsistencies between what is known scientifically and government policies. Included are actions involving exaggerated environmental risks, tobacco policies, diet and health, asbestos, and more. He sees some improvement in the future as thought leaders take these issues more seriously and begin disseminating more accurate information. He is less hopeful about government curtailing Madison Avenue's exploitation of science to sell wellness products of dubious or no value.
In his reasons for pessimism he cites a recalcitrant national leadership with misplaced priorities (this was written while Bush was still President.)
In the Nov-Dec, 1992 issue we reported that two UC Berkeley professors who study cults had filed a RICO lawsuit against the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association alleging that several top executives had attempted to destroy their careers through various improper actions. It was recently reported that the lawsuit has been settled in favor of the plaintiffs. (The Cult Observer, 1993;10:(3):6) Members also receive the NCAHF Bulletin Board with 30% more activist oriented consumer health information.
According to a report from Costa Rica, the demand for shark cartilage, the dubious cancer remedy promoted on CBS's 60 Minutes in late February, has increased production more than 7-fold at Tecnologica del Tiburon, the processing plant at Puntarenas.
Shark has become the most profitable catch for local fishermen. Much of the shark is caught in waters 300 miles from the processing plant in Puntarenas near pristine and protected Cocos Island--illegally within the 9-mile limit. Sharks may not be able to withstand the demand since most commercial species do not begin breeding until they are 10-12-years-old. Many produce just two offspring per breeding cycle. The factory is not worried about depletion. Its manager says that "when there is a scarcity, we will import cartilage from Guatemala or El Salvador." The company also plans to open a factory at Bluefields, a small Nicaraguan Caribbean coastal town.
The report points out that both the chief of oncology at Costa Rica's National Children's Hospital and a spokesperson for the National Cancer Institute consider shark cartilage for cancer a farce. The report says:
If a Costa Rican enterprise is contributing both to medical fraud and ecological disaster, the country seems unconcerned. President Rafael Calderon presided over Tecnologica del Tiburon's inauguration. Last year, Costa Rico's Export Council awarded the factory its prize as the most original new export business.
(Jimenez J. "Disputed cancer 'cure' spells disaster for Costa Rica's sharks," Tropical Conservation News-bureau, 4/26/93; contact 212-677-1900).
Comment: This is not the first instance in which demand for bogus medicine has threatened wildlife. Crocodile (scales), tortoise (shell), musk deer (glands), monkeys (arms), rhino (horn), black bear (gallbladders), tigers (many parts) and many other animals are killed for useless traditional medicines.
We've been following a sad and bizarre court case at San Jose, California, in which a father is accused of beating his 11-year-old son with a belt, stick and wooden spoon because the boy refused to eat his own vomit!
The father, 47-yr-old Stanford University accountant Dan Bloomquist, and his 50-yr-old wife, relied on the advice of chiropractor William "Bud" Keith. The boy was eventually diagnosed as suffering from Addison's disease, but was thought by Keith to be suffering from "a mental block."
The Bloomquists were devoted followers of Keith who based his teachings on health, nutrition and interpersonal relations on the scriptures. They are reported to have followed Keith's regimen of exercise, diet and supplements "religiously." This sad case seems to have resulted primarily from Keith's inability to diagnose the boy's illness and his failure to refer the family to a medical doctor. Keith took the 5th Amendment when asked to testify in the case.
The Bloomquists were described as "loving parents." Curiously, the couple's 14-yr-old daughter, who suffered from similar symptoms, died of intestinal collapse on a family car trip to Arizona in 1985. (San Jose Mercury News, 5/93)
A Chicago Tribune report says that after looking the other way for years, Chinese authorities have decided to crack down on the sale of magic cures for ailments considered incurable in the rest of the world.
Chinese promoters have been cashing in on the fame of China's ancient and mystical medical traditions. A new commission will examine the composition of the pastes, potions and pills being peddled to the desperate. The action may have been prompted by a huge street banner advertising Love Solution, a cream that could kill the AIDS virus "within two minutes."
