Consumer Health Digest #08-34

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
August 19, 2008

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.

Mannatech claims attacked. Ronald L. Schnaar, Ph.D. (a prominent pharmacologist) and Hudson H. Freeze, Ph.D. (a prominent glycobiology researcher) have accused Mannatech of making unwarranted claims for its "glyconutrient" (sugar-based) products. [Schnaar RL, Freeze HH. A "glyconutrient sham." Glycobiology 18:652-657, 2008]. Mannatech suggests that these products can help consumers achieve optimal health and that their use is supported by scientific research. However, the researchers have concluded that except for rare patients with certain types of congenital disorders, no well-designed studies have demonstrated that humans can benefit clinically from ingesting the key ingredients in the products. They also note that some studies that Mannatech cites are legitimate but have no relevance to it health claims. In 2007, the Texas Attorney General accused Mannatech of violating the Texas Deceptive Practices Act by encouraging and allowing their distributors to make claims that mislead consumers into believing that the supplements dramatically cure or treat serious illnesses. [State of Texas vs. Mannatech Incorporated, Manna Relief Industries, The Fisher Institute, Samuel L. Caster, and Reginald McDaniel. District Court of Travis County, Cause No. D-1-GV-07-001386, filed July 5, 2007] That case is still pending.

Airborne settles with FTC. Airborne Health, Inc., of Bonita Springs, Florida has agreed to pay up to $30 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that could not substantiate advertising claims for its alleged cold remedies. Concocted by second-grade teacher Victoria Knight McDowell and her screenwriter husband Thomas Rider McDowell, the products Airborne were promised to “boost your immune system to help your body combat germs,” and users were instructed to “take it at the first sign of a cold symptom or before entering crowded, potentially germ-infested environments.” The settlement prohibits unsubstantiated claims that the products (a) reduce the risk of or prevents colds, sickness, or infection, (b) protects against or helps fight germs, (c) reduces the severity or duration of colds, or (d) protects against colds, sickness, or infection in crowded places. The settlement also adds $6.5 million to the $23 million the defendants have already agreed to pay to settle a related private class-action lawsuit. FTC Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch has protested that the FTC order did not include the false claim on Airborne packages that the products have "immune-boosting" qualities. Consumers have until September 15, 2008 to apply for a refunds. The FTC news release and related documents are posted on Casewatch.

British homeopath disciplined. Dr. Marisa Viegas, who has practiced "alternative medicine" in London for more than ten years has been disciplined by the British Medical Council. In June 2007, the Council's Fitness to Practice Panel concluded that Viegas had improperly advised a women to stop prescribed medication and that the woman had died as a result. The panel's report stated:

The 2007 panel suspended Viegas's registration for a year but said it would restore it if Viegas gained insight into her misconduct. In June 2008, a second panel concluded that she had not changed her attitude and ruled that she should be erased from the register (the equivalent of revocation in the United States).

Experts discuss U.S. healthcare reform. The New England Journal of Medicine has posted a 55-minute videotaped discussion by 13 experts assembled by the journal and the Massachusetts Medical Society. The topics include:

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This page was posted on August 21, 2008.