The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently announced it had issued cease-and-desist demands to 20 marketers ordering them to immediately stop making baseless claims, on their websites and via social media, that their products and services can prevent or treat COVID-19.* They were told to notify the FTC within 48 hours of specific actions they have taken to address the agency’s concerns. According to its press release, the FTC previously issued over 400 similar demands to marketers offering COVID nostrums.
While the FTC is understandably concerned about bogus COVID remedies, many of the products and services under scrutiny are the same ones we’ve covered numerous times here at SBM when sold for other diseases and conditions, yet they remain on the market: vitamins and other dietary supplements, herbs, homeopathy, IV infusions, and quack gizmos. As with other quack nostrums, COVID products and services are offered by hucksters who range from those who have no apparent education and training in medical science, or any science for that matter, to well-educated and well-trained physicians.
The FTC also advises recipients of its cease-and-desist letters
to review all other claims [in addition to COVID] for your products and immediately cease and desist from making claims that are not supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence. You must immediately cease and desist making all such claims.
Unfortunately, that warning appears to have had little effect on the plethora of dubious remedies offered even when the targeted COVID claims may have been taken down.
The FTC Act makes it illegal
to advertise that a product can prevent, treat, or cure human disease unless you possess competent and reliable scientific evidence, including substantiating that the claims are true at the time they are made.
For the products and services marketed for COVID cited in the FTC’s letters, no such evidence “is currently known to exist”.
Today we’ll take a look at some of these recent cease-and-desist letters and see how the same old quackery has been rejiggered to meet the demands of a modern pandemic. We’ll also look at how, regrettably, similar claims for other diseases and conditions are still marketed to the public by the very same people. We’ll focus on letters sent to physicians, who should know better, as well as a few charlatans who seem to be practicing medicine without a license.
But first, before we get to these folks, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about . . .
A Canadian outfit, AshNu Technologies, offers “memberships” to access something called “Infoceuticals” (or “ICs”) and the equipment purportedly required to “imprint ICs onto water or apply the ICs directly to the body”. These were advertised to prevent or treat COVID-19, and are still advertised to “support”, “help”, “maintain”, “treat” and otherwise benefit mitochondrial and energy production, the cardiovascular, reproductive, respiratory, digestive, endocrine, and nervous systems, and, of course, to “cleanse” and “restore the body”.
What are ICs? To begin with, you’ll not be surprised to learn that, like many quack remedies, they “work by stimulating the body’s own healing abilities”. Specifically (I guess),
ICs are electromagnetic signals that are generated using algorithms or recorded from substances that have healing, therapeutic, or other biological effects.
A video “explains” ICs “from the point of view of the “Quantum Electrodynamic (QED) Theory”:
Here you will learn how water is able to mimic the electromagnetic spectrum of diluted substances as well as how one can record and store these electromagnetic signals – thus, creating ICs from active substances.
You can deliver these ICs to your body by either transferring them to a glass of water via a gizmo (conveniently available for purchase) and drinking it, or by applying the gizmo directly to your body. Here we demonstrate using the “Glowing IC Pad”, currently marked down from $275 to $192.50. (Other gizmos for sale do the same thing but in a different way.)
Apparently in the spirit of the homeopathic mantra “like cures like”, AshNu offered an IC that
was made with the help of a highly diluted solution of an mRNA-based vaccine. It may be used to help ease side effects and adverse reactions from the vaccine.
This nonsense caught the FTC’s eye and they were told to cease such claims, which the company apparently did.
But AshNu, having simply removed its reference to COVID-19, still offers this IC for many other conditions:
Chlorine dioxide solution, also known as miracle mineral solution (MMS), [which] has been used as an alternative means to manage various conditions such as arthritis, cold/flu, malaria, hepatitis, measles, herpes, cancer, HIV, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Additionally, it has been used to improve oral and dental health.
And so on, with dozens of dietary supplements and other substances being transformed into ICs via this, um, technology, for numerous conditions, apparently without penalty.
With that bit of particularly idiotic “quantum” quackery out of the way, we’ll turn to the more serious problem of . . .
Even more physicians behaving badly
As our own Dr. David Gorski lamented in a post titled “2020 and the Pandemic: A Year of (Some) Physicians Behaving Badly”
the character of too many physicians has been found wanting, as they spent 2020 denying the pandemic, peddling quack cures, or spreading misinformation in the service of defying public health interventions.
A few more physicians recently found themselves recipients of FTC warnings in the latest tranche of letters. This is not the first time a crop of doctors has run afoul of the FTC Act for promoting COVID treatments lacking “competent and reliable scientific evidence”.
