Consumer Health Digest #11-39

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
November 17, 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.

Book warns that MLMs are not profitable. Jon Taylor, M.B.A., Ph.D. has updated his critical analysis of multilevel marketing, which concludes:

[Taylor JM. The Case for and against Multilevel Marketing: The Complete Guide to Understanding and Countering the Effects of Endless Chain Selling and Product-based Pyramid Schemes. Bountiful, Utah, 2011, Consumer Awareness Institute] The book can be downloaded free of charge from Taylor's Web site.

Wakefield scandal enlarges. The British Medical Journal (BMJ) has published more articles that accuse Andrew Wakefield and the hospital where he worked of acting irresponsibly. Wakefield's 1998 paper alleging a connection between the MMR vaccine and enterocolitis was not supported by microscopic examinations of the biopsy specimens examined in the laboratory. The paper, which touched off a public scare that caused vaccination rates to plummet, claimed that 11 out of 12 children showed histological signs of "non-specific colitis." After the paper was published, the school where Wakefield worked improperly announced that, "Researchers at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine may have discovered a new syndrome in children involving a new inflammatory bowel disease and autism." However, reviewers have now concluded that the biopsy specimens were almost normal and certainly did not represent a new disease entity or association.

In 2010, Wakefield was struck from the medical register (the equivalent of losing his medical license), but others who reviewed and promoted the faulty research have not been sufficiently investigated. BMJ editor-in-chief Fiona Godlee summed up the situation this way:

It is now more than 18 months since the UK's General Medical Council found Andrew Wakefield guilty of dishonesty and other serious professional misconduct; and it is nearly a year since the BMJ concluded that his now retracted Lancet paper linking the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism and bowel disease was an "elaborate fraud." At that time, January 2011, we called on Wakefield's former employer, University College London (UCL), to establish an inquiry into the scandal. Ten months on, no inquiry has been announced. . . .

In light of UCL's failure to act, the BMJ has this week referred the matter to Andrew Miller MP, chair of the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology. If UCL does not immediately initiate an externally led review of its role in the vaccine scare, we believe that Parliament should do it. [Godlee F. Institutional research misconduct: Failings over the MMR scare may need parliamentary inquiry BMJ, Nov 9, 2011]

For additional information, see: Deer B. More secrets of the MMR scare: Pathology reports solve "new bowel disease" riddle. BMJ, Nov 11, 2011.

Class-action suits filed against alleged weight-loss crystals. Class-action suits have been filed in California and Texas against the marketers of Sensa, a product developed by Chicago neurologist Alan Hirsch, M.D. and sold by California-based Sensa Products, LLC. According to the company's Web site:

The scientific principle behind SENSA® is remarkably simple. As you eat, smell and taste receptors send messages to your brain which release hormones that tell your body it's time to stop eating. This is a phenomenon we call Sensory Specific Satiety. By enhancing smell, SENSA® Tastants were designed to help speed up the process and trigger your "I feel full" signal, so you eat less and feel more satisfied. Because SENSA®works with your body's natural impulses, rather than against them, there are no feelings of hunger or intense cravings.

The company's Web site states that users can lose an average of 30.5 pounds in six months—without dieting, exercise, food restrictions, or drastic lifestyle changes—by merely sprinkling Sensa crystals on their food. It also states that Sensa "activates a hunger-control switch in the brain and has been "clinically proven." The complaint in the California suit states that (a) there is no competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate these claims and (b) an expert who reviewed Sensa's main clinical study judged that it was "beyond worthless." The Texas complaint is less detailed.

ISM calls Delta irresponsible. The Institute for Science and Medicine has warned Delta Air Lines that continuing to show an in-flight video promoting anti-vaccination views is "indefensible from a public health perspective." [Delta's decision doesn't fly with us: Airline continues to show anti-vaccinationists' ad. ISM news release, Nov 17, 2011] The video, which is paid programming produced by In-Flight Media Associates for the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), discourages use of flu vaccine by (a) downplaying the seriousness of the disease, (b) failing to encourage vaccination as a preventive measure, and (c) referring viewers to the NVIC Web site, which is filled with negative information about vaccines. More than 3,600 people have signed a petition asking Delta to stop airing the video.

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This page was revised on November 19, 2011.