Consumer Health Digest #01-49
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 4, 2001
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.
Chiropractors want primary care status in Dept. of Veteran Affairs health system. The chiropractic provisions of the Disabled Veterans Service Dog and Health Care Improvement Act of 2001 (HB 2792), approved in October by the U.S. House of Representatives, would permit veterans to select a chiropractor as their primary care provider (PCP). This provision is opposed by the American Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Osteopathic Association, Vietnam Veterans of America, and Disabled American Veterans, as well as the White House Office of Management and Budget and the VA itself. In conference committee, the Senate has asked the House to either remove the chiropractic provisions or fund a pilot study at few VA sites [Greene J. Chiropractors seek primary care status at Veterans Affairs Dept. AMNews, Nov 26, 2001]
The Institute of Medicine defines primary care as "integrated, accessible health care services by clinicians who are accountable for addressing a large majority of personal health needs, especially as a first point of contact for undiagnosed symptoms." The IOM considers family physicians, general internists, and general pediatricians to be PCPs; and many gynecologists also function as PCPs. At least seven years of full-time medical training are required to enter one of these specialties. Chiropractors typically undergo four years of training focused on musculoskeletal problems with little exposure to other conditions. Practicing chiropractors are not legally authorized to prescribe drugs or to perform surgery. For patients who need medical treatment, screening and referral by chiropractors will increase costs and delay necessary care.
Pending bills may influence dietary supplement marketplace. Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) have sponsored two bills intended to increase dietary supplement research and to protect consumers:
- An amendment to the Senate's agriculture appropriations bill (HR 2330) would provide $1 million would be provided to the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition to fund enforcement actions against dietary supplements that bear false or misleading labeling. The bill also includes an additional $3 million to upgrade the adverse event reporting system for dietary supplements.
- An amendment to the Senate's Labor-Health and Human Services bill (HR 3061) would provide $500,000 to cover legal activities associated with enforcing the product labeling provisions of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) and would provide $110 million to the NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), some of which may be used for dietary supplement research. [Dietary supplement appropriations news: Labor HHS and agriculture. CRN News, Nov 1, 2001]
The deceptive marketing of dietary supplements and herbal products has mushroomed since DSHEA's passage. The main reason that the FDA has been unable to stop this problem is not financial. DSHEA, which Harkin and Hatch spearheaded, severely limits the FDA's ability to regulate these products. Providing more money won't solve the problem because the agency needs a stronger law. It also remains to be seen whether increasing NCCAM's budget will lead to any useful research. So far, most of the research funded by NCCAM and its predecessors has been useless.
British agency hits "Berry Trim" ads. The British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is taking action against the Health Laboratories of North America. Although the company is based in the United States, the mailings are posted in the United Kingdom. The mailings contain what seems to be a newspaper ad with a handwritten message ("[recipient's initial], try it. It works!" ) at the top of the page. The ad says: "Teacher Loses 70 lbs. in Only 8 Weeks Easily ... Without Being Hungry ... After Everything Else Fails Her! This is how over 1 million people have safely lost over 10 million pounds! NO calorie counting! NO hunger! Guaranteed to work for you too!" An ASA official described the mailings as "one of the most flagrant and deceitful breach of the rules we have ever seen." [ASA Acts to stop deceitful slimming advertisement, News release, Nov 27, 2001] Such ads upset some people by making them feel that a friend thinks they are too fat. Similar ads have circulated in the United States for a decade, but the U.S. Postal Service has not attacked a mail-order product fraud since 1991.
Water-related scams debunked. The Aquascams Web site contains detailed information on water pseudoscience, fantasies and frauds. Its topics include electromagnetic water treatment, catalytic water treatment, "clustered water," "super-ionized water," "oxygenated water," "vibrational healing water," "imploded water," and much more. The site is maintained by Stephen K. Lower, Ph.D., a retired associate professor who taught chemistry at Simon Fraser University from 1965 to 1999.
NCCAM director testifies regarding bioterrorism. On November 14, at a hearing of the House Committee on Government Reform, Stephen E. Straus, M.D., director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, responded a question about whether any "complementary" or "alternative" practices can augment standard ones to prevent or treat diseases from biological weapons. Strauss, who rarely says anything negative about CAM methods, said:
- While augmenting one's natural healing powers may prove beneficial for some illnesses and is a focus of much work funded by NCCAM, there is no scientific basis to believe that this approach would be of much value against the diseases incited by biological weapons.
- It may not be prudent to combine "natural" products with antibiotics because they might interfere with the proper action of the drugs.
- The best approach is to trust the currently approved drugs and vaccines and to not dissipate our energies or to distract the public by pursuing unproven remedies.
[Straus SE. Comprehensive medical care for bioterrorism exposure: Are we making evidenced based decisions? Testimony before the House Committee on Government Reform, Nov 14, 2001]
Secretin flunks another autism test. Another well-designed clinical trial has found that the hormone secretin was no more effective than a placebo in treating autistic children. The study included 56 children with autism, ages 3 to 12, who received either an intravenous dose of secretin, followed by a dose of saline (dilute salt water) four weeks later, or an intravenous dose of saline, followed by a dose of secretin four weeks later. [Owley T, McMahon W. Multisite, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of porcine secretin in autism. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 40:1293-1299, 2001] Four other recently published trials had similar findings.
FTC curbs another TV "home shopping" retailer. ValueVision International, Inc., of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it had aired ad for several products with claims that could not be substantiated. ValueVision, now called ShopNBC, is the third largest television "home shopping" network retailer in the United States. The company has agreed not to make unsubstantiated health-related claims about any food, drug, dietary supplement, cellulite-treatment product, or weight-loss program. It also has agreed to offer refunds to dissatisfied consumers. The challenged claims included:
- The WeightPerfect Fat Loss Accelerators, a capsule, containing bitter orange extract, guarana, pyruvate, and white willow bark, and a liquid formula, containing melatonin and amino acids, was claimed to decrease appetite and cause fat loss while sleeping, enabling the user to lose 50 pounds or more in twelve weeks.
- Fight the Fat, a liquid chitosan product, was claimed to "quite literally melt the pounds off you" and enable consumers to eat high-fat foods without worrying about putting on weight.
- NutriFirm's Perfect Body Solution, was claimed to eliminates or reduces cellulite by liquefying the underlying body fat that purportedly causes cellulite.
- NutriFirm's The Internal Cleanser, also manufactured by Isomers, consists of a fiber-based "Detox," and "Restore," which contain a variety of flora and acidophilus. According to the FTC, ValueVision claimed that the Internal Cleanser aids those who suffer from colds, flu, allergies, backaches, muscle aches, headaches, and impaired memory.
- NutriFirm's Vitamin H Serum, a topical anti-hair loss solution that contains biotin, was claimed claimed to prevent or reduce hair loss and slow down the rate at which hair falls out.
Source: Television "home shopping" retailer settles FTC charges that advertising claims lacked scientific support; will offer refunds. FTC news release, July 11, 2001.
This page was revised on December 5, 2001.