Consumer Health Digest #06-51

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 19, 2006

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.

Suit against Atkins diet dismissed. A U.S. District Court Judge has dismissed the lawsuit filed by Jody Gorran, a Florida man whose cholesterol levels rose dangerously when he followed the advice in Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution. Gorran states that the rise in cholesterol levels caused coronary artery blockage that required surgical intervention (angioplasty). The lawsuit asserted that the book was dangerous and should be required to carry a warning label. However, the judge ruled that the book's contents were protected by the First Amendment (freedom of speech). Gorran's attorneys have announced that they will appeal. The judge's order is posted on Casewatch.

Although it seems possible that an author or publisher could be held liable for giving fatal health advice, no suit of this type has come to trial. In 1989, a Pennsylvania court dismissed a suit against the author of The Last Chance Diet after a woman died as a result of following the book's advice. However, two other cases have been settled out of court with significant payment. One followed the death an infant who died as a result of irresponsible advice in Adelle Davis's Let's Have Healthy Children. [Barrett S. The legacy of Adelle Davis. Quackwatch, Oct 13, 2006] The other case, in which Dr. Stephen Barrett served as the plaintiff's expert on journalistic standards, involved a man who experienced liver failure following negligent advice in an early version of the 8-Week Cholesterol Cure.

Herbal regimen found ineffective against menopausal symptoms. A study of 351 menopausal and postmenopausal women has found that black cohosh did not appear to lessen their hot flashes. The women were randomly assigned to receive (a) black cohosh, (b) a multibotanical containing black cohosh and 9 other ingredients, (c) a multibotanical plus dietary counseling about using soy products, (d) an estrogen product, or (e) a placebo. At 3, 6, and 12 months, the patients who received the herbal interventions did no better than those who received the placebo (except for more severe symptoms at 12 months for those taking the multibotanical plus dietary soy). The patients who received estrogen (a hormone) had significantly fewer symptoms. The authors concluded that black cohosh used alone or as part of a multi-herb regimen, "shows little potential as an important therapy" for relief of the hot flashes associated with menopause. [Newton KM and others. Treatment of symptoms of menopause with black cohosh, multibotanicals, soy, hormone therapy, or placebo. Annals of Internal Medicine 145:869-879, 2006]

Iowa enjoins "See Clearly" sales. Vision Improvement Technologies (VIT), Inc has been ordered to stop selling its "See Clearly Method" in Iowa and to pay $200,000 for consumer restitution and $20,000 to Iowa's consumer fraud enforcement fund. The product included manuals, charts, and tapes that promoted the use of eye exercises and other techniques. In 2005, the Iowa Attorney General filed a consumer fraud lawsuit charging that VIP made unsubstantiated claims that the method could quickly and easily free people from having to wear glasses or contact lenses. The suit also charged that the company failed to issue timely refunds. Earlier this year, an Iowa district court judge issued a temporary injunction ordering the company to make certain disclosures and modify its refund process. The consent agreement leading to settlement of the case is posted on Casewatch.

Researchers express doubts about alleged weight-loss supplements. An audit of retail outlets and "complementary/alternative" practitioners in Columbia, South Carolina has identified 402 "dietary supplement" products marketed with claims of fat loss, weight loss, and/or increased metabolism or marketed with no claims but stocked in a "weight loss" section. The products contained an average of ten ingredients. One or more herbal ingredients was included in 322 products. A literature search for the ten most common ingredients concluded:

The researchers concluded that "the general lack of research evidence for the safety or effectiveness of the many ingredients . . . even the most frequently included ingredients, is cause for concern." [Sharpe PA and others. Availability of weight-loss supplements: Results of an audit of retail outlets in a southeastern city. Journal of the American Dietetic Association 106:2045-2051, 2006]

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