Consumer Health Digest #01-23
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
June 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.
New cholesterol guidelines. The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) today issued major new clinical practice guidelines on the prevention and management of high cholesterol in adults. Previous guidelines were issued in 1986 and 1993. The key changes are:
- Better identification of those at high risk for a heart attack
- Use of a lipoprotein profile as the first test for high cholesterol. (This test measures levels of LDL, total cholesterol, HDL, and triglycerides.)
- Raising the level at which low HDL becomes a major heart disease risk factor from 35 to 40 mg/dL
- New LDL classifications of under 100 mg/dL as "optimal," 100-129 mg/dL as "near optimal/above optimal," and 190 mg/dL or over as "very high."
- New set of "Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes" with more power to improve cholesterol levels
- More aggressive cholesterol-lowering treatment for diabetics
- Sharper focus on "the metabolic syndrome" of heart disease risk factors linked to insulin resistance
- Increased attention to the treatment of high triglycerides
- Advice against the use of hormone replacement therapy as an alternative to cholesterol-lowering drugs for women with known heart disease
- A new tool to predicts a person's chance of having a heart attack within 10 years
Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine now published quarterly. The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine has expanded its focus to include aberrant medical practices and has advanced from semiannual to quarterly publication. Published by Prometheus Books, it is the only peer-reviewed journal devoted exclusively to objectively analyzing the claims of "alternative medicine." Annual subscriptions are $60 for individuals in the United States and Canada, $70 for individuals overseas, and $100 for institutions everywhere. Call (800) 421-0351 to order with a credit card or mail payment to SRAM, Prometheus Books, 59 John Glenn Drive, Amherst, NY 14228. Further information and links to several articles are available on Quackwatch.
Court upholds FDA ban on cholesterol-lowering "supplement." Cholestin contains lovastatin, the active ingredient in Mevacor, a prescription drug used to modify cholesterol levels. In 1998, the FDA determined that cholesterol-lowering claims for Cholestin made it an unapproved "new drug" that could not be legally marketed in interstate commerce. The product is manufactured by Pharmanex, Inc., which extracts the main ingredient from red yeast rice powder imported from China. In 1998, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order preventing the FDA from regulating Cholestin as a drug, which would mean that it could not be legally marketed without adequate clinical trials. The 2000, an appeals court overturned this ruling and returned the case for further consideration. In April 2001, the lower court judge reversed his ruling and Pharmanex announced that it would stop marketing the product and would attempt to resolve the matter through further talks with FDA officials. The basic issue in the case is whether people should be able to take cholesterol-lowering compounds like Cholestin without a physician's supervision. Optimal cardioprotective programs should include risk-factor analysis and and an individually tailored plan. Pharmanex is now a division of Nu Skin Enterprises, a multilevel company that has been penalized twice by the Federal Trade Commission.
Federal funding for "Creative Wellness" program stopped. The Bush Administration has canceled an $860,000 federal program based on "personality types" as determined by applied kinesiology muscle-testing. The program's director, Michelle Lusson, DD, claims that each of the 14 personality types in her "Creative Wellness" program "correlates with one of three major endocrine glandular functions." Lusson states that the program was developed by her and her associates at the National Institute for Medical Options, which she founded and heads. Her recommended treatment includes dietary measures, exercise (for "glandular improvement"), aromatherapy, gemstones, meditation, and "healing affirmations." The program, which was to be taught to public housing residents 26 cities, was funded from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)'s drug-fighting budget. Applied kinesiology is a pseudoscience whose practitioner claim to find health problems throughout the body by muscle strength under various conditions. Lusson claims that pulling down on the arms of a resistant subject enables her to check "glandular points" for "weakness" of the thyroid gland, adrenal gland, or pancreas. Her Web site markets her courses; a book; candle kits; incense packages; aromatherapy kits; "anti-stress floral water"; and "natural support" jewelry and gem bags. The HUD program's expenses included $3,240 for color charts, $6,270 for gem bags, $3,174 for incense packs, $6,255 for aroma kits, $1,201 for aroma oils and $624 for nutrition kits that included sugar, salt, candy, and Jim Beam whiskey. [Bloomquest B. Bush kills HUD 'wellness plan. New York Post, May 31, 2001]
Gynecologists warn about herbal products. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has issued a Practice Bulletin called "Use of Botanicals for Management of Menopausal Symptoms." [It's "Buyer beware" with alternative botanical treatments for menopausal symptoms, says ACOG. News release, May 31, 2001. Its conclusions include:
- While some botanicals may offer some symptom relief, there is no mandatory regulation of the majority of botanical products, resulting in a lack of standardization among products.
- Consumers cannot be assured of any particular product's actual content and efficacy. This lack of quality control may result in contamination, adulteration, or misidentification of plant products that may ultimately harm the consumer.
- Many alternative therapies that are promoted and touted as substitutes for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) do not offer any substantiated health benefit.
- Soy and isoflavones may be helpful in the short term (2 years or less) for menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats. While safe in dietary amounts, the consumption of extraordinary amounts of soy and isoflavone supplements may interact with estrogen and may he harmful to women with a history of estrogen-dependent cancer and possibly to other women as well.
- Black cohosh may help for six months or less)for treatment of hot flashes and night sweats.
- Based on the lack of bioavailability, the hormones in wild and Mexican yam would not be expected to have any therapeutic efficacy in women. There are no published reports demonstrating the efficacy of wild yam cream.
- Dong Quai, a Chinese herb, is potentially toxic and consumption may increase the risk of sun exposure-related skin cancers.
Health-related Ponzi Scheme collapses. A Canadian couple, Ron and Loren Koval, have been sentenced to seven years in prison for a Ponzi scheme that involved swindling at least $94 million from the Royal Bank of Canada and other major banks. The couple set up a luxury medical clinic (King's Medical Centre) and borrowed huge amounts of money to pay for expensive medical equipment that was not actually purchased. The loans were then used to make payments on earlier loans and to support the Kovals' million-dollar lifestyle. [Appleby T. A clinical case. Toronto Glose and Mail, May 25, 2001]
Chiropractic neck manipulation criticized. The Hamilton Spectator has published an exposé about inappropriate and dangerous neck manipulation. The segments cover reasons for use, danger, and the issue of informed consent. [McPhail W. A painful adjustment || How delicate arteries are injured || Why chiropractors adjust patients' necks. Hamilton Spectator, June 2, 2001]
This page was posted on June 4, 2001.