Consumer Health Digest #04-51

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 21, 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.

Heavy metals found in ayurvedic herbals. A survey of ayurvedic herbal products manufactured in South Asia and sold in Boston-area stores has found that 14 of 70 products (20%) contained concentrations of lead, mercury, and/or arsenic that—if the products were taken according to directions—would exceed published regulatory standards. The authors also noted that ayurvedic theory attributes important therapeutic roles to mercury and lead and that perhaps 35-40% of medicines in the ayurvedic formulary contain at least one metal. The authors concluded that users of ayurvedic medicine may be at risk for heavy metal toxicity, and testing of such products for toxic heavy metals should be mandatory. Several studies done in other countries have had similar findings. [Saper S and others. Heavy metal content of ayurvedic herbal medicine products. JAMA 292:2868-2873, 2004] Dr. Stephen Barrett has pointed out that since ayurvedic medicine relies on nonsensical diagnostic concepts and involves many unproven products, using it would be senseless even if all of the products were safe. [Barrett S. A few thoughts on ayurvedic mumbo-jumbo. Quackwatch, Dec 15, 2004]

Scientific panel supports amalgam use. The Life Sciences Research Office, which provides scientific assessments of topics in the biomedical sciences, has reviewed scientific reports published from 1996 and 2003 and concluded that amalgam fillings are safe. The report states:

The current data are insufficient to support an association between . . . amalgam and the various complaints that have been attributed to this restoration material. These complaints are broad and nonspecific compared to the well-defined set of effects that have been documented for occupational and accidental mercury vapor exposures. Individuals with dental amalgam-attributed complaints had neither elevated urine mercury levels nor increased prevalence of hypersensitivity to dental amalgam or mercury when compared to controls. The findings of these studies suggested that individuals with complaints self-attributed to dental amalgam should be screened for underlying dental, physical, and psychiatric conditions.

The report also criticizes the use of chelation therapy to treat neurological, behavioral, or mood complaints attributed to the presence of amalgam:

Chelation challenge tests [in which a chelating agent is administered before blood or urine is tested] appear to have little utility in diagnosing individuals with amalgam-related complaints. In addition, chelation therapy appears to have limited value beyond placebo effect in individuals with dental amalgamator complaints and the chelator itself may produce side effects.

[Review and Analysis of the Literature on the Potential Adverse Health Effects of Dental Amalgam. Rockville, MD: Life Sciences Research Office, July 2004] The report is available for $50 plus shipping.

Another review finds secretin ineffective against autism. A review of 15 double-blind, randomized, controlled trials of secretin for autism has concluded: “Almost none of the studies reported any significant effects and none concluded that secretin was effective.” [Sturmey P. Secretin is an ineffective treatment for pervasive developmental disabilities: a review of 15 double-blind randomized controlled trials. Research in Developmental Disabilities 26:87-97, 2005.]

FTC attacks bogus weight-loss skin patches. The FTC has sued two companies that marketed a bogus skin patch directly to Spanish-speaking consumers. In separate federal court actions, the FTC charged that SG Institute of Health & Education, Inc. of Tamarac, Florida and Transdermal Products International Marketing Corporation of Bristol, Pennsylvania falsely claimed that the patch causes substantial weight loss and that its main ingredient, sea kelp, has been approved by the FDA. Both companies are thought to have had over $1 million in sales. SG Institute sold Revopatch with false claims that it would dissolve “cellulite” and cause weight loss of 15 pounds in four weeks. The company and its principals, Pedro and Vanessa Salas, have settled with the FTC and agreed to stop making the deceptive claims. Transdermal manufactured and sold patches under several brand names (LePatch, Revo Patch, Svelt Patch, and Z Patch) and in an unmarked version that retailers could sell under their own brand names. Transdermal and its president, William Neubauer, are facing further court action. [FTC: Skin patches do not cause weight loss manufacturer and retailer of weight loss patches charged with making false and unsubstantiated claims. FTC news release, Dec 15, 2004.]

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This page was posted on December 21, 2004.