Consumer Health Digest #07-42

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
October 30, 2007

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.

Liver toxicity reported among Herbalife users. More than 20 cases of liver toxicity have been reported among Herbalife users in two countries. In Israel, a ministry of health investigation of hospitalized patients identified 12 users who developed acute liver injury. One succumbed to complications following liver transplantation. The rest recovered, but three who resumed taking the products had their hepatitis recur. [Elanav E and others. Association between consumption of Herbalife nutritional supplements and acute hepatotoxicity. Journal of Hepatology 2007] In Switzerland, ten more cases were located by sending questionnaires to all Swiss public hospitals. The researchers said that their investigation was hampered by the fact that the involved products did not specify their ingredients on their labels. Despite this, they concluded that causality was certain in two cases, probable in seven, and possible in one. [Schoepfer AM and others. Herbal does not mean innocuous: Ten cases of severe hepatotoxicity associated with dietary supplements from Herbalife products. Journal of Hepatology 47:521-526, 2007] The full text of the Swiss study is online.

Weight-loss fraud tops FTC survey list. The Federal Trade Commission has released its second survey of frauds among American adults. The data were gathered from 3,888 interviews with a representative sample of adults. The survey found that 30.2 million adults—13.5% of the adult population—were defrauded during a 1-year period that began in late 2004. More people were victims of fraudulent weight-loss products than of any of the other frauds covered by the survey. The products included nonprescription drugs, dietary supplements, skin patches, creams, wraps, or earrings, where the seller promised that by using the product losing a substantial amount of weight would be easy or could be achieved without diet and/or exercise and where consumers who purchased the product lost little or none of the weight they had expected to lose. An estimated 2.1% of consumers—4.8 million U.S. adults—purchased and used such fraudulent weight-loss products during the one year period preceding the survey. An additional 700,000 adults purchased an alleged weight-loss product and didn't use it. The estimated total number of purchases was 8.3 million. Among purchasers, 6% said that they had lost as much or more weight than expected, 10% said that they lost about half of what they expected, 28% said that they only lost a little weight, 34% said that they did not lose any weight or gained weight, and 20% said that they had not used the product. [Consumer Fraud in the United States: The Second FTC Survey. FTC Staff, Oct 2007] One reason these scams are so prevalent is that the Postal Service no longer pays attention to them. They will continue to be prevalent as long as they remain profitable for media outlets that carry their ads and credit card companies that facilitate the purchases.

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This page was posted on October 29, 2007.