Consumer Health Digest #01-04

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 22, 2001


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.


Professional groups overhype Web site. Seven professional societies whose individual Web sites contain superb content are cosponsoring Medem, which provides information for consumers. The site, whose editor-in-chief is former AMA board chairman Nancy W. Dickey, M.D., states:

The "Medical Library" information on most topics is accurate, but the section on "complementary and alternative medicine" is filled with errors and bad advice. Since Medem has only been online for less than three months and is not well known, it might be interesting to know what data support the claim that has become the Internet's "most trusted source." It might also be interesting to know how and why the low-quality information on "complementary and alternative medicine" got through the alleged approval process.


Electrodermal testing debunked. Electrodermal screening (EDS), also known as electrodiagnosis of Voll (EAV), measures skin resistance to a tiny electric current at alleged "acupuncture points." Although EDS is claimed to measure the flow or balance of "the body's electromagnetic energy," it merely measures how hard the operator presses the device's probe against the patient's skin. EDS is sometimes used to diagnose allergies. In a double-blind study, British researchers compared its results with a Vegatest device to those of conventional skin-prick testing in 30 volunteers, half of whom had previously reacted positively for allergy to cat dander or house dust mite. Each participant was tested with 6 items by each of 3 operators in 3 separate sessions, a total of 54 tests per participant. The researchers concluded that Vegatesting does not correlate with skin prick testing and so should not be used to diagnose these allergies. The authors estimated that more than 500 EDS devices are currently used in the United Kingdom to assess sensitivity to potential allergens. [Lewis GT and others. Is electrodermal testing as effective as skin prick tests for diagnosing allergies? A double blind, randomised block design study. British Journal of Medicine 322:131-134, 2001] For additional information on EDS, see Quackwatch.


More libel suits filed. Naturopath Hulda Clark, who operates a cancer clinic in Mexico, claims she can cure cancer, AIDS, and many other serious diseases, sometimes within a few hours. Since November 1999, Tim Bolen (who identifies himself as her "publicist") has been distributing false and defamatory messages about her critics. Many of the messages have been republished (sometimes with embellishment) on Web sites, in news group postings, and in other e-mail messages by other Clark allies and supporters. In November 2000, Stephen Barrett, M.D., Terry Polevoy, M.D., and Attorney Christopher Grell filed a libel suit against Clark, Bolen, Ilena Rosenthal, Scientologist David Amrein, the Dr. Clark Association, and others who have spread or conspired to spread the defamatory messages. Dr. Barrett has also filed suit against Joseph Mercola, M.D., an Illinois osteopath who posted and endorsed some of Bolen's messages. Additional background information about Clark is available on Quackwatch.


Insurance rights explained. A new Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services can answer questions about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which protects health insurance coverage when jobs are changed or lost. HCFA's new consumer booklet, "Protecting Your Health Insurance Coverage" is available online or by calling(800) 633-4227.


New privacy rules. The Clinton Administration has proposed rules to limit the extent to which health plans, health-care clearinghouses, and certain health providers can share medical information [Federal Register 65:82461-82829, 2000]. The rules, scheduled to take effect in 2-3 years, would, for example, make it illegal for health insurance companies to share medical information with such entities as mortgage companies that could use the information to deny a loan and employers who might want to check medical records before hiring an employee. Violations could trigger civil and criminal penalties that range from $100 per incident to 10 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines for obtaining protected information under false pretenses. The 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act required that privacy rules be issued. This law does not cover Internet sites that seek personal medical information. The proposed rules are posted to the Internet in eight segments that can be located by searching Volume 65 of the Federal Register for "standards for privacy of individually identifiable health information" in quotation marks.


Death associated with hydrazine sulfate use. On December 5, 2000, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a case report of a 55-year-old man with cancer of the sinus near his left cheekbone. Instead of undergoing recommended medical treatment, he obtained hydrazine sulfate through a Web site and, for four months, followed the regimen published on the kathykeeton.com Web site. Two weeks later, he was hospitalized with signs of kidney and liver failure. Despite intensive hospital care, he died within a week. [Hainer MI and others. Fatal hepatorenal failure associated with hydrazine sulfate. Annals of Internal Medicine 133:877-880, 2000. [PDF]. Proponents have speculated that hydrazine sulfate might be effective for treating the progressive weight loss and body deterioration characteristic of advanced cancer. However, enough research has been done to conclude that it offers little or no significant benefit and is potentially dangerous.


FDA issues phenylpropanolamine warning. The FDA plans to order the removal of phenylpropanolamine (PPA) as an ingredient in OTC and prescription drug products and has asked manufacturers to voluntarily stop marketing them. PPA has been used in prescription and OTC drug products as a nasal decongestant to relieve stuffy nose or sinus congestion. It has also been an ingredient in OTC products to claimed to control appetite. The warning was based on estimates that 200 to 500 strokes per year among persons 18 to 49 could be associated with PPA use. A recent study by scientists at Yale University found an association between PPA use and hemorrhagic stroke in women. [Horwitz AI and others. Phenylpropanolamine & risk of hemorrhagic stroke: Final report of the Hemorrhagic Stroke Project] The study did not contain enough men to estimate the risk to men, but there is no reason to believe it is lower. The FDA has set up a special PPA information page that provides comprehensive information.


Wendy's adopts "no-smoking" policy. On December 22, 2000, in response to shareholder resolutions filed by two Catholic religious orders, Wendy's International, Inc., agreed to adopt a policy prohibiting smoking in all its U.S. company-operated restaurants by March 31, 2001. It also agreed to encourage its U.S. franchisees to adopt similar policies. The resolution was filed by the Midwest Capuchin Franciscans and the St. Louis Region of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. Wendy's decision ended a campaign begun in 1993 by other members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. The change of policy reflected a change in Wendy's key management.


Free chiropractic books. The World Chiropractic Alliance (WCA), a group "dedicated to a subluxation-free world," has posted PDF copies of five complete books to its Web site. WCA espouses the "straight" chiropractic viewpoint that spinal misalignments resulting in "nerve interference" are the primary underlying cause of ill health. It also opposes immunization and exaggerates the dangers of medical care.


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This page was posted on January 22, 2001.