Consumer Health Digest #01-02

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 8, 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.

New study debunks hair analysis. In 1999, researchers from the California Department of Health located nine laboratories and sent identical samples to six of them. The reported mineral levels, the alleged significance of the findings, and the recommendations made in the reports differed widely from one to another. The researchers concluded that the procedure is still unreliable and recommended that government agencies act vigorously to protect consumers. [Seidel S and others. Assessment of commercial laboratories performing hair mineral analysis. JAMA 285:67-72, 2001] For further information see Quackwatch article.

Integrative Medicine ceases publication. The "quarterly" journal Integrative Medicine, edited by Andrew Weil, M.D., ceased publication in June 2000. It had published four issues during 1998, one in 1999, and one "double issue" in May 2000.

People's Medical Society (PMS) appears to be exaggerating its size. The People's Medical Society, headquartered in Allentown, Pennslvania, describes itself as "the largest consumer health organization in America" and states that it is run "by the people" and "for the people." However, its president and board of directors are not elected, and its activities and policies appear to be determined solely by the group's president, Charles Inlander, whose total compensation (salary and benefits) has been more than $135,000 per year. PMS has produced many books, booklets, reading lists, and other special reports. Some contain valuable information, but others promote unscientific methods and/or portray them as equivalent to scientific ones. During the 1980s, PMS encouraged its members to write to legislators or other officials. Some campaigns involved antiquackery legislation (opposed by PMS), funds for organic farming (favored), licensing of nutritionists (opposed), and food irradiation (opposed).

In recent years, PMS publications and local newspaper articles have stated that PMS has 125,000 members, 150,000 "supporters," and 125,000 "contributors and members." However, its tax returns do not support such figures. The financial statement filed with its 1998 California Form CT-2 lists membership fees of $148,664 for 1997 and $152,523 for 1998 and contributions of $81,056 for 1997 and $81,055 for 1998. These numbers translate into about 7,500 members and either few contributors or tiny average contributions. Its main source of income is from book sales.

New package inserts planned for prescription drugs. The FDA is proposing to amend its regulations governing the format and content of package inserts for human prescription drug and biologic products. These revisions will make it easier for health-care practitioners to access and use information in prescription drug labeling. When finalized, the rules would immediately affect the requirements for new drug approvals and would be applied over a period of 3 to 7 years to drugs approved during previous five years. The changes are intended to simplify what is presented and reduce the likelihood of medication errors. The proposal was published in the Federal Register on December 22, 2000. [Requirements on content and format of labeling for human prescription drugs and biologics; Requirements for Prescription Drug Product Labels; Proposed Rule. Federal Register: 65:81081-81131, 2000.]

Glucosamine/chondroitin study is enrolling patients. The first U.S. multicenter study to investigate glucosamine and chondroitin is expected to begin soon. In 1999, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NACCM) and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculosketal and Skin Diseases announced a $14 million contract award to the University of Utah to determine whether glucosamine or chondroitin are more effective than placebo for treating knee pain associated with osteoarthritis (OA) The protocol includes a 24-week placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial involving a total of 1588 patients at 13 clinical centers. Glucosamine alone, chondroitin alone, and the combination will be compared to placebo for treating knee pain of OA. To check whether the study can detect significant treatment effects, the established drug celicoxib (Celebrex) will also be compared to placebo. The final report is due in March 2005. [Glucosamine/chondroitin arthritis intervention trial begins patient recruitment. NCCAM press release, December 11, 2000.]

Google search engine improved., which can search more than a billion Web pages in less than a second, has greatly improved its advanced search page. The "Cached" link in each result may access pages that no longer exist on their original Web site but are still stored in the Google archive. For optimal effeciency, read the search tips and then set your preferences.

New NIH Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) fact sheets. The first six in a series of reports on vitamins and minerals have been posted to the ODS Web site. The reports cover human needs, deficiency, excess, and "issues and controversies." The initial topics are vitamins A, vitamin D, vitamin E, magnesium, selenium, and zinc.

Drug database for consumers. MEDLINEplus maintains an excellent database of information on over 9,000 prescription and over-the counter drugs. The information is compiled by the United States Pharmacoepial Convention, an independent organization that establishes officially recognized standards for medicines and related products.

Index of Internet-related FDA warnings. The FDA now has a page for easy access to warning letters sent to companies engaged in illegal sales through the Internet.

Mail-fraud alert. InteliHealth Healthy Home, the mail-order service of the highly respected InteliHealth Web site, includes the Millenium Oxygen Cooler ($1,590) in its printed January 2001 catalog. The write-up claims that most people are "probably not" getting all the oxygen they need for good health" and that:

Studies reveal that oxygen in your bloodstream can enhance your ability to fight infectious bacteria, microbes, and viruses. How? Oxygen in the bloodstream acts as a cleaner, helping to rid your body of the toxins that build up due to pollution. Our revolutionary, high-tech oxygen water cooler contains water with a 600% higher concentration of dissolved oxygen (as compared, say, to a mountain stream) which may help maintain your health, concentration, skin tone, and overall well being. It's far better than bottled water which allows oxygen to evaporate.

The cooler is manufactured by Oxygen Technologies, which makes similar claims on its Web site. These claims are false because: (a) the tiny amount of oxygen dissolved in water entering the stomach does not significantly raise the body's blood level of oxygen; and (b) even if it could, it would have no effect on infectious disease or on "ridding the body of toxins."

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This page was posted on January 6, 2001.