Matthias Rath (born 1955 in Stuttgart, Germany) is a controversial doctor, businessman, and vitamin salesman. He earned his basic medical degree in Germany. Rath claims that a program of nutritional supplements (which he calls "cellular medicine"), including formulations that he sells, can treat or cure diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. These claims are not supported by any reliable medical research. Rath runs the Dr. Rath Health Foundation, has been closely associated with Health Now, Inc., and founded the Dr. Rath Research Institute.
The Sunday Times (Johannesburg) has described Rath as an "international campaigner for the use of natural remedies" whose "theories on the treatment of cancer have been rejected by health authorities all over the world." On HIV/AIDS, Rath has disparaged the pharmaceutical industry and denounced antiretroviral medication as toxic and dangerous, while claiming that his vitamin pills could reverse the course of AIDS. As a result, Rath has been accused of "potentially endangering thousands of lives" in South Africa, a country with a massive AIDS epidemic where Rath was active in the mid-2000s. The head of Médecins Sans Frontières said "This guy is killing people by luring them with unrecognised treatment without any scientific evidence"; Rath attempted to sue him.
Rath's claims and methods have been widely criticized by medical organizations, AIDS-activist groups, and the United Nations, among others. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki and former Minister of Health Manto Tshabalala-Msimang have also been criticized by the medical and AIDS-activist community for their perceived support for Rath's claims. According to doctors with Médecins Sans Frontières, the Treatment Action Campaign (a South African AIDS-activist group) and a former Rath colleague, unauthorized clinical trials run by Rath and his associates, using vitamins as therapy for HIV, resulted in deaths of some participants. In 2008, the Cape High Court found the trials unlawful, banned Rath and his foundation from conducting unauthorized clinical trials and from advertising their products, and instructed the South African Health Department to fully investigate Rath's vitamin trials. In 2008, Rath expanded his advertising to Russia, a country where the incidence of HIV/AIDS has been increasing.
- 1 Background
- 2 Awards
- 3 Controversies
- 4 Illegal AIDS trials in South Africa
- 5 Efficacy and marketing claims
- 6 Criticism
- 7 Legal cases
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Rath studied at the Hamburg University Medical School in Germany After graduating from Hamburg, Rath began researching arteriosclerosis at the University Clinic of Hamburg. Later, during 1989 and 1990, he was a researcher at the Berlin Heart Centre. He subsequently joined two-time Nobel Prize laureate Linus Pauling at his research institute in California. Ultimately, Rath had a falling-out with the Linus Pauling Institute; after a series of lawsuits and countersuits, Rath was ordered in 1994 to pay the Institute $75,000 and was assigned several patents. Rath subsequently developed his own branded nutrient products, set up the Dr. Rath Health Foundation and Dr. Rath Research Institute, and funds nutrition research with patent development in what he calls "Cellular Medicine".
Rath has offices in California, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and South Africa (Cape Town). His foundation also advertises its products in Spain, France, and Russia. According to Eversheds, Rath's solicitor, the Dr. Rath Health Foundation is "a not-for-profit body which conducts research into science-based natural therapies," but the foundation is estimated to have earned "millions" through nutritional supplement sales.
According to Rath, events of the last century in the international arena have been driven by pharmaceutical and oil companies. Rath claims that World War II was started and exploited by these interests. In court filings, Rath and his lawyers write that the pharmaceutical industry then started apartheid in South Africa as part of a global conspiracy to "conquer and control the entire African continent." Former Nazi officials and the German chemical company IG Farben are specifically mentioned as playing a central role in the alleged conspiracy. In these documents, Rath also compares his adversaries in court to Hitler's storm troopers.
Rath suggests that the pharmaceutical industry continues to control international politics today, allowing 9/11 to occur and starting the Iraq War to divert attention from what Rath considers the failures of drug companies. On his website, Rath states that United States President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, at the behest of what Rath calls the "pharmaceutical cartel", were planning a nuclear war in advance of the 4 November 2008 elections in the United States. Similar claims are made by Rath in the New York Times and other major newspapers around the world in the form of large advertisements reportedly designed to resemble newspaper editorials.
