Consumer Health Digest #02-01

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 1, 2002

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.

High vitamin A intake may increase hip fracture risk. An analysis of data from the Nurses' Health Study has found that the risk of nontraumatic osteoporotic hip fracture was significantly higher among women who had the highest total vitamin A intake compared with women with the lowest vitamin A intake. [Feskanich D and others. Vitamin A intake and hip fractures among postmenopausal women. JAMA 287:47-54, 2002] The increase was attributable to dietary intake of retinol (preformed vitamin A) rather than beta-carotene (which the body converts into vitamin A). The data were derived from a total of 72,337 women aged 34 to 77 years who were followed for up to 18 years. The authors concluded that "long-term intake of a diet high in retinol may promote the development of osteoporotic hip fractures on women" and that "the amounts of retinol in fortified foods and vitamin supplements may need to be reassessed since these add significantly to total retinol consumption in the United States." The most significant food sources of retinol in the United States are animal liver, milk, butter, margarine, fortified breakfast cereals, and meal-replacement beverages. An accompanying editorial stated that the study's findings "question whether women represented by this study cohort—white US women of high socioeconomic status—should avoid supplements containing retinol if their diet is rich in low saturated fat, low-trans margarine. low-fat dairy products, and fruits and vegetables. Other populations with diets less rich in vitamin A will require further study to avoid confronting . . . vitamin deficiency." [Denke MA. Dietary retinol: A double edged sword. JAMA 287:102-103, 2002]

Naturopathy debunked on Quackwatch. Naturopaths claim to stimulate the body's natural healing processes by ridding it of waste products and "toxins." Their practices combine commonsense health and nutrition measures and rational use of a few herbs with a huge variety of unscientific practices. Naturopaths are licensed as independent practitioners in eleven states and the District of Columbia and can legally practice in a few others. Those who have attended on-campus schools are pressing for licensure in the remaining states. Quackwatch has posted several reports to help legislators and prospective patients understand what naturopaths do.

FTC zaps "Zapper" sellers. Marvin and Miguelina Beckwith, of Blaine, Washington, have been enjoined from making unbsubstantiated claims for any of their products. Doing business as Western Dietary Products, Inc., they had claimed that their "Zapper Electrical Unit" is effective against Alzheimer's, and HIV/AIDS and that various herbal products can treat and cure cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, arthritis, and HIV/AIDS [FTC prohibits marketers of herbal products and the "Zapper" from making unsubstantiated claims. FTC News Release, Dec 28, 2001] The Beckwiths based the disputed claims on the theories of Hulda Regehr Clark, an unlicensed naturopath who claims she can cure these diseases, sometimes within a few hours. The government's case was supported by three lengthy affidavits that thoroughly debunked Clark's theories and treatments. Although she was not a party to this action, it might discourage others from marketing what she recommends. Detailed information about Clark is posted on Quackwatch.

ACS Web site attacks questionable therapies. The American Cancer Society Web site has greatly expanded and improved the quality of its information on "complementary and alternative therapies." Most of the new information comes from the American Cancer Society's Guide to Complementary and Alternative Methods, which was published in 2000. More than 100 methods are discussed.

FDA asks doctors to report kava-related liver toxicity. On December 19, the The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a letter asking doctors to review their cases of liver toxicity to determine whether any may be related to the use of kava-containing herbal products and to report such cases to MedWatch. The request was made because products containing extracts of kava have been implicated in Europe in at least 25 cases of serious liver toxicity, including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver failure. In addition, the FDA has received several reports of serious injury allegedly associated with the use of kava-containing products, with at least one report of liver failure requiring liver transplantation in a previously healthy young woman.

Health care costs rising sharply. The Center for Studying Health System Change has concluded that health-care costs rose sharply in 2000, the largest increase in a decade. Despite the recent focus on increased spending for prescription drugs, the upward trend was largely attributable to rising hospital spending. The likely causes for are the retreat from tightly managed care (which may have raised the level of use of hospital services), increased leverage on the part of hospitals to demand higher payments from insurers, and labor shortages. Total health care costs in 2000 rose 7.2%, with inpatient and outpatient care accounting for 47% of the increase. Prescription drug spending, while still high, dropped to a 14.5% increase in 2000, down from an 18.4% increase in 1999. Spending for physician services decreased from 5.7% in 1999 to 4.8% in 2000. If these trends continue, in light of a slowing economy and shrinking corporate profits, employers could respond by raising their employees' out-of-pocket costs, and the number of uninsured persons could grow. [Strunk B and others. Tracking health care costs: Hospital care surpasses drugs as the key cost driver. Health Affairs Web site, Sept 26, 2001] [Download PDF]

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This page was posted on January 1, 2002.