Consumer Health Digest #04-01
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 6, 2004
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 blasts infomercial industry. Quackwatch has posted a warning that, "Except for a few of the exercise devices (which may work if the user does not become bored with them), the vast majority of the promotions include false and misleading claims." [Barrett S. Be wary of health-related infomercials. Quackwatch, Jan 5, 2004] The warning statement includes analyses of two current infomercials:
- Supreme Greens with MSM is promoted by "Dr. Alex Guerrero" (an acupuncturist, not a medical doctor) who asserts that "all disease is in the blood and over-acidification of the blood and tissues is the primary contributor to disease and sickness." Guerrero falsely claims that: (a) soil depletion has caused our diets to be nutrient deficient, which creates a huge nutritional deficiency in our diet; (b) yeasts, fungus, molds, bacteria, and viruses need an acidic environment to thrive and grow. Modern daily diets and lifestyles are conducive to such proliferation and growth; (c) the product is a powerful formulation of organically grown grasses and vegetables, sprouted grains, blood purifying and immune enhancing herbs, and antioxidants; (d) fatigue, foggy thinking, acne, diabetes, and many other diseases are signs that the body is too acidic; and (e) the nourishment given to the body needs to have a minimum resonating frequency of 70 Megahertz. Typical American diets rarely resonate above 50 Megahertz, most supplements have a standard frequency of only 5-10 Megahertz, but Supreme Greens "resonates at an astonishing 250 Megahertz." Guerrero also claims to have conducted a five-year study which found that 192 out of 200 people with cancer and various other diseases, all of whom were diagnosed as terminal, survived because they took his product.
- TriVita Sublingual B-12/B-6/Folic Acid Tablets are promoted through infomercials hosted by Evangelist James Robison and his wife Betty. In one program, patent-holder Alfred F. Libby, M.D., says that the product could help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering elevated blood levels of homocysteine, but he fails to recommend the best strategy for doing this. In the other program, Scott Conard, M.D., correctly discusses the functions of vitamin B-12 but incorrectly suggests that people who feel run-down or depressed would be wise to see whether the product works for them. Libby is correct that TriVita's product can lower homocysteine levels, but it would be far more sensible to test whether a problem exists and determine what dosages would be optimal. Moreover, the product costs about ten times as much as equivalent doses of single-ingredient tablets from other sources. Conard is correct that B-12 deficiency can cause serious problems and that feeling tired is a symptom of the anemia that will result from B-12 deficiency. But the percentage of people whose fatigue is caused by B-12 deficiency is very small, and there's no reason to believe that the average person who feels tired or depressed will benefit from B-vitamin supplementation.
Quackwatch has also posted an index of misleading infomercials discussed on Quackwatch or subjected to government regulatory action.
Consumer Reports tests infomercial exercise equipment. Consumer Reports has tested 12 fitness devices promoted through infomercials and concluded that most failed to live up to the claims made for them. TreatClimber YC 3000, Bowflex Power Pro and Total Gym XL earned positive but "expensive" ratings. Crossbow by Weider WESY5983 was judged "effective." The rest (Tony Little Gazelle Freestyle Elite, Gyrotonic Transformer 1500, Body by Jake Total Body Trainer, Body Dome, Ab Swing, Emson Smart Abs, Body by Jake Bun and Thigh Rocker, Bun and Thigh Max) were rated poor choices, because they were limited in scope, difficult to use, or overpriced. The magazine also learned that three infomercial hosts who had praised a device had stopped using it. [TV exercise devices: 6-pack abs in 14 days? Consumer Reports 69(1):17-20, 2004)
CNN/Gallup survey finds nurses are highly trusted. The annual CNN/Gallup poll to rate the honesty and ethical standards of 23 professions has found the following percentages of "very high" or "high" responses: nurses 83%, medical doctors 68%, veterinarians 68%, pharmacists 67%, dentists 61%, college teachers 59%, engineers 59%, policemen 59%, clergy 56%, psychiatrists 38%, bankers 35%, chiropractors 31%, state governors 26%, journalists 25%, senators 20%, business executives 18%; congressmen 17%,, lawyers 16%, stockbrokers 15%, advertising practitioners 12%, insurance salesmen 12%, HMO managers 11% and car salesmen 7%. [Honesty and ethics of professions. Gallup news release, Dec 1, 2003] The survey involved telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,004 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted November 14-16, 2003.
FTC settles with two diet-pill marketers and sues a third one. The FTC has announced actions related to the fraudulent promotion of three alleged weight-loss products [FTC announces law enforcement actions against marketers of fraudulent weight-loss products. FTC news release, December 9, 2003]:
- Universal Nutrition Corporation, MTM Marketing & Consulting Inc. and their owner, Robert J. Michnal, have agreed to pay $1 million in consumer redress to settle charges that they made false and unsubstantiated claims for "ThermoSlim," a purported weight-loss product containing ephedra and other ingredients. The settlement also bans the defendants from making false and unsubstantiated claims for ephedra in connection with the marketing of any weight-loss product. The product has been promoted with claims that users could lose weight without exercising or reducing caloric intake, and that they could lose as much as 30 pounds in 30 days, or 60 to 95 pounds in 60 days
- Harry Siskind, former President and CEO of Mark Nutritionals, Inc, agreed to pay $500,000 to the FTC and a total of $500,000 to the states of Texas, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. He is also barred from making unsubstantiated claims for any product and must post a $1 million bond before selling any weight-loss product or service in the future. On December 5, 2002, the FTC filed a complaint in federal district court accusing him and other defendants of false and unsubstantiated claims that "Body Solutions Evening Weight Loss Formula" causes substantial and permanent weight loss without diet or exercise. The others settled in October 2003.
- The FTC is seeking a temporary restraining order against Canadian marketers who market seaweed-based weight-loss patches called "Hydro-Gel Slim Patch" and "Slenderstrip," which they claimed cause users to lose substantial amounts of weight rapidly without reducing caloric intake or increasing exercise. The suit was filed against The Fulfillment Solutions Advantage, Inc.; The FSA Group, International Access; Beauty Visions Worldwide; Slimshop; Hydro-Gel Slim Patch; and Slenderstrip (collective "Beauty Visions Worldwide") and its principals, Robert Van Velzen and Nancy Sprague. The marketing has taken place in the United States as well as in Canada.
Skin-patch seller ordered to stop diabetes and prostate claims. The FDA has warned Greenvalley, LLC, of Farmingdale, New York, to stop marketing transdermal products intended for the treatment of diabetes and symptoms related to prostate disease. The warning letter stated that (a) although the products were represented as dietary supplements, they did not legally qualify as dietary supplements because they were not intended for ingestion; and (b) the FDA had no information to indicate that the products were generally recognized as safe and effective for their intended use. [Woyshner JG. Warning letter to Michael Peng, Sept 25, 2003] The claims have been removed from the company's Web site but can still be found viewed through the Internet Archive or a distributor's site.
- Revitalize had been claimed to "help....relieve blood and qi stagnation, and speed the metabolism process, thus strengthening the immune system and the pancreas. By converting sugar into useful energy, Revitalize helps people, who suffer from diabetes, lead a more energetic life while numbness of extremities, itchy skin, edema, constipation, and other diabetes-related symptoms are quickly relieved after using Revitalize."
- Revitalize II was said to "restore yin-yang balance" so that people with type II diabetes would feel stronger and resolve "many symptoms such as thirst, numbness of extremities, itchy skin, edema, constipation, and unclear sight."
- Prostete Pads had been claimed to contain rape pollen that allegedly "has the functions of anti-enlargement and anti-inflammation of prostate and . . . can also enhance the adjustment function of the internal immune systems.">
This page was revised on July 26, 2004.