Recently, the New China news agency announced that a Danish company had bought 40 tons of capsules alleged to prevent AIDS, paying $260 million. The same day the People's Daily announced that a Chinese doctor had cured AIDS in Tanzania using traditional Chinese medicine. There also is a toothpaste than claims to cure senility.
U.S. Marshals recently seized and destroyed $42,000 worth of Elekiban magnetic devices. Promoters claimed these would stimulate blood circulation and relieve stiffness in the shoulder, neck and waist. In addition to unsubstantiated claims, promoters falsely claimed that Elekiban had FDA approval. These products were manufactured in Japan and promoted by its Canadian partners and a New York based distributor. (FDA Consumer, 6/93)
Therapeutic Claims in Multiple Sclerosis 3rd ed. (1992) is a model resource that both informs and insulates patients against quackery.
The book presents in brief, understandable terms the structure and function of the central nervous system (target of MS), how MS is diagnosed, who gets it, what is known about causes, a description of its natural course without treatment, and how its progress is measured. With this background, readers can understand the need for controlled studies to determine the validity of treatments.
The book describes the history and rationale for treatments used to treat MS, how they have been arrived at, and continuing problems faced by clinicians and researchers. Individual treatments are described, their rationale presented, an evaluation given, risks/costs described, followed by a concluding statement of the current status of the procedure in the opinion of the IFMSS* Therapeutic Claims Committee.
These summaries permit readers to understand the background of therapies and why they may not be still in use. Additional chapters cover methods used to prevent worsening of MS, symptomatic and general management, and miscellaneous empirical treatments. Included is a plethora of speculative interventions from dental amalgam removal to megadoses of vitamins. This book is truly the source for reliable information on therapies currently in use and a guide to what doesn't work for MS; it a must-have for anyone interested in MS patient education.
As a model, this book has the advantage of only having to deal with a single disorder (for instance, scores of books would have to be written for cancer since different diseases and treatments are involved); however, it provides an example of how to provide patients with the information needed to judge medical procedures. Source: Demos Publications, 386 Park Ave S, #201, NY, NY 10016.
[*International Federation of Multiple Sclerosis Societies]
Jack Raso, MS,RD, presents Mystical Diets (Prometheus, 1993, 291 pp) which exposes paranormal, spiritual, and occult nutrition beliefs and practices.
Chapter one "From believer to skeptic: my personal odyssey" is worth the price of the book as Raso describes his past experiences as a supplement junkie, health food store "nutritionist," health seeker, and his eventual acceptance of reality. Raso identifies the thread that runs through most of the healing systems covered by the book as a belief in a "vital force" ("healing power") that goes by many names*
Included among the mystical diets are: Macrobiotics, Natural Hygiene (naturopathy, TC Fry, Harvey Diamond), Edgar Cayce (A.R.E. Clinic), Ayurvedic Medicine, FAIM (Atkins, Huggins, Schachter, Wright, McGrady), Anthroposophical Medicine, Gerson cancer treatment, Matol Km, Nature's Sunshine, Nutripathy, mail order nutrition (a survey of products advertised in popular publications), chiropractic nutrition, nutrition diploma mills ("nontraditional" health education), and useful glossary to help sort out terms.
The individuals, products and services named in this short review are only a sampling of what this book covers. The book is available through NCAHF Book Sales (address on mailing page) $24 (members 10% off)+$2 p&h.
[*Vitalism and its many names were described in the Nov-Dec, NCAHF Newsletter article on the Amish's vulnerability to quackery]
The FDA has published a special edition of the FDA Consumer dedicated to the new food labeling rules. Included are health claims and the present status of dietary supplement regulation. Order from FDA, HFE-88, 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20857.
After addressing a group of pharmaceutical industry scientists on quackery, my host stated that his company's marketing staff needed to hear my presentation because many of their practices fit the criteria of quackery.
