Consumer Health Digest #01-30
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
July 23, 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.
Report cautions against "anti-aging medicine." Participants at a 3-day workshop sponsored by the International Longevity CenterUSA have cautioned against adopting expensive and includes poorly validated "anti-aging" interventions such as improving antioxidant status and replacing growth hormone (GH), testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and melatonin. In a press release about the workshop, Robert N. Butler, M.D., the noted gerontologist who is the ILC-USA's founding President and CEO said, "So-called anti-aging medicine is largely a sham. We simply do not have the equivalent of a blood pressure cuff for testing aging." For example, although growth hormone levels decline with age, it has not been proven that trying to maintain the levels that exist in young persons is beneficial. The workshop report Biomarkers of Aging: From Primitive Organisms to Man is downloadable from the ILC-USA Web site.
FDA, FTC blast comfrey marketers. Coordinated action by the FDA and FTC may bring an end to the legal marketing of comfrey products in the United States. On July 6, the FDA issued a letter to eight supplement and herbal industry organizations stating that comfrey products, when taken by mouth, present a serious health hazard to consumers because they contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can cause liver disease. [FDA advises dietary supplement manufacturers to remove comfrey products from the market] On July 6 and 17, the FTC announced that it has taken regulatory action against misleading promotions by two marketers of comfrey products.
- Christopher Enterprises, Inc., of Springville, Utah, its president Norman Bacalla, and its vice president, Ruth Christopher Bacalla, was charged with making unfounded claims that the their comfrey products products were safe and effective against asthma, colds, coughs, lung congestion, sore throats, emphysema, bronchitis, tuberculosis, broken bones, curvature of the spine, polio, multiple sclerosis, spinal cancer, prolapsed bowel, prolapsed uterus, uterus, yeast infection, herpes simplex, thrush, infection, pyorrhea, sore throat pain, and toothaches. [Latest FTC case in "Operation Cure.All" focuses on safety risks of comfrey products promoted via Internet. News release, July 6, 2001]
- Western Botanicals, Inc., of Fair Oaks, California, its president Randy C. Giboney, and its vice-president, Kyle D. Christensen, were charged with making unfounded claims that the products were beneficial against chronic bronchial diseases, gastritis, duodenal ulcers, colitis, rheumatism, arthritis, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and other conditions. Under a consent agreement the defendants were prohibited from marketing any comfrey product for ingestion, for use as a suppository, or for external use on open wounds, without evidence that the product is free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids and is safe. [FTC announces a second case focusing on safety risks of comfrey products promoted via Internet. News release, July 13, 2001]
Phytoestrogen data lacking. Two researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have published a detailed review of the evidence for the potential of soy-based or plant-based phytoestrogens to replace standard estrogen replacement therapy (ERT). [Glazier MG., Bowman MA. A review of the evidence for the use of phytoestrogens as a replacement for traditional estrogen replacement therapy. Archives of Internal Medicine 161:1161-1172, 2001] After locating more than 1000 articles and selecting 74 relevant studies, the reviewers concluded:
- Most evidence for possible benefit from phytoestrogens comes from laboratory studies. Little evidence comes from human trials.
- Laboratory studies have found that isoflavones (found in soy products) may have anti-cancer activity but the evidence is not sufficient to recommend them for that purpose.
- It is uncertain whether administering genestein to women would inhibit or promote breast cancer.
- Although evidence exists that soy protein may reduce high cholesterol levels, there are no human data on the long-term effects of soy in cardiovascular disease prevention.
- Few controlled studies have looked at the effects of phytoestrogens on menopausal symptoms. Although three studies found statistically significant lessening of certain symptoms, the effects were to small to have practical significance. In addition other clinically proven benefits of prescribed ERT far outweigh those of phytoestrogens.
New Jersey insurance ring members indicted. A neurologist, two chiropractors, an attorney, 168 other adults, and 15 juveniles were have been charged with staging auto accidents and dividing lawsuits and insurance payments for unnecessary medical and chiropractic treatment. "Runners" recruited supposed crash victims by indicating that they could profit from planned crashes. The runners introduced the supposed victims to doctors, who paid the runners, who paid the victims based on the number of office visits. Payment also was contingent on the victims retaining the attorney. The doctors made money through insurance reimbursements, while the attorney profited from his share of the settlements paid by insurance companies. [187 charged in insurance ring. Associated Press, July 20, 2001]
Unlicensed practitioner facing criminal trial. An unlicensed naturopath is awaiting trial in South Dakota on charges related to a the death of a woman she allegedly treated for breast cancer. Court documents allege that she advised the woman not to have standard treatment and that she uses a Computron device in her practice. [Lundy A. Holistic practice case set for trial this fall. Circuit Judge Lee Anderson has set a trial date of Sept 6 to determine whether Colleen Marie Harvey, of Mitchell, will be allowed to continue her holistic practice. Mitchell Daily Republic, July 7, 2001]
Florida group launches smoke-free workplace initiative. A Florida coalition, Smoke-Free for Health, is collecting signatures to put a smoke-free workplace initiative on the November 2002 Florida ballot. The measure would amend Florida's constitution to require all workplaces in Florida to be smoke-free, except for retail tobacco shops, stand-alone bars and smoking-designated guest rooms at hotels. To put the proposal on the ballot, organizers must gather 488,722 signed petitions from registered Florida voters. Copies with instructions can be downloaded from the organization's Web site.
This page was posted on July 23, 2001.