Consumer Health Digest #04-39

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
September 28, 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

Revised Dietary Guidelines draft report released. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005 has released its report to the Secretaries of Health and Human Services and Agriculture. First published in 1980, the guidelines are updated at least very five years and are intended for Americans 2 years of age and older. The topics that the Committee addressed in depth included (a) recommended nutrient intakes; (b) physical activity; energy balance; (c) relationships of fats, carbohydrates, and selected food groups to health; and (d) consumer aspects of food safety. The Committee was especially interested in dietary and physical activity measures that could reduce the Nation's major diet-related health problems -- overweight and obesity, hypertension, abnormal blood lipids, diabetes, coronary heart disease (CHD), certain types of cancer, and osteoporosis. The Committee also focused on the potential health benefits and serious health risks of alcohol intake. Because food can promote health only if it is safe to eat and because foodborne illness affects more than 76 million Americans each year, food safety must undergird all dietary guidance. The Committee's findings support the development of Dietary Guidelines that convey the following nine major messages:

The body of the draft report contains three specific recommendations that did not appear in previous reports: (1) consume less than 1% of calories from trans fat, (2) consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day; and (3) eat at least three "1-ounce equivalent" servings of whole grains per day. As done previously, the report recommended drinking fluoridated water and/or using fluoride-containing dental hygiene products to reduce the risk of dental caries.

The report also discusses the extent to which cultural forces, societal norms, mealtime structure, parental feeding styles, changes in meal patterns, and commercial advertising influence whether or not individuals consume excess calories, eat a healthful diet, and are physically active. The factors include the large size of portions served by many food establishments, lack of information on calorie content at point of purchase, the high amount of sodium in the food supply, the trans fatty acid content of many ready-to-eat foods, the cost and availability of fruits and vegetables, and opportunities for safe and enjoyable physical activity. The Committee concluded that changes to the environment could make a substantial difference in whether or not people to follow the guidance. The full text of the draft report is posted on a Web site maintained by the Departments of of Health and Human Services and Agriculture.

FTC urged to curb misleading "sex aid" ads. The Center for the Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has asked the Federal Trade Commission to stop misleading claims for dietary supplement products that are claimed to increase sex drive, pleasure, or the length or girth of one's penis. In a recent review [Schardt D. Sex in a bottle: The hard sell. Nutrition Action Newsletter, October 2004], CSPI concluded:

Arginine, an amino acid that appears in many sexual enhancement supplements, occurs naturally in nearly every food. Arginine is converted in the body into nitric oxide, which does relax and open up blood vessels throughout the body. In fact, Viagra works for erectile dysfunction (ED) by increasing the availability of nitric oxide. But . . . there is little evidence that arginine taken as a supplement remedies any kind of sexual problem.

CSPI found little or no evidence that many common ingredients in sex pills -- including ginkgo, horny goat weed, maca, or Tribulus terrestris -- improved sexual desire or performance. Ginseng may help some men with erectile dysfunction, but only in large amounts of a specially processed form of the herb not usually found in these supplements. Yohimbe is an unreliable natural source of the prescription drug Yohimbine, which is sometimes prescribed for ED. But Yohimbine may cause sudden spikes in blood pressure.

CSPI's complaint highlighted Enzyte, a product marketed by Berkeley Premium Nutritionals of Cincinnati, Ohio. Enzyte contains tiny amounts of ginkgo, ginseng, copper, zinc, niacin, arginine, and extracts of various animal-tissues, including testicles. In March, the Los Angeles firm of Hagens Berman initiated a class-action suit accusing the company of "using false and deceptive advertisements with phony statistics" to lure customers and using "confusing and deceptive materials" that encouraged customers to waive their right to obtain refunds. [Enzyte marketers sued. Press release. Hagens Berman, March 17, 2004] The Cincinnati Better Business Bureau has rated Berkeley as unsatisfactory "due to a pattern of complaints concerning billing issues as well as unanswered and unresolved complaints."

FiberWeigh infomercial debunked. Dr. Stephen Barrett has conducted a simple experiment which demonstrates that a "diet pill" cannot work as advertised. FiberWeigh is promoted with a 30-minute infomercial which claims that the product swells enough in the stomach to make the user feel full and therefore eat less. The product contains glucomannan, a soluble fiber that absorbs water. The infomercial includes a demonstration in which two capsules entering the stomach or added to water formed a large gelatinous mass. It also shows an animation in which the allegedly gelatinous mass fills about 40% of the stomach. However, when Dr. Barrett repeated the demonstration, no gelatinous mass formed. The Better Business Bureau of the Southland gives the seller an unsatisfactory rating. Infomercial Watch provides a detailed report.

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This page was posted on September 29, 2004.