Event Review: Fall ACAM 2002 Conference and Trade Show

By Rob Baum


ACAM’s fall conference was held in Phoenix, AZ, at the Phoenix Civic Plaza, from November 7th – 10th. ACAM, short for the American College for the Advancement of Medicine, was founded back in 1973 and is a non-profit medical group dedicated to educating MDs and other health care professionals in preventative and nutritional (i.e., complementary and alternative) medicine. They are most closely associated with “chelation therapy” (discussed below), although there is more to ACAM. Many of ACAM’s members are medical doctors engaged in the treatment of, or research in, vascular disease and related fields. ACAM is accredited to offer CME (Continuing Medical Education) credits for attending physicians.


The show has two parts, a conference, where various papers are presented, and a small trade show, where there are booths for firms selling products such as supplements and lab testing services into the “practitioner” channel (such as Medical Doctors, Chiropractors, Naturopathic Doctors and other non-retail buyers). The conference presents recent findings by physicians and researchers in complementary medicine that attempts to assist physicians in their clinical practice.

This show was smaller than last year, with approximately 139 companies represented, and roughly 400 attendees. This was, perhaps, in part the fallout of the iless than ideal location and internal political differences within the organization (there was the whole drama of a leadership coup and then a lawsuit a year or two ago). This has hurt it in terms of attendance at the show, and perhaps in terms of membership. Most exhibitors I spoke with were disappointed with the turnout, and at least one said they would not be coming back again. However, one manufacturer, Blessed Herbs, a maker of a variety of herbal products including detoxification kits for sale to doctors, had a different take. Todd Odasz said “The ACAM show was a beneficial show for Blessed Herbs. The attendance was very low but we had a great response from a number of the attendees”. The author Hyla Cass, MD, thought the ACAM show was “a good opportunity for physicians to learn about clinically relevant research, confer with like minded colleagues, and exchange information.”

The audiotape recording service, Professional Audio Recording, they noted that even though the topics were good, tape sales were a bit off. For those of you who could not make it to the show, audiotapes from the most recent as well as past shows are available from them. They can be reached at [email protected], (800-430-4727).

Conference Report:

ACAM had almost 20 sessions covering a variety of alternative medicine topics, which ran the gamut from quite “accepted” in the nutrition industry, to the more radical – as all new ideas are seen, at least at first.

Ross Pelton, PhD, a well-known author, spoke on a very interesting topic with widespread relevance: drug induced nutrient depletion, and the health problems they can cause. Mark Houston, MD, spoke about the role of vascular biology, nutrition and nutraceuticals in the prevention and treatment of hypertension. Dr. Houston said that many patients with essential hypertension might be effectively treated with a combination of lifestyle modifications, nutraceuticals, vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. George Gillson, MD, who also has a PhD in chemistry, spoke about a placebo-controlled trial of transdermal histamine plus caffeine for treating multiple sclerosis. Konrad Kail, ND spoke about toxification and cancer. Mr. Kail believes that internal toxification increases cancer risk, and that nutraceuticals, phytomedicines and other therapies can be used to reduce toxic loads and treat cancer. Margaret Ayers, PhD and Penny Montgomery, PhD discussed using digital real time EEGs in neuro-feedback.

Allan Warshowsky, MD, spoke on a timely topic – the use of “bio-identical”, as opposed to traditional synthetic, hormone replacement therapy for women in menopause. Derrick Lonsdale, MD spoke on recent research in the treatment of autistic disorders in children, which is far more commonplace than many realize. Dr. Lonsdale stated that there were 8 new cases each day in California.

Tim Guilford, MD, spoke about the risk of long-term, cumulative exposure to mercury. Dr. Guilford contends that fish, and humans, are subject to harm from low-level mercury exposure. And he reviewed an approach to the diagnosis and management of mercury toxicity. This dovetails nicely with chelation therapy, upon which ACAM was itself founded, and which is discussed elsewhere in this article.

Trade Show Report:

The trade show had over 100 exhibitors, including several dietary supplement brands from the practitioner channel. Complementary and Alternative (CAM) plus mainstream practitioners accounted for 7% of the US total of $17.7 billion in sales of supplements in 2001 (or $1.24 billion). There were booths by several of the leading brands, such as Douglas Laboratories (sales of about $60 million), which sells under its own brand name, the AMNI name in other channels, such as over the internet, and which also does a lot of private label work. Douglas had their Q-Melt, fast melting version of co-enzyme Q-10 featured at their booth (although without the old surfer dude in yellow duds, who was at prior shows, promoting the product).

