Consumer Health Digest #13-17

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
April 25, 2013

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.

British libel reform bill enacted. The British Parliament has passed Defamation Bill 2012, which is intended to prevent frivolous libel suits. The Libel Reform Campaign was formed in 2009 and involved 60,000 individuals and more than 100 organizations, was triggered by unwarranted suits brought against British scientists. The bill's provisions include:

Before this bill's passage, libel suits to stifle debate about medical and scientific matters were easy to file and difficult and expensive to defend against. Parliament had not debated widespread libel reform since 1843. The Libel Reform Campaign Web site has additional information about the bill.

British advertising regulators attacking reflexology claims. The British Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Compliance has issued a guidance document on reflexology claims and is now checking Web sites for violations. In 2011, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld complaints about three websites that claimed or implied that reflexology could alleviate Parkinson's disease, arthritis, migraine, high blood pressure, fertility issues, cancer, lupus, hypertension, prostate problems, depression, glandular fever, ADHD, and many other conditions. Reflexologists claim that specific zones of the foot correspond to areas or organs of the body and that massaging these zones are effective against disease. The agencies have indicated that claims of this type should not be made without robust supporting evidence. (Such evidence will be impossible to get because the anatomical connections fancied by reflexologists do not exist.) Quackwatch has a detailed report on reflexology.

Review questions spinal manipulative therapy. A comprehensive review has concluded that spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) is no more effective for acute low back pain than inert interventions, sham SMT. or as adjunct therapy, and also seems to be no better than other recommended therapies. The reviewers looked at 20 randomized controlled trials with a total of 2,674 participants. The studies varied greatly in quality and contained very little data on recovery, return-to-work, quality of life, and costs of care. [Rubinstein SM and others. Spinal manipulative therapy for acute low back pain: An update of the Cochrane Review. Spine 38:E158-E177, 2013]

The situation faced by consumers who consult chiropractors is actually much worse than published studies indicate. In the most important studies, patients are appropriately screened for contraindications—often by medical teams—and the treatment is limited by the experimental protocol. However, in the real world, the odds of getting appropriate treatment are much lower because fraud, overtreatment (including "adjustments" to correct "subluxations"), and a wide variety of other unscientific practices are rampant in chiropractic offices.

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This page was posted on April 27, 2013.