Consumer Health Digest #05-30

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
July 26, 2005


Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.


FTC hits Xenadrine marketers. The Federal Trade Commission has acted against two groups of sellers of Xenadrine EFC, an herbal product claimed to cause weight loss. FTC takes action against marketers of top-selling Xenadrine EFX. FTC news release, July 13, 2005] In both cases, the FTC charged that the defendants had falsely advertised that Xenadrine EFX causes rapid and substantial weight and fat loss without the need to diet or exercise and causes permanent or long-term weight loss. The ads relied heavily on testimonials from supposedly satisfied customers, some of whom claimed to have lost over 100 pounds. One case was settled by a consent agreement under which New-York-based Cytodyne, LLC, Evergood Products Corp., and Melvin Rich agreed to pay $100,000 to the FTC and to refrain from making unsubstantiated claims in the future. The other action was a federal court complaint against New Jersey-based Robert Chinery, Jr., Tracy Chinery, and their company, RTC Research & Development, LLC. This complaint charged the defendants with falsely representing that persons appearing in the ads had achieved their reported weight loss solely by using Xenadrine EFX. The complaint states that the consumer endorsers lost weight by engaging in rigorous diet and/or exercise programs and were paid from $1,000 to $20,000 in connection with their testimonials. In October 2004, the FDA notified Cytodyne that several claims for Xenadrine CarboCurb were unsubstantiated and illegal.


Prominent British epidemiologist dies. Sir Richard Doll (1912-2005), who achieved worldwide impact by discovering and publicizing the relationship between smoking and lung cancer, died July 24 at the age of 92. During the 1970s, he debunked bogus claims that fluoridation causes cancer and co-authored a report recommending the addition of that fluoride to British water. He also studied relationships between low-level radiation and cancer; alcohol intake and breast cancer; and vitamin D supplementation and fracture prevention in the elderly.


Health Canada warns against heavy metals in Ayurvedic products. Health Canada has warned consumers not to use certain Ayurvedic products that contain high levels of lead, mercury, and/or arsenic. The agency plans to remove these products from the market and to prevent their further importation into Canada. After tests identified 13 products with high levels of lead, mercury and/or arsenic, Health Canada advised consumers to avoid Karela, Safi, Maha Sudarshan Churna, Yograj Guggul, Sudarshan, or Shilajit products unless it has authorized them for sale. [Health Canada warns consumers not to use certain Ayurvedic medicinal products. Health Canada news release, July 14, 2005] The investigation was triggered by a report that potentially harmful levels of lead, mercury and/or arsenic had been found in 14 commercially available Ayurvedic medicinal products sold in the Boston area. [Saper RB and others. Heavy metal content of Ayurvedic herbal medicine products. JAMA 292: 2868-287, 2004] Products that Health Canada "authorizes" carry an identification number said to indicate that the agency has assessed them for safety, efficacy, and quality. However, the relevant guidance document (Evidence for Safety and Efficacy of Finished Natural Products) indicates that "traditional use" claims will be approved if supported by two independent sources or one source plus "an expert opinion report based on practitioner experience and knowledge of use for at least 50 years." The document defines "traditional" as "the sum total of knowledge, beliefs, skills and practices based on the theories, beliefs and experiences indigenous to different cultures." In other words, claims that have been part of an organized body of thought can be approved even though they clash with established scientific knowledge and are not supported by a shred of scientific evidence.


"AIDS specialist" indicted for subdosing and insurance fraud. George Steven Kooshian, M.D., 54 and his back office assistant Virgil Opinion, 45, have been indicted on charges of administering doses of medicine that contained less than the prescribed amount of medication that the patient was supposed to receive. [Doctor and assistant indicted for subdosing patients on AIDS medications. USDOJ news release, July 20, 2005] The indictment charges the pair with conspiracy, 25 counts of health care fraud, and 3 counts of making false statements relating to health care matters. According to the indictment, the patients received one half to one quarter of the dose they were supposed to receive of three medications, or only saline (dilute salt water) or water. The indictment also alleges that Kooshian bilked health insurers, including Medicare, out of approximately $1.2 million in fraudulent claims relating to these medications. The investigation into Kooshian's activities began when Opinion ended his employment with Dr. Kooshian and told an Orange County Weekly reporter that "his conscience was killing him" in connection with the subdosing of patients. [Dr. KO'd: OC Weekly series leads to federal indictment of celebrated AIDS doctor. Orange County Weekly, July 22–28, 2005] Opinion and a former Kooshian patient who was subdosed subsequently filed suits against Kooshian that were settled confidentially. In 1991, Kooshian was arrested on felony charges of prescribing anabolic steroids and other drugs, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, and was fined $20,000 and sentenced to three years' court probation. California's medical board also placed him on probation that ended in 2000. The Weekly's archives contain several articles that provide additional details.


Kava, valerian, flunk Internet-based test. An Internet-based double-blind study has found that kava (for anxiety) and valerian (for insomnia) are no more effective than an inactive placebo. The study included 391 participants from 45 states who were recruited through e-mail and Web sites. By mail, 121 patients received kava plus an inactive valerian-placebo, 135 received valerian plus a kava-placebo, and 135 received double placebos. After four weeks, subjects used a secure web site to complete follow-up questionnaires. Their anxiety test scores decreased by 25% for patients taking a placebo, compared to about 21% with either kava or valerian. The effects on insomnia were similar: in all three groups, insomnia scores and time to falling asleep decreased by about 50%. Most side effects were comparable between groups, although patients taking valerian had a higher rate of diarrhea. [Jacobs BP and others. An Internet-based randomized, placebo-controlled trial of kava and valerian for anxiety and insomnia. Medicine 84:197-207, 2005] The study was performed before recent safety warnings about liver damage related to kava. However, none of the patients taking it reported any liver-related side effects. This study appears to be the first randomized, controlled clinical research trial to be conducted entirely over the Internet.


Young psychic receives lengthy prison sentence. Jennifer Evans of San Antonio has been sentenced to 12 years in prison and ordered to pay restitution to former clients. Two weeks ago, a jury convicted her of eight counts of theft by coercion after former clients testified that she had conned them out of money by promising health and happiness and warning that loved ones would die of cancer unless they came up with enough money to save them. Many of her customers opened department store credit accounts and took out loans to pay her. The sentence calls for $213,000 in restitution and a $10,000 fine. During the sentencing hearing, Evans, who is 24 years old, reportedly told the judge that she didn't know how to read or write but had been taught how to do psychic readings when she was 7. The prosecution was triggered by a March 2004 WOAI-TV report which showed her trying to scam a producer. Several reports about the case can be viewed online by searching the station's media center for "Jennifer Evans."


Skeptic NewsSearch returns. Joe Littrell is again publishing his newsletter identifying news articles related to paranormal claims, questionable heath-related activities, urban legends, and hoaxes. Issues will be distributed 2-3 times per week. To subscribe, send a message to skepticsearch-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. The newsletters are also posted at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/skepticsearch/ and obtainable through an RSS newsfeed.


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This page was posted on July 26, 2005.