Consumer Health Digest #10-02

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 14, 2010

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. 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.

Antidepressants probably ineffective for mild depression. A meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials of antidepressants has found little little effect on mild to moderate depression. [Fourniew JC and others. Antidepressant drug effects and depression severity: A patient-level meta-analysis. JAMA 303:47-53, 2010] The analysis compared outcomes based on the Hamilton Depression Rating Score (HDRS), which was developed for hospitalized patients. The authors concluded:

Prescribers, policy makers, and consumers may not be aware that the efficacy of [antidepressant] medications largely has been established on the basis of studies that have included only those individuals with more severe forms of depression. This important feature of the evidence base is not reflected in the implicit messages present in the marketing of these medications to clinicians and the public. There is little mention of the fact that efficacy data often come from studies that exclude [mildly depressed] patients who derive little specific pharmacological benefit from taking medications. . . . Whereas antidepressant medications can have a substantial effect with more severe depressions, there is little evidence to suggest that they produce specific pharmacological benefit for the majority of patients with less severe acute depressions.

For most people with mild to moderate depression, the best treatment is conversational therapy that focuses on what is upsetting them.

"Dr. Oz" giving untrustworthy advice. During a recent TV show, Mehmet Oz, M.D. referred to "energy medicine" as the most important alternative treatment of all. "Energy medicine" is based on the notion that the body is surrounded or permeated by an energy field that is not measurable by ordinary scientific instrumentation. The alleged force, said to support life, is known as ki in Japan, as chi or qi in China, and as prana in India. Reiki practitioners claim to facilitate healing by strengthening or "balancing" it. During his show, after noting that his wife is a reiki master and uses it on him, Oz advised that reiki can balance your energy and "cure what ails you." However, Reiki has no substantiated health value and lacks a scientifically plausible rationale. [Barrett S. Reiki is nonsense. Quackwatch, Aug 4, 2009] During the past week, Oz has also provided irresponsible advice about vaccinations. During an interview an an anti-vaccination Web site, Oz said (a) his children didn't get flu shots because his wife didn't want them to have them, (b) vaccines might be a causative factor in autism, and (c) his children's vaccine schedule was "spread out" because of concern that they might have too many at once. [If Dr. Oz spreads out the vaccine schedule for his kids, why can't we? Age of Autism Web site, January 12, 2010] However, the recommended schedule poses no health threat and failure to follow it will leave children unprotected longer than necessary. [Crislip M, Barrett S. Do children get too many immunizations? The answer is no. Quackwatch, December 15, 2008]

Widely used chiropractic brochure criticized. The British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint against a Koren Publications brochure titled "Infants & Babies," which states:

There seems to be no limit to the conditions which can respond to chiropractic care: colic, difficult breast-feeding, Erbs palsy (an arm is limp and undeveloped), torticollis (twisted neck), unbalanced face and skull development, foot inversion, nervousness, ear, nose and throat infections, allergies and sleep disorders, and projectile vomiting. . . .

Babies are very top-heavy. Mild to moderate shaking of a child can result in serious neurological damage since their neck muscles are undeveloped. This damage has been known to occur after playfully throwing the child up in the air and catching him/her. The damage caused is called Shaken Baby Syndrome. In addition to being shaken or thrown, being spanked can also cause spinal or neurological damage to a child. Any child who has been subjected to this rough behavior desperately needs a chiropractic checkup to prevent possible nerve damage.

The ASA stated that the brochure must not appear again in its current form. Koren Publications, headquartered in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, is probably the world's leading supplier of educational materials that chiropractors distribute to their patients. In the late 1990s, the FTC expressed concern about several Koren brochures but did not bring formal action. [Barrett S. FTC drops chiropractic investigation. Quackwatch, June 9, 2008]

Donsbach ordered to stand trial. Kurt Donsbach, 73, whose dubious health-related activities have spanned more than 50 years, has been ordered to stand trial on five counts each of practicing medicine without a license and selling misbranded drugs with intent to defraud, and one count each of grand theft, attempted grand theft, and being a felon in possession of a gun. [Phony Bonita doctor charged with felonies. San Diego Tribune, Jan 13, 2010] Quackwatch has a detailed report on Donsbach's shady history.

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This page was revised on January 15, 2010.