Consumer Health Digest #11-06

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
March 24, 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.

Review finds acupuncture ineffective for pain relief. Reviewers who examined 57 systematic reviews of acupuncture for pain published since the year 2000 have reported:

The reviewers concluded: "Numerous systematic reviews have generated little truly convincing evidence that acupuncture is effective in reducing pain. Serious adverse effects continue to be reported." [Ernst E and others. Pain 152:755-764, 2011] In an accompanying editorial, Harriet Hall, M.D. identified additional harms (time and money wasted, effective treatment delayed, and unscientific thinking encouraged) and suggested that further studies of acupuncture for pain would have no practical value. [Hall HA. Acupuncture's claims punctured: Not proven effective for pain, not harmless. Pain 152:711-712, 2011]

Whistleblower nurse abuser gets jail time. Former Winkler County Memorial Hospital administrator Stan Wiley has been sentenced to 30 days in jail after pleading guilty to abuse of official capacity. The guilty plea stemmed from the Texas Attorney General's investigation of official oppression, retaliatory conduct, and misuse of official information by Wiley, Sheriff Robert Roberts, County Attorney Scott Tidwell, and former Memorial Hospital physician Rolando Arafiles, Jr., M.D. In 2009, two longtime Memorial Hospital nurses complained anonymously to the Texas Medical Board, alleging that Arafiles had violated state regulations governing doctors. After the board contacted Arafiles about the complaint, he asked Sheriff Roberts—a close friend, patient, and alleged business partner—to use official law-enforcement channels to obtain a copy of the confidential complaint, which he did. As a result, Arafiles and others officials were able to determine the identities of the nurses, which would have been protected from disclosure if the Roberts had not misused his position. The nurses were then fired by the hospital and indicted for misuse of official information. The charge against one of the nurses was dropped shortly before trial; the other was acquitted by the jury. [Barrett S. Outrageous whistleblower prosecution fails. Quackwatch, March 26, 2011] Wiley's plea agreement includes a pledge to cooperate with prosecution of the other three on charges for retaliation and misuse of official information. The Texas Board has charged Arafiles with improperly treating nine patients and attempting to intimidate the nurses.

Power Balance flunks scientific tests. A controlled trial of college athletes has found that wearing a Power Balance bracelet did not enhance their performance. The study, sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), was conducted by John Porcari, Ph.D. and other researchers from the University of Wisconsin. Each athlete completed two trials of four tests: trunk flexibility, balance, strength and vertical jump. For one trial, the subjects wore a Power Balance bracelet ($30), and for the other they wore a placebo ($0.30 rubber bracelet). The order of bracelets worn was completely randomized and double-blinded so that neither the subjects nor the examiners knew which bracelet was being worn for which trial. Analysis of the data showed no significant difference in flexibility, balance, strength, or vertical-jump height between the Power Balance and placebo trials. Curiously, the subjects did better in the second trial than the first, a phenomenon called the "order effect." ACE's report stated:

The improvements in the second trials were attributed to the fact that subjects were either: (1) more warmed up, or (2) habituated to the task. This would explain why the public sales demonstrations of Power Balance and similar performance-jewelry products appear to have beneficial effects on flexibility, balance and strength. But in reality, these sales demonstrations are essentially carnival tricks. By altering the way you apply force to the body, explains Porcari, you can easily change the outcome. "If I'm pushing a certain direction, and then I change the angle of pull or push a little bit, I can get you to lose your balance easily," he says. [Porcari JP and others. Power Balance or power of persuasion? ACE Web site, March 2011]

Power Balance reportedly has sold three million units during the past three years. In December 2010, the Australia Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced that Power Balance Pty Australia admitted that there is no credible scientific basis for the claims and therefore no reasonable grounds for making representations about its wristbands being beneficial [6]. To settle ACCC's concerned, the company signed an undertaking in which it promised to stop making unsupportable claims and to offer refunds to consumers who feel they have been misled. Device Watch has a detailed account of the product's history.

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This page was posted on March 26, 2011.