The biggest self-treatment fad seen in many years is to drink a brew made from a yeast culture called "Kombucha mushroom." Symbiotic colony of yeast and bacteria. Why a mushroom? Yeasts are one-celled fungi; some mushrooms are in the same class of plants known as sac fungi (being a plant kombucha can be classified as an herb). Concerns regarding long term use include: (1) contamination with Aspergillus, a fungi that produces aflatoxin B, a potent cancer-causing metabolite; (2) development of antibiotic resistance as the body develops immune responses to Kombucha's many constituents; (3) the effects on body tissues due to prolonged exposure to plant acids. Promoters use double-talk; no claims, but lots of testimonials of wonderful effects. AIDS patients, many of whom are experimenting with Kombucha, may be at greatest risk of harm.
In the November-December issue, we cited a report from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories that theorized that the fumes which emanated from the body of Gloria Ramirez causing the illness of several medical workers at Riverside (Calif) General Hospital were caused by Ramirez's use of a quack cancer remedy. This theory will be tested because one of the injured health workers, respiratory therapist Maureen Welsh, is suing Research Industries Corp., a Utah-based company, and its subsidiary Tera Pharmaceutical Inc., for negligently and carelessly manufactur-ing and distributing the DMSO Ramirez is alleged to have had in her body. The attorney for Dr. Julie Gorchynski disputes the DMSO theory believing that the hospital negligently failed to clean excess residue from toxic chemicals used in the hospital. [Riverside Press Enterprise, 3/1/95]
The story of a French woman who turned 120 years of age this year was widely reported, Born In 1875, she had met Van Gogh and seen the construction of the Eiffel lower. It was reported that she smoked two cigarettes a day, and had given up wine at the age of 118. Stories about those who achieve great age are always interesting, especially the part where the oldsters answer the sure-to-be-asked question about to what do they attribute their longevity. NCAHF president William Jarvis has been collecting such reports for more than 20 years. One of the strangest attributions to great age came from India recently. Former Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai celebrated his 99th birthday in early March. He believes that drinking his own urine (called the 'water of life' in Ayurvedic circles) deserves credit. G.K. Thakker, director of the Water of Life Foundation in Bombay, claims that the practice can cure everything from the common cold to cancer. [Reuter's World Report, March 6, 1995]!
A study done in the United Kingdom provides a useful model for similar inquiries in the USA and Canada. Community Child Health tracks childhood immunizations in the Bath District Health Authority. The prevalence of nonimmunization was found to be 0.33%. All parents who refused immunization for their children between Jan 1, 1987 and Jan 1, 1993 were polled by questionnaire; 87 of 106 replied. The reason for nonimmunization was clear in 68 cases (64% of total and 78% of replies). The most common reason was diversion by a homeopath. Religious beliefs, mainly Christian Science, was next. [British Med J. 1995;310:227]
Stephen Barrett, MD, has petitioned the FDA to issue a public warning and to ban vitamin "stress formulas" with no proven ingredients. Barrett believes that virtually all such products are bogus. So--called "stress formulas" are dietary supplements alleged to alleviate or protect users from the effects of everyday stress or overwork. Some promoters make no claims but rely on the word "stress" in the product's name to sell it. Such products typically contain several times the RDAs for vitamin C and several B vitamins. Dr. Barrett stated, "Those marketed by drug companies do not provide toxic amounts of these ingredients, but some marketed by health food industry companies contain enough vitamin C to produce diarrhea, and some contain enough B6 to cause nerve damage over a long period of time." Barrett added that "Some formulas contain questionable food substances such as spirulina, bee pollen, and ginseng, to make them appear more 'complete.'" The concept of high dosage "stress formulas" is said to be based on a 1952 National Academy of Sciences report which recommended extra vitamins for people sick enough to lose their appetites for a significant period of time. Leading manufacturers have falsely advertised that the ordinary physical stresses of life are reasons to take vitamins. State and federal laws still ban the sale of supplements that have not been proven safe and effective for their intended purpose. The FTC has taken action against several companies for advertising "stress formulas," but case by case action cannot protect consumers from being cheated. The "stress formula" rip-off is detailed in Barrett's 1994 book The Vitamin Pushers. The petition is endorsed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
The Sept-Oct issue of this newsletter ("Quackery goes prime time") the NBC program CURED! Secrets of Alternative Healing was severely criticized. It was stated that later in the year that an investigative source would reveal that none of the dramatized cases of healing attributed to "alternative" medicine actually happened as presented. This was fulfilled by the Winter, 1995 Forbes MediaCritic (pp.25-7) in "Cureious," by Greg Gutfeld. Gutfeld writes:
To produce CURED! Klein hired actors to reenact five episodes in which patients found relief or a "cure" through alternative therapies. One might be willing to abide such reenactments, notwithstanding the infamous re-creation of the explosion of a certain General Motors pick-up truck (also on NBC), but for one problem: The authenticity of the reenactments is doubtful. Klein says he purchased the stories from popular magazines (though he was vague on which magazines those were) as well as from people claiming to have been cured through alternative therapy. Assuming Klein really found these stories somewhere, he admits fiddling with them. "We changed them around," he says, adding that he mixed details about several anecdotes in order to make one story. "Combinations" is how he describes these manufactured tales. "Everyone does that." But neither the ostensibly "real life" medical doctors involved in the stories nor their patients were interviewed on CURED! to verify what supposedly happened.
