Consumer Health Digest #01-03

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 15, 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 DRI Report on Vitamins A and K and12 Minerals

On January 9, 2001, the Institute of Medicine issued the fifth in its series of reports on Dietary Reference Intakes that update and expand the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) in the United States and Recommended Nutrient Intakes in Canada. The new report makes recommendations regarding vitamin A, vitamin K, arsenic, boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium, and zinc. The news release and the full report can be read online.

"Fat Magnet" (Chitosan) Claims Proven False

Chitosan is derived from chitin, a polysaccharide found in the exoskeleton of shellfish such as shrimp, lobster, and or crabs. Many sellers claim that chitosan causes weight loss by binding fats in the stomach and preventing them from being digested and absorbed. Enforma Natural Products has claimed that its "Fat Trapper" chitosan product would bind as much as 120 grams of dietary fat daily and promote weight loss. An FTC consent agreement now prohibits these claims. The FTC's position is supported by a study performed at the University of California -Davis in which 7 healthy young men who ingested 135 grams per day of fat for 12 days used the Enforma product. Tests showed that the amount of fat in their feces did not significantly differ before and after using the product, even though they took more than the recommended amount. [Stern JS and others. Chitosan does not block fat absorption in men fed a high fat diet. Obesity Research Research 8:91s. (Supplement 1: abstract PB94), Oct 2000.]

Chiropractors Are Earning Less

Data from the U.S. Department of Commerce indicate that the total reported net income for chiropractic offices and clinics rose from $6.56 billion in 1992 to $7.68 billion in 1998, which is about 2.8% per year. Since the number of practicing chiropractors has been increasing, and taking inflation into account, these figures show that real chiropractic income has been decreasing steadily. The major factors are an oversupply of new chiropractors, increased practice expenses, and limits set by managed care plans.

Viatical Fraud

Faced with the financial burden of a terminal illness, some people choose to sell their life-insurance policy for an immediate lump sum. The viatical settlement company (or a third-party investor who purchases the policy) pays any subsequent premiums and collects the face value when death occurs. The Federal Trade Commission has warned that decisions about insurance benefits can have a profound financial and emotional impact on dependents, friends, and caregivers. Some agents fraudulently recruit terminally ill people to apply for multiple policies. They misrepresent the truth and answer "no" to all of the medical questions. Healthy impostors then undergo the medical evaluation. In many cases, the insurance agent who issues the policy is a party to the scheme. The agent or one applicant may even submit the same application to many insurance companies. Viatical settlement companies then purchase the policies and sell them to unsuspecting third-party investors [Betting on death: Insurance settlements intended to help the dying have short-changed them and fleeced many investors. Consumer Reports 66:37-39, 2001]. People considering a viatical settlement should read the FTC's brochure and consult a professional advisor.

Bicycle Helmet Use

Although published studies are not numerous, there is good reason to believe that safety helmet use can reduce the incidence of serious head injuries from cycling accidents by about 75%. Yet many adults and children don't wear one. For information of proper fit, see: Head cases: We checked fit, venting, and adherence to a new safety standard. Consumer Reports 64(6):42-44, 1999.

Simple Medline Searching

The National Library of Medicine's PubMed Clinical Queries" interface can reduce the number of irrelevant citations delivered when searching Medline with a single word or phrase. If a valuable citation is located, clicking "Related Articles" offers another pathway to relevant citations.

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This page was posted on January 16, 2001.