Brandon Mack M.D., an anesthesiologist, owns IVita Drip Therapy, with clinics in Wyoming and Kansas offering IV infusions concocted from various vitamins, minerals, pharmaceutical drugs and such, with names like the “Classic Cowboy” (a rebranded Myers Cocktail, a naturopathic staple) and “Forever Young” for “only $129” a pop. Since the FTC’s letter, his website no longer advertises his “Covid Blend”, promoted as
a powerhouse of immunity boosting Vitamin C, along with other essential elements working together to strengthen immune responses to serious viral illness….
But his other infusions, equally unsupported by adequate scientific evidence, remain on offer.
Similarly, although with a more glam website, a medical practice called Pretty Healthy NYC advertised, according to the FTC:
To help in the fight against coronavirus, my practice offers IV Vitamin C and Glutathione, along with a wide range of preventative and treatment-based infusion protocols, individually customized for each patient’s needs. These IV treatments are offered in our office or in the patient’s home.
One of Pretty Healthy NYC’s physicians, Roxanna Namavar, D.O., a psychiatrist, answered the call when “wellness” kook Christina Cuomo, wife of now-cancelled CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, rang up. Using what is quoted in the FTC’s cease-and-desist demand as the “Cuomo Protocol”, in a display of privilege that was deservedly criticized in the press, Dr. Namavar administered an at-home (in the Hamptons, no less) infusion containing
magnesium, NAC (a precursor to glutathione, said to be very helpful against COVID-19), vitamin C with lysine, proline, and B complex, folic acid, zinc, selenium, glutathione and caffeine (to combat the headache).
In a further obnoxious display of privilege, Dr. Namavar showed up in full hazmat gear at the same time as doctors and nurses working on the frontline in NYC hospitals were scrambling for PPE.
Again, these things don’t happen in a vacuum and plenty of nonsense remains on the website. Dr. Namavar practices “energy healing” and is “NADA certified in auricular acupuncture”. One of her partners, an M.D., practices so-called “Natural and Integrative Medicine”. They still advertise, among other services lacking adequate scientific backing, “Antiviral Infusions” as well as “Customized Cocktails”
to help rebalance your body, bring it back into homeostasis, and enhance cellular signaling.
They also practice so-called “functional medicine” which, they advertise,
Based on the results of your lab work, genetics, and symptoms, we suggest different options that elevate distinct aspects of your mood, lifestyle, and health.
The FTC cited Idaho D.O.s Christopher Peine and Peter Abraham for their promotion of “Low Dose Immunotherapy (LDI)” for treatment COVID. Their novel “discovery” was
that the body was actually responding to the COVID-19 proteins (viruses are not living organisms and are not dangerous to humans by themselves) and if we could tell the immune system to “tolerate” this protein, then we could stop the inflammatory response. . . . I decided to try this technique [previously used to “promote ‘immune tolerance’ to proteins that trigger allergies, autoimmune conditions, and inflammation”] for COVID-19 in the spring of 2020 with a mixture of coronavirus proteins from old strains of the virus.
And the results?
[S]o far, knock on wood, every patient I’ve tried it on has gotten better. Pretty much, either full resolution or near resolution, within literally hours to days.
But, as the FTC points out, they don’t have “competent and reliable scientific evidence” to support their claims and “must immediately cease”. Despite the FTC’s warning to review all of their claims, not just COVID, their clinic continues to offer LDI for chronic fatigue, endometriosis, “chronic Lyme” disease, and herpes, among other conditions. They, too, practice “functional medicine”.
Another D.O and FTC letter recipient, Texan Matthew Barker, apparently took a page from the chiropractic playbook by touting osteopathic manipulative treatment to “boost your immune system” and thereby help ward off COVID. Even more alarmingly, he claimed that an
all-natural herbal tea from Wei Labs may help prevent the Coronavirus from infecting individuals through immediate germ removal and immune support. The ingredients work together to remove germs from the throat, respiratory tract, and heart. At the same [sic], enhancing and supporting the immune system….”
Wei Labs got its own letter from the FTC about its teas and other concoctions, advertised as COVID preventatives and treatments. As the company’s website “explains”, from the Traditional Chinese Medicine viewpoint “the SARS-CoV2 virus and its infection-induced immune reaction is viewed as Cold Evil Qi” (sounds like a character in a James Bond movie). Wei Labs’ website cited ridiculous stats purportedly from an outfit called the National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, such as the claim that one of its herbal formulas “has more than a 90% effective rate” in the treatment of patients diagnosed with coronavirus pneumonia.
