Consumer Health Digest #04-04
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 27, 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.
"King of Calcium" dethroned. Robert E. Barefoot, whose infomercials promoting coral calcium flooded cable television channels in 2002 and 2003, has agreed to a stipulated permanent injunction under which he, Deonna Enterprises, Inc., and Karbo Enterprises, Inc., are:
- Prohibited from making unsubstantiated claims that:
- "Coral Calcium Supreme" or any other coral calcium product can treat or cure cancer, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, high blood pressure, and other serious diseases.
- The body absorbs coral calcium better than other calcium supplements in the market.
- A daily serving size of such a product provides the same amount of bioavailable calcium as two gallons of milk.
- Scientific research published in JAMA and elsewhere proves that calcium supplements are able to reverse or cure cancer in the human body.
- Prohibited from making unsubstantiated claims about the health benefits, performance,or efficacy for any dietary supplement, food, drug, cosmetic, device, or service.
- Required to recall any product packaging that makes the prohibited claims.
- Required to notify resellers and distributors about the FTC action.
The court order also permits the FTC to recover all royalties owed to Barefoot in connection with the Coral Calcium Supreme infomercial marketing. [Marketers of coral calcium product are prohibited from making disease treatment and cure claims in advertising. FTC news release, Jan 22, 2004] Quackwatch has extensive background information about Barefoot's activities. Kevin Trudeau, who sponsored and hosted the infomercials, is still facing FTC action.
Major acupuncture claim challenged. A large well-designed study has found no evidence that acupuncture is effective against postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV). [Streitberger K and others. Acupuncture compared to placebo-acupuncture for postoperative nausea and vomiting prophylaxis: A randomised placebo-controlled patient and observer blind trial. Anesthesia 59:142-149, 2004] The study involved 220 women who underwent breast or gynecologic surgery. Half received acupuncture at the acupuncture point "Pericardium 6" on the inside of the forearm. The other half underwent "sham acupuncture" at a different point at which the needle was imperceptibly retracted just after it touched the patient's skin. No significant difference in PONV or antivomiting medication use was found between the two groups or between the people who received treatment before anesthesia was induced and those who received it while anesthetized. A subgroup analysis found that vomiting was "significantly reduced" among the acupuncture patients, but the authors correctly noted that this finding might be due to studying multiple outcomes. (As the number of different outcome measures increases, so do the odds that a "statistically significant" finding will be spurious.) Acupuncture has not been proven effective against the course of any disease. This study is important because PONV reduction is one of the few alleged benefits of acupuncture supported by reports in scientific journals. However, the other positive studies were not as tightly controlled. The sham acupuncture technique was developed at the University of Heidelberg. [Streitberger K, Kleinhenz J. Introducing a placebo needle into acupuncture research. Lancet 352:364-365, 1998]
FDA cautions against keepsake ultrasound. The FDA has expressed concern that "facilities with captivating names such as Fetal Fotos, Peek-a-Boo, Womb with a View, and Baby Insight are popping up in strip malls and shopping centers" to offer "keepsake videos" that use the ultrasound technology to produce high-resolution three-dimensional and moving images showing the surface anatomy of babies developing in the womb. As noted in FDA Consumer:
- Obstetricians use ultrasound at a very low power level to check the size, location, number, and age of fetuses, and the presence of some types of birth defects, fetal movement, breathing, and heartbeat. When ultrasound is used by a qualified clinician to check for this kind of medical information, the medical benefit far outweighs any risk.
- While ultrasound has been around for many years, the long-term effects of repeated ultrasound exposures on the fetus are not fully known. In light of all that remains unknown, having a prenatal ultrasound for non-medical reasons is not a good idea.
- It is illegal to take fetal ultrasound pictures unless there is a valid medical reason to do so. The valid reasons include diagnosing pregnancy, determining fetal age, diagnosing congenital abnormalities, evaluating position of placenta, and determining multiple pregnancies.
- Some video companies have used high-energy exposures for as long as an hour to get the pictures. Exposure to ultrasound for longer than the time specified by the FDA for fetal monitoring could pose a potential risk to the health of the mother and her developing fetus. [Rados C. FDA cautions against keepsake ultrasound. FDA Consumer, 38(1):12-16, 2004]
ACSH rates nutrition coverage in popular magazines. The American Council on Health's ninth survey of nutrition coverage by popular magazines, which covered 20 magazines published in 2000, 2001, and 2002, gave the following ratings:
- Cooking Light, Parents, and Ladies' Home Journal, had scores just below the "excellent" category.
- Better Homes and Gardens, Good Housekeeping, Consumer Reports, Reader's Digest, Redbook, Woman's Day, Glamour, Self, Health, Runner's World, Prevention, Shape, and Fitness all earned lower scores in the "good" range.
- Cosmopolitan and Men's Health were rated as "fair" sources of nutrition information.
- Men's Fitness and Muscle and Fitness earned only a "poor" evaluation.
ACSH nutrition director Ruth Kava, Ph.D., cautioned that, "Even magazines that scored well overall had some articles of questionable quality. Readers shouldn't make large dietary changes based on only one magazine article." The full report, Nutrition Accuracy in Popular Magazines (January 2000-December 2002), can be downloaded free of charge or ordered for $5 from the American Council on Science and Health, 1995 Broadway, New York, NY 10023.
Prosecutions of cancer fakers. Three cases have come to light of people who used false cancer claims to solicit donations:
- Katrina Combs, of Urbana, Ohio, who accepted $6,400 in donations after shaving her head and dyeing her skin to make it appear she had cancer, has been sentenced to three days in jail and three years of probation. She is also required to return the donations, pay a $500 fine, and serve 400 hours of community service. [Woman sentenced in cancer hoax: Combs received thousands in donations. ABC News, Jan 17, 2004]
- Last year, in a similar case, Teresa Milbrandt of Urbana, Ohio was sentenced to 6-1/2 years in prison and her husband Robert received a 4-year sentence after pleading guilty to theft and endangering a child. The pair had collected $31,000 in donations after shaving their daughter's hair and giving her sleeping pills to make it appear that she was receiving chemotherapy. [Woman sentenced in cancer hoax: Combs received thousands in donations. ABC News, Jan 17, 2004]
- A third woman, Brooke Walters, is charged with forgery and theft after forging letters from doctors and starting a Web site to collect donations. [Former Ball State student is accused of faking illness for financial gain. ABC News, Oct 27, 2003]