Consumer Health Digest #11-24

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
August 4, 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.

Consumer Reports goes "quack!" The September 2011 issue of Consumer Reports has inappropriately endorsed chiropractic treatment by reporting that subscribers who answered its annual survey said that chiropractic treatment had been more helpful to them than various other treatments for back and neck pain. [Barrett S. Consumer Reports gives bad advice about chiropractors. Chirobase, Aug 7, 2011] The article acknowledges that the survey data might not represent the experiences of the general population and should not be compared to the results of clinical trials. However, it fails to place the survey's findings in proper perspective. In 1975 and 1994, Consumer Reports thoroughly debunked chiropractic's subluxation concept and warned very clearly about bad chiropractic advice and overselling. The September 2011 report provides no such warnings, shows a subluxation-based chiropractor giving an "adjustment," and recommends using the American Chiropractic Association to help find a chiropractor. The article gives similar uncritical advice about acupuncture and massage therapy. Acupuncture is based mainly based on nonsensical theories about the flow of nonmaterial energy though imaginary "energy channels." Stating that acupuncturists use needles to "purportedly stimulate and restore healing energy" it advises readers to find practitioners by contacting organizations that espouse this nonsense. Massage can be beneficial, but a substantial percentage of massage therapists advocate and use quack "energy medicine" practices.

Consumers Union's longtime medical consultant and (Marvin M. Lipman, M.D.) and a few other senior staff members are fully aware of the problem of quackery, but the magazine has published very little about it during the past 15 years. Quackwatch has added Consumer Reports to its list of nonrecommended periodicals in the category headed "Magazines, Excellent Except for Too Many Poorly Reasoned Articles on "Complementary" and/or "Alternative" Medicine."

Penis-enlargement pill marketers settle two major cases. The marketers of ExtenZe, a dietary supplement claimed to cause penis enlargement, have agreed to settle two major lawsuits brought against the company for false advertising and other wrongdoing. In both cases, the defendants admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to stop doing the things that were challenged.

In one case, the Orange County District Attorney's Office (OCDA) obtained a $1.75 million settlement against California-based Biotab Nutraceuticals for multiple violations of consumer protection laws, including falsely advertising that use of ExtenZe would result in increased penis size. [Dietary supplement maker to pay $1.75 million for unfair business practices, Including falsely promising male penile enlargement. OCDA press release, July 21, 2011] The settlement is the largest in Orange County history obtained for violating the injunctive terms of a previous OCDA consumer-protection settlement. In 2006, the OCDA obtained a $300,000 settlement against the principals of Biotab and the former manufacturer and distributor of ExtenZe, Dish Direct, Inc., for making the same untrue claims regarding penile enlargement. The OCDA also charged that Biotab had failed to reimburse customers in a timely fashion for returned products and, in some cases, also sent and charged customers for products that had not been ordered. In addition to the $1.75 million civil penalty, which will be used for future enforcement of California consumer protection laws, Biotab is also required to pay restitution to consumers who have not already received refunds and who filed documented complaints with Biotab, the Better Business Bureau, or the California Attorney General between July 1, 2006, and July 1, 2011.

The other case is a class-action lawsuit that accuses Biotab and several of its principals of "massive fraud" and alleges:

The settlement agreement calls for the defendants to pay $6 million in cash plus $6 million in ExtenZe Racing merchandise into a Claims Fund that will make partial refunds upon request, with any remaining balance going to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. In addition, they must (a) refrain from making unsubstantiated representations that ExtenZe has been clinically tested or will increase penis size, and (b) must remove the terms ambesium labidrol, aunctus philtrum and "maximum strength" from their advertising and new packaging.

It is not clear how much impact the settlements will have on ExtenZe's marketability. Biotab's Web sites no longer make enlargement claims but promise "sexual enhancement." However, a Google search for "ExtenZe + price" generates 3.3 million hits, which suggests that it is widely marketed. Many of the sites still make enlargement claims and other misleading statements challenged by the class-action suit.

Daniel Stein, M.D. was a gynecologist who founded the Stein Medical Institute and the Foundation for Sexual Enhancement in Tampa, Florida. In 2004, he reported that 20 men who took ExtenZe for eight weeks had experienced increased sexual desire, increased sexual activity, and penis enlargement. The report stated that "ExtenZe worked better than Viagra to improve desire and sexual enthusiasm" because Viagra did not affect these things. However, the study was meaningless because the results were self-reported (no measurements were made by objective observers) and there were no controls. The report stated that a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial had been started, but no report of its findings is apparent. In 2006, the Florida Board of Medicine fined Stein $9500 plus administrative costs and reprimanded him for offering to pay providers a "consultation fee" of $100 or $150 for each referred patient who subsequently had surgery at Stein's offices. Stein died in April 2011, but his endorsement is still prominently displayed.

The Better Business Bureau has given Biotab (aka Maximizer Health Products) an "F" rating based on more than 750 complaints made during the past 36 months.

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This page was posted on August 7, 2011.