Consumer Health Digest #16-02
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 10, 2016
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.
FTC jolts "Brain Training" marketers. The creators and marketers of the Lumosity "brain training" program have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges alleging that they deceived consumers with unfounded claims that Lumosity games can help users perform better at work and in school, and reduce or delay cognitive impairment associated with age and other serious health conditions.[Lumosity to pay $2 million to settle FTC deceptive advertising charges for its "brain training" program. FTC news release, January 5, 2016] As part of the settlement, Lumos Labs, the company behind Lumosity, will pay $2 million in redress, will notify subscribers of the FTC action, and provide an easy way to cancel their auto-renewal to avoid future billing. The Lumosity program included 40 games said to target and train specific areas of the brain. The company also claimed that using these games for 10 to 15 minutes three or four times a week could help users achieve their "full potential in every aspect of life." The co-founders of the company, Kunal Sarkar and Michael Scanlon, were also named as defendants. According to the FTC complaint:
- The defendants falsely claimed training with Lumosity would (a) improve performance on everyday tasks, in school, at work, and in athletics, (b) delay age-related cognitive decline and protect against mild cognitive impairment, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease, and (c) reduce cognitive impairment associated with health conditions, including stroke, traumatic brain injury, PTSD, ADHD, the side effects of chemotherapy, and Turner syndrome.
- The defendants failed to disclose that some consumer testimonials featured on the website had been solicited through contests that promised significant prizes.
- Lumosity was widely promoted though TV and radio advertisements; emails, blog posts, social media, and on their website, Lumosity.com, and drove traffic to their Web site using Google AdWords with hundreds of keywords related to memory, cognition, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease.
- The company sold subscriptions, with options ranging from monthly ($14.95) to lifetime ($299.95) memberships.
The proposed stipulated federal court order requires the defendants to have competent scientific evidence before making future claims about any benefits for real-world performance, age-related decline, or other health conditions.
"Detox" concepts debunked. Pharmacist Scott Gravura has written an excellent article about "detoxification" fakes. [Gravura S. The one thing you need to know before you detox. Science-based Medicine Blog, Dec 31, 2015] The article states:
Detox" is a legitimate medical term that has been co-opted to sell useless products and services. It is a fake treatment for a fake condition. Real detoxification isn't ordered from a menu at a juice bar, or assembled from supplies in your pantry. Real detoxification is provided in hospitals under life-threatening circumstances—usually when there are dangerous levels of drugs, alcohol, or other poisons in the body. Drugs used for real detoxification are not ingredients in a smoothie. What's being promoted today as "detox" is little different than eons-old religious rituals of cleansing and purification. Framing detoxification in religious terms won't have the appeal in a world that values science. So use the word "toxin," not sin, and call the ritual a "detox"— and suddenly you've given your treatment a veneer of what sounds scientific. . . .
There's no published evidence to suggest that detox treatments, kits or rituals have any effect on our body's ability to eliminate waste products effectively. They do have the ability to harm however—not only direct effects, like coffee enemas and purgatives, but they also distract and confuse people about how the body actually works and what we need to do to keep it healthy. "Detox" focuses attention on irrelevant issues, giving the impression that you can undo lifestyle decisions with quick fixes. Improved health isn't found in a box of herbs, a bottle of homeopathy, or a bag of coffee flushed into your rectum. The lifestyle implications of a poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, lack of sleep, and alcohol or drug use cannot simply be flushed or purged away. Our kidneys and liver don't need a detox treatment. If anyone suggests a detox or cleanse to you, remember that you're hearing a marketing pitch for an imaginary condition.
Homeopathy declining in UK. The Nightingale Collaboration has described how the use of homeopathic products and services has been steadily declining in the United Kingdom. Its recent report notes:
- Two of the five homeopathic hospitals and the homeopathic pharmacy at a third hospital have closed.
- The number of prescriptions for homeopathy products has fallen steadily from about 170,000 in 1996 to about 10,000 in 2014.
- The British Advertising Authority has clamped down on advertising claims and the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has attacked unlicensed product distribution.
The Collaboration has expressed hope that the MHRA will stop the marketing of products that have names similar to commonly recognized diseases or medicines. [On a downward spiral. Nightingale Collaboration Web site, Oct 22, 2015]
This page was posted on January 12, 2016.