Consumer Health Digest #08-47

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
November 18, 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.

New Guide to Preventive Services available. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has published a pocket guide to its recommendations from 2001 through 2006. The USPSTF is an independent panel of experts in primary care and prevention that systematically reviews the evidence of effectiveness and develops recommendations for clinical preventive services. The original task force was created in 1984 to determine what types of periodic physical examinations, laboratory tests, immunizations, counseling, and other measures are science-based and cost-effective. Since 1998, it has been sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Its guidelines and checklists are intended primarily for use by physicians, but some are easily understandable by laypersons. The pocket guide covers about 100 interventions. Single print copies are available free from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse at 800-358-9295 or (Ask for The Guide to Clinical Preventive Services, 2008—AHRQ Publication No. 08-05122). The online version is updated as new recommendations are issued.

Ginkgo ineffective against dementia. A major clinical trial has found that Ginkgo biloba extract did not lower the overall incidence of dementia or Alzheimer's disease among adults age 75 or older who were normal or had mild cognitive impairment when the study began. The trial, which is the largest and longest ever done to determine whether ginkgo can prevent mental deterioration, involved over 3,000 people who received either a ginkgo product or a placebo for a average of 6.1 years. The study's authors noted that the ginkgo group had more hemorrhagic strokes and, although the incidence was low and the difference was not statistically significant, the fact that ginkgo has anticoagulant properties means that this finding deserves further exploration. [DeKosky S and others. Ginkgo biloba for prevention of dementia: A randomized controlled trial. JAMA 300:2253-2262, 2008] An accompanying editorial stated:

The . . . study adds to the substantial body of evidence that G biloba extract as it is generally used does not prevent dementia in individuals with or without cognitive impairment and is not effective for Alzheimer disease. . . . Users of this extract should not expect it to be helpful. Moreover, the potential adverse effects of G biloba extract illustrate why it is untenable to recommend a drug or nutraceutical in the absence of efficacy evidence simply because it could possibly help and initially appears harmless. [Schneider LS. Ginkgo biloba extract and preventing Alzheimer disease. JAMA 300:2306-2308, 2008]

Meanwhile, has tested seven ginkgo products and found that two appeared to contain adulterated material, two contained less ginkgo than claimed on their label, and one of the latter pair was contaminated with lead and failed to break apart properly.

Ginkgo products have been widely promoted for improving improve memory and possibly delaying mental deterioration. These reports add to the evidence that taking it with the hope of improved mental function is a waste of money.

Whitcomb technique developer charged with unprofessional conduct. The California Board of Chiropractic Examiners has accused Paul E. Whitcomb, D.C. of incompetence, gross negligence, and unprofessional conduct, based on his management of seven patients. Whitcomb, who operates Fibromyalgia Relief Centers in South Lake Tahoe, California, claims he has found the cause of fibromyalgia and that his "Whitcomb Method" has a 95% success rate. The board's accusation states that Whitcomb (a) administered excessive treatments, (b) failed to provide adequate structural examinations, (c) failed to develop treatment plans that were medically necessary, (d) failed to perform sufficiently detailed follow-up examinations to gauge patient progress, and (e) advertised with sensational statements that were intended to deceive the public. The number of neck manipulations these patients had ranged from 60 to143. Chirobase has posted an investigative report with further details.

FDA warns about FDA impersonators. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers about a scheme to extort money by callers who falsely identify themselves as FDA officials. The agency has received several reports of calls to entice consumers to purchase discounted prescription drugs by wiring funds to a location in the Dominican Republic. No medications are ever delivered, but an "FDA special agent" calls to say that a fine of several thousand dollars must be sent to an address in the Dominican Republic to prevent imprisonment or other legal action. The FDA suspects that the scheme began with the theft of personal information from consumers who previously purchased drugs through the Internet or by telephone or who were victims of credit card fraud. Complaints or other information about this scheme should be reported to the FDA Office of Criminal Investigations at (800) 521-5783.

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This page was posted on November 19, 2008.