A recent report verifies what he said. A study of 109 full-page pharmaceutical ads from 10 leading medical journals in which 2 physician specialists and 1 academic clinical pharmacist, using FDA guidelines, judged their educational value and overall quality found:
(Annals of Internal Medicine, 1992;116:951-2)
This report recalls a statement by Dr. Kennet h Milstead, an FDA official, who was seeking to mark the border beyond which quackery lay:
When an untrue or misleading health claim is ... made for a food, drug, device or cosmetic, this is quackery. ... It matters not whether the quackery is practiced by the witch doctor or the licensed medical practitioner; the Indian medicine man or the pharmacist; the proprietary drug manufacturer or the prescription drug manufacturer; ... the fly-by-night operator or some of our most respected food, drug, device and cosmetic manufacturers -- it is still quackery. (In The Medical Messiahs, Princeton Univ Press, 1967, p.269)
Overblown pharmaceutical ads may not be as dangerous as promotions of Mexico cancer clinics, but to make consumer protection laws enforceable, there has to been consistency in what is regarded as quackery. Drug marketers can help by setting a proper example.
The parents of handicapped children are at high risk to fads. A recent addition to the list of unproven methods alleged to help deal with autism is facilitated communication (FC), an import from Australia. FC is communication by a person whose response is expressed through the use of equipment and is dependent upon the assistance of another. The problem is that the person doing the facilitating cannot always distinguish between the input of the one being facilitated and their own. Mulick, et al, discuss in detail the vulnerability of the parents of autistic children, and the theory, practices and problems of FC in The Skeptical Inquirer, Spring, 1993.
Remember the attack on milk for kids launched by the animal-rights supported Physicians for Responsible Medicine? The group presented old information as news and distorted it to fit its agenda. Meister sets the record straight in "much ado about milk," Priorities, Spring, 1993. The information is worth having because attacks on milk are recycled periodically.
William Jarvis, PhD and Jane Orient, MD, squared off in a "Point/Counter-point debate on "Should companies be able to distribute unproven medicines without government intervention?" in the Winter, 1993 issue of Priorities, a publication of the American Council on Science and Health. Consumer health educators will find this debate a useful tool for discussing the need for consumer protection in our free enterprise society. Another useful item on the above question is a review of Free To Be Foolish (Princeton Press, 1991), "The right to self-harm" which appeared in Science, 1992;255:480-1.
A report by the U.S. Public Health Service says there is no solid evidence of harm from dental mercury amalgams. The report, Dental Amalgam: A Public Health Service Strategy for Research, Education, and Regulation, said that mercury can cause rare allergic reactions. It recommends monitoring for possible long-term effects. (The Nation's Health, May-June, 1993)
714-X is a substance produced in Quebec by Gaston Naessens. It has been analyzed by the Canadian Health Protection Branch and found to contain a mixture of camphor, ammonium chloride and nitrate, sodium chloride, ethanol and water. Approval for the medicinal use of 714-X in Canada would require documentation of the product's safety and efficacy. As of March, 1993, no substantive evidence had been submitted to Health and Welfare Canada's Health Protection Branch on the safety or efficacy of 714-X and the agency says that it regards the substance to be an unproven product.
The Expert Advisory Committee on HIV Therapy to the Health Protection Branch has unanimously deplored the use of 714-X for the treatment of cancer or AIDS. The Committee stressed that there could be adverse side-effects from this treatment. Under Canada's Emergency Drug Release Program a physician may request an unapproved drug on compassionate plea for a patient. (From: 714-X: An Unproven Product, Health Protection Branch Issues, 1/25/90; rechecked 3/93)
Gaston Naessens has a long history of promoting dubious cancer remedies. In 1950 he was peddling GN-24 (his initials) in Switzerland which was a secret "chemotherapeutical formula" found to contain some mineral salts and methylene blue. In 1959, he introduced Anablast, another secret remedy alleged to act not on cancer cells but "what causes their release." Naessens' claims that Anablast could treat leukemia led to a public furor in Corsica on behalf of Naessens who had been convicted of unlawfully practicing medicine in 1956.
