Weird Science

The Life Extension Foundation claims it'll add years to your life with pills and cancer profiles. As long as you have the money.

"It's just too complicated to talk about," Faloon said of the company's financial situation.

Bernard Singer, LEF's tax attorney, said accountants are now working on the 990 form, which should be ready by September. At that time, he noted, LEF "may also file some past tax forms."

Dom LaPonzina, IRS chief of communications in Washington, D.C., said LEF is listed as a nonprofit charity, but he would not comment on the status of the 990 forms. He noted that charities sometimes receive legal filing extensions. And sometimes they don't bother to file.

"Trust me," Singer said, "there is no hanky-panky at this organization. I am dead serious on that. You just happened to call at a bad time."

This isn't the first time LEF has had problems with the federal government. On February 26, 1987, the FDA raided LEF headquarters in a search for drugs federal agents believed were being illegally imported and stored by the organization. FDA regulations allow individuals to buy small amounts of unapproved drugs from overseas for personal use. Drugs may be brought back after trips abroad or received in the mail, so long as they aren't resold or considered a health risk.

In 1987 the FDA alleged that Kent and Faloon had created fictitious health care companies in Panama and Vienna to promote and sell in the United States unapproved drugs for such diseases as AIDS, herpes, and Alzheimer's.

The two men denied the charges and said they were merely providing LEF members with information about the drugs. But in 1991 a federal grand jury indicted Faloon and Kent on more than two dozen counts of conspiracy, importing unapproved drugs, and dispensing drugs in packages labeled as dietary supplements. The case dragged on for years, with hundreds of motions filed. But by 1996 the U.S. Attorney's office admitted it was unable to build a case against LEF and dropped the charges.

While the FDA continues to investigate LEF, Brad Stone, the FDA public information director, said he could not comment on the investigation. Instead he faxed New Times a copy of a 1987 statement, saying that "it should give you some insight."

"An ongoing FDA investigation of Life Extension Products of Hollywood, Fla., has revealed that the company marketed a variety of drug products with medical claims that were allegedly false or misleading," the statement reads.

When it comes to outfits like LEF, the FDA has considerably less bite than it once did. Until 1994, federal law prohibited companies from claiming that herbal and dietary supplements offered specific health benefits. If a company made such a claim, the supplement would be considered a drug and thus be subject to FDA safety regulation.

For example, LEF sells a mineral supplement called "Bone-Up," a high-potency calcium product made by a company called Jarrow. Under the old rules, LEF's vitamin store could sell Bone-Up but could not claim that it offered any health benefit either verbally or in its literature. But in 1994 the U.S. Congress passed the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), which allows companies to make health-benefit claims. In fact, Jarrow does so on its package, stating "research shows" that Bone-Up "may reduce the risk of osteoporosis."

Vitamin-supply companies like LEF are still prohibited from using the word "cure" in their pitches. But state health regulators worry that, after seeing any health claim at all, consumers may assume that the supplement is safe, effective, and approved by the FDA. In fact, because of DSHEA, the FDA never tests dietary supplements. Nobody, in effect, is minding the vitamin store.

The state health department is trying. According to Gloria Henderson, director of the department's Medical Quality Assurance division, two options are being considered at the moment: establishing standards for alternative medicine in the state, and putting together an association of alternative practitioners for the purpose of self-regulation. The Florida Board of Medicine also plans to meet in August to discuss the dietary-supplement industry.

In the meantime DSHEA's limitations are amply demonstrated in LEF's literature, which makes health-benefit claims that are impossible for a consumer to verify. Virtually every month Life Extension magazine throws out headlines such as "Breakthrough Drug For Alzheimer's Disease," "Cancer Breakthrough," and "Herbal Breakthrough" (for prostate cancer victims). The article accompanying the last headline mentions four different prostate-cancer studies but only lists where one of them took place.

Clara Lawhead, of the health fraud council, reviewed the ten-page section on AIDS and HIV therapy in LEF's protocol book and found extensive references to published medical journals but no footnotes or citations.

"The fact that they don't source with a footnote makes this garbage, because there's no way anyone could go back and hold them accountable," she noted. "Unless you give everything a reference, it's bogus, it's phony, it's a fraud."

The folks at LEF couldn't care less what the medical establishment thinks of their operation. Faloon says foundation members enroll, for the most part, because they're tired of "official medicine" and governmental overregulation.

As proof of LEF's regard for safety, Faloon notes that unlike doctors, who fear malpractice suits, LEF has never been sued. Besides, LEF urges each member to see a physician if he or she has a serious medical problem.

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