Consumer Health Digest #03-05

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
February 4, 2003

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.

Quackwatch debunks coral calcium. Quackwatch has dissected many of the "preposterous" statements that Robert R. Barefoot makes about coral calcium products. Barefoot claims that calcium deficiency causes more than 200 degenerative diseases (including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease); that 90% of the disease in America can be wiped out by taking the right nutrients; and that a thousand people have told him that coral calcium cured their cancer. He claims that the underlying cause of these diseases is acidosis caused by calcium deficiency. Barefoot also advises everyone to get at least two hours of sunlight on the face daily without using sunscreen, a practice that would obviously increase the risk of skin cancer. Noting that coral calcium products are composed of ground-up limestone, the article advises that purified calcium carbonate pills are is cheaper and safer for people who take calcium supplements to help prevent osteoporosis. [Barrett S. Be wary of coral calcium and Robert Barefoot, Quackwatch, Feb 4, 2003].

NCAHF blasts MLM. The National Council Against Health Fraud has issued a position paper warning consumers to shun multilevel companies that sell health-related products. The paper, which is available in both text and PDF formats, states:

Leading homeopathic remedy found ineffective. A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial involving 64 patients has found that "6C" and "30C" homeopathic arnica preparations were no more effective than a placebo in preventing postoperative pain, bruising, or swelling or in reducing the use of pain medication after surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome. [Stevenson C, Ernst E, and others. Homeopathic arnica for prevention of pain and bruising: Randomized placebo-controlled trial in hand surgery. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 96:60-65, 2003] In 1998, a review of arnica research found no evidence that arnica was more effective than a placebo, but noted that most of the previously published studies had "severe methodological flaws." [Ernst E, Pittler MH. Efficacy of homeopathic arnica: A systematic review of placebo-controlled clinical trials. Archives of Surgery 133:1187-1190, 1998] Homeopathy is based on the delusional notion that the more a substance is diluted, the more powerful it becomes as a remedy, even if not a single molecule of the original material remains. Products designated "30C" are made by repeatedly diluting the original material 1-to-100 thirty times. This would the equivalent of placing one molecule of the original substance in a container 30 billion times the volume of the earth. In 1994, Dr. Stephen Barrett and 41 other critics petitioned the FDA to ban the sale of such products.

Review examines impact of emotions on cancer. British researchers have reviewed 30 studies that examined the popular belief that psychological factors can influence survival from cancer. Twenty-six of the studies investigated the association between coping styles and cancer survival, and 11 investigated their effect on recurrence. The parameters evaluated included "fighting spirit," "hopelessness/helplessness," "denial or avoidance," "stoic acceptance or fatalism," "anxious coping/anxious preoccupation," "depressive coping," and "active or problem-focused coping." Noting that positive findings tended to be confined to studies that were small or poorly designed,.the authors concluded: "There is little consistent evidence that psychological coping styles play an important part in survival from or recurrence of cancer. People with cancer should not feel pressured into adopting particular coping styles (including 'positive thinking') to improve survival or reduce the risk of recurrence." [Petticrew M and others. Influence of psychological coping on survival and recurrence in people with cancer: Systematic review. British Medical Journal 325:1066-1075, 2002] Dr. Stephen Barrett believes that emotions can influence whether or not people with cancer undergo proven treatment but have no direct impact on the cancer itself.

FTC hits marketers of "Slim Down Solution." The Federal Trade Commission has charged Slim Down Solution (SDS), LLC, Maderia Management, Inc., and several related companies and individuals with using false and unsubstantiated claims to market "Slim Down Solution," a purported weight-loss product. The advertising claimed that the product's key ingredient, D-glucosamine, absorbs up to 20 grams of dietary fat and causes significant weight loss without diet or exercise. The FTC has already filed a stipulated preliminary injunction against the SDS defendants that, when signed by the judge, will preliminarily enjoin use of the challenged claims in advertising. The Maderia defendants have manufactured and sold D-glucosamine products directly to consumers and other resellers through the Internet. Resellers, in turn, promoted the products to consumers under private labels such as "Fight the Fat," "Everslim," "Mini Max," and "Slim Down Solution." [FTC Challenges weight-loss claims for Slim Down Solution: Infomercials ran nationally. FTC news release, Jan 24, 2003.] The FTC news release warns consumers that "products and programs that promise quick and easy weight loss are bogus." The stipulation document states that Slim Down Solution sold for $59.95 plus $9.95 shipping and handling for a 60-tablet bottle and that from August 2001 through September 2002, gross sales of the product exceeded $30 million. Dr. Stephen Barrett believes that it is safe to assume that weight-loss products marketed through television infomercials, the Internet, or by direct mail either don't work as advertised or are overpriced. The FTC operates a web site that focuses on weight-control and fitness.

"Isis System" developer settles with FTC. J. Michael Ernest, Ph.D., who patented the Isis Natural Breast Enhancement System, has agreed to settle FTC charges that he misrepresented what it could do. The Isis program consists of a dietary supplement and a topical cream. The FTC alleges that Ernest made unsubstantiated claims that it could significantly increase breast size, works by stimulating breast cells to regenerate the growth process, and is safe. [Developer of purported breast enhancement product settles FTC charges. FTC news release, Jan 22, 2003] A few weeks ago, the FTC announced that it had settled charges against Vital Dynamics, Inc., the system's vendor. [Marketers of purported "breast enhancement" system settle FTC charges. FTC news release, Dec 26, 2002] The settlement with Ernest requires him to have reliable scientific evidence before making any claims about the benefits, performance, efficacy, safety, or side effects about any dietary supplement, food, drug, cosmetic, or device.

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This page was posted on February 4, 2003.