Consumer Health Digest #02-05

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 29, 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.

ABC News blasts "alternative" cancer treatments. Last week ABC News PrimeTIME Thursday aired a detailed investigative report on quack cancer treatments in Mexico. During the investigation, which took place in December 2001, producers used hidden cameras to film what various clinic staff members told cancer patients who asked about the various treatments. The program's most unusual sequence was the interview with Dr. Juan Manuel Nunez at the Center for Integrative Medicine (aka C.H.I.P.S.A.), which offers hyperbaric treatment, coffee enemas, and other approaches based on the methods of Max Gerson and Joseph Issels. When the patient inquired, Nunez gave lengthy explanations of how the various treatment worked. But when reporters returned to question him on camera, he admitted that none of the treatments worked and said he didn't offer them, the clinic did. On the day following the broadcast, Dr. Stephen Barrett participated in an online chat at ABC News.

Glucosamine update. Two of America's trusted sources of medical advice have evaluated whether glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are useful against osteoarthritis. Consumer Reports has concluded:

The long-term safety and efficacy of glucosamine and chondroitin remain unclear. Still, our medical consultants say there's enough evidence to conclude that products containing the amounts of glucosamine, chondroitin, or both that worked in the clinical trials might be worth trying for people with osteoarthritis—particularly if they've experienced or are likely to experience significant side effects from conventional painkillers. (Those amounts were 1,500 milligrams per day of glucosamine salt—glucosamine bound to another molecule—and 1,200 milligrams of chondroitin salt.) [Joint remedies. Consumer Reports, Jan 2002]

The Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, which is the medical profession's most respected drug advisory publication, is more conservative:

Glucosamine with or without chondroitin may have some beneficial effect on osteoarthritis, and studies up to 3 years in duration have found no more adverse effects than with placebo, but most Medical Letter consultants are skeptical. Whether glucosamine offers any advantages over better established drugs such as acetaminophen, traditional NSAIDS or selective Cox-2 inhibitors remains to be determined. As with other dietary supplements, the quality and purity of the ingredients may vary. [Update on glucosamine for osteoarthritis. Medical Letter 43:111-112, 2001]

For additional information on this subject, see Quackwatch.

TIME science writer blasts "remote healing" research. Former senior science editor Leon Jaroff has severely criticized the National Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine for granting more than $1.4 million to study effect of prayer on AIDS and cancer. The studies, headed by Elizabeth Targ of California Pacific Medical Center, involve praying for distant patients who are unaware that the prayers are being offered. [Jaroff L. Investigating the power of prayer. TIME Web site, Jan 16, 2002] Jaroff's column, "The Skeptical Eye," is a new feature on TIME's Web site.

New health text integrated with Web site. McGraw-Hill has published the seventh (2002) edition of its college textbook Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions. Co-authored by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and three others, the book covers all aspects of basic health strategy for consumers. To facilitate teaching of the subject, Dr. Barrett has set up Consumer Health Sourcebook, a Web site that provides additional information and enables instructors to share ideas. Discounted copies (shipped to U.S. addresses only) are available through Quackwatch.

AT&T stops offering 900-numbers. AT&T has concluded that pay-for-service telephone numbers are unprofitable and has discontinued offering this service. One factor was the law that telephone service cannot be taken away if customers refuse to pay. Although legitimate companies (such as computer-related support lines) used pay-per-service numbers, many of the users were sex lines, "psychics," and other scams. [Schwartz J. AT&T bails out of 900-number pay-for-service business. Associated Press, Jan 22, 2002]

Psychic scammer sentenced to prison. Sandy Miller, who did business as Mother Della, Rev. Mother Rome, Maria Rose, and Mama Sister Mother Rose, has been sentenced to 4 1/2 years. She had pleaded guilty to several counts of intimidation, theft and engaging in corrupt activity. Her husband, Steve, pleaded guilty to lesser charges and was placed on probation. [Look into judge's crystal ball: Psychic going to jail, husband gets probation. NewsNet5, Cleveland, Ohio, Jan 25, 2002]

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This page was posted on January 27, 2002.