The National Council Against Health Fraud
The National Council Against Health Fraud is a not-for-profit, US-based organization, run by Dr. Stephen Barrett, a retired American psychiatrist, author, that describes itself as a "private nonprofit, voluntary health agency that focuses upon health misinformation, fraud, and quackery as public health problems." The NCAHF has been criticized by the supporters of the treatments it opposes, including practitioners of alternative medicine.
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According to its official website, the NCAHF evolved from three separate organizations, the Lehigh Valley Committee Against Health Fraud, Inc. (LVCAHF, now called Quackwatch), Southern California Council Against Health Fraud (SCCAHF), and an unnamed group in northern California.
According to NCAHF's mission statement, its activities and purposes include:
- Investigating and evaluating claims made for health products and services.
- Educating consumers, professionals, business people, legislators, law enforcement personnel, organizations and agencies about health fraud, misinformation, and quackery.
- Providing a center for communication between individuals and organizations concerned about health misinformation, fraud, and quackery.
- Supporting sound consumer health laws
- Opposing legislation that undermines consumer rights.
- Encouraging and aiding legal actions against those who violate consumer protection laws.
- Sponsoring a free weekly e-mail newsletter.
NCAHF's positions on consumer health issues are based on what they consider ethical and scientific principles that underlie consumer protection law. Required are:
- Adequate disclosure in labeling and other warranties to enable consumers to make proper choices;
- Premarketing proof of safety and efficacy for products and services that claim to prevent, alleviate, or cure any disease or disorder; and
- Accountability for those who violate consumer laws.
NCAHF states that its funding is primarily derived from membership dues, newsletter subscriptions, and consumer information services. Membership is open to everyone, with members and consultants located all over the world. NCAHF's officers and board members serve without compensation. NCAHF states they unite consumers with health professionals, educators, researchers, attorneys, and others.
Position on health issues
The NCAHF asserts that acupuncture is scientifically unproven as a modality of treatment. The NCAHF says (as of 1990) that research during the past twenty years has failed to demonstrate that acupuncture is effective against any disease. Perceived effects of acupuncture are, argues the NCAHF, probably due to a combination of expectation, suggestion and other psychological mechanisms. The NCAHF points out that acupuncture was banned in China in 1929 but underwent a resurgence in the 1960s. The organization also advocates that insurance companies should not be required to cover acupuncture treatment, and that licensure of lay acupuncturists should be phased out.
There has long been controversy regarding the use of amalgam fillings by dentists, because the amalgam contains mercury. Some forms of mercury are toxic to humans, but the NCAHF cites the CDC in stating that there is no evidence that "the health of the vast majority of people with amalgam is compromised" or that "removing amalgam fillings has a beneficial effect on health". The NCAHF criticizes those who they believe exploit unfounded public fears for financial gain. NCAHF asserts that breath, urine and blood testing for mercury are inaccurate. Other tests for mercury exposure described by the NCAHF as invalid can include skin testing, stool testing, hair analysis and electrodermal testing.
The NCAHF contends that chiropractic can be dangerous and lead to injury or permanent disability. However, the NCAHF does not categorically oppose the practice. NCAHF differentiates between chiropractors who promote what it considers good and bad chiropractic practices. The former promote methods of diagnosis and treatment which have a scientific basis. For example, NCAHF claims there is no scientific support for vertebral subluxation. Their view is that chiropractors should restrict their scope of practice to neuromusculoskeletal problems such as muscle spasms, strains, sprains, fatigue, imbalance of strength and flexibility, stretched or irritated nerve tissue, and so forth. Chiropractors should refer cases involving pathology to qualified medical practitioners.
In contrast, what the NCAHF considers bad are those chiropractors who believe the spinal adjustment will cure or alleviate a variety of diseases, such as infection, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, nutritional deficiencies or excesses, appendicitis, blood disorders, or kidney disease. These practitioners may use unproven, disproven, or questionable methods, devices, and products such as adjusting machines, applied kinesiology, chelation therapy, colonic irrigation, computerized nutrition deficiency tests, cranial osteopathy, cytotoxic food allergy testing, DMSO, Gerovital, glandular therapy, hair analysis, herbal crystallization analyses, homeopathy, internal managements, iridology, laser beam acupuncture, laetrile, magnetic therapy,and so forth.
The NCAHF is opposed to dietary recommendations and practices not supported by scientific evidence, including behavior-related claims. Unverified assessment methods such as iridology, applied kinesiology, and routine hair analysis for assessment of nutritional status are criticized. NCAHF and some of its members have long opposed implementation of beliefs that they characterize as unfounded or unscientific.
NCAHF also questions the health claims, marketing, safety, efficacy and labeling of herbal supplements. Herbal preparations are regulated as foods, rather than as drugs, in the United States. The NCAHF advocates regulations for a special OTC category called "Traditional Herbal Remedies" (THRs) with an adverse reaction surveillance program, product batches marked for identification and tracking, package label warnings about proposed dangers of self-treatment, oversight requirements from outside of the herbal industry, and strong penalties for unapproved changes in herbal product formulations.
The NCAHF claims that many unqualified practitioners are able to mislead the public by using diploma mills or "degree mills" to get "specious degrees". Diploma mills are not accredited, and frequently engage in "pseudoscience and food faddism". NCAHF also alleges that "at least some of the 'faculty' or 'academic' advisors at several of these schools have criminal convictions in the area of health fraud". NCAHF considers diploma mills harmful to the "students" and to the public.
Usefulness as a source
The National Council Against Health Fraud is mentioned as a useful source for information by the United States Department of Agriculture, the American Cancer Society in their book "Cancer Medicine", and many other organizations and libraries.
The journal Dynamic Chiropractic, while highly critical of NCAHFs views on chiropractic, has written: "The National Council Against Health Fraud is considered a valuable information source for many agencies nationwide. They are well networked and, as demonstrated by their past history, are able to influence the efforts of various agencies and insurance carriers. The NCAHF's ability to publish its opinions and hold these types of conferences does make them a substantial "player" in the area of health fraud."
Criticism from alternative medicine supporters
The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) criticised a 2002 PBS broadcast which included an episode about chiropractic in which the NCAHF was involved. ACA president, Daryl D. Wills, responded to PBS officials stating (in part): "I find it ironic that a program titled 'Scientific American Frontiers' would completely ignore the scientific foundation of the chiropractic profession. The chiropractic portion of the June 4 episode titled 'A Different Way to Heal?' irresponsibly characterized chiropractic care -- a legitimate, research-based form of health care -- as a fraudulent hoax." and that "[t]he producers of your program could not have expected objectivity" from the NCAHF. The producer of the program replied in detail and explicitly denied these allegations: "The segment did not claim that chiropractic is fraudulent and did not attempt to prove or disprove that chiropractic "works," but it does state that chiropractic has no basis in science. This conclusion is entirely justified by both current research and generally accepted views of human anatomy."
- National Council Against Health Fraud - official website
- "NCAHF's History". Retrieved 2007-10-29.
- NCAHF Mission Statement
- Humber, James M.; Robert F. Almeder (1998). Alternative Medicine and Ethics. Springer Humana Press. p. 10. ISBN 978-0-89603-440-2.
- NCAHF position paper on acupuncture
- Cordón, Luis (2005). Popular psychology: an encyclopedia. Greenwood Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-313-32457-4.
- Hyson JM (March 2006). "Amalgam: Its history and perils". J Calif Dent Assoc 34 (3): 215–29. PMID 16895078.
- CDC Factsheet on amalgam
- Administrative Law Judge's Conclusions about Hal A. Huggins, D.D.S.
- NCAHF Position Paper on Amalgam
- NCAHF - Position Paper on Chiropractic - Hazardous Practices
- NCAHF - Position Paper on Chiropractic - Treating "Cause" Versus "Effect"
- NCAHF'S Description of a Scientific Chiropractor
- NCAHF - Position Paper on Chiropractic - Recommendations
- NCAHF Position Paper on Diet and Criminal Behavior, April 17, 1983.
- Commercial Weight-Loss Promotions, 1987
- Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, Accessed from the Food and Drug Administration website, 5 January 2007.
- NCAHF Position Paper on Over-the Counter Herbal Remedies, 1995, accessed online 31 Dec 2006.
- NCAHF position on diploma mills
- Fraud and Nutrition Misinformation: Dietary Guidance. Nutrition Information on the Internet. United States Department of Agriculture
- Reputable Sources of Information about Alternative and Complementary Therapies - American Cancer Society
- Here is a short list of examples:
- Library of Selected Non-FDA Sources of Food & Nutrition Information - United States Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
- Other Websites with FDA and Related Historical Information - Food and Drug Administration
- Dietary Supplements: General Information and Resources - USDA's National Agricultural Library
- Evaluating Health Information - New York Public Library
- Research Topics: Alternative Medicine - Santa Monica College Library
- Valuable Links: Nutrition Education - Texas Dietetic Association
- Consumer Health Protection - Yale University School of Medicine's Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library
- Consumer Health Links: Questionable Treatments & Medical Myths - State University of New York, Health Sciences Library
- Consumer Health Resources: Evaluating Medical Information - University of Minnesota Duluth Library
- Consumer Health Resources on the Internet: Quackery and Health Fraud - South Shore Hospital
- "National Council Against Health Fraud". Dynamic Chiropractic 8 (21). October 10, 1990.
- Report 12 of the Council on Scientific Affairs (A-97). American Medical Association
- A Different Way to Heal? and Videos - PBS, Scientific American Frontiers Web Feature
- Keeping Your Spine In Line - PBS
- Adjusting the Joints - PBS
- Adjusting the Joints: Video - PBS
- PBS Broadcast Angers Chiropractors
- My Reply to the American Chiropractic Association. - Robert S. Baratz, M.D., D.D.S, Ph.D., president, NCAHF
- Chedd-Angier, PBS Producer.
- PBS Producer's response, June 11, 2002.
- National Council Against Health Fraud - Official site