Integrative Therapeutics, Inc, which offers a portfolio of several well-known, quality, brands into the practitioner channel, such as NF Formulas, Tyler Encapsulations and Vitaline Formulas. ITI is a division of Enzymatic Therapy, and has sales of approximately $45 million on its own. Metagenics (which does around $65 million) was also present. They are known for the quality and size of their direct sales force, which act like detail reps in the pharma industry, to sell their dietary supplements and medical foods to doctors. Standard Process, another leader in practitioner channel nutraceutical (about $55 million/year) were present. Several smaller firms - Thorne Research, Physiologic, and Allergy Research were also present (they all do around $10 million in sales/year). Bronson Pharmaceutical and Pure Encapsulations were not exhibiting. (All sales numbers are 2001 estimates, based on Nutrition Business Journal, January 2002 information).

Longevity Plus is Gary Gordon’s firm, and they are a small firm offering supplements, anti-aging products, enzymes, and most contentiously, their own take on chelation, oral chelation and heavy metal detoxification. Pro-biotics is a growing niche in the nutrition industry, but not all such products are created equal. There have been several new products rolled out in this category lately. To deliver value to the end user, pro-biotic microorganisms be the right type, survive on the shelf, but also last when passed though the harsh environment of the stomach. Along those lines, Pharmax LLC’s (www.pharmaxllc.com) introduced some new pro-biotics at the show, their Human Lactic Commensals, in use for over a decade in Europe, with clinical trials in the UK showing effectiveness. Jarrow Formulas, which sells pro-biotics, supplements and meal replacement powders, also attended the show. Even though they are also sold through retail stores, many of the Jarrow products are of very good quality, and alternative medicine doctors know it. Jarrow both manufactures their own product and markets selected products from high quality –often pharmaceutical grade – suppliers.

There were several labs present. Unfortunately, Great Smokies Diagnostic Laboratory, a sophisticated lab that offers good educational talks (try their “Genovations” seminar, on the clinical uses of genetic testing), cancelled. Immunosciences Lab, run by Aristo Vojdani, PhD, and Spectracell Laboratories were at the show. The latter provides indirect functional testing of the nutrient status of your body at the cellular level (I took this test myself more than five years ago, it was quite interesting).

On the purely educational front, the Institute For Functional Medicine had a booth. IFM also puts on very informative seminars for practitioners (your correspondent thought Jeff Bland to be an excellent speaker at one of his day-long seminars, who can clearly explain complex ideas, even to those that are not MDs).

In addition to labs, there were several compounding pharmacies present. Compounding pharmacies are pharmacies that custom mix drugs for doctors, including chelation products and hormone replacement therapy products, and are commonly used by CAM practitioners.

ACAM’s Origins and Chelation

ACAM’s origins are detailed in an article in The Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, November 2002 (no. 232), in an article called “Interview with Arline Brecher on Chelation Therapy”, pp. 64-68. See their website, www.tldp.com and www.healthsavers.info, Arlene Brecher’s website, for and more detailed info on chelation. Xeroxes of the article were distributed at the registration area of the ACAM show, so it is safe to assume ACAM agrees with the basic points of the piece. In a nutshell, the article states that ACAM was founded by Dr. George Frankel, a cardiologist who suffered a heart attack and then decided against the usual procedure he and his colleagues prescribes for their patients, bypass surgery, in favor of chelation therapy. Bypass surgery usually means coronary artery bypass surgery, where arteries or veins from other areas of the body are used to create detours for blood flow around areas of blockage in the heart artery.

The article states that Dr. Frankel was successfully treated by Dr. Ray Evers, of Mobile, AL. Six months later, Dr. Frankel was converted, and created ACAM to train and certify doctors to safely, effectively, and non-invasively overcome atherosclerosis or coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD is a type of heart disease in which the coronary arteries (vessels that supply oxygen carrying blood to the heart) become blocked by deposits of a fatty substance called plaque. As plaque builds, the arteries become narrower and less of the needed oxygen and nutrients are transported to the heart. CAD leads to angina (pain due to lack of oxygen reaching the heart) and heart attacks. CAD is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the US. In the article, Arline states “atherosclerosis…is hardening of the arteries…[better understood as] calcification of the arteries”. She feel there is too much calcium compared to magnesium in many people, causing calcium to build up in all of the arteries, not just those arteries subject to bypass surgery (in which arteries are replaced with veins).