Illegal AIDS trials in South Africa
In 2005, according to Reuters, Rath's foundation distributed tens of thousands of pamphlets in poor black South African townships, such as Khayelitsha, claiming that HIV medication was "poison" and urging HIV-positive people instead to use vitamins such as those Rath sells to treat HIV/AIDS. People with "advanced AIDS" were then recruited by the Rath Foundation and its surrogates for what the Rath Foundation called "a clinical pilot study in HIVpositive [sic] patients" Personnel of the South Africa National Civic Organisation (Sanco) administered the programme in Khayelitsha as "agents for the Rath foundation."
Patients were recruited for the study with offers of money or food, and were instructed to stop taking conventional HIV/AIDS medications. Luthando Nogcinisa, a local Communist Party official, said that Rath agents recruited known HIV-positive individuals, "often with a pack of groceries, and they encourage the person not to take the antiretrovirals, but to rather take the vitamins". Mike Waters, Democratic Alliance health spokesperson, states that Rath gave patients "food parcels to convince them to give up their antiretrovirals and take his vitamin C supplements instead."
Rath Foundation employees reportedly infiltrated HIV/AIDS clinics in Khayelitsha and paid clinic staff to provide them with names of patients. The Guardian described a case in which a pregnant woman newly diagnosed with HIV was visited at home by Rath Health Foundation employees and convinced to stop taking her antiretroviral medication in favor of Rath's vitamins; she died 3 months later. The Rath Foundation disputed that patients were asked to stop taking effective antiviral medication. Rath's lawyers also claimed that the trial was actually a "community nutrition programme" to which Rath contributed vitamins.
Five trial participants stated in affidavits that they were stripped to their underwear, photographed, and had blood drawn without their permission. They were told to take pills containing what were said to be high doses of vitamins, including Rath's VitaCell. Demetre Labadarios, who leads the Human Nutrition programme at Stellenbosch University, questioned the safety of administering high doses of supplements to already-sick patients.
During and immediately following the vitamin trials, "many people died," deaths attributed by Rath's adversaries to a lack of effective medication. Sanco-Rath clinic workers reportedly instructed patients to return to the clinic in the event of medical emergency, rather than going to hospital.
The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the South African Medical Association (SAMA) took the Rath Foundation to court to prevent further unauthorized trials and to stop the foundation's claims that vitamins could treat or cure HIV/AIDS. Rath's lawyer however said that he had never claimed his vitamin products were a cure for HIV/AIDS, adding that Rath's only involvement in the affair was the donation of vitamins to the South African National Civics Organisation. TAC and SAMA prevailed in court over Rath and the Medicines Control Council on unauthorized trials and advertising of Rath's nutrients as a replacement therapy for HIV.
In September 2008, Rath was ordered to pay court costs in an unsuccessful libel action against The Guardian (UK) after the paper reported on his foundation's unauthorized drug trials in South Africa.
Efficacy and marketing claims
In 2004, the Swiss Study Group for Complementary and Alternative Methods in Cancer (SKAK), an independent group which evaluates alternative medical treatments, examined Rath's vitamin preparations and the marketing claims made by Rath. The Study Group reported that they "found no proof that the vitamin preparations of Dr. Matthias Rath have any effect on human cancer" and "advise against their use in cancer prevention and treatment while recommending a diet rich in fruit and vegetables." Specifically, the Swiss Study Group report criticized Rath for:
- Making sweeping, unsubstantiated claims of efficacy. Rath has claimed that his vitamin treatments can cure all forms of cancer, as well as most infectious diseases, including AIDS.
- Citing anecdotal reports of success which could not be confirmed. In the case of one patient allegedly "cured" by Rath's methods, the Study Group found that "it is not even certain from a medical perspective if cancer was present."
- Using a self-developed test of efficacy, rather than using widely accepted and verified tests and endpoints.
The conclusion of the Swiss Study Group regarding Rath's vitamin formulations was:
A cancer-curing effect has not been documented for any of these substances. Nor is there any proof that the preparations sold by Matthias Rath, some with high dosages, are useful in cancer prevention – leave alone curing cancer. Rath still owes proof regarding the correctness of his claims. Proof of effect cannot be provided by analogy with in vitro, animal or cell experiments. Because there is no proof for effect nor for the harmlessness of the preparations, SKAK advises against their use.
