Consumer Health Digest #02-53

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 31, 2002


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.


Neuropsychologist debunks "toxic mold" claims. Paul R. Lees-Haley, Ph.D., has written a lengthy article criticizing the diagnosis of "mold neurotoxicity" and the many lawsuits filed by alleged victims. He states that (a) there is no consistent pattern of symptoms or test results through which that diagnosis of "mold neurotoxicity" can be defined, and (b) there is no scientific evidence that breathing mold spores in household and commercial office settings causes neuropsychological impairment. The article concludes:

Toxic tort attorneys and a handful of experts they favor would like you to believe that "toxic mold" is disabling people in epidemic proportions by damaging their brains. In order for this to be correct, the overwhelming majority of physicians, toxicologists, and mental health professionals who have studied this issue would have to be completely wrong, and doctors in day-to-day practice would have to be overlooking the diagnosis. . . .

The mold neurotoxicity debate is not simply about health care and science—a focus on money and litigation is pervasive in the communications of the toxic mold promoters. . . . The campaign being waged to convince people of the dangers of "toxic mold" is not merely an amusing example of folly in modern society. The people who are bypassing scientific evidence and engaging in wholesale dissemination of "toxic mold" rhetoric are not neutral forces. If it turns out that these exposures are neuropsychologically harmless, the hysterical claims and unfounded alarms sounded by lawyers, doctors, and others will nonetheless have harmed many victims. . . . Further exploration of the effects of inhaling mycotoxins and mold spores should be through high-quality, well controlled, scientific studies, not speculation in adversarial settings. [Lees-Haley PR. Mold neurotoxicity: Validity, reliability and baloney. Quackwatch, Dec 23, 2002]

The leading promoters of "mold neurotoxicity" include leading advocates of the bogus diagnosis of multiple chemical sensitivity, which is alleged to produce many of the same symptoms.


"Bio-oxidative medicine" practitioner disciplined. In September 2002, John Carl Pittman, M.D., signed a consent order under which the North Carolina Medical Board suspended his license for 60 days with the stipulation that he "would not use IV ozone or hydrogen peroxide until the board explicitly orders otherwise." Documents from the board indicate that the case involved a woman he treated who had nearly died from a precipitous drop in hemoglobin caused by Pittman's administration of intravenous ozone and hydrogen peroxide. Several proponent Web sites state that in 1992, the board had pressured Pittman to stop treating AIDS patients with ozone and that he then practiced in Haiti until passage of an Alternative Medical Practices Act encouraged him to open the Carolina Center for Alternative and Nutritional Medicine in Raleigh in 1994. Pittman claims that "chronic oxygen deprivation" is a major cause of disease and that "bio-oxidative therapy" with ozone or hydrogen peroxide can "(1) increase metabolic efficiency of all cells; (2) stimulate cellular immunity (protects against infections) and suppress humoral immunity (allergic reactions); (3) regulate cytokines which control the action of all immune system cells; (4) regulate hormone production; (5) increase energy production; (6) exert a direct killing effect of bacteria, viruses, yeasts, and cancer cells; and (7) stimulate the production of more natural antioxidant enzymes." However, these notions are unsubstantiated and lack a scientifically plausible rationale. [Green S. Oxygenation therapy: Unproven treatments for cancer and AIDS. Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine, Spring/Summer 1998] Pittman is also facing a malpractice suit by the woman who triggered the board's action.


Another study finds no effect of magnets on blood flow. Researchers at the University of Maryland have found that commercially available static magnets had no effect on resting forearm blood flow and vascular resistance. The double-blind study used 20 healthy men who wore either a magnet or a placebo for 30 minutes. The average blood flow during measurement period was not significantly different between the magnet and placebo sessions. [Martel GF and others. Comparison of static and placebo magnets on resting forearm blood flow in young, healthy men. Journal of Orthopedic Sports and Physical Therapy 32:518-524, 2002] About ten other studies have had similar findings that contradict claims made for the magnets marketed to consumers for relief of pain and other problems.


FTC nails phony breast-enhancement sellers. The FTC has obtained a consent agreement settling charges that Vital Dynamics, Inc., a Conoga Park, California corporation doing business as ISIS, falsely advertised that its product (Isis) could provide "Fuller, Firmer Breasts in as Little as a Few Weeks . . . Guaranteed." The agency also charged that claims that Isis had no reported side effects was false, because the defendants had received hundreds of complaints about headache, nausea, and allergic reactions. The complaint also alleged that the defendants had falsely promised that dissatisfied consumers could easily obtain full refunds. "The Isis Natural Breast Enhancement System" is a patented herbal capsule and topical cream combination that cost $199 to $599 for a six-month supply. The consent agreement requires three company officials, Geoffrey V. Knight, Mark D. Berman, and Allen Smith, to pay a total of $50,000 in redress and bars them from making deceptive claims in the future. [Marketers of purported "breast enhancement" system settle FTC charges. FTC news release, Dec 26, 2002]


Former Rajneesh cult leader receives prison sentence. Phyllis McCarthy, a former leader of the Rajneesh Ranch in central Oregon, has pled guilty to conspiracy to murder a U.S. Attorney and been sentenced to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine. [Suo S. Ex-Rajneeshee pleads guilty in conspiracy. But Turner, the intended victim, was not so satisfied when contacted about the plea. The Oregonian, Dec 21, 2002] The ranch operated from 1981 to 1985. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was deported from the United States in 1986 and died in India in 1990. Most of the other cult leaders fled the country as FBI agents descended on the ranch to investigate sham marriages, wiretapping, and an intentional salmonella poisoning that sickened hundreds of people in a nearby community. As part of the investigation, prosecutors uncovered the plot to murder Turner, who helped lead the investigation. McCarthy is the sixth person to be convicted in the murder conspiracy. (Seven were indicted, but one can't be extradited.) James S. Gordon, M.D. chairman of the now-defunct White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy wrote a glowing book about Rajneesh that was published in 1987. [Curry P. The Golden Guru: A sampler. NCAHF Web site, Feb 26, 2002]


Antiquackery Web sites install global search engine. NCAHF.org and seven of Quackwatch's sites have installed a "Supersearch" page from which any or all of the sites can be searched simultaneously.


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This page was posted on December 31, 2002.