ACAM is an advocate of EDTA chelation therapy (as in ethylene diamine tetra-acetic acid) a non-toxic compound that is the FDA-approved drug of choice for heavy metal poisoning, where it is widely accepted by all medical doctors as effective. The word chelation, the article notes, is from the Greek “chele” for “claw” because the EDTA can capture and bind with the unwanted metal compounds that maybe stored in a fat soluble environment in the body. Since the resulting complex is water soluble, excretion can then safely occur through the kidneys. Intravenous chelation has been used for decades to rid the body of toxic heavy metals such as mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, etc.

Chelation can also be used to remove excessive amounts of minerals that are essential (i.e., good for the body) in the right dose, such as chromium, copper, calcium, cobalt and zinc, or chelation can be used to remove toxic forms of “good” elements, e.g., hexavalent chromium. Note that each specific chelating agent has its own pecking order of affinities for different elements.

NIH to Study Chelation Therapy

After almost thirty years, intravenous EDTA chelation therapy is about to have its first real chance to prove its worth in a $30 million, large-scale, multi-center, professionally conducted clinical trial to last five years and enroll over 2,300 patients. This “Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy” (TACT) to treat coronary artery disease will be a closely watched study, since there is so much money at stake. Namely, money for expensive - and as chelation adherents would feel – often unnecessary surgical procedures. TACT will be run by Gervasio A. Loamas, MD, director of Cardiovascular Research at Mount Sinai Medical Center-Miami Heart Institute, in Miami Beach, Florida. Interestingly for the dietary supplement industry, TACT will test whether EDTA chelation therapy and/or high-dose vitamin therapy is effective for the treatment of CAD. Vitamin and mineral supplements, consistent with the regimen used by practitioners who deliver EDTA chelation therapy, will be used in the study. Further information is on the website of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, www.nccam.nih.gov.

Chelation advocates have been battling in the courts for decades against advocates of bypass surgery, in all of its various forms, with and without various types of stents and balloon angioplasty (dilation of a blocked artery to open it up). The Townsend Letter article makes a very interesting claim (page 67): The US Office of Technology Assessment stated that bypass surgery itself has never been carefully evaluated before being rushed into use by the AMA. If true, that is quite interesting for a procedure done, according to the article, 300,000 times per year at a cost of around $10 billion (around $70,000 each, vs. around $3000 - $5000 for 30 chelation treatments). Note that if accurate, that means this single class of procedure is one-third of the entire CAM market in services in the US, which was estimated to be $30 billion in 2001 (Nutrition Business Journal, Jan. 2002, p. 1). The OTA provided Congressional members and committees with objective and authoritative analysis of complex scientific and technical issues, but was closed down in 1995.

ACAM’s Future

The current executive director, Margot Bennet, inherited a tough situation, and is trying to make improvements such as booking locations where the pre-conference workshops, conference and trade show are all in the same location. The hours the exhibit hall could have been better – opening at 4 pm on Thursday, closed for lunchtime Friday and Saturday, and closing at 1030 AM on Sunday, doesn’t make a lot of sense and we were surprised and disappointed to see the show getting torn down Sunday morning! It would also have been nice to at least put all the websites, or at least an email contact (everyone has email!) of the exhibitors and presenters in the directory – or on ACAM’s own website, www.acam.org.

Ms. Bennet has already made some good decisions: the next show will be in the Washington Hilton in Washington DC, May 14-18th, which should be easier for both attendees and exhibitors to reach. The Washington show will focus on cancer and CAM alternatives. The following fall conference will be at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, a much more intelligent choice for everyone since it is easy to get to, plenty of cheap flights, has a surplus of hotel rooms at all price points, the hotels are experienced at hosting all sorts of events, and is a much more interesting city with far more entertainment and dining options than, say, Phoenix.

Hopefully, ACAM can put its serious problems behind it and ride the rising wave of consumer acceptance of complementary and alternative medicine into the mainstream in the next few years. If they cannot, some other organization will, such as A4M (American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, see http://www.worldhealth.net).

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