Harvard multivitamin study
To support the use of multivitamins in HIV/AIDS, Rath has cited a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggesting that multivitamin supplementation slows the progression of HIV to AIDS.
In May 2005, the study authors released a statement condemning Rath's "irresponsible and misleading statements, as in our view they deliberately misinterpret findings from our studies to advocate against the scale-up of antiretroviral therapy." The study authors felt that Rath had misused their study results to argue that multivitamins should be used in place of antiretroviral medication. In their statement, the study authors affirmed the central role of antiretroviral medication in the treatment of AIDS, and indicated that multivitamins should be, at most, a supplementary treatment.
Use of published medical literature
A 1998 article in the British Medical Journal examined some of the claims made by Rath and Health Now in support of Rath's multivitamin supplement blend. The authors found that Rath listed 40 citations to support his product; however, on examination, only 8 of these citations were of actual clinical trials. After examining these clinical trials, the authors concluded that despite Rath's claims to the contrary, "no general clinical benefit of vitamins C and E and carotene can be proved from the works cited by Health Now."
Claims of WHO and UN support
Rath's advertising material has suggested that his nutritional supplements are superior to antiretroviral therapy in the treatment of HIV/AIDS and implied that his claims were endorsed by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and UNAIDS. However, these agencies issued a joint statement condemning Rath's advertisements as "wrong and misleading".
The Democratic Alliance (DA), official opposition party in South Africa, said Rath was representing himself as a medical doctor in his literature distributed in South Africa, and claimed that this was against the law since he was not registered as a doctor in South Africa. The DA filed complaints with the Health Professions Council of South Africa and the police. The Health Professions Council said it could not discipline Rath since its jurisdiction is restricted to registered doctors.
A lawyer representing Rath responded to the complaints by stating that the title 'Dr.' referred in Rath's case to "a PHD doctorate he had obtained and his position as a researcher, not a medical doctor."
Other sources, however, describe Rath as a "qualified doctor" and state that he "became a researcher first at the University Clinic in Hamburg and then, during 1989 and 1990, at the Berlin Heart Centre."
South African Council of Churches
To address the "confusion" created by Rath's advertising campaign, the South African Council of Churches issued a statement that Rath's activities in South Africa "can only be interpreted as misguided strategies to promote Rath's own brand of nutritional supplements." The Council affirmed the importance of both antiretroviral medication and good nutrition for people with HIV, and pointed out that multivitamins are distributed by public health services and need not be obtained from Rath's organization.
Rath has been involved in a number of legal cases.
- In 2000, the Court of Almelo in the Netherlands ordered Rath to stop making unfounded, false, and defamatory statements about the Dutch pharmaceutical company Numico.
- In 2002, the British Advertising Standards Authority found that advertisements by Rath contained a series of misleading and false claims and ordered the claims removed.
- In 2002, the United States Food and Drug Administration notified Rath that he was promoting his supplements in a manner that violated the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, by making claims of efficacy without undergoing the appropriate scientific and regulatory review.
- In 2005, the Advertising Standards Association of South Africa (ASASA) issued three separate rulings against Rath, finding that he had made false and misleading claims regarding the effectiveness of his supplements and describing his advertisements as "reckless in the extreme". Rath continued the advertisements, leading the ASASA to rule that, "in light of the gravity of [Rath's] breaches", he was required to submit all further advertising to the ASASA for prior approval.
- In 2006, the High Court of South Africa found that Rath had defamed the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), an AIDS non-profit organization, by publicly making false and misleading statements about the TAC. Rath was ordered to cease his defamatory remarks "to ensure that the TAC's continued participation in the debate is not hamstrung by defamatory and unfounded allegations."
- In 2006, the July 22 issue of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published a news item reporting that Rath had gone on trial in Hamburg, Germany "for fraud" in relation to the death of Dominik Feld. However, the BMJ subsequently retracted the news item "on legal advice" and issued an apology to Rath, stating that the BMJ accepted that "the allegations we published were without foundation." A subsequent libel claim by Rath was settled by the BMJ for £100,000.