The article details other abuses. Most shocking is the information that producer Klein did not try to defend the show as factual. In fact, he told MediaCritic that he thinks that some of the therapies discussed on CURED! are "sh-t." He said "We weren't doing an educational program, we were doing it as entertainment." Roz Weinman, vice-president of standards and practices at NBC, shares this understanding. In an interview, she appeared irritated that the program should be scrutinized in terms of commonly accepted standards. Weinman didn't think the accounts had to be factual because they were not about conventional medicine. She said that a medical doctor had reviewed the show before broadcasting but couldn't recall his name. If readers find NBC's cavalier attitude dismaying, they may wish to express their outrage to Robert Wright, President, NBC-TV, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York 10012. CURED! aired on 7/5/94. The good news was Klein's remark that the ratings for the show "stunk."
The Health Quality Enforcement Section of the California Attorney General's (AG) Office contends that it prosecutes three or four cases a year involving the use of EDTA chelation therapy (CD to treat patients for a variety of ailments other than those for which the procedure is approved (ie, "off-label use"). The AG's office states that it always wins such cases, but that these cases are expensive to prosecute and require the same battle of expert opinion over and over again. The AG noted that CT is not harmful to patients at the doses usually used, but emphasized that paying for useless therapy is economically harmful, and may cause indirect harm if patients fail to seek effective therapy in lieu of Cr. The AG'S office asked the Medical Board of California MBC to consider asking for statutory restrictions that would make the off-label use of CT illegal without an FDA Investigative New Drug license. On Feb 4, the MBC debated the merits of creating such a law. Physicians John Renner and Wallace Sampson provided evidence that CT is used to treat more than 84 conditions for which there is no scientific evidence of effectiveness. The California Medical Association submitted a Medical Practice Opinion stating that it is appropriate to limit CT to heavy metal poisoning, hyper-calcemia, digitalis toxicity, and corneal calcium deposits, or as part of a controlled clinical trial under FDA standards. Representatives of the American College for Advancement in Medicine, a national organization established primarily to support the off-label use of CT, argued that the procedure was useful, particularly in the treatment of circulatory problems. Julian Whitaker, MD, a highly vocal advocate of CT, claims that the dispute is economic. He says that by diverting 100 patients a year from coronary by-pass surgery he prevents Orange County hospitals from taking in $9 million. He charges $3,000 for 30 treatments. Dozens of patients gave impassioned personal testimonials claiming remarkable improvements or cures due to CT. After a heated debate, the MBC failed to pass a ban on off-label use except for treatment of heart disease of CT by a 9 to 9 vote. A total ban on the off-label use of CT failed by a vote of 6 to 12. A substantial majority agreed to the concept of regulating CT but failing to reach any agreement on specifics, postponed consideration of regulatory language until its next meeting. Observers said that the tense atmosphere did not lend itself to rational decision-making.
Chaparral herbal products are prepared by grinding the leaves of an evergreen desert shrub known as the creosote bush or "greasewood" and either packing them into pills or brewing into tea. Chaparral attracted the attention of the scientific community in 1959 when several cancer patients appeared to have been helped by its use. Subsequent testing found that chaparral's effects upon cancer was mixed, including the disturbing finding that a majority of malignancies were stimulated by chaparral's major active ingredient. The use of chaparral tablets for as little as 6 weeks has been associated with liver damage. More recently, chaparral has been touted as a source of antioxidants. Now comes a report of a 60 year-old Chicago area woman who suffered severe liver damage after 10 months of taking 1-2 chaparral tablets daily. [JAMA, 1995;273:489-90}
Total Nutrition (St. Martin's Press, 1995) is an updated revision of The Mt. Sinai School of Medicine Complete Book of Nutrition edited by Victor Herbert, MD, and Gennell Subak-Sharpe, MS. The 81--page tome is so complete and contempo-rary that it is truly as the cover states "the only guide you'll ever need" to nutrition. It is written in very readable style yet contains enough technical information to be helpful to health professionals. The best news is that the book is now available in paperback for the affordable price of $15.95.