In 1964 the French Ministry of Public Health warned of false cures and sent the Inspector General of Public Health to conduct inquiries. Naessens agreed to a test and failed. He was again convicted of practicing medicine and pharmacy illegally in 1965. Naessens claimed to have studied biology at the University of Lille, but records fail to verify this. (Unproven Methods of Cancer Management, American Cancer Society, 1967)
Naessens immigrated to Canada (c.1972) and became its problem as he began to build a support group for his "ultramicroscopic condenser" alleging to see "somatids" (said to be "DNA precursors, the ground-zero elements of life"). Naessens has attracted a following of desperate patients and ding-a-ling freelance writers who spin yarns about the grand medical conspiracy to squelch innovative cancer cures. These conspiratorial scenarios have a ready audience, and Naessens has become one of the folk heroes of the paranoid faction.
In 1985, Drs. Carter and Valli, of the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, studied the use of 714-X on canine lymphoma. They determined that the substance had no efficacy. They also found that the substance caused side effects severe enough to require supportive treatment. The researchers also found the product ineffective against bovine lymphoma in three cows treated by injection.
Naessens' ability to sell himself has dramatically impacted health science in the USA. It was he who convinced former Congressman Berkeley Bedell (D-Iowa*) that 714-X had cured his prostate cancer (even though Bedell also had standard therapy). Bedell became so enamored with "alternative medicine" that he got Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to introduce a bill, which he lobbied personally, that eventually established the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine -- an office which thus far has functioned mainly as a public relations benefit to quackery (a result of a suspension of the standard rule that NIH contractors not use their NIH affiliation for publicity).
[*Iowa is the home of chiropractic's primary training school (Palmer College at Davenport), Ayurvedic Medicine (Maharishi International University at Fairfield), and People Against Cancer (a referral agency for dubious cancer remedies run by Frank Wiewel at Otho)]
A 6-page flyer titled An Opportunity for Physicians was distributed to some local physicians in Northeast Ohio last autumn. The flyer promotes a questionable multilevel marketing scheme for anti-cancer and other vitamin supplements sold by MXM Essential Formulas, Inc. of Walnut Creek, California. Dentists, chiropractors and reflexologists are also being recruited.
Physicians who register with MXM through its local sales representatives introduce their patients to the supplements. The physician sends the patient's order to MXM who send the supplements directly to the patient. Anytime a patient places a repeat order, the registered physician receives a commission of 30% or more.
The flyer illustrated how recruiting 600 patients who order $35 of supplements per month can earn a physician a passive income of more than $100,000 per year. A physician could earn an additional 5% on sales generated by any medical colleagues they referred to an MXM sales representative. On June 11, 1993, a customer service representative told me that MXM had changed management, and that the marketing plan has been modified, but that physicians can still earn commissions by recruiting patients. Frankly, I'm appalled by a program that encourages prescribing by physicians with a conflict-of-interest, enticed by a motivation of greed.
Both the old flyer and the slick new 1993 MXM product brochure claims Herbert F. Pierson, MS, PhD, to be its nutrition consultant. Dr. Pierson once headed a National Cancer Institute research project on anti-cancer compounds in foods. I contacted Dr. Pierson and he explained to me that he initially got involved with MXM because he was led to believe there would be support for conducting well-controlled trials of the anti-cancer effects of food substances. He was unaware that MXM was still using his name and his former position at NCI to promote its products.
Following my contact, he sent a letter to MXM to be distributed to its sales force objecting to the use of his "likeness, picture or photograph, speech words, written text, video filming, association with my credibility as a research scientist, and association of my former relationship with the Federal Government, in any product promotions, product endorsement, sales pitches, meetings, distribution materials, and information packages to health care professionals."
This misuse of Dr. Pierson's name by MXM is reminiscent of the now-defunct United Sciences of America's misuse of the names of distinguished medical scientists to promote its dubious supplement products (see NCAHF Newsletter, Jan-Feb 1987 & Mar-Apr 1987).
A company representative informed me that a Dr. Bruce Halstead has replaced Dr. Pierson as scientific consultant. We suspect that this is the same Dr. Bruce Halstead who was convicted of cancer fraud by the State of California in 1985, whose medical license was revoked in 1992, and who now faces a 4-year prison sentence.
Dr. London is Associate Professor of Health Education, Kent State University, and president of President of NCAHF's Ohio Division.