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NCRHI News, Jan/Feb 1998

Volume 21, Issue #1


NCAHF is the plaintiff in a lawsuit against Aroma Vera, Inc. and Marcel Lavabre filed by the law offices of Morse' Mehrban in the Superior Court of the County of Los Angeles under provisions of the Private Attorney General Law.*

Aromatherapy promoters make numerous health claims for their products. These include such assertions as increasing energy, improving mental performance, alleviating menstrual problems, improving complexion, detoxification, slimming the body, and more.

Because products would have to alter the structure or function of the body to achieve their purposes, these items become drugs by definition of the California Food & Drug Act. Aromatherapy products may be physically harmless, but they become health frauds when they claim to alter the anatomy or physiology. California is in a position to show the rest of the country how to fight back against the pandemic of quackery currently plaguing society.

*Sections 17204 and 17535 of the California Business and Professions Code.


Public-interest attorney, Morse' Mehrban, explained California's Private Attorney General Law in the Nov-Dec, 1997 NCAHF Bulletin Board.  We are pleased to announce that Mr. Mehrban has obtained a judgment in Los Angeles County Superior Court for permanent injunction against Total Health Connection, Inc. and Rysia Musnicki, providers of "colon cleansing services." 

Defendant Musnicki admitted to practicing colon hydrotherapy in California for 35 years.  Her ads have appeared in various Los Angeles publications and she regularly appears on public access television.  She claimed that colon cleansing would relieve everything from acne to depression and would bring about weight loss.  The action was filed by a consumer advocate under the state's "Private Attorney General" statutes.  The law is deemed necessary because too many government agencies have failed to fulfill their duties to protect consumers from health fraud.


Consumers and health professionals need proper perspective on dietary supplements for several reasons.  First, the marketplace abounds with these products and the 1994 dietary supplements law created a buyer beware situation that is almost as bad as the preregulatory marketplace.  Second, many dietary supplements have usefulness, but most are unnecessary, and some are potentially hazardous.

The report of the Dietary Supplements Commission was encouraging because it called for reliable information on the products it will oversee.  However, the size and complexity of the task was made apparent by an obscure but significant publication developed by The Institute of BioNutritional Research.

A panel evaluated the data on popular supplements and developed concise, alleged "benefits statements," color coding them according to the quality of the available supporting research as "strong, substantial, limited, or minimal evidence of benefits." A print-out of the Institute's efforts on 54 substances was published as The BioNutritional Encyclopedia (1996, 275pp).

A telephone conversation with Richard Radkowski (12/1/97) revealed that the Institute's work is an on-going effort, and the number of supplemental substances that has been evaluated has trebled since the encyclopedia was published.  Because the growth curve makes a publication obsolete in about 6 months, no more printed versions are planned.   Rather, an internet website should be up and running in about 6 months. Even though the encyclopedia is only a fraction of the Institute's work, it is worth having for its style and content to date.

For readers wanting to obtain a copy, contact Laurie McCarthy, 1 Marshall Street, #205, S. Norwalk, CT 06854; 203-854-4720.


1,200 Canadians were polled by telephone on 8/22/97 by the Angus Reid Group regarding their use of "alternative medicine." Forty-two percent reported using alternative medicine (up from 23% in 1992).  Highest use (59%) involved chiropractic (extrapolated to 25% of all Canadians).  Those more likely to report using alternative medicine were: residents of British Columbia (56%), females (55%), 35-54 age group (49%); annual household income of $60,000+ (52%). 55% of those using alternative medicine had been doing so for over 5 years.

The overall use of alternative medicine has grown dramatically by 81% over the past five years. 146% of growth was among Canadians 18-34 years of age; 76% growth among 35-54 yrs; 49% growth among 55+ years of age. Of the 42% who use alternative medicine, 48% reported being "very satisfied," and 42% "somewhat satisfied."

When asked about their reasons for trying alternative medicine, 42% said that alternative medicines "don't hurt you and may help a bit."; 34% said that their regular medicines weren't working for them; 33% thought that alternative medicines were "more natural."; 23% worried about "doctor prescribed medicines and practices."; 17% "get better service from alternative medicine providers..."; and 6% "don't trust modern medicine and practices."

When asked if alternative medicine and practices held possible long-term negative effects: 10% agreed "strongly"; 25% agreed "somewhat"; 16% were "unsure"; 32% disagreed "somewhat"; and, 17% disagreed "strongly.

[Dynamic Chiropractic, 12/1/97]


A glaring double standard of reporting on research in standard vs alternative medicine by the media has emerged. Standard medical research makes the news following a study when the results point to something that may be useful. Alternative medical research makes the news when the intention to study something is announced. This is before anything useful has been found.