The trial of Minnesota dairy farmer Herb Saunders, 66, ended
in a mistrial on March 10. Saunders was charged with practicing
medicine without a license for selling bovine colostrum ("first
milk") as a potential cure for cancer and other serious diseases.
Saunders would sell each patient a cow for $2,500, but keep the
cow on his farm. He would inject a sample of each patient's blood
into the cow's utter, and then sell the colostrum to the cow's
owner for $35 a bottle. Saunders told an undercover state agent
who posed as a cancer patient that he would "cough out"
his cancer within months if he would take colostrum, refrain from
chemotherapy. The 6-person jury voted 5-1 to convict, but the
last hold-out, a part-time social studies teacher, apparently
couldn't decide whether Saunders was practicing medicine without
a license or offering an alternative type of care that is not
medical practice. Former Iowa Congressman Berkley Bedell, who
believes that Saunders cured him of Lyme disease, provided $21,000
for Saunders' defense. The Watonwan County attorney's office stated
that it plans to retry Saunders. Saunders' attorney, Calvin Johnson
stated that he will try to have the state's medical practice act
declared unconstitutional based upon its vagueness, or have the
state legislature change the law, before Saunders is retried.
[Minneapolis Star Tribune, 3/16/95]
David Zimmerman exposes the aggressive efforts by the $200 million endowed Fetzer Institute (Fl) to "broaden the view of science to include ways of knowing that are beyond the analytical and experimental models," to "incorporate subjective and intuitive and appreciative ways of knowing" into American health care. Zimmerman points out that FI's agenda is directly and provocatively antiscientific since science is based specifically upon analytical and experimental methods. He reports:
Fetzer has acknowledged its leading role in the media blitz for alternative health. FI's director of international relations, Carol Hegedus said last year in reference to the 1993 New England Journal of Medicine unconventional medicine use study by Eisenberg and Bill Moyer's PBS-TV series Healing and the Mind that the"'synchronicity of it all is not random." The effort was 'quite purposeful in creating attention' for the mind/body movement and its uncon-ventional methods.
Most shocking is the revelation that Consumer's Union has covered up the fact that FI "facilitated" its mind/body series and book Mind/Body Medicine. [Priorities, 1994;6:(4):25-61]
Comment: FI brings the power of a $200 million foundation to the promotion of nonscientific medicine. This is one of the most significant developments in the promotion of quackery and the political destruction of responsible medicine in America. Zimmerman's article on FIs subversion of Consumer's Union is one of the most troubling we've seen.
Bee-Sweet, Inc., a North Carolina based company agreed to settle charges by the Federal Trade Commission that it falsely advertised that its bee pollen products could treat a number of physical ailments [FTC News Noses, 10124/94]. Pollen has no established therapeutic value.
Recently we've seen a proliferation of slick, four-color mini-magazines extolling various individuals as health gurus. "Dr. David Williams" once claimed merely to be "leading the worldwide search for natural remedies." Since then he has humbly proclaimed himself to be "America's #1 expert in natural healing" and "the 'Indiana Jones' of natural medicine." Back when he was "leading the world wide search" he was pictured in a library. After proclaiming himself "#1 expert" he pictured himself in a white coat, holding a stethoscope, surrounded by the trappings of medicine. Williams has a celebrity picture of himself standing next to 60 Minutes reporter Mike Wallace who is publicizing shark cartilage as a cancer cure.
Who is this funny guy? Williams is a chiropractor who apparently prefers publishing medicine-bashing, health-hype to popping spines. Williams has been writing and publishing his personal newsletter Alternatives "For the Health Conscious Individual" since 1989. In 1993, he went slick with "a special supplement to Alternatives, dubbed Breakthroughs in Healing (is this guy original, or what?!) Williams claims to have 130,000 readers across America. (p.15) Our reading of his mini-magazines leads to the conclusion that "#1 expert" Williams merely reiterates the same unsubstantiated claims for health food products that have been being made for many years. It seems like his "research" has been simply reading health foods propaganda.
Williams proclaims, "the secret of the astonishing new all-natural cancer cure!" "The secret of the incredible new heart protection vitamin!" "The secret of the remarkable ultratrace mineral that beats chronic arthritis!" "The secret of nature's sure-fire cure for high cholesterol!" "The secret of the remarkable 29 cent herb that helps revitalize your immune system!" "The little known amino acid that reverses sexual impotence like magic!" (Gee, Dave, these sound terrific!)
"Doctor" Williams also warns his readers about misinformation being foisted on us by the bad old "medical monopoly." Williams tells readers not to use sunscreen, rather, rub on "a simple solution of vitamin C and water." "Beware of the aspirin a day craze"; if you want to "achieve the same anti-blood clotting results as aspirin, take bromelain, an all natural extract of pineapples."
According to the Lawrence Review of Natural Products (7i93), bromelain is a proteolytic enzyme used to tenderize meat. Medically, it has been used in burn injury debridement and to reduce soft tissue inflammation and irritation. The pharmacologic effects of bromelain are caused by an enhancement of serum fibrinolytic activity and inhibition of fibrinogen synthesis. It lowers kininogen and bradykinin serum tissue levels and has an influence on prostaglandin synthesis. Since bromelain is absorbed unchanged from the intestine at a rate of about 40%, it may have some of the benefits of aspirin, which also increases fibrinolytic activity and influences prostaglandin synthesis. However, aspirin has an experimental research record of effectiveness that bromelain does not. Williams has no experimental basis for his assertion that bromelain has the same anti-clotting features and to imply that it is preferable.
Despite Williams' overconfident proclamations, he places the following weasel words appear inside the front cover:
The approaches described in this special report are not offered as cures, prescriptions, diagnoses or a means of diagnosis to different conditions. . . The author or publisher assume no responsibility in the correct or incorrect use of this information and no attempt should be made to use any of this information as a form of treatment without the approval and guidance of your doctor. Thus, Williams taunts his readers with advice that they are warned not to apply!
[The term "weasel word" is derived from the weasel's habit of sucking the contents out of an egg while leaving the shell superficially intact: a word used in order to evade or retreat from a direct or forthright statement or position" (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary.]
Juice Plus+ is a food supplement in which gel capsules contain flash=-dried powders of juiced vegetables and fruits. Flash-drying prevents the full degradation of enzymes associated with slower methods of food processing. According to company literature, the following features make Juice Plus+ unique:
Under "What are the benefits of LIVE enzymes?," company literature makes false and misleading claims about the function of enzymes in foods. In describing the work of enzymes as the "workforce" of the body, company literature rightly states that enzymes digest foods, and that in the cells they are involved in building new tissues and the immune system, but they either do not understand, or fail to clarify, that the enzymes in foods (or Juice Plus+) cannot possibly have anything to do with these processes. First, enzymes are not "alive." Biological criteria for a living thing which are unfulfilled by enzymes include that they do not: (1) consist of cellular units; (2) possess reproductive ability; (3) demonstrate irritability; (4) early on metabolism; or, (5) grow. ). [Fuller. The Plant World Holt, 1956, p.6]
Enzymes are complex protein molecules produced by living organisms exclusively for their own use in promoting chemical reactions. Orally ingested enzymes are digested in the stomach and have no enzymatic activity in the eater. Orally-ingested enzymes will not significantly aid digestion. The statement "George Washington University has shown that chronic disease and enzyme deficiencies are synonymous" is misleading because of the reasons stated.
Further, eating whole foods is generally preferable to juicing which processes away many important constituents. Adding back some of the lost fiber still is likely to result in an inferior product. NCAHF advises consumers to avoid promoters who disseminate this type of misinformation about nutrition, biochemistry, physiology and disease.
Endorsement by celebrities, athletic groups, or teams is meaningless. Such endorsements are often given in exchange for a donation or fee. Sometimes the endorser is engaged in selling the products. Even when done without financial self--interest, such endorsements may merely reflect the nutritional ignorance of those involved. The highly-publicized incident in which O.J. Simpson was shown on video tape telling 4,000 distributors that Juice Plus+ cured his arthritis, and the subsequent claim by his defense team that arthritis prevented him from being able to perform double murder, attests to the lack of veracity of celebrity endorsements. The hasty retreat of the company from the claim that Juice Plus+ can improve arthritis after using OJ's testimonial speech as a training video attests to the credibility of the Juice Plus+ -company. The company apparently was quite willing to have its distributors believe and repeat the tale to their prospective customers, but would not defend the claim once it became known publicly. Juice Plus+ is a multilevel marketed product. The tactic of providing distributors with unofficial health claims for use in selling while helping the company maintain deniability is one of the abuses typical of such enterprises. For more on abuses by direct sales companies see NCAHFs general warnings to buyers and sellers regarding multilevel marketed health products (NCAHF Newsletter, 1993; 16(2).