Consumer Health Digest #16-12

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
April 3, 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.

Huge damage award based on improper use of hair tests. In 2014, in response to charges that company employees had been exposed to toxic amounts of benzene and heavy metals, a Labor Court judge in Brazil ordered Eli Lilly's Brazilian subsidiary and a successor company to pay damages of 300 million reals. The order also called for medical care for the allegedly affected workers and their offspring, plus other measures, that could cost an estimated 700 million more. Lawsuits with similar claims have been filed by individual former employees. The judge's decision was based substantially on hair analyses, which it referred to as mineralograms. Lilly contends that (a) there was no evidence that the site had dangerous levels of the identified chemicals and (b) it is well established that hair analysis cannot be used as a sole basis for diagnosing heavy metal poisoning—as was done by the doctors who diagnosed these patients. Lilly Brazil is appealing the judge's verdict. During the appeal proceedings, Lilly filed a 28 U.S. Code § 1782 discovery action in a U.S. federal court to obtain some of the workers' test reports plus documents that explained the test's methodology. As part of its response, the laboratory issued a report stating that it "strongly concurs with Lilly that the use of mineralograms to diagnose heavy metal toxicity (poisoning) from occupational exposure is improper and unsupported by all responsible authority" and that "if the primary, if not exclusive basis of diagnoses of health problems due to heavy metals were hair analyses reports, then the 'experts' against Lilly deviated from occupational exposure standards promulgated by almost all the world's experts in heavy metal toxicology." Quackwatch has a skeptical article about hair analysis.

Misleading claims common among New Zealand chiropractors. Investigators who examined 137 New Zealand chiropractor Web sites found by searching with Google have reported that every one contained at least one improper claim. The improper claims included effectiveness of spinal manipulation against ADHD (25% of the 137 sites), allergies (48%), asthma (54%), bed wetting (43%), colic (59%), and ear infections (55%). These conditions were chosen because chiropractors had failed to provide supportive evidence when challenged by New Zealand's Advertising Standards Authority. After a medical journal published the survey's findings, the New Zealand Chiropractic Association said that the issues had recently been addressed and the situation had changed. However, the investigators rechecked and found that only eight of the sites (four which disappeared entirely) had removed the challenged claims. [Hanna M. Misleading claims common among chiropractors. Honest Universe Blog, April 1, 2016]

Fluoridation access increasing. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its statistics on community water fluoridation. The latest data show that in 2014, 214.2 million people (74.7% of the U.S. population with a community water system) had access to optimally fluoridated water. This reflects an increase of nearly 19 million since 2008.

John Oliver lampoons drug company marketing. Comedian John Oliver has examined how drug companies spend billions of dollars to influence doctors to prescribe their products. The extent to which the marketing strategies work is difficult to measure, but the companies themselves believe that they are effective. Oliver's 17-minute video has had more than 6 million views since it was posted on YouTube two months ago.

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This page was posted on April 3, 2016.