Consumer Health Digest #07-34

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
September 4, 2007


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.


"Organic" food report updated. The Institute of Food Technologists has updated its Scientific Status Summary on organic foods. The 8-page report examines definitions; laws and regulations; and whether organic and conventional foods differ significantly in safety or nutritional quality. [Winter CK, David SF. Organic foods. Journal of Food Science 71:E117-R124, 2006] The report concludes:

While many studies demonstrate . . . qualitative differences between organic and conventional foods, it is premature to conclude that either food system is superior to the other with respect to safety or nutritional composition. Pesticide residues, naturally occurring toxins, nitrates, and polyphenolic compounds exert their health risks or benefits on a dose-related basis, and data do not yet exist to ascertain whether the differences in the levels of such chemicals between organic foods and conventional foods are of biological significance.


Comprehensive meditation review finds little value. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has published a 470-page report on meditation practices. The review was done by researchers at the University of Alberta's Evidence-based Practice Center. After reviewing 813 "predominantly poor studies," the authors concluded:

Many uncertainties surround the practice of meditation. Scientific research on meditation practices does not appear to have a common theoretical perspective and is characterized by poor methodological quality. Firm conclusions on the effects of meditation practices in healthcare cannot be drawn based on the available evidence. Future research on meditation practices must be more rigorous in the design and execution of studies and in the analysis and reporting of results.

The report—Meditation Practices for Health: State of the Research (AHRQ Publication No. 07-E010)—can be read online at Mental Health Watch or, while supplies last, obtained free-of-charge by calling (800) 358-9295.


Court curbs bogus device operator. Joyce M. Tasker of Coleville, Washington has been ordered to stop practicing medicine and veterinary medicine without a license. In 2006, the Washington Department of Health (DOH) ordered her to stop after concluding that she used electrodermal testing (EDT) to diagnose a wide variety of problems in humans and animals. Tasker appealed to her local trial court and then to the Court of Appeals, both of which upheld the DOH's decision. EDT (also called electrodermal screening or EDS) is a bogus procedure based on the notion that health problems can be detected by measuring skin resistance to a tiny electrical current. The appellate decision is posted on Casewatch. Comprehensive information about EDT is available on Quackwatch.


"Business opportunity" scammer under criminal investigation. Postal inspectors have seized documents at the home and business of Don Lapre. Lapre has not been charged, but a search-warrant affidavit indicated that agents are gathering evidence of possible mail, wire, and telemarketing fraud. [Altucker K. Lapre, Valley-based vitamin seller, investigated: Phoenix company's telemarketing methods, infomercials indicate fraud, U.S. probe says. Arizona Republic, Aug 21, 2007] In recent years, Lapre has been using infomercials to claim that his product "The Greatest Vitamin in the World" contains "all you need for optimal health" and also presents a great financial opportunity. However, his profit projections don't add up, and the Better Business Bureau has given him an unsatisfactory record due to a pattern of unsubstantiated product claims and failure to give refunds to dissatisfied customers [Quill T, Barrett S. Be wary of Don Lapre, Doug Grant, and "The Greatest Vitamin in the World." Infomercial Watch, July 17, 2006]


Suit alleging thimerosal-autism connection dismissed. A federal district court has dismissed a product liability suit against the manufacturer and a distributor of Ayr Saline Nasal Mist, which contains a tiny amount of the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal. The suit was filed by a parent and her autistic son who alleged that the boy's autism was caused by three or four years of daily use of the spray. The expert evidence they offered was from geneticist Mark R. Geier, M.D., Ph.D., whose professional activity is centered around the claim that mercury-containing vaccines are a major cause of autism. In a motion for summary judgment, the defendants argued that the plaintiffs had no reliable evidence to support their allegation the spray was generally capable of causing autism or had caused the boy's autism and that Geier's report should be excluded. The judge agreed. Calling Geier "unreliable," the judge said that Geier's differential diagnosis was faulty because "he failed to consider one specific alternative explanation – that the cause of autism is not known today." The judge also noted: "Dr. Geier has been designated as an expert witness in about 100 cases before the Vaccine Court. However, in some of those cases, particularly the more recent ones, his opinion testimony has been excluded or accorded little or no weight beyond a determination that he was testifying beyond his expertise." The full decision is posted to Casewatch.


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This page was posted on September 6, 2007.