Consumer Health Digest #03-16
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
April 22, 2003
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.
Poll probes consumer vulnerability to dietary supplement claims. A Harris poll conducted for the International Longevity Center has found that most people (a) take supplements, (b) don't believe "anti-aging" product claims, and (c) overestimate the government's ability to regulate claims made for dietary supplement and herbal products. [Widespread ignorance of regulation and labeling of vitamins, minerals and food supplements. Harris Interactive Health Care News, Dec 23, 2002.] The survey, done by telephone in October 2002, involved a cross-section of 1,010 American adults age 18 and older. The key findings included:
- 68% mistakenly believed that the government required product labels to include warnings about potential side effects or dangers.
- 59% mistakenly believed that the products must be approved by an agency like the FDA before they can be sold to the public.
- 55% mistakenly believed that manufacturers are not allowed to make claims for product safety without solid scientific evidence. to support them.
- 69% said they took vitamins, minerals, or food supplements, with a median of about 1 dose per day.
- 90% said they did not believe that taking medications or supplements will prevent generally healthy people from getting old.
- 94% said they did not believe claims about "anti-aging" medicines on TV.
- Although the percentage of people who represent themselves as not susceptible to anti-aging promotions is large, the number of people at risk is over 15 million, which is enough to sustain a large industry.
Coral calcium scam accelerates. Robert Barefoot and Kevin Trudeau are airing a new TV infomercial claiming that coral calcium can cure cancer and many other diseases. The infomercial, now the most frequently televised infomercial for a health-related product, makes cancer-cure claims even more blatant than those of Barefoot's previous one. During the past three months, the number of links found by searching Google for "coral calcium" has risen from about 80,000 to more than 110,000. Dr. Stephen Barrett calls the current video the most outrageous infomercial he has ever seen. [Barrett S. Be wary of Robert Barefoot and coral calcium. Quackwatch, April 21, 2003]
FTC blasts herbal snoring "cure." Snore Formula, Inc., its officers (Ronald General and Dennis H. Harris, M.D.), and a distributor (Gerald L. Harris) have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they lacked a scientific basis for claims made for "Dr. Harris' Original Snore Formula" tablets. The consent agreement bans unsubstantiated claims that the product or any other food, drug, device, service, or dietary supplement prevents, treats, eliminates, or reduces snoring and sleep apnea. [FTC requires scientific evidence for "Snore Formula" claims. FTC news release, April 15, 2003]
Ginkgo products fail quality tests. Ginkgo extracts are widely promoted with claims that they can boost brain function. One study found a small possible benefit for people with dementia, but other studies show no improvement in memory or thinking in the healthy elderly. ConsumerLab.com, which tested nine brand of Ginkgo biloba products, has found that seven of them lacked adequate levels of one or more compounds expected for clinical effects. [Product review: Ginkgo biloba and Huperzine A - memory enhancers. ConsumerLab.com, April 21, 2003]
Value Vision hit for $215K penalty. ValueVision International, Inc., the third largest television "home shopping" network retailer in the United States, has agreed to pay a $215,000 civil penalty to resolve allegations that it violated a previous FTC order by making unsubstantiated health claims for Physician's RX, a dietary supplement containing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The violations occurred in television advertising that featured testimonial claims that the product (a) reduces fatigue associated with taking prescription drugs, such as drugs for heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes; (b) reduces fatigue associated with certain illnesses, including diabetes, lyme disease, sarcoidosis, and cancer; (c) increases energy, stamina, and endurance within a week to 10 days; and (d) relieves arthritis symptoms. [ValueVision home shopping network to pay $215,000 civil penalty. FTC news release, April 17, 2003] ValueVision, based in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, owns and operates a cable television home shopping service called ShopNBC that markets a variety of consumer products including jewelry, housewares, and health and beauty products through live, 24-hour programming and a Web site. The 2001 case involved five other products. [Television "home shopping" retailer settles FTC charges that advertising claims lacked scientific support; will offer refunds. FTC news release, July 11, 2001]
Medical supplier offers dubious chiropractic sales aids. Medical Arts Press, which markets office supplies and sales aids for six types of health professionals, is selling chiropractic "reminder/recall postcards" that contain misleading claims. The most blatant is an "Earaches in Children" card which states:
Recurrent, painful ear infections may be a symptoms of a larger problem!
Chiropractic adjustments can solve the ear infection puzzle.
Some children suffer from chronic earaches. The earaches often occur due to a blockage in the eustachian tube which prevents drainage of the middle ear and results in infection. Chiropractic can help relieve the earaches with adjustments to the neck and upper back that help restore motion to the vertebrae. Once proper motion is restored, nervous interference is eliminated and drainage of the eustachian tube can occur. This enables the body's immune system to fight the infection.
There is no scientific evidence or logical reason to believe that spinal manipulation is effective against ear infections. Nor is there good reason to believe that the average chiropractor is qualified to examine a child's ear to determine whether it is infected and what type of treatment is needed.
This page was posted on April 22, 2003.