- In 2006, Rath was prosecuted in Germany for distributing vitamins over the internet without a pharmaceutical licence, and for claiming on the website that the vitamins could cure cancer. Rath settled the case with a EUR33,000 fine, paid to an organisation helping disabled children, and amended the website. The judge noted that the case had not given an impression of "charlatanry", but rather of excessively aggressive marketing.
- In 2007, the German Federal Constitutional Court issued a ruling in favour of Rath. The Federal Constitutional Court found that the prohibition of the brochure and poster "Stop the pharmacartel" and "Stop the codex-plans of the pharmacartel" by judgements of courts in Berlin in 2000/2001 was unjustified as it violated Rath's fundamental rights, e.g. the right of free speech.
- In 2008, the Cape Town High Court issued an interdict barring Rath from advertising his products as a treatment for AIDS, and stating that the clinical trials he has been running in black townships are illegal. The ruling also found that "Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and her department had a duty to investigate Rath's activities."
- In 2008 Ben Goldacre and The Guardian were sued for libel by Matthias Rath for the content of three articles describing Rath's activities in South Africa. In September 2008, Rath dropped his suit and was ordered to pay costs, an interim amount of about £220,000. Goldacre has expressed interest in writing a "meticulously referenced" work on Rath, and South African AIDS denialism in general, based on material which had been excised from his column during the litigation. A chapter about Rath in Goldacre's Bad Science, that was omitted from the first edition due to the litigation, was reinstated in the paperback edition in early 2009, made available on his website, and licenced for free distribution.
- Fall of the vitamin doctor: Matthias Rath drops libel action, by Sarah Boseley. The Guardian, UK, 12 September 2008. Accessed 12 September 2008
- S Africa bans Aids vitamin trials BBC News, UK. Published June 13, 2008. Accessed September 10, 2008.
- BMJ pays out to doctor over 'child death' story. Press Gazette magazine. Published June 5, 2007. Accessed September 10, 2008.
- The Denialists: The dangerous attacks on the consensus about H.I.V. and AIDS, by Michael Specter. Published in The New Yorker on March 12, 2007. Accessed April 16, 2007.
- "Denying science". Nat. Med. 12 (4): 369. 2006. doi:10.1038/nm0406-369. PMID 16598265.
- A global business built on vitamins - and the claim to kill all disease, by Sarah Bosely. Published in The Guardian on 12 September 2008; accessed 16 September 2008.
- Articles coauthored by Rath on these topics include:
- Ivanov V, Ivanova S, Roomi MW, Kalinovsky T, Niedzwiecki A, Rath M (November 2007). "Extracellular matrix-mediated control of aortic smooth muscle cell growth and migration by a combination of ascorbic acid, lysine, proline, and catechins". J. Cardiovasc. Pharmacol. 50 (5): 541–7. doi:10.1097/FJC.0b013e318145148e. PMID 18030064.
- Ivanov V, Roomi MW, Kalinovsky T, Niedzwiecki A, Rath M (March 2007). "Anti-atherogenic effects of a mixture of ascorbic acid, lysine, proline, arginine, cysteine, and green tea phenolics in human aortic smooth muscle cells". J. Cardiovasc. Pharmacol. 49 (3): 140–5. doi:10.1097/FJC.0b013e3180308489. PMID 17414225.
- Ivanov V, Ivanova S, Roomi MW, Kalinovsky T, Niedzwiecki A, Rath M (2007). "Naturally produced extracellular matrix inhibits growth rate and invasiveness of human osteosarcoma cancer cells". Med. Oncol. 24 (2): 209–17. doi:10.1007/BF02698042. PMID 17848746.
- Roomi MW, Roomi N, Ivanov V, Kalinovsky T, Niedzwiecki A, Rath M (2006). "Inhibition of pulmonary metastasis of melanoma b16fo cells in C57BL/6 mice by a nutrient mixture consisting of ascorbic Acid, lysine, proline, arginine, and green tea extract". Exp. Lung Res. 32 (10): 517–30. doi:10.1080/01902140601098552. PMID 17169857.
- Role of micronutrients in the control of HIV and AIDS. Commonwealth Health Ministers Book 2007, pages 187-189. Published by Henley Media Group Ltd in association with the Commonwealth Secretariat.