For instance, last issue we cited a study at Baylor College of Medicine regarding the efficacy of magnets to relieve post-polio pain.  At about the same time, the media was announcing that St. John's wort was going to be studied to determine whether or not it really is effective against depression.  The effect of medical messages in the media is that a large number of consumers are willing to give whatever is publicized a try.

We doubt that media gatekeepers are even aware of this subtle, but extremely important, difference in the way they handle medical information.  This has been a pattern of reporting ever since the establishment of the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine. T his double standard of reporting dovetails with the double-standard that has existed in the marketplace since the passage of the 1994 Dietary Supplements Health & Education Act.

Unproven herbal remedies--including homeopathic formulas--are readily available for self experimentation by consumers. This intolerable situation undercuts the very essence of our free-enterprise system that is supposed to reward those who discover and market proven remedies.  The double standard we deplore rewards those whose public relations flacks manage to plant stories about the possibilities about what a remedy might do in the future.  The Foolmasters seem to be having their way with media gatekeepers.


In the Sept-Oct issue we chided Princess Diana's psychic advisors for not foreseeing the car accident that killed her. The Skeptic (vol 5, no.3, 1997) adds wrongheaded predictions about Di's future published in the tabloid press. The May 19, 1996 London Sunday Mirror predicted two more marriages and another child, and the August 14, 1997, London Mirror predicted someone new in her life and two more children.


DHEA proponent and author of DHEA: A Practical Guide, Dr. Ray Sahelian, says that he has become aware of a few cases in which DHEA users have developed cardiac arrhythmias at dosages of 25 and 50 mg.  Although case histories do not establish a direct relationship, Sahelian is urging health food stores not to reorder 50 mg bottles, and perhaps to even discontinue the 25 mg size until more information is available.

[NNFA Today, Oct, 1997, p.8]


In the last issue we lamented that President Clinton had line-item vetoed a $4 million proton beam breast cancer research program. We are pleased to report that $1.5 was restored to at least get the project started. We still object to wasting limited research funds on the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine while serious research goes unfunded.


A Prior Lake, Wisconsin, woman is the target of legal action by the Attorney General there. Shelvie Rettmann is accused of telling consumers she could cure cancer using a Rife generator, "foot zoning" treatments, a "radionics" machine and dietary supplements. Rettmann also faces a consumer fraud suit filed by the Minnesota Attorney General's office for selling a Rife generator and radionics machine to Robert Wilkins of Anoka, who used the devices instead of getting chemotherapy. He died in February, 1997. [Minneapolis Star Tribune, 12/3/97:B2]


On Nov 24, 1997, Kurt Donsbach pled guilty to smuggling unapproved drugs, and failing to pay income taxes on the money he made. In a plea bargain, Donsbach forfeited $165,000 and paid an additional $150,000 in back taxes. Donsbach is scheduled to report to federal prison on April 27 for a one-year sentence, but according to his attorney, his sentence may be modified by his cooperation with the U.S. Attorney's Office in a health fraud case in Texas.


NCAHF is receiving a disturbing number of complaints about health professionals who have become distributors for multilevel marketing firms that sell dietary supplements.   We are told about doctors, nurses, social workers, and even nutrition professors who are selling phytochemicals, antioxidants, herbs (eg, ginkgo biloba, echinacea, St. John's wort), and other concoctions directly to patients and clients.

The scenario that is emerging combines positive, superficial news reports about phytochemicals, herbal remedies, and the popularity of alternative medicine.  Some news reports involve studies that are not at all impressive if one analyzes the details, but the headlines are tantalizing. 

For instance, a report on ginkgo biloba appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (1997;278:1327-32). Its results were mostly unimpressive.   300 patients with mild to moderate dementia began the study.  Only 137 completed the study.  Of those who did, one-third got worse.  Those who benefitted, had small, limited improvements in mental function or behavior.  What about those that were lost to the study?  It is very likely that they were not benefiting or they would most likely have continued.

Despite this unimpressive result, Newsweek (11/3/97) gave the study an unduly positive report including the most positive testimonials from the few that improved.   There was no reason to believe that ginkgo biloba would be a brain booster for people without dementia.  Further, researchers caution that the ginkgo biloba supplements found in the marketplace may not contain the quality material used in the study.

The professionals that we criticize here seem to base their enthusiasm on the media reports.  In addition, they often offer research reports that some multilevel marketing firm has produced as evidence that some dietary supplement that they sell is state of the art preventive medicine.

One of the mainstays of medical ethics historically has been that physicians should earn money by rendering their expert services, not from kickbacks or special financial arrangements with suppliers.  This idea provides incentives to improve one's expertise, not to exploit opportunities that arise in connection with the practice of medicine.  The most disturbing aspect of this scenario is that those who engage in such abuses act more like deluded zealots than simply hucksters.  This appears to be the result of the spirit of the times.

