Consumer Health Digest #07-21

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
May 22, 2007


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.


No evidence that psychotherapy increases cancer survival. A systematic review of published reports has concluded that existing data do not support the claim that psychotherapy prolongs cancer survival and that a large-scale trial would be a poor investment of research funds because the hypothesis is improbable. [Coyne JC and others. Psychotherapy and survival in cancer: The conflict between hope and evidence. Psychological Bulletin 133:367-394, 2007] The authors noted:

Two studies in particular – Spiegel et al., 1989 and Fawzy et al., 1993 – have been widely interpreted as providing early support for the idea that psychotherapy promotes survival among cancer patients. However, the authors report that the studies had numerous methodological and analytical flaws, including the fact that they were not designed to test the hypothesis that psychotherapy extends the lives of cancer patients. The study investigators had redefined the purpose of their studies after looking at their data – a practice that is generally not acceptable in biomedicine and that often leads to claims that will not be validated in subsequent studies. [New research disproves widespread belief that group psychotherapy extends the lives of cancer patients. Penn Medicine news release, May 1, 2007]


Anti-amalgam suit loses. A federal appeals court has dismissed a suit seeking to force the FDA to classify amalgam as a device so that it would be subject to tighter restrictions. The suit was brought by four organizations and five individuals who mistakenly believe that the mercury in amalgam fillings poses a hazard that deserves greater FDA regulation. The FDA argued that (a) its regulation is adequate, (b) the court lacks jurisdiction, and (c) the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue. The appeals court ruled that failure of the FDA to classify a device does not give rise to judicial review. [Opinion. Moms against Mercury et al. v. Food and Drug Administration. U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Circuit. Case No. 06-1147, Decided April 13, 2007] Responding to the ruling, the American Dental Association, which was not a party to the suit, stated: "Some activist groups, relying on faulty science, tried to use the court system to force the FDA to deprive the nation’s dentists and the patients that they serve of a safe and inexpensive option for treating dental decay. . . . Dental amalgam is a safe and effective filling material."


Review blasts spinal decompression therapy. Chiropractic & Osteopathy has published a literature review which concludes that spinal decompression has not been proven effective or cost-effective for treating back pain. [Daniel DM. Non-surgical spinal decompression therapy: Does the scientific literature support efficacy claims made in the advertising media? Chiropractic & Osteopathy 18 May, 2007] The review states:

Traction therapy has been utilized in the treatment of low back pain for decades. The most recent incarnation of traction therapy is non-surgical spinal decompression therapy which can cost over $100,000. This form of therapy has been heavily marketed to manual therapy professions and subsequently to the consumer.

Only one small randomized controlled trial and several lower level efficacy studies have been performed on spinal decompression therapy. In general the quality of these studies is questionable. . . .

Only limited evidence is available to warrant the routine use of non-surgical spinal decompression, particularly when many other well investigated, less expensive alternatives are available.

The devices used for spinal decompression include the Decompression Reduction Stabilization (DRS) System, Accu-Spina System, DRX-3000, DRX9000, SpineMED Decompression Table, and Lordex Traction Unit. Chirobase has additional information about them.


Aetna will stop paying for dubious hormone treatments. Aetna has announced that as of October 1, 2007, it will no longer cover about 25 types of "bioidentical hormones" and compounded thyroid drugs. [Coverage policy changing for hormone, thyroid compounds. Aetna Office Link Updates 4(3):6, 2007] Bioidentical hormones are often prescribed unnecessarily by practitioners who rely upon salivary hormone testing, which Aetna also criticizes. [Salivary hormone tests. Aetna Clinical Policy Bulletin 0606, Oct 17, 2006]


Shark cartilage capsules found contaminated. The FDA has announced that NBTY, Inc. of Bohemia, NY, is recalling 3 lots of Shark Cartilage Capsules manufactured in 2004 because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella, an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. The capsules were packaged for various NBTY divisions and marketed under Puritan's Pride, Good and Natural, Nature's Bounty, Natural Wealth, Physiologics, Rexall Sundown, and Vitamin World labels. No illness have been reported so far. [NBTY, Inc. conducts nationwide recall of shark cartilage capsules because of possible health risk. NBTY press release, May 16, 2007]


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This page was posted on May 23, 2007.