The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued almost 250 warning letters to individuals and companies since March demanding that they cease making (or assisting others in making) bogus claims that their nostrums can prevent or treat COVID-19. While it is not unusual for the FTC to go after health care product marketers, such as dietary supplement retailers, the agency’s warnings to licensed health care practitioners, especially regarding clinical treatments, are less common. It suggests both that the agency is taking COVID-19 very seriously and that it is actively searching the internet for COVID-19 claims, as opposed to acting solely on consumer complaints.
It is unlawful under the FTC Act to advertise that a service or product can prevent, treat, or cure human disease unless there is competent and reliable scientific evidence, including, when appropriate, well-controlled human clinical studies, substantiating that the claims are true. Because no alleged preventative or treatment currently meets this standard for COVID-19, it is fairly easy for the FTC to conclude that advertisements making such health claims run afoul of the law, with a warning letter to follow.
The FDA, which has primary responsibility for claims on product labeling, joined the FTC in some of the warning letters.
Not surprisingly, naturopathic, acupuncture, and chiropractic practices are among those warned, as well as MDs and DOs who skate along on the fringes of medicine. It is unsurprising as well that COVID-19 preventatives and treatments aren’t the only dubious therapies being offered by these practitioners, as demonstrated repeatedly on the websites cited in warning letters. While the FTC’s focus on COVID-19 is understandable, it is lamentable that so many other false and misleading claims go unaddressed, leaving those suffering from, for example, cancer, serious neurological conditions (like Alzheimer’s), and chronic health conditions (like diabetes), to the wiles of pseudoscience.
That said, it is indeed satisfying to imagine the panicky feeling practitioners must experience when, upon receiving a warning letter, they realize that the FTC, which tangles with behemoths like Apple and Microsoft with its substantial resources (including crack litigators from the Department of Justice), has honed in on their little clinic. They may have no shame, but they do have assets, and violations of the FTC Act can result in thousands of dollars in fines, injunctions against further sale of their products and services, and mandated refunds to consumers, not to mention the attorneys’ fees and costs of mounting a defense.
SBM has already covered the COVID-19 shenanigans of some CAM practitioners: chiropractors touting “adjustments” to “boost” the immune system, naturopaths (including the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians [AANP] and the California Association of Naturopathic Doctors) pushing IV Vitamin C, and acupuncturists (backed by the Chinese Government) shilling for “Traditional Chinese Medicine”.
Let’s see what the FTC’s investigators found.*
Despite an enthusiastic endorsement from the AANP, the FTC has repeatedly issued warning letters to clinics offering intravenous Vitamin C to prevent or treat COVID-19. Some of these are infusion clinics where it is unclear whether a licensed medical practitioner with prescription privileges is in charge. Since Vitamin C and other compounded infusions are prescription drugs under federal law, it is also unclear how they are operating from a legal standpoint.
One such clinic is Onus IV, in Colorado, which claims “Vitamin C is already being used to prevent and treat COVID-19 in China and Korea. And it is working.” The clinic falsely says that even small amounts of Vitamin C “dramatically decrease severity of symptoms and increase survival rates” and “large doses work better. Intravenous large doses work better still. . . .”
Detox VIP, a mobile IV service in South Florida, (with an MD medical director) also touts high dose Vitamin C infusions “as a way to increase your natural defenses against COVID-19” based on a “Chinese medical team report”.
In fact, the alleged success of Vitamin C use in China is mentioned by many clinics, an odd selling point considering the vilification of China’s response to the pandemic. According to Holistique Medical Center, a Washington naturopathic clinic offering typical naturopathic quackery like homeopathy, “Shanghai doctors [are treating COVID-19] with intravenous vitamin C, safely and effectively without any deaths reported.” A naturopathic doctor and “chiropractic internist”, who runs the Epigenetics Healing Center in Kansas, advises
Iv vitamin c in high doses are knocking covid 19 out in wuhan China. Come get yours at the Epigenetics Healing Center asap.
He goes so far as to claim that
Coronavirus? It is something that should NOT be worried about! Typically, it is only serious for the elderly and immunocompromised. Vitamin c infusions seem to mitigate any issue with it.
Medical doctors are offering IV Vitamin C as well. The LaCava Center, run by an Illinois “integrative” physician board-certified in OB/GYN, offers “VITAMIN C IV AT 50% OFF!” and says that “research shows that high dose Vitamin C is effective against COVID-19.”
The Kansas-based Riordan Clinic, staffed by an MD, a DO, and an ND, where “Vitamin C has been at the center of the mission . . . for almost 45 years” aims to “protect . . . patients from an otherwise potentially devastating exposure to COVID-19” with its signature treatment. The clinic was founded by the late Hugh Riordan, a psychiatrist who believed that nutrition and vitamins are an effective treatment for diseases such as cancer and the father of stem cell entrepreneur Neil Riordan, who has himself made a few appearances here on SBM.