Critics are depicted as defending the old status quo, and the "new medicine" means accepting everything that was suspect in the past.  This is "political correctness" taken to a new level of danger because health care is perverted.   The arbitrators in disputes that arise are often health care administrators who see the selling of dietary supplements to willing consumers as a sweet way to make money and keep their customers happy.  The most appalling example we have seen was when a physician informed a dietitian that if she didn't recommend the dietary supplements he distributed, that he would no longer refer patients to her for dietary counseling.


The bizarre audiotape, Dead Doctors Don't Lie continues to have repercussions around the globe. Although the facts discrediting Joel Wallach's incredible lies have been widely disseminated on the internet and in media reports, we are still being contacted by people who are hearing the Dead Doctors Don't Lie tape for the first time.

The most recent contribution to the body of counter information is offered by Donald Davis, PhD, of the University of Texas at Austin.  Davis located "Senate Document 264" cited by Wallach as evidence that 99% of Americans are deficient in minerals.  It turns out that the "document" is nothing more than the reprinting of a highly speculative article about a passing fad written by a Florida farmer in the June, 1936, issue of Cosmopolitan magazine as requested by Florida's Senator Fletcher.  Fletcher died 16 days after requesting that the government printing office reprint the article.

Davis presented his findings in the November, 1997, Townsend Letter.  Davis contacted NCAHF in January and reported than Wallach was continuing to promote this erroneous document as fact on at least 40 radio stations throughout the nation. NCAHF has received inquiries from abroad about Wallach's audiotape, asking for information on its veracity. Wallach's lies appear to have become a modern, urban legend.


Chemical Sensitivity: The Truth About Environmental Illness takes a close look at the myths and facts related to multiple chemical sensitivity, candidiasis hypersensitivity, sick building syndrome, the Feingold Diet, Gulf War Syndrome, and false claims of mercury amalgam toxicity. 

The book is written by Stephen Barrett, MD, and Ronald Gots, MD, PhD. Available from NCAHF Books, PO Box 1747, Allentown, PA 18105. The price for NCAHF members is $25.90 ($26.80US in Canada), postage included.  The nonmember price is $28.50 ($29.40US in Canada).


Pycnogenol, a product derived from pine bark, has been touted as a miracle medicine for several years.  The name is the registered trademark of a British company.

Reliable information on its real value has been difficult to get because the published literature has been generated largely by people with an interest in its financial success. There seems to be no dispute that the substance has antioxidant effects, but the significance of this is uncertain. The FDA says that there is no evidence that Pycnogenol is effective against any disease.

[UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, Nov. 97]


Samuel Homola, DC, has been telling the unvarnished truth about chiropractic for at least 35 years.  He tells physicians what they need to know in "Finding a good chiropractor," in the Jan-Feb, 1998 Archives of Family Medicine.  The key to finding a trustworthy chiropractor is that he/she recognize his/her limitations.   NCAHF Executive Director William Jarvis agrees.  It is more important to quiz a prospective chiropractor on what conditions he/she does not attempt to treat, rather than on what they do.


According to promotional literature, Calorad is made from hydrolyzed cow collagen. Collagen is not a complete protein. Total reliance upon this type of protein can be disastrous.

In the late 1970s, a book called The Last Chance Diet, written by Robert Linn, DO, promoted and popularized the use of liquid protein as a weight loss aid. The liquid protein involved was hydrolyzed cow collagen. Many people died while on the diet which led to a national uproar at the time.

If a person were to use such products in a limited way, and had a source of complete protein in his/her diet, he/she would probably be all right. Calorad appears to be another weight loss aid that works as long as one follows the food intake restrictions associated with it. When one can no longer stand the restrictions, however, the weight comes creeping back.

In our opinion, Calorad should be viewed as another dubious product with the added potential for serious protein malnutrition if relied upon totally.


Those who think herbal remedies are safe simply because they are natural should spend some time talking to the professionals who operate Poison Control Centers.

California's Point Control System contacted NCAHF in 1997 asking for help in identifying hazardous herbal remedies.  The problem is that so little is known about new herbal products that become overnight fads.  The fact that many natural plants contain poisons is old news to poison control centers.  Further, it is these poisonous plants that often double as folk remedies.

Think about it. Any plant substance that has the power to alter the physiology or biochemistry of the body has potential for good or evil, depending upon the dosage and personal characteristics of the individual who ingests it.  The 1997 version of Know Your Plants...Safe or Poisonous lists toxic plants, mushrooms, and herbal medicines under separate categories of substances of which consumers need to be wary.

For a copy of the brochure, contact the California Poison Control System at 1-800-876-4766 (California only); or write to them at the California Poison Control System, San Francisco Division, San Francisco General Hospital, Bldg 80, Room 230, 1001 Potrero Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110.


