Consumer Health Digest #09-31

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
July 30, 2009

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.

FDA reclassifies amalgam. The FDA has issued a final regulation classifying dental amalgam and its component parts—elemental mercury and a powder alloy—used in dental fillings. After intensive study, the agency concluded that whereas elemental mercury has been associated with adverse health effects at high exposures, the levels released by dental amalgam fillings are not high enough to cause harm in patients. The new regulation requires amalgam to be labeled with:

Amalgam fillings are durable and relatively inexpensive. The required warnings have little practical relevance because allergy is rare and the amount of mercury vapor to which dentists and patients are exposed is easily minimized with routine precautions.

Despite amalgam's excellent safety record, a network of misguided dentists, academics, lawyers, Congressional representatives, and assorted cranks has been crusading to get it banned and to persuade people to have their amalgam fillings removed. In 2006 four anti-amalgam groups filed a lawsuit to try to force the FDA ban amalgam use. The suit was settled with an agreement that the FDA would review amalgam's status and issue regulations by July 2009. The FDA has posted the background documents that explain their rationale.

Hazelhurst decision upheld. The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has upheld the decision of a Special Master that the family of William Yates Hazelhurst had presented no credible evidence that vaccination had caused him to develop regressive autism. The decision is part of the Autism Omnibus Proceeding in which more than 5,000 families who claim that vaccines caused their children to become autistic are seeking compensation under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). In February 2009, Special Masters ruled in this case and two others selected to test how similar cases should be handled. The decisions completely debunked the alleged vaccine/autism connection and implied that the doctors who promote are acting unethically. Appeals by the other two families are pending. Autism-Watch has posted key findings and links to the hearing transcripts and decisions.

Autism not linked to GI disorders. Mayo Clinic researchers have examined the incidence of constipation, diarrhea, abdominal bloating/discomfort, reflux or vomiting, and feeding issues/food selectivity in 124 children with autism and a larger control group of children without autism. Feeding issues and constipation were more common among the autistic children, which the authors concluded might be due to neurobehavioral factors associated with autism, such as need for routine and insistence on sameness in the diet. There was no evidence of increased incidence of malabsorption or inflammation in the digestive tract (as claimed by doctors who provide "biomedical treatments" for autism). No significant associations were found between autism case status and overall incidence of gastrointestinal symptoms or any other gastrointestinal symptom category. Some medications used to treat children with autism also can lead to appetite suppression and constipation. The authors cautioned that children with autism should not be treated indiscriminately with restrictive diets or dietary supplements. [Ibrahim SH. Incidence of gastrointestinal symptoms in children with autism: A population-based study. Pediatrics 124:680-686, 2009]

Huffington Post blasted for promoting "crackpot theories." Pediatrician Rahul K. Parikh, M.D. has written a blistering attack on the editorial policies of the Huffington Post Web site and its owner Adrianna Huffington. [Parikh RK. The Huffington Post is crazy about your health: Why bogus treatments and crackpot medical theories dominate "The Internet Newspaper.", July 30, 2009] Focusing mainly on the site's irresponsible attacks on vaccination, Parikh concludes:

Huffington has distorted science and facts to serve a health agenda. In correspondence with me, she insisted her site doesn't "impose an editorial litmus test favoring one discipline over another." In the end, though, a sincere editorial process is about more than offering a range of disciplines. It is about holding writers accountable for the fairness and accuracy of their messages. And right now fairness and accuracy in health and medicine take a back seat to sensationalism and self-promotion on the Huffington Post.

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This page was posted on July 30, 2009.