To give you an idea of the geographic and provider diversity, other clinics nabbed by the FTC for promoting IV Vitamin C for COVID-19 include the Envista Medical Neck & Back Center (California MDs and DCs), Whole Health Chicago (an “integrative” practice which includes an MD, a “chiropractic physician specializing in functional medicine”, a TCM practitioner, and a homeopath), Revive and Rally Health Lounge (Kansas, run by an MD and an RN), Aspire Regenerative Health (California ND), iCRYO (a multi-state cryotherapy-infusion franchise operation with an MD Chief Medical Officer), LotusRain Naturopathic Clinic (California), Naturopathic European Medical Centre (which, despite the name and spelling, is in Wisconsin), Holgistic Personalized Healthcare/Natural Care Institute (Michigan MD and ND partnership), Traditional Chinese Medicine Clinic (Colorado Doctors of Oriental Medicine and Acupuncturists), East Valley Naturopathic (Arizona), Gonino Center for Healing (Texas DO), Hawaii Naturopathic Retreat, Health Associates Medical Group (California MD, DO, DC and LAc combo), Restore Med Clinic (California MDs), Revival Hydration (a “100% mobile” California infusion company using unspecified “medical professionals”), Sage Integrative Medicine Clinic (Washington NDs), and Vero Clinics (Illinois MD).
Acupuncture, TCM, and naturopathy for COVID-19
Acupuncture and TCM practices are well-represented among the COVID-19 advertising scofflaws. Among the FTC’s collars and their offending claims:
- A Center for Natural Healing (California): “Treatment with Chinese Medicine has already proven in China to strongly support recovery from COVID” and “to help with the prevention and treatment of COVID-19”.
- Inner Works Acupuncture (Oregon): “Chinese herbal medicine for COVID-19 is a great option for prevention, suspected exposure, early-stage and mild symptoms . . . [and] may help keep your respiratory illness from progressing . . .”
- Integrative Acupuncture (Vermont): TCM “should take a primary role in effective treatment” of COVID-19.
- Holistic Health Acupuncture (Oregon): “Herbal support for acute illness and prevention and treatment of COVID-19”.
- Acupuncture Healing Center (Illinois): Can “facilitate the body’s response to expel the pathogen (coronavirus) . . .”
- AcuIntegra (Tennessee): “TCM proved effective in 89% of the 1,245 confirmed COVID-19 patients” in a Chinese province.
- Art of Wellness Acupuncture (California): “[A]cupuncture brings down fever significantly, and herbs have been shown to help resolve the severe cough”.
- Beatty Acupuncture (Oklahoma): “Coronavirus treatment options for both Coronavirus prevention and COVID-19 positive treatment” including gummies and sprays.
- Mind & Body Acupuncture (California): Promotes “a powerful herb – Tiger Cane” which “experts in China” found “has strongest effect for Anti coronavirus”.
And so on.
In addition to IV Vitamin C, naturopathic practices tout a variety of unsubstantiated preventatives and remedies for COVID-19, thereby catching the eye of the FTC. Typical of naturopathy, with its potpourri-of-quackery approach to practice, their recommendations varied.
We’ll start with two naturopaths who’ve made appearances here on SBM before, Paul Herscu and Amy Rothenberg (also here). Their Connecticut Naturopathic Health Care Clinic got a warning letter for claiming that products it sells, including homeopathic remedies and remedies containing zinc, elderberry, and Echinacea, can treat or prevent COVID-19.
Others naturopathic practices blessed with a warning letter include:
- Portland Clinic of Holistic Health (Oregon): PCCH nasal spray used “once daily for prevention and several times daily for treatment” of COVID-19.
- Ashland Natural Medicine (Oregon ND who is also a DC and homeopath): “Chinese medicine, homeopathy and western herbs appear to be helping many people with the infection[,] so our intention is to use them to treat ill people.”
- Dr. Alan Christianson (Arizona): Touts Echinacea, Astragalus, and other “natural solutions” to the coronavirus.
- Dr. Dale’s Wellness Center (California Traditional Naturopath and Homeopath): Sells “BioFilm Detox” claiming you can “take BioFilm Detox 20-30 minutes before you use ALLFLU or anything that you’re using to get rid of the COVID-19, but ALLFLU is the best thing to use, it’s the most effective, you feel a difference after using it once”.
- Hansen Clinic of Natural Medicine (Arizona): Claims its PhytoBiotic product contains an ingredient that works “by blocking the release and spread of the virus within the body”.
- LotusRain Naturopathic Clinic: In addition to Vitamin C IVs, mentioned above, the clinic offers “Hydrogen Peroxide IVs” and “AVACEN – Advanced Vascular Circulation Enhancement” as in-clinic options for preventing COVID-19.
- Arizona Natural Medicine Physicians: On a webpage titled “Coronavirus: Supplements, Herbs & Homeopathic Remedies” this naturopathic-acupuncture practice offers “homeopathic injections such as Engystol which helps support immune function and prevent infection”.
- Dramov Naturopathic Medical Center (Oregon): From a hyperlink labeled “COVID-19/CORONAVIRUS”, this practice takes consumers to a retail website promoting “Viral Immune Support” supplements.
- Evergreen Naturopathic (Washington): On its “Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQ” page, the practice offers patients “personalized herb tinctures to directly confront the viral infections that are most prevalent throughout the year while strengthening and supporting both the immune system and the sensitive tissues that are most susceptible to these infections.”
- Hawaii Naturopathic Retreat: In addition to Vitamin C IVs, the clinic offers “immune boosting packages to help you protect yourself against the coronavirus” including “antiviral supplements” and a variety of other IV treatments and injections, as well as an infrared sauna and “colonics with probiotics”.
- Post Falls Naturopathic Clinic (Idaho): Claims it used “energetic signatures of the Coronavirus and influenza” to create the COVID-19 & Flu Immune Booster, “a new homeopathic remedy to boost your immune system”.
Other MDs and DOs, alone and in cahoots with naturopaths and chiropractors, were caught in the FTC’s dragnet as well. Again, the variety of remedies is notable. The Center for Occupational & Environmental Medicine (South Carolina MD) claims that “very sick patients” using “TML drops” would be “without fever and pretty much asymptomatic in 10-24 hours.” New Leaf Wellness (Iowa & Oklahoma DO) says patients can “Beat Covid 19 with Hormones and Glutathione”. The Holtorf Medical Group (California MD, DO, and ND) promotes colloidal silver, as does the Envista Medical Neck & Back Center (California MDs and DCs). Envista also says, in a Facebook post,
Scared of the Corona Virus. We got stem cells!!!
Dr. Adrian Hohenwarter (Pennsylvania MD) recommends “d-Lenolate Olive Leaf 60 caps”; Dr. Brownstein’s Holistic Medicine (Michigan MD), iodine, hydrogen peroxide, and vitamins; Dr. Ronald Hoffman (New York MD), melatonin, nitric oxide, and Beta glucans; Dr. Jill Carnahan (Colorado MD and another SBM post alum), antioxidants; McDonagh Medical Center (Missouri DOs), ozone and UV light therapies; and Cypress Natural Medicine (California, NDs and a DO), herbal tinctures.
Gordon Medical (California MD-ND combo) touts nebulized hydrogen peroxide, while another MD-ND practice, Renaissance Health Centre (Arizona), recommends IV hydrogen peroxide and ozone therapies.
Finally, although in smaller numbers, chiropractic practices also received FTC warning letters. Among them is Fuller Life Chiropractic (Georgia), which promoted its services to people concerned about COVID-19 by claiming
Anything that interferes with proper nerve system function will have a negative impact on your immune system. Chiropractic has been shown to be the most effective form of healthcare for restoring proper nerve system function.
Likewise, Dr. Eric Nepute, a Missouri chiropractor, in a Facebook discussion of coronavirus, suggested his patients would not come down with COVID-19
Because they’ve been getting adjusted regularly, because adjustments help improve the nervous system, which helps improve the immune system. Period.
This is straight-up traditional chiropractic vitalism and similar claims have already been called out as inappropriate, including by chiropractors themselves. The difference here is that we have none other than the FTC finding that there is no competent and reliable scientific evidence to support it. The same can be said for the ubiquitous IV Vitamin C.
Pseudoscience does not exist in a vacuum. Along with Vitamin C, homeopathy, acupuncture, and hydrogen peroxide for COVID-19, these practitioners offer dubious nostrums like hyperbaric oxygen, dietary supplements, other IV “cocktails”, bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, chelation, infrared saunas, iridology, energy “medicine”, and craniosacral therapy, among others, for many other diseases and conditions. Again, as welcome as these warning letters are, it is unfortunate that the FTC does not regularly cast a wider net and target practitioners whose claims are not backed by “competent and reliable scientific evidence”. Or, as in the case of homeopathy and some other quack remedies, any science at all.
*Links to all FTC COVID-19 warning letters can be found here. 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. I did not check to see if these claims have been removed or whether the individuals or companies have otherwise responded to the FTC.