The Federal Trade Commission has ruled that wholesaler Nutrition 21 and two retailers (Body Gold and Universal Merchants) may no longer claim that chromium picolinate will:

They are also prohibited from claiming that 90% of American adults do not consume enough chromium for normal insulin function. Under a consent agreement, Nutrition 21 must provide past and future customers with notice of the charges against it, and request them to stop using the offensive sales materials.

[Healthy Weight Journal, Sept-Oct, 1997]


The 1994 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey found that 128 of the 3,999 people surveyed reported drinking raw milk. The leading reasons reported for drinking raw milk were: taste (38%), health (17%), nutritional value (10%), and only milk available in the home (10%). Thirty-nine percent obtained raw milk at retail stores, 30% at farms or ranch, 17% at home, and 7% at a dairy.

[Headrick ML, Timbo B, Klontz KC, Werner SB. "Profile of raw milk drinkers in California," Public Health Reports, 1997;112:418-22]


In 1986 the Introduction to the British Medical Association's report entitled Alternative Therapy stated:

During the Prince of Wales' term as President of the BMA (1982-83), he urged the Association to look critically at modern medicine. Prince Charles stated that 'today's unorthodoxy is probably going to be tomorrow's convention.' He continued, 'by concentrating on smaller and smaller fragments of the body modern medicine perhaps loses sight of the patient as a whole being, and by reducing health to a mechanical functioning it is no longer able to deal with the phenomenon of healing.'

Despite his privileged education, Prince Charles had it backwards.  In the past, as medical science developed, some forms of convention became unorthodox, but not the other way around.  His complaint about specialization losing sight of the patient as a whole has some validity, but his last statement about mechanical functioning versus healing sounds like he has been indoctrinated by his personal homeopath.  Anyhow, the result of Prince Charles's comments was the formation of a "working party" on alternative medicine that issued the 1986 report. The report was a description of the evolution of medical science and the current status of odd and unusual medicine in the UK and nearby.

In 1997, it was, as Yogi Berra has said, "deja vu all over again."   Now comes Integrated Healthcare; A Way Forward for the Next Five Years?  A Discussion Document, published by The Foundation for Integrated Medicine on behalf of the Steering Committee for The Prince of Wales's Initiative on Integrated Medicine, which, according to the Introduction, "was set up at the suggestion of the Prince of Wales to consider the current positions of orthodox, complementary and alternative medicine in the United Kingdom and how far it would be appropriate and possible for them to work more closely together."

The publication is a tortured document that lays out the alleged growth in the use of complementary alternative medicine (CAM); speculates on "possible reasons for" this alleged growth; puts forth the notion that CAM "may have the potential" to improve clinical outcomes and cost-effectiveness in the National Health System; and lays out the problems that exist within CAM that has kept it from acceptance, how the situation might be improved, and how this might come about.  It is only in this last area that the report gets real.  It describes the political and regulatory environment in the UK and the dearth of data to support CAM.  It goes to great length to lay out what CAM must do to produce sufficient data for responsible health care providers to contemplate how to apply its methods to patients.

The discussion document represents a laudable effort by committed people to bring sense to a relatively senseless topic. But will it lead to anything useful, or will it become a public relations tool in the hands of promoters to create the illusion that CAM is making a serious effort to meet the targeted deficiencies?  In my view, this represents the UK equivalent to the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine.

Instead of elected quackophiles inside the government abusing their positions of privilege, it is one privileged by royal birth who is orchestrating what is predictably an enormous waste of economic and intellectual resources in a futile effort.  CAM succeeds on the fringes of legitimate healthcare because it deals with a dimension of the human condition that legitimate medicine cannot.

CAM succeeds because providers:

  1. Use buzz-words that resonate with their patients (eg, "natural," "nontoxic," "nutritional," "holistic," "wellness"), but which are only vaguely understood by them.
  2. Employ "feel good" methods (eg, herbal uppers & downers, hands-on procedures such as massage and manipulation that increase suggestibility).
  3. Give patients "pep-talks" a fish for little improvements that they can take credit for bringing about.
  4. Teach bogus beliefs such as "healing crisis" and "detoxification" that allow practitioners to take credit even when things go badly--it's "the poisons coming out!"
  5. Exploit the wishful thinking of patients by declaring things are better even when they are not.
  6. Exploit the symbolism of "good" vs "bad" foods, including the guilt induced by people's pursuit of pleasure.
  7. Bash regular medical procedures and government regulation to reinforce alienation from standard medicine.
  8. Exude self-confidence.
  9. Have a "never-say-die" approach that strings patients along as long as the money lasts.

The report is available from the Foundation for Integrated Medicine, 83 Kingsway, London WC2B 6SD, Price: 10 pounds Sterling (approximately $16.50US).

Newsletter contents copyright 1998, National Council Against Health Fraud, Inc.
Items may be reprinted without permission if suitable credit is given.

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