Consumer Health Digest #03-13
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
April 1, 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.
Bill proposed to increase supplement/herb safety. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) introduced the Dietary Supplement Safety Act of 2003 (S.722), which would amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and curb some of the mischief turned loose by the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). The bill would require supplements and herbal products containing stimulants to have premarket approval as safe under ordinary use and would require adverse events related to these products to be reported to the federal government. The bill would also prevent anabolic steroids from being marketed as dietary supplements. [Durbin moves to prevent sale of dangerous dietary supplements like ephedra. Press release, March 26, 2003] The bill was largely stimulated by adverse reactions to ephedra products, which DSHEA permits to be marketed as "dietary supplements." Last year, Durbin and two colleagues commissioned a Congressional staff report on adverse events from Metabolife which found close to 2,000 cases of significant injury, including deaths, heart attacks, strokes, and seizures, among more than 13,000 adverse event reports from the company's files. The staff report noted that whereas drug manufacturers must inform the FDA within 15 days about all "serious and unexpected" adverse events, herbal and dietary supplement manufacturers are not obligated to do so. [Adverse event reports from Metabolife. House Committee on Government Reform, Oct 2002]
Missouri Attorney General sues Hydroxycut marketer. Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon has filed a false advertising suit against the marketers of Hydroxycut, an ephedra-containing product claimed to be a safe and "clinically proven fat burner." The suit charges that the manufacturer, MuscleTech Research and Development Inc., of Mississauga, Ontario, had:
- Failed to disclose that the product contained ephedra or that ephedra posed serious health risks.
- Failed to disclose that its own research showed that Hydroxycut has no efficacy as compared to placebo with the possible exception of an appetite-suppressing effect.
- Manipulated "research" results by failing to disclose when subjects dropped out because of adverse effects, including one case in which hospital care was required.
- Used "before" and "after" photographs obtained with different lighting and poses to create the false impression that people who used the product were trimmer.
MuscleTech states that the Hydroxycut it is producing now is ephedra-free, but Nixon said there are unknown quantities of Hydroxycut still being sold that contain ephedra. The current ingredients include 200 mg of caffeine, the amount in two cups of brewed coffee. Nixon wants the company to stop making misrepresentations, pay restitution to Missouri consumers harmed by the misrepresentations, and to pay undetermined penalties and investigative and court costs to the state. [Nixon sues maker of Hydroxycut for misrepresenting safety concerns of ephedra, weight loss effectiveness. News release, March 27, 2003]
FTC snips refractive surgery claims. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has obtained consent agreements with two of the largest providers of laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) refractive eye surgery. Both companies operate centers in many parts of the United States where they offer the operation at below-average fees. FTC documents allege:
- The Laser Vision Institute (LVI) failed to substantiate claims that its surgery (a) eliminates the need for glasses and contacts for life, (b) eliminates the need for reading glasses, and (c) eliminates the need for bifocals. Further, LVI falsely offered a "free consultation" but required consumers to pay a nonrefundable or partially refundable deposit before learning about the risks associated with the surgery or whether they were eligible candidates.
- LCA Vision, Inc. (LCA), doing business as LasikPlus, failed to substantiate claims that its surgery (a) eliminates the need for glasses and contacts for life, (b) poses significantly less risk to patients' eye health than wearing contacts or glasses, and (c) eliminates the risk of glare and haloing (a starburst effect around lights at night) that LASIK can can cause.
Under the proposed agreement, LVI and its principals (Marco Musa, Max Musa, and Marc Andrea Musa) and LCA will be barred from making unsubstantiated claims in the future. [Federal Trade Commission stops allegedly misleading representations for Lasik eye surgery. FTC news release, March 26, 2003]. Reliable information about LASIK is available in an FTC brochure and on Quackwatch.
Chirobase criticizes major journal report. Dr. Stephen Barrett has published a line-by-line critique of a "chiropractic puff piece" published last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The journal article is part of a long series of invited papers about "complementary and alternative medicine" ("CAM"), edited by David Eisenberg, M.D., whose current professional career depends upon his ability to promote interest in "CAM" methods. The critique essentially accuses the authors and Eisenberg of treating the negative aspects of the chiropractic marketplace as though they do not exist. [Barrett S. Analysis of a misleading chiropractic article in a major medical journal. Chirobase, March 19, 2003] Dr. Barrett has also complained to the journal's editor that the series has been insufficiently critical.
Organic/conventional food price comparisons available. Rodale Press has begun weekly publication of the New Farm Organic Price Index, which compares the prices of 40 foods. The quoted prices represent wholesale costs, except for the meat and dairy categories. Most of the organic products cost significantly more. Many purchasers believe that certified organic foods are safer and more nutritious, even though they are not. Some purchasers believe that "buying organic" will create a market force that will ultimately result in safer agricultural practices, even though this hope has little foundation. [Barrett S. "Organic" Foods: Certification Does Not Protect Consumers. Quackwatch, March 29, 2003]
Cult study group announces conferences. AFF (American Family Foundation) has scheduled conferences about cults and "new religious movements" in Orange, California (June 13-14) and Hartford, Connecticut (October 13-14). AFF, founded in 1979, is a nonprofit, tax-exempt research center and educational organization whose mission is to study psychological manipulation, especially as it manifests in cultic and related groups. The meetings will feature the views of researchers, professionals, former members, and families. For further information, see the foundation's Web site
This page was posted on April 1, 2003.