Consumer Health Digest #10-08

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
February 25, 2010


Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. 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.


"pH Miracle" debunked. Quackwatch has posted a detailed analysis of the activities of Robert O. Young, author of The pH Miracle. [Barrett S. A critical look at "Dr." Robert Young's theories and credentials. Quackwatch Feb 24, 2010] Young—who markets himself as "Robert O. Young, M.S., D.Sc., Ph.D."—claims to be "widely recognized as one of the top research scientists in the world." The article notes, however, that all of his graduate degrees came from Clayton College of Natural Health, a nonaccredited correspondence school, and that the Medline database lists no articles with him as author. Young claims that (a) "acidification and overgrowth of negative microforms in the body are the root cause of every symptom, illness and disease' and (b) health depends primarily on proper balance between an alkaline and acid environment that can be optimized by dietary modification and taking supplements. However, homeostatic mechanisms keep the acidity of the blood stream within a narrow range, and no one has ever demonstrated that trying to change it produces a general health benefit or can cure a wide range of diseases. Young markets supplement products and advises people based on microscopic examinations of their blood. The San Diego Tribune has reported that in 2003, after two brushes with the law in Utah, he moved to California because he thought the legal climate there was more tolerant for "dietary researchers" such as himself. [Jenkins L. Naturopathic technique stirring bad blood. San Diego Tribune, April 11, 2005]


"Coma man" miracle was a hoax. Tests by the Belgian skeptical organization SKEPP have confirmed that the "faciliated communication" with Rom Houben—a Belgian man who has been in a persistant vegetative state for more than 20 years—was a hoax. In November 2009, Houben's doctors declared that Houben's PET scans had shown signs of consciousness and that he was able to communicate with help from a "facilitator." Throughout the world, uncritical video coverage showed Houben typing complex messages with one finger while the facilitator guided Houben's hand over a keyboard, supposedly feeling and amplifying his tiny intentional movements. Although simple tests would have revealed the hoax, reporters failed to request them. [Clever Linda phenomenon. Skeptic's Dictionary, Feb 19, 2010] When properly tested by the Skeptical group, Houben was able to answer questions when the facilitator knew the questions and could see the keyboard. However, when questions were asked with facilitator out of the room, or when the facilitator was not permitted to see the keyboard, the typing produced gibberish. [Betz W. Facilitated communication with coma patient is a sham. Quackwatch, Feb 25, 2010] CNN's sensationalized and misleading report—Trapped 'coma' man: How was he misdiagnosed?—remains available online.


Lifescan ordered to tone down claims for x-ray screening tests. The British Advertising Authority has ordered the marketers of Lifescan screening to modify its advertising. The ruling came is response to a television ad which stated that their CT testing "has helped us save the lives of people all across the UK and given peace of mind to many more. It only takes a few minutes and could detect the early stages of heart disease, lung and colon cancer, as well as the early stages of osteoporosis and other illnesses, giving you a check-up all in one go.” Challengers to the ad said that (a) benefit had not been substantiated, (b) radiation risk had been ignored, and (c) the ad might make people think that the test could identify every type of health problem. After concluding that CT scanning had not been proven cost-effective for general population screening, the ASA ordered the company to (a) stop suggesting that scanning for colon cancer in people aged under 50 years, osteoporosis, or lung cancer was suitable for all people without symptoms, (b) to avoid suggesting that a CT scan could identify every kind of health problem, and (c) to include information about the risk from exposure to radiation. A 2008 ASA ruling expressed similar concerns about a Lifescan leaflet. The FDA has issued public warnings based on similar reasoning.


Rife device marketer gets prison sentence. James Folsom has been ordered to pay a $250,000 fine and was sentenced to 59 months in prison to be followed by 3 years of supervised release. The judge also ordered the destruction of more than 450 devices that the Government had seized during the execution of a search warrant at a self-storage unit that Folsom used. In February 2009, a federal jury convicted James Folsom of 26 felony counts relating to his sale of quack medical devices. Evidence presented at his trial indicated that for more than ten years, he conspired with others to ship Rife-type biofrequency devices in interstate commerce. Royal Raymond Rife (1888-1971) claimed that cancer was caused by bacteria and that his devices could emit vibrations that would shatter them. Device Watch has additional details and links to court documents.


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This page was revised on February 26, 2010.