Consumer Health Digest #04-50

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 14, 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.

Nobel Prize winner involved in Herbalife scheme. UCLA professor Louis J. Ignarro, Ph.D., who shared the 1998 Nobel Prize in Medicine, has teamed with Herbalife to promote a supplement product that he claims will result in "no more heart disease." The product, Niteworks™, contains vitamin C, vitamin E, arginine, and citrulline, a combination that Ignarro says will protect against cardiovascular disease by increasing the amount of nitric acid available to the cells that line artery walls. Earlier this year, a journal article he co-authored concluded that giving arginine plus vitamins C and E decreased the amount of heart disease in mice with high cholesterol levels. Although mouse studies should not be extrapolated to humans, and although Niteworks has not been tested in human, Ignarro has told Herbalife distributors that the product can substitute for prescription drugs. When Ignarro submitted the journal article, he failed to disclose that his consulting firm gets a 1% royalty on sales. [Evans D. Nobel Prize winner didn't disclose his Herbalife contract. Bloomberg News, Dec 6, 2004] After this omission came to light, the journal reported the connection but did not mention that $1 million had already been paid. In 1986, the California Attorney General obtained an injunction that prohibits Herbalife from making unsubstantiated health claims for any of its products. Dr. Stephen Barrett believes that the promotion of Niteworks violates this injunction as well as federal laws against the marketing of unapproved new drugs. [Barrett S. The dubious promotion of Herbalife's Niteworks. MLM Watch, Dec 13, 2004]

BBB blasts Lorraine Day infomercial. The National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Council of Better Business Bureaus has concluded that claims made in an infomercial promoting Dr. Lorraine Day's videotapes are unsubstantiated. Day, a nonpracticing orthopedic surgeon, claims to have cured herself of metastatic breast cancer with a 10-step program featuring diet and prayer. For several years, she has been marketing videotapes that provide her story and advise consumers to use her program rather than standard treatment. Although she has released medical records showing that she had a biopsy followed by a wider local operation, she has refused to release additional records that might show whether or not any cancer remained after the second operation, which Dr. Stephen Barrett believes to have cured her. [Barrett S. Stay away from Lorraine Day. Quackwatch, Dec 12, 2004] After Barrett complained, NAD investigated and recommended that the infomercial producer (ITV Direct) stop asserting that:

ITV Direct, which is facing FTC action in connection with two other infomercials, disagreed with NAD's conclusions but said it would "take them under advisement for all future edits or modifications of the infomercial." If the infomercial is not modified within a reasonable period of time, NAD is likely to complain to the FTC.

"Abstinence-only" programs criticized. U.S. House of Representatives investigators have concluded that many federally funded "abstinence-only" programs teach false and misleading information about reproductive health. Their report, prepared for Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), states that over two-thirds of these programs "distort information about the effectiveness of contraception, misrepresent the risks of abortion, blur religion and science, treat stereotypes about boys and girls as scientific fact, and contain basic scientific errors." [The content of federally funded abstinence-only education programs. Special Investigations Division, House Committee on Government Reform, Dec 2004] About $170 million is allocated for such programs in fiscal year 2005.

"Breast-enhancing" pills are unproven and pose risks. A study generated by the Plastic Surgery Educational Foundation has noted that many breast-enhancement pills contain one or more ingredients that can directly interfere with prescribed medications. For example: (a) chaste-tree berry contains active ingredients that may interfere with birth control pills; (b) black cohosh may increase the toxicity of anticancer drugs; and (c) fenugreek contains elements that can interfere with medications designed to stop blood clotting and regulate diabetes. In addition, the primary ingredients of don quai, which have been used in China for more than 2,000 years to treat and relieve menstrual symptoms, are known carcinogens. Other popular ingredients in breast enhancement pills include saw palmetto, damiana, blessed thistle, dandelion, wild yam, kava, and fennel. The investigators concluded:

There have been no prospective, randomized evaluations of the effects of herbal agents on breast enlargement. . . . Several herbs have historically been believed to contribute to female well being . . . and some may modify hormone levels to some degree, but a clear effect on breast growth has not been demonstrated for any herbal product. and no clear effect on breast growth has been demonstrated on any product. . . . Although the use of agents for breast enhancement cannot be supported at this time, the limited data preclude definitive statements regarding their ineffectiveness. . . . Individuals who chose to use these agents need to be aware that herbal medications are not without possible adverse side effects, especially of they are taken in conjunction with other medications. [Chalfoun C and others. Breast enhancement pills: Myth and reality. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery 114:1330-1333, 2004]

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This page was posted on December 14, 2004.