Consumer Health Digest #08-09

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
February 26, 2008


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.


More criticism of dubious home genetic testing. Quackwatch has posted a dozen little-publicized documents related to Internet-based offers of genetic tests combined with guidance on diet, supplement strategies, lifestyle changes, and/or drug usage that they claim can improve health outcomes. In 2002, Quackwatch explained why such testing should be avoided. [Barrett S, Hall H. Dubious genetic testing. Quackwatch, April 9, 2002] In 2006, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing about such tests. The highlight of the hearing was an undercover investigation in which staff members of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) submitted DNA samples to four Web sites that offered testing. The investigators submitted 12 samples taken from a cheek swab of a 9-month-old female and two from an unrelated 48-year-old man but described the specimens as coming from adults of various ages and lifestyle descriptions. Three of the sites made different recommendations for nine of the infant's samples. Since the DNA of these samples was identical, this showed that these recommendations were not actually based on the sender's "unique genetic profile" as advertised. Two of the sites recommended "personalized" supplement regimens that, in addition to being senseless, cost more than 30 times as much as comparable products available at retail outlets. Experts who reviewed the test reports concluded that they made predictions that were medically unproven, ambiguous, and provided no meaningful information for consumers. This report and other documents from the hearing can be accessed through Quackwatch.


Unfounded vaccine lawsuit dismissed. A Maryland Circuit Court judge has dismissed the lawsuit by parents who alleged that thimerosal-containing vaccines caused their son to become autistic. In December 2007, after concluding that thimerosal in vaccines does not cause or contribute to autism, the judge precluded the testimony of five expert witnesses offered to support the plaintiff's claim. [Berger SR. Memorandum opinion. Blackwell v. Sigma Aldrich, Inc. et al., Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Case No. 24-C-04-004829, Dec 21, 2007] With no scientific testimony to support the plaintiff's claim, dismissal was inevitable.


Shantha and co-conspirator sentenced. Todata R. Shanthaveerappa, M.D. (also known as T.R. Shantha, M.D.) and Dan U. Bartoli, have been sentenced to serve probation and pay a restitution to insurance companies that they have defrauded. For several years, Shantha operated a clinic in Stockbridge, Georgia under the names "Integrated Medical Specialists" and "Integrated Chemotherapy Specialists." Shantha was the clinic's medical director, and Bartoli was his medical assistant. Among other things, the indictment alleges that the pair treated cancer patients with dinitrophenol (DNP), Ukrain, and hyperbaric oxygen, none of which have any value against the conditions for which they were used. DNP is also extremely dangerous. The indictment also stated that Shantha and Bartoli defrauded health insurance companies by submitting claims that disguised what treatments they were providing at the clinic. Both settled their cases with plea bargains. Shantha pled guilty to one count of health care fraud, agreed to pay a total of $650,000 in asset forfeiture plus restitution, and was sentenced to serve five years' probation followed by three years of supervised release. Bartoli pled guilty to one count of health care fraud, was held jointly liable for about $66,000 in restitution, and was sentenced to two years of supervised release. Shantha's Georgia medical license was suspended in in 2005, a few days after he was indicted. The suspension order also expressed concern that he had treated cancer patients inappropriately. A government document filed in 2006 reveals some of the sordid ways that he allegedly conducted his business and jeopardized patients by using DNP. Quackwatch has additional information on DNP and Shantha.


Supplements fail to help Down syndrome infants. A randomized, controlled clinical trial has found no evidence that antioxidant or folic acid supplements improve the language or motor development of children with trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome). The study involved 156 infants age seven months or younger who were given daily oral supplementation with antioxidants (selenium 10 µg, zinc 5 mg, vitamin A 0.9 mg, vitamin E 100 mg, and vitamin C 50 mg), folic acid (0.1 mg); antioxidants and folic acid combined; or a placebo. After 18 months, there were no significant differences among the four groups. [Ellis JM and others. Supplementation with antioxidants and folinic acid for children with Down’s syndrome: randomised controlled trial. British Medical Journal, Feb 25, 2008]


Congressional candidate linked to unethical experiments. Dr. Robert Baratz has held a press conference in Cincinnati to spotlight his view that Victoria Wells Wulsin, M.D., Dr.P.H. had failed to report misconduct by Dr. Henry Heimlich. [Baratz blasts Wulsin: Malariotherapy compared to Tuskegee experiments. Cincinnati Beacon, Feb 28, 2008] Wulsin is running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2004, the Heimlich Institute hired her to review Heimlich's work on "malariotherapy" for HIV infections and to write a business plan for promoting it. The experiment involved infecting HIV patients with malaria and letting the disease progress untreated for several weeks. At the press conference, Baratz likened this approach to the Nazi medical experiments of World War II and the infamous 40-year Tuskegee Study in which poor black sharecroppers with syphilis were left untreated. [Baratz RS. Victoria Wulsin linked to unethical "malariotherapy" experiments. Quackwatch, Feb 28, 2008] In 2006, Baratz asked the Ohio Medical Board to investigate Wulsin's conduct. The investigation is still active. The Cincinnati Beacon has posted a videotape of the press conference.


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