- Matthias Rath's ads 'reckless in the extreme', by Elvira van Noort. Published in the Mail & Guardian on August 30, 2005; accessed May 9, 2008.
- Goldacre (2008). Bad Science. 4th Estate. pp. 181–197. ISBN 978-0-00-728487-0.
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- Dissidents take their crusade to the streets, By Rowan Philip and Edwin Lombard. Published in the Sunday Times (Johannesburg) on November 30, 2004; accessed May 9, 2008.
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- U.N. slams AIDS 'dissident' for attack on drugs, by Stephanie Nebehay. Published by Reuters on May 12, 2005; accessed May 9, 2008
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- Mail & Guardian Cape Town, SA, 13 July 2007. Accessed 10 September 2008.
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- Report from the Swiss Study Group on Complementary and Alternative Methods in Cancer, stating that there is no evidence that Rath's treatments are effective. Accessed 21 Sept 2006.
- Rath, M.: Durchbruch der Zellforschung im Kampf gegen den Krebs. 3d ed. 2002, MR Publishing B.V., Almelo, NL
- Rath, M.: Cellular health Series – Cancer. 2/2001, MR Publishing, Sta. Clara, CA 95054
- Fawzi W, Msamanga G, Spiegelman D, Wei R, Kapiga S, Villamor E, Mwakagile D, Mugusi F, Hertzmark E, Essex M, Hunter D (2004). "A randomized trial of multivitamin supplements and HIV disease progression and mortality". N Engl J Med 351 (1): 23–32. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa040541. PMID 15229304.
- Dr. Rath's website, citing the New England Journal of Medicine study among others. Accessed 20 Sept 2006.
- Statement from the authors of the Harvard School of Public Health study, stating that Rath has misused their study results. Accessed 20 Sept 2006.
- "UN condemns irresponsible attack on antiretroviral therapy". WHO, UNICEF, and UNAIDS. 2005-03-30. Retrieved 2011-01-15.
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- "Don't Be Confused by Unproven Medical Claims, SACC warns". Statement by the South African Council of Churches, issued April 18, 2005. Accessed March 9, 2007.
- "Quackery quashed, but Rath's legacy lives" Donaldson A and Huisman B, The Times, SA, 14 June 2008 Accessed 16 June 2008.
- Press release describing Dutch court decision against Dr. Rath for defamation, accessed 19 Sept 2006.
- Ruling by the British Advertising Standards Association against Matthias Rath for false and misleading advertising, accessed 19 Sept 2006.
- Letter from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warning Dr. Rath that his marketing campaign is in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Accessed 19 Sept 2006.
- Rulings against Matthias Rath for false and misleading advertising by the Advertising Standards Association of South Africa, accessed 19 Sept 2006.
- Judgement of the High Court of South Africa ordering Rath to cease making defamatory and unfounded allegations against the Treatment Action Campaign. Accessed 19 Sept 2006.
- Dr Matthias Rath: an apology. British Medical Journal, 23 September 2006. Accessed January 2007.
- News in Brief, from the British Medical Journal, 2007;334:656 (31 March).
- 'BMJ pays out to doctor over 'child death' story.’ Press Gazette magazine. Published June 5, 2007. Accessed April 10, 2008.
- Hamburger Morgenpost, 10 October 2006, Vitamin-Arzt Rath muss 33000 Euro zahlen
- Judgement of German Federal Constitutional Court of July 12, 2007, no. 1 BvR 2041/02. Published 2007. Accessed April 16, 2008.
- "TAC hails ruling on Rath". IOL News. 13 June 2008.
- Nathan Geffen (2010). Debunking Delusions: The Inside Story of the Treatment Action Campaign. Jacana Media. pp. 164–7. ISBN 978-1-77009-781-0.
- Goldacre, Ben (2007-01-20). "No way to treat an Aids hero". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2008-07-05.
- "Gambia's president may be weird, but Aids superstitions strike closer to home". The Guardian. January 27, 2007. Retrieved July 30, 2008.
- "How money is not the only barrier to Aids patients getting hold of drugs". The Guardian. February 17, 2007. Retrieved July 30, 2008.
- 'Matthias Rath drops his million pound legal case against me and the Guardian' badscience.net. Published September 12, 2008. Accessed September 20, 2008