By Julie Kirkwood
Dr. Robert Baratz decided to skip a shopping trip with his wife
and mother-in-law on a visit to Chicago.
To fill the free time, he attended a lecture by Hal Huggins, a
dentist promoting the idea that mercury poisoning from dental
fillings was causing multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and acne.
Though skeptical, Baratz intended to sit in the audience and
But when Huggins put up a slide of a white blood cell called a
neutrophil and mislabeled it a lymphocyte, Baratz pointed out the
Baratz did, after all, have a doctorate in anatomy and cell
biology and was a professor at Boston University School of Medicine.
Later in the lecture, Huggins showed images of a patient whose
acne had been cured by having his dental fillings removed. Baratz
again objected, pointing out that the patient did not actually have
acne but rather a classic skin allergy that is not caused by metal
"He sort of stumbled across something and jumped to the wrong
conclusion," Baratz said.
Thus began Baratz's mission to publicly debunk fraudulent medical
claims. After the lecture he began to get calls, give speeches and
testify in court, first on dental fillings and then on a wider range
Two decades later, Baratz is president of the National Council
Against Health Fraud, which he runs out of an office on Foster
Street in Peabody.
"He's probably the most educated health professional in the
world, and he's brilliant," said Dr. Stephen Barrett, who founded
the council in the early 1980s, not long after Baratz spoke up at
Baratz, who lives in Newton, is a dentist and a medical doctor,
as well as a scientist with a doctorate. He spends the majority of
his time at South Shore Health Center in Braintree treating patients
and gathering evidence in fraud cases.
One of his most recent missions was an unsuccessful attempt to
convince a Cincinnati newspaper not to give a Lifetime Hero Award to
Henry Heimlich, inventor of the Heimlich maneuver.
Heimlich took credit for the choking-rescue technique when it was
actually invented by a colleague, Baratz said. And Heimlich's more
recent research was shut down by the Food and Drug Administration
because he tried to treat Lyme disease, cancer and HIV patients by
deliberately infecting them with malaria.
Baratz's other recent cases have involved victims of chelation
therapy, a technique of treating autism and other diseases with
intravenous infusions of a fluid alleged to soak up supposed heavy
Baratz is an outspoken critic of chelation therapy, which he said
has been shown in several studies to have no effect.
He also is critical of homeopathy, herbal remedies, acupuncture,
reflexology and chiropractic.
These techniques, even the ones that appear to be harmless, are
more than a waste of money, he said.
"Misdirecting people from proper care is also a harm," Baratz
Richard Craven of Pelham, N.H., knows this firsthand.
His wife, Lucille, sought treatment for breast cancer from a
chiropractor instead of having the surgery and chemotherapy her
She didn't tell her husband about her diagnosis until she had
been trying alternative therapies for two years.
As part of those alternative therapies, she was given an imported
substance called 714X to inject into her body and spent thousands of
dollars on a device with two headlights on wands.
By the time her husband found out she had cancer, it had
She died four months later, a few days before her 55th birthday.
She felt betrayed, Craven said, because she found out her
chiropractor's other patients were getting chemotherapy in addition
to his treatments while he had discouraged her from trying it.
"Losing Lucille was an emotional disaster from which I am slowly
recovering," Craven said.
"It's still hardly believable because we didn't get to fight her
disease together. I and her family still discuss how a bright,
energetic, educated person made such a lapse in judgment."
The chiropractor is still practicing, Craven said, and he can't
sue because his wife willingly sought the treatments.
To the extent the National Council Against Health Fraud protects
patients from shunning life-saving care and holds hoax practitioners
accountable, David Sollars, clinical director and acupuncturist at
FirstHealth of Andover, said he agrees with its mission.
"I think the reason they exist, to take a look at these and
protect the consumer, makes sense," he said.
But to paint all alternative therapies as fraudulent is just as
erroneous as assuming they all work, Sollars said.
"What the public needs to know is you can't lump integrated
medicine into one pile," he said.
Still, while therapies at Sollars' practice are subjected to
clinical study and patients are encouraged to see physicians, there
are also plenty of frauds — among alternative practitioners and
licensed MD's alike — to keep Baratz on his mission.
Not surprisingly, Baratz and his colleagues on the council have
some fierce enemies.
One self-proclaimed consumer advocate, Tim Bolen, has created a
Web site debunking the debunkers. Baratz believes Bolen is hired by
an alternative practitioner to defame them.
Bolen alleges Baratz's credentials are phony and the organization
has a failing membership. He also lobs professional and personal
attacks at Barrett, the vice president of the health fraud group and
founder of Quackwatch.org. Barrett has sued Bolen for liable.
Baratz said he tries not to let it bother him.
"What have I got to lose?" he asked. "Many of these people prey
on the desperate, the uninformed. Besides losing your dignity to
some degree, you're out a lot of money and you stand to lose your
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