Angelica Kokalis, an Indiana practitioner of acupuncture and TCM, who has a financial relationship with Wei Labs, was also the recipient of an FTC letter demanding she cease advertising Wei Labs products for the prevention and cure of COVID-19. She, like others, was warned to review all claims for all products she sells or is paid to promote and “immediately cease and desist making claims that are not supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence”, a review that should wipe out most of her website. Like others, she advertises many scientifically unfounded services and products, including TCM for tremors, COPD, cancer, allergies, facial paralysis, and in-vitro fertilization, among others.
Tracy Gapin, M.D., is a urologist and head of the “Gapin Institute for Elite Health and Performance”, which runs a “Precision Health Optimization & Performance Center” for men in Sarasota, Florida. Dr. Gapin, who seems fond of superlatives, was warned against advertising the “power of peptides” for “radically upgrading your health” by “boosting your immune system“, these peptides having “probably saved my life” when he personally contracted COVID, which he was “battling” but ultimately won “with Precision Health”.
In addition to physicians caught in the FTC’s net, a Texas nurse anesthetist, Glenn Cochrane, head of Krystal Anesthesia and Pain Specialists and an outfit called Infinity Functional Performance, which specializes in “lifestyle optimization”, got a letter warning him against advising that his protocol of vitamins, minerals, peptides, teas, and the drug famotidine “all available through my practice” will protect one against COVID-19. Mr. Cochrane continues to offer “functional medicine” and IV infusions such as Myers Cocktails and “Immune Boost” via his anesthesia practice. He sells dodgy diagnostics, like the “Saliva and Blood Hormone Home Test Kit”, and therapies like “testosterone replacement therapy monthly membership”. (It is not clear to me how these are within a nurse anesthetist’s scope of practice in Texas.)
In addition to actual physicians, “Dr. Monica Sava“, whose Ph.D. is in Measurement, Statistics and Evaluation, received an FTC letter for, among other things, selling
a very powerful tincture set [$500 for four tinctures!] that has now worked [for COVID] on a ton of people. And I do have a supplement protocol to boost your immune system. Aside from the fact that people taking my basic antiviral and medicinal Mushrooms have been healthy all year.
Although Connecticut does not have a Quack Protection Act, Sava certainly seems to me to be practicing medicine without a license. She offers “Holistic Immune and Lyme Healing”, which involves taking a health history and what she calls “addressing” various health issues such as “adrenal and thyroid issues”, “food allergies” and “overall inflammation” with “therapeutic grade” supplements sold through her website, all of which looks an awful lot like diagnosing and treating disease.
Like Sava, Tim Pendry of Sunshine Health Food and Wellness Center in Titusville, Florida, does not hold any health care practitioner license or, as best I can tell, have any education or training in medicine. He nevertheless felt free to dispense medical advice on the prevention and treatment of COVID, including the use of colloidal silver and dietary supplements, along with his unfavorable analysis of vaccines and pharmaceutical drugs. (Florida doesn’t have a Quack Protection Act either.) Although the FTC told him to cut that out, he still dispenses advice on topics like “when is the appropriate time to take a Statin based on blood work results” and offer diagnostics like cholesterol testing and something called “bloodwork analysis” and “blood typing”.
While we should be glad that the FTC is vigorously attacking the problem, quackery was not invented during the pandemic. Yet there seems to have been a far more aggressive effort to combat COVID quackery than, say, cancer quackery, neuroscience quackery, naturopathic quackery, or stem cell quackery. Regulators need take a more holistic approach (if I may use that term) to the problem by disciplining physicians and other professionals who promote all sorts of nonsense as well as enforcing laws against practicing medicine without a license. Congress and the state legislatures should get rid of laws that countenance quackery, like naturopathic practice acts, quack protection acts, DSHEA, and laws dumbing down the standard of care. Finally, the VA, medical schools, and other organizations (looking at you, Cleveland Clinic) should stop promoting “complementary, alternative and integrative medicine”, which encourages belief in unscientific gibberish like “energy healing”. Had the government and other institutions not so-enamored the public with “CAM” and “integrative medicine”, COVID scofflaws wouldn’t have had such a fertile field on which to sow their dangerous mischief.
*Links to all FTC COVID-19 warning letters can be found in the press release. The letters provide links to the offending websites and other internet sources of misinformation. I have not added links to the individual warning letters or the offending materials in this post, as there are so many and they are easily available from the FTC’s list, but do link to non-COVID claims. I checked to see whether some, but not all, of the offending claims have been removed. I did not check to see whether the individuals or companies have otherwise responded to the FTC.