Consumer Health Digest #11-04

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
March 3, 2011

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.

E-mail distribution of this newsletter temporarily suspended. Technical difficulty at has made it impossible to distribute Consumer Health Digest by e-mail—so Dr. Barrett decided to take a "vacation" from publishing it for a few weeks. Online publication has resumed, and we hope that the problem at will be fixed soon.

Amway/Quixtar class-action settlement proposed. The attorneys representing Quixtar are seeking preliminary court approval to settle a class-action suit filed in 2007 against Quixtar (formerly called Amway) and several of its high-level distributors. The suit alleged that Quixtar is an illegal pyramid scheme because most of its sales are to distributors rather than retail customers. The plaintiffs also charged that the company's arbitration policies prevented most distributors from recovering their losses if problems arise. The proposed settlement calls for payment of $34 million in cash, $21 million in free products, and injunctive relief and changes in company policies that Quixtar estimates to be valued at $100 million. The settlement appears to be the largest in multilevel marketing history. If the court grants preliminary approval, class members will be given an opportunity to object or opt out and a hearing on final approval will be held.

Serious problems found with red yeast rice products. Laboratory studies of 12 red yeast rice products have found that the amounts of presumed active ingredients varied by more than 100-fold and that four products contained significant levels of citrinin, a substance that is toxic to the kidneys of some animals. The tests, conducted by, involved two products used in clinical trials and 10 products marketed as dietary supplements. The researchers also found that some of the supplements provided as much of the cholesterol-lowering substances (monacolins) as prescription medication and others contained very little.

Red yeast rice contains several monacolins, including monacolin K, the purified version of which is the cholesterol-lowering statin compound lovastatin (the active ingredient in the Mevacor). Lovastatin is a very useful drug, but it is not suitable for self-medication because optimal cholesterol-control should be tailored to individual risk factors and be medically monitored. The FDA has ordered at least eight companies to stop marketing red yeast rice products for cholesterol control. However, if no drug claims are made, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 permits their sale as "dietary supplements." The study's authors concluded that "Further oversight and standardization of the production and labeling of red yeast rice products may address some of the concerns raised in this study. Until these issues are addressed, physicians should be cautious in recommending red yeast rice to their patients." [Gordon RY. and others. Marked variability of monacolin levels in commercial red yeast rice products: Buyer beware! Archives of Internal Medicine 170:1722-1727, 2010]

Diet Business Watch newsletter launched. Marketdata Enterprises, Inc., which has monitored the weight-loss market since 1979, has begun publishing an online newsletter that covers news, company developments, market research, forecasts, and discussions related to the weight-loss market. The information is intended primarily for people with a commercial interest in the subject matter, but consumers and educators might find items of interest. The newsletter will be published weekly at

Brilliant essay on the ethics of homeopathy published. Kevin R. Smith, Ph.D. a senior lecturer at Abertay University in Scotland, has published a brilliant analysis of the positive and negative features of homeopathy from an ethical perspective. The potentially positive features include (a) non-invasiveness, (b) cost-effectiveness, (c) holism, (d) placebo benefits, and (e) agent autonomy. The potentially negative features include (a) failure to seek effective health care, (b) wastage of resources, (c) promulgation of false beliefs and (d) weakening of commitment to scientific medicine. After exploring each one, Smith concludes that "homeopathy is ethically unacceptable and ought to be actively rejected by health care professionals." [Smith K. Against homeopathy—an ethical perspective. [Bioethics 2011 Feb 14. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8519.2010.01876.x. (Epub ahead of print)]

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