Consumer Health Digest #02-34

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
August 20, 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.

Metabolife under investigation. In early August, the FDA asked Department of Justice to pursue a criminal investigation to determine whether Metabolife International had lied to the FDA about the extent of adverse event reports the company had received. On August 15, after learning of the request, company president David Brown publicly announced that between 1997 and September 2001 Metabolife had received approximately 13,000 reports related to "certain health-related issues" but did not believe they provided evidence of lack of safety. [Brown D. Letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, Aug 15, 2002]. FDA Deputy Commissioner Lester Crawford replied that the FDA has been trying to obtain this information since 1997 but the company refused to provide it. Crawford reminded that the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) forces his agency to prove that dietary supplements are unsafe before it can ban them. [Statement from FDA Deputy Commissioner Crawford regarding Metabolife, FDA news release, Aug 15, 2002] Before DSHEA's passage, the FDA could quickly ban dangerous products. The company's flagship product, Metabolife 356, contains caffeine and ephedra (ma huang), large amounts of which can elevate blood pressure. The Associated Press has reported that in 1998 Metabolife President (Michael Ellis) told the FDA that the company had "never received one notice from a consumer that any serious adverse health event has occurred because of the ingestion of Metabolife 356." However, court records from private lawsuits suggest that the company had received such reports. [Criminal investigation sought for diet supplement seller. USA Today, Aug 15, 2002]

About 10% of dental patients worry needlessly about amalgam. A survey of 1007 patients conducted for the American Dental Association has found that about 25% had heard that amalgam fillings are "bad for you" or could cause health problems. Among those who had heard the negative information, 42% said they were "not likely" to use amalgam, 38% said they were "very likely" or "likely," 10% said they were "somewhat likely," and 11% were "not sure." (Due to rounding, numbers do not equal 100%). The survey also found that most people who asked their dentists about amalgam safety felt reassured. Amalgam has been accused of releasing toxic amounts of mercury into the body. However, the chemicals in amalgam are tightly bound to each other and pose no health risk.

Prominent screenwriter regrets promoting smoking. Joe Eszterhas, author of Basic Instinct and 13 other movies, now regrets that that he portrayed smoking as cool and glamorous. In the New York Times, he described his former self as a militant smoker who believed that smoking was every person's right and that efforts to stop it were a "Big Brother assault on personal freedoms." However, his viewpoint changed after throat cancer resulted in loss of much of his larynx and he saw other patients suffering from similar conditions. He now regards himself as "an accomplice to the murders of untold numbers of human beings" and wants his Hollywood colleagues to stop being "the advertising agency and sales force for an industry that kills nearly 10,000 people daily." [Eszterhas J. Hollywood's responsibility for smoking deaths. New York Times, Aug 9, 2002]

Di Bella facing ethics complaint. Reuters has reported that Luigi Di Bella is facing a formal complaint under Italy's medical ethics code. [Lorenza R. Controversial cancer doc Di Bella faces ethics complaint in Italy. Reuters Medical News Aug 6, 2002] The 90-year-old physician claims to have successfully treated thousands cancer patients with a mixture of vitamins, hormones and drugs. However, in 1998, a properly designed study concluded that the treatment was ineffective. Quackwatch has additional information.

FDA warns about Chinese diet pills containing fenfluramine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned that Chaso (Jianfei) Diet Capsules and Chaso Genpi are hazardous because several people in Japan have become ill and some have died after consuming them. Fenfluramine was banned in the United States in 1997. The agency is urging consumers not to take these diet pills and to notify their local FDA if the products are found in their area. They are typically sold in small urban markets.

Medical Letter will publish treatment guidelines. The editors of the highly respected Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics have launched Treatment Guidelines, a monthly newsletter for physicians. The first issue (about diabetes) is available online for inspection.

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This page was posted on August 20, 2002.