Consumer Health Digest #17-03
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 15, 2017
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.
Prevagen "memory supplement" advertising attacked. The Federal Trade Commission and New York State Attorney General have charged the marketers of the dietary supplement Prevagen with making false and unsubstantiated claims that the product improves memory, provides cognitive benefits, and is "clinically shown" to work. [FTC, New York State charge the marketers of Prevagen with making deceptive memory, cognitive Improvement claims: Widely advertised supplement touted to improve memory in 90 days. FTC news release, Jan 9, 2017] The defendants in the case are Quincy Bioscience Holding Company, Inc.; Quincy Bioscience, LLC; Prevagen, Inc. (doing business as Sugar River Supplements); Quincy Bioscience Manufacturing, LLC, and company co-founders, CEO Michael Beaman, and President Mark Underwood. Prevagen is said to contain a protein (apoaequorin) originally found in jellyfish. The complaint states:
- Sales of Prevagen in the United States from 2007 through mid-2015, minus refunds, totaled $165 million.
- The extensive national advertising campaign for Prevagen, which included TV spots on national broadcast and cable networks such as CNN, Fox News, and NBC, featured charts depicting rapid and dramatic improvement in memory for users of the product.
- Underwood appeared in infomercials for the product.
- The study on which the marketers relied actually failed to show that Prevagen works better than a placebo for the nine cognitive functions that were tested. After the data were collected, Quincy broke it down into small subgroups, which greatly increased the probability of "statistically significant" differences occurring by chance alone. However, this is not a valid statistical method.
- Quincy claims that the apoaequorin in Prevagen crosses the blood-brain barrier to enter the brain to supplement proteins lost during the natural process of aging. But the company's own safety studies show that it can't do this because it is digested in the stomach like any other dietary protein.
In 2015, Truth in Advertising (TINA) learned that the FDA had received more than 50 adverse health events associated with Prevagen use. Most of these involved hospitalization. Quincy Bioscience has issued a news release "vehemently" denying the FTC allegations and promising to fight the complaint "on behalf of its consumers." In 2012, the FDA warned Underwood that claims the company was making at that time were illegal and that it lacked FDA approval to conduct a human study of apoaequorin mentioned on one of its Web sites. It could be asked why, if alleged wrongdoing was known to federal regulators five years ago, the marketing of Prevagen was not challenged sooner.
Mercola unmasked. The Ringer has published an investigative report about Joseph Mercola, D.O., that features comments from leading critics and former employees. [Knibbs K. The most honest man in medicine? The Ringer, Jan 5, 2017] The report states:
- Instead of writing his own blog posts, Mercola employs a team a team of ghostwriters and usually looks at the finished work.
- According to a pro-technology activist, Mercola "promotes chemophobia and spreads fear of chemicals, GMOs, and vaccines, all while peddling alternatives to line his pockets."
- Mercola is a figurehead of the antivaccination movement, the antifluoridation movement, and, more broadly, the antiscience movement. Along with fellow "natural health" advocates like the Food Babe, Mercola floods the Internet with dubious advice, while positioning himself as a freethinker's ally.
- The National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) is among the groups that receive a cut of Mercola's profits.
The donations to which the article refers were funneled through Mercola's nonprofit Natural Health Resources Foundation. Dr. Stephen Barrett, who has analyzed the foundation's tax returns, has found that between 2011 and 2014, it gave NVIC a total of $1.5 million—47% of the contributions it received during those years.
Cleveland Clinic blasted for tolerating quackery. An antivaccination article written by Daniel Neides, M.D., Director of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, has triggered a social media firestorm. The article claimed that Americans "live in a toxic soup," and that "newborns without intact immune systems and detoxification systems are being over-burdened with PRESERVATIVES AND ADJUVANTS IN THE VACCINES." When the criticism erupted, the Cleveland Clinic quickly disavowed it, Neides "apologized" for the uproar it caused, and the article was removed from cleveland.com. [Zeltner B. Cleveland Clinic doