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NCAHF News, September/October 1996

Volume 19, Issue #5

HOW TO CHECK OUT A DOCTOR

For the first time, American consumers have a way to quickly determine if a physician has any past disciplinary actions taken against them anywhere in the nation, verify their backgrounds of education, residency, board specialty certifications, and licensing. This can be done by contacting Choice Pointe

The Medi-Net physician database was developed under the supervision of co-founder Dr. Nicholas J. Soldo, Chairman Emeritus of the Arizona State Board of Medical Examiners.   Frustrated by what he saw as the medical board's inability to adequately inform the public about incompetent physicians who continued to practice, Dr. Soldo conceived the idea of a central repository for this type of information that would be accessible to the public.

The database contains information on every physician l icensed in the United States, and draws from sources such as medical licensing boards, Federal agencies (eg, those who have committed Medicare fraud, FDA researc h fraud), medical associations, and so forth.   The database is updated on a weekly basis. Medi-Net plans to include chiropractors, naturopaths, and other providers in the future.

MAGNET PROMOTER WARNED

On April 17, 1996, the FDA's Buffalo, NY, regional office sent a warning letter to William W. Lampard, MD, of Lakewood, NY, notifying him that the magnetic products he was distributing, "including Magsteps and Kenkopillow" (Nikken) are medical devices, and that they are considered by the FDA to be "adulterated" and "misbranded."  Lampard was told that it was his responsibility to meet the requirements of the law, and to take prompt action to correct the violations by his firm.

In NCAHF's view it is high time that the FDA took action against Nikken distributors.   NCAHF has been receiving consumer inquiries about the alleged health and healing properties of Nikken magnets for over five years. In 1990, NCAHF alerted the FDA, FTC, and California food & drug anti-fraud officials of the Nikken company's magnetic healing promotions, but this is the first action against these products that we have heard about. On October 8, 1991, the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners sent a letter to all of its licensees notifying them that magnets (among other types of devices), were consid ered by the State Dept. of Health Services , to be "new devices," and that to represent them as safe and effective as an inducement for sale, or for administration, violated California law.

The lack of regulatory actions seems to be partially responsible for a proliferation of magnetic healing products.  A Canadian dentist is promoting a magnet pad that claims to "produce a Pure Negative Magnetic Field equivalent to that of the earth 4,000 years ago."  A Kentucky chiropractor has his own line of magnets which he uses for diagnosis, prescription and therapy.  An Oklahoma MD hawks his line of magnets for pain, losing weight, at least a dozen specific diseases, food & chemical reactions, and "general systemtic treatment."

BLAME FOR ABUSE OF OTA REPORT'S DUBIOUS ESTIMATE:
"ONLY 10-20% OF MEDICAL PROCEDURES ARE PROVED"

In the Nov-Dec 1995, issue we reported that Kerr L. White, MD, had revealed that he was the likely source of the state ment in the 1978 OTA report that "only 10 to 20 percent of procedures currently used in medical practice have been shown to be efficacious by controlled clinical trial."

White told NCAHF that the figure was used heuristically to stimulate the search for more accurate information.  White says that he had no control over the fact that the OTA used his armchair estimate in its final report, and that neither he nor the OTA can be blamed for the abuse of the statement by quacks and the enemies of standard medicine.   Neither he nor the OTA could anticipate how the statement was going to be abused by the enemies of science-based medicine.  The intent of the OTA report was clearly to improve the scientific aspects of medical care, not to advocate an open door to unproven alternative and complementary medicine.

After hearing White's side of the story, it is clear that he should not be blamed for either creating the myth that only 10-20% of standard medicine is scientifically proved, or for any of its fallout.  White has always worked to strengthen the former students are leadi ng in the fields of health services research and evidence-based medicine.   NCAHF regrets having placed this burden on White, and is pleased to know that no advocate of nonscientific medicine will find comfort in pursuing this statement to its source.

[U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Assessing the Efficacy and Safety of Medical Technologies. Sept 1978, Wash, DC.]

LAWRENCE TAYLOR, MD-EX

The saga of the promotion of the quack remedy Immunostim is detailed in the September, 1996 FDA Consumer.  Lawrence Taylor, MD and William Stacey, who ran the Taylor-Stacey Center for Advanced Medicine in San Diego, manufactured, prescribed, and distributed Immunostim claiming that its intravenous infusion would cure AIDS. The substance was similar to disinfectants, toilet bowl cleaners and automatic dishwashers detergents.

Patients actually experienced inflammation of their veins, painful swellings, and eventually complete closure of the veins used for infusion. Taylor lost his medical license, and Stacey was sent to prison for four years. Lawrence Taylor lost his medical license, and Stacey was sent to prison for four years.

Lawrence Taylor is a self-styled homeopath who was involved in the "alternative" treatment of Yuri Owens, a boy suffering from bone cancer in 1991. A Provo, Utah orthopedic surgeon testified that Yuri had a chance of a cure a month earlier, but that the delay of proper treatme nt had allowed the diseas e to progress.

[The Herald, 3/20/91]

HOLISTIC HARM

Quackery causes holistic harm.  Physically: injury and death; emotionally:  psychological trauma, self-deprecation, depression, and despair; socially: lost faith in the system, stigmatization; economically: lost money, sometimes unable to work.  NCAHF tries to help victims get redress, but obtaining justice can be difficult.  Most victims want to at least warn others about what can happen when someone decides to choose alternative or complementary medicine.

Case Report

A woman went to a homeopath.  He was a DO who had lost his license in another state.  He went to a state with a homeopathic licensing board which was run by maverick physicians who had either lost their licenses in other states or left with unsettled charges of unprofessional conduct.

She had a stiff neck.  The homeopath's assistant, who claimed to be a "neurolinguistic programmer" manipulated her neck.  She immediately became dizzy and disoriented.  She had suffered a stroke.  The homeopath suggested that her symptoms were toxicity and wanted to cleanse her colon. 

The woman filed a complaint with the homeopathic licensing board which issued a nonpublic rerimand, but refused to take any other action.  The state medical board could do nothing because it does not regulate homeopathy.  She saw an attorney about a malpractice lawsuit, but this course of action was thwarted when it was found that the homeopath did not have insurance. Attorneys know that it is nearly impossible to collect damages from an unethical individual.

THE SECOND COMING OF SHARK CARTILAGE

William Lane has written a sequel to Sharks Don't Get Cancer (Avery, 1992) entitled Sharks Still Don't Get Cancer (Avery, 1996).  The foreword of the second book is written by chiropractor "Dr. David Williams" (see NCAHF Newsletter, March-April , 1995).  Lane contradicts his own title on page 25 by admitting that some sharks do get cancer, just as he did in book #1--but, he contends that they don't get it very often.  He says that Almost No Sharks Get Cancer would have been a rotten book title. 

If Lane were more a scientist, and less a salesman, he would have to admit that the data on shark cancers is obscure.  Trout, for instance, are raised in fish hatcheries by biologists who study them thoroughly. By contrast, sharks are not.  Further, the fact that reports about chondromas (tumors of the cartilage) appear in the sparse literature on shark pathology, blows a pretty big hole in Lane's basic premise.

Of course, the fact that Lane promotes orally-ingested cartilage supplements as a viable way to attain the inhibition of blood vessel formation tumors that he theorizes is a big hole in the whole idea that cancer patients can benefit from shark cartilage. He acknowledges this problem in book #2, but tackles it by trying to persuade the reader that shark cartil age can pass to the blood intact.

Whether the blood-vessel inhibiting fator(s) can find their way to the right spot -- and avoid inhibiting blood vessel formation in vital organs where it would be undesirable are not adequately answered.  Book #2 is a travelogue through Lane's experiences with shark cartilage.  He tells stories about patients who appear to have benefitted from the pills.  His "seeing is believing" approach recalls an insightful statement by cancer researcher Emil Freirereich: "The quack or the uneducated or inexperienced physician or biologist is generally woefully lacking in the knowledge or understanding of the disease process for which he is giving treatment." [1]

Anyone who treats a large number of cancer patients will see some unusual outcomes. It is easy to believe that the treatment had something to do with these when they are beneficial.  Hippocrates warned physicians about the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc ("after it, therefore, be cause of it") in patient care over 2,000 years ago.  Further, double-blind clinical trials have become essential because even honest, competent physicians can be fooled by clinical observations.

Lane is not trained in medicine, so he can be excussed to a degree.  Lane's views are colored by his financial interest in shark cartilage, and worse yet, Lane is caught in an ego-trap.  The old saying, "they laughed at Columbus" is tempered by the fact that they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.  In each case, they laughed!   Only those who can fulfill the old saw, "he who laughs last, laughs best" can survive with their egos intact.

Lane's own words are the strongest evidence that he is engaged in wishful thinking and selling hope. He ends his book by stating:

Hope raises the human spirit... If I have provided hope for anyone who was without it, I am grateful... I don't know where my journey will take me, but I have hope for myself, for those wit h cancer, and, yes, even for my critics.

This recalls another insightful statement: 

In the face of the great leveler, Death, we are all children, listening fearfully for the footsteps of doom--relieved only by the whisperings of hope; the quack is the peddler of hope [2].

Lane comes across more as a true believer than as a charlatan.  Unfortunately, he has aligned himself with some notorious promoters of quackery listing several of them as referrals for finding alternative medicine.

Citations (1) Freireich E. "Unproven remedies: lessons for improving techniques for evaluating therapeutic effectiveness," Cancer Chemotherapy. Yearbook Medical Publishers, 1975. (2) Maple E. Magic, Medicine and Quackery. New York: AS Barnes & Company, 1968.

DHEA STILL A PUZZLE

Cornell University's Marc Weksler (Division of Geriatrics & Gerontology) provides insight into what is known about the risks and benefits of DHEA.  Placebo controlled studies report that orally ingested DHEA in older adults: (1) increases blood levels to those found in young adults; (2) In men, increased androstendiol, but not testosterone or dihydrotestosterone--while all three increased in women; (3) increased serum concentration of insulin-like growth factor by 10% in men & women (lean body mass improved in a study using higher doses; (4) elicited positive feelings (i.e., improved sleep, greater energy, increased ability to handle stress) in 82% of women an d 67% of men ; (5) increased number and activity of natural killer cells. No changes in libido were found.   People with a family or personal history of breast or prostate cancer are warned against using DHEA.

[British Med J. 1996; 312:859-60]

Watch out for health food products containing plant sterols (Mexican yam) alleged to be "building blocks of DHEA."  Dr. Charles Dollum of the Aeron LifeCycles Laboratory in San Leandro, California, tel ls the readers of the Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients (a pro-alternative-complementary medicine publication) that they could not detect any difference in the progesterone or DHEA levels of people taking yam products and non-users (October, 1996 issue, p. 104).

The bottom line is that a lot of people will feel better if they take real DHEA supplements.  However, they are taking them at their own risk. The UCB Wellness Letter (1/96) mentioned an animal study that found liver cancer greatly increased by DHEA. Buyer beware.

Comment: The topic of hormone replacement therapy for men remains alive. Medical Abstracts [July, 1996] says that a new testosterone patch for men with proven hormonal deficiencies is available. Our guess is that this device will join the list of potential rejuvenators.   Unfortunately, any hormonal replacement product carries potent risks, and needs to be medically justifiable and monitored.

OZONE THERAPY FOR AIDS

Publicists of quackery are touting ozone therapy for AIDS.  Saul Green presents the history, claims, and scientific facts regarding this false hope remedy in Nutrition Forum, May/June, 1996.

REDUX

Redux (dexfenfluramine) increases the levels of brain serotonin which induces feelings of fullness and satisfaction making it easier to comply with a reduced-calorie diet.  Redux is not new or revolutionary.  Quite a lot is known about it, but what is still a question is its long term safety, and what is going to happen to people who use it in a manner contrary to recommendations (it's for people 20% or more overweight, not for the slightly overweight who are cosmetically inclined). Consumer Reports (August '96) provides insight into the new drug plus some useful information on weight control.

ACSH WEB SITE AVAILABLE

The American Council on Science and Health has a web site (http://www.acsh.org) which makes the full text of selected ACSH public ations available.

MELATONIN ALERT!

The Canadian government has banned the sale of melatonin because it has not been proved safe.  It is worth remembering that Canadians were saved from the disastrous effects of L-tryptophan supplements because Canada banned its sale on the same basis.

QUACKERY AND THE MEDIA

Quackophiles* traditionally blame "the AMA and the big drug companies" for the passage of  laws restricting the sale of unproven medicines.  In fact, none of society's academic-scientific elite have been the moving force behind historic consumer protection legal reforms.  It was the power of the press that generated the public outrage that motivated congress to pass consumer protection laws.

Two books were largely responsible for causing Congress to pass the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act:  Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, and Samuel Hopkins Adams' The Great American Fraud.  Sinclair's book was a novel about a Lithuanian family whose members worked in a meat packing plant.  Sinclair fabricated accounts of filthy working conditions, and horrors such as workers falling into sausage grinders and ending up on people's dinner tables.  Sinclair did not pretend to be accurately reporting on conditions in meat-packing plants.  Sinclair was America's most outspoken socialist reformer whose concern was about the plig ht of immigrant laborers.  He lamented that he had aimed for t he nation's heart, but hit it in the stomach! [1] Adams' factual book exposed the fraud being perpetrated on the public by the patent medicine industry with the cooperation of the press.

In the days before radio, newspapers were the major source of information.   Newspapers molded public opinion and determined the political agenda. Patent medicine promoters bought lots of advertising space.  To increase their leverage, rather than simply buying advertising space for a week or two, patent medicine companies would enter into long term contracts (eg, instead of $10 each week, a 3-year contract worth $1,500) raising them to amounts that editors could not ignore.

The contracts included a clause printed in red ink so it could not be overlooked.   The clause stated that in the event that a law were passed restricting the sale of patent medicine within the jurisdiction covered by the newspaper, the contract would become void.  These "red letter clauses" made political allies of the editors who were happy to report human interest stories with testimonials on the benefits of patent medicines, and were reluctant to publish reports of harm.  They also editorialized against regulating the marketplace.

Although the red letter clauses are history, today's media is still more beholden to advertisers than audiences.  Marilyn Larkin quotes Gloria Steinhem as stating that "85% of women's magazine copy is really 'unmarked advertorial" (combined advertising and editorial).  The world of women's magazines is to provide a nice environment of advertisers [2].

The media is dependent upon the income from its advertisers for its sustenance.   The audience's main value is its size--the larger the audience, the higher is the price which can be charged for advertsing.  The power of the advertising dollar still distorts media editorials.  A 1988-90 survey of 20 major U.S. magazines (selected because they regularly report on a wide variety of health topics) by the American Council on Science and Health found a significant inverse correlation (r=.445, P<=0.05) between how much money a magazine received from cigarette advertising and the amount of coverage it gave to the health risks associated with smoking [3]. Diversification has given tobacco companies enormous leverage over the media because they can now punish a media outlet by withholding advertising of its non-tobacco products as well.

<=0.05) between how much money a magazine received from cigarette advertising and the amount of coverage it gave to the health risks associated with smoking.# Diversification has given tobacco companies enormous leverage over the media because they can now punish a media outlet by withholding advertising of its non-tobacco products as well.

It was the outrage generated by the book, One-Hundred Million Guinea Pigs (Consumers Research, 1929) that caused Congress to pass the 1938 Drug & Cosmetic Act.   One hundred million was the population of the USA at the time.  The point of the book was that medicines and cosmetics were marketed without having been adequately tested for safety.  These were withdrawn only after consumer injuries and deaths occurred--in effect, making the public "guinea pigs" for the promoters of such products.  Publicity on the deaths of over 100 people in 33 states from Elixir Sulfanilamide which contained diethylene glycol (antifreeze) shocked congress into enacting the bill then under consideration.

Although publicists have played the pivotal role in creating the public outrage needed to bring about consumer protection reforms, they have also played an even greater role in helping quackery to flourish.  If media people have an ethical code, it is not apparent even when it comes to public health and safety.  The media takes no responsibility for the effects of its reporting of questionable health practices.   Reporters know that coverage gives status and credibilit y to their subject.   They also know (or ought to know) that desperate people are likely to pursue hopeful remedies, but they will still go forward with "human interest" stories that put quack procedures in a positive light. They will publish claims at face value without adequately checking on their veracity.

NCAHF knows from experience that claims are difficult to verify.  Rather than making it clear to the audience that claims are unverified, and that they may be self-serving, reporters often fall back on a journalistic ploy: tell both sides and let the public decide. The problem with this thinking is that the public cannot decide without having the information the reporter failed to provide.  Stories with good outcomes are like Monday morning football stores -- whatever was done now seems right!  Not only are the missing facts needed to evaluate the case at hand, but some guidance in the principles involved, and especially how people might be misled by appearances.  The result is health misinformation and misguidance done in the disguise of news reporting.

The media commonly treats offbeat medicine stories as entertainment.  A case in point was the NBC special Cured! which aired in July, 1994.  Skits were presented in which individuals were cured by alternative medicine.  An investigation by Forbes MediaCritic found that the presentations were fabrications --mostly composites of unverified anecdotes taken from pro-quackery sources. 

The producer of Cured! did not try to defend the show as factual.  In fact, he told MediaCritic that he thought that some of the therapies discussed on Cured! are "sh_t", but that they weren't doing an educational program, we were doing it as entertainment."  Roz Weinman, vice-president of standards and practices at NBC, shared 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 [4]. Although media officials pass off criticisms of their pro-quackery stories as entertainment, they provide no evidence that the public considers such stories to be entertainment.

As bad as it is for the mainstream media to be purveyors of health misinformation, reporters become advocates when they tell their audience how to obtain the off-beat health methods they have touted.  The most noncritical articles are also the most likely to provide their audiences with information about how to get in touch with the providers of the off-beat procedures they have just touted.  Such practices transform pro-quackery reports into infomercials.

Whether this is empty-mindedness (ie, a failure to learn from quackery's history) or an indicator that the reporter is a true-believer abusing his role as a journalist is hard to ascertain.  NCAHF would like to see the media adopt a policy of not providing information on obtaining products or services except in paid advertising--and that ads be clearly marked as such to put audiences on their guard against self-serving claims and statements.

Citations. 1) Reed LW. "How a food safety myt h became a legend," Consumers Digest Feb, 1995. 2) Larkin M. "Confessions of a former women's magazine writer" Priorities, Fall/Winter, 1993. 3) 1990 ACSH Survey: An Evaluation of Reporting on the Health Hazards of Smoking in American Magazines. Dec, 1991. 4) Gutfield G. "Cure-ious," Forbes MediaCri tic, Winter, 1995, pp.25-7.

*Lovers of quackery.

HOW MANY POTENTIAL MEDICINES ARE IN THE RAIN FOREST?
ESTIMATE: FOR SCIENCE, 328; FOR QUACKERY, 749,672!

We've seen a plethora of romanticized articles about the secret medicines hiding in the rain forests.  The idea of secret remedies hiding in exotic natural settings is as old as the mythical Chinese Islands of Immortality, Shangri La, and the Garden of Eden's Tree of Life.  There was even a movie made about this, The Medicine Man , with Hollywood's top actor, Sean Connery, in the leading role. 

Environmentalists use the idea of hidden cures as a selfish reason for saving rain forests from destruction.  Anthropologists use the idea to venerate the shamans who allegedly possess secrets of nature (this is a near perfect parallel to the past use of native American medicine men to hawk patent medicines from old time medicine wagons).   Politicos from undeveloped countries are using the idea as another way of extorting money from the wealthy nations--they want royalties for the native people whose ancestors traditionally used the botanical remedies.

The reality is that scientists have not ignored the rain forest as a source of medicines.  In 1955, the National Cancer Institute inaugurated the Cancer Drug Development Program.  Dr. Jerry Lewis writes:

By the early 1980s this rigorous and scientifically sound review process had been used to screen nearly three quarters of a millio potentially active agents, including chemical synthetics, products of fermentation, plant derivatives, marine animal products, and biological response modifiers.  Each of the agents tested held some hope when review began, yet fewer than 70 made it to market [1].

Yale University economist Dr. Robert Mendelsohn, and Dr. Michael Balick, director of the Institute for Economic Botany at the New York Botanical Garden estimate that there are at least 328 new drugs that could be developed from the tropical rain forests.  They say that there are about 750,000 potential extracts obtainable from the 125,000 flowering plant species of the tropical forests.  They say that 375 million tests on these are possible, and that conservatively, one in a million tests results in a pharmaceutical suitable for commerce; therefore, the rain forest is estimated to contain 375 useful medicines.  Forty-seven of these have already been found leaving 328 undiscovered [2].

What these economic botanists forgot to consider was that the dietary supplement industry can legally package and sell the 749,672 worthless extracts as herbal remedies!   Even the poisonous substances could be diluted homeopathically to make them non-toxic.  Come to think about it, all the homeopaths need are the names of these plant extracts.  After all, if you're going to dilute to 1024 so that none of the original molecules remain, does it really matter if you didn't have the molecules in the first place?  Its not hard to imagine the sales pitch: "ancient remedy f rom the tropical rain forest frees millions from pain and debility!  Get yours while the supply lasts!"

Citations: (1) Lewis. "Clinical studies with make-believe drugs," Western J Med 1992;157:677-8. (2) Webb G. "Scientists calculate at least 328 new drugs could be developed from tropical rain forests," Herbalgram 36. In reference to: Mendelsohn R, Balick MJ. "The value of undiscovered pharmaceuticals in tropical forests," Economic Botany 1995;49:223-28.


Newsletter contents copyright 1996, National Council Against Health Fraud, Inc.
Items may be be reprinted without permission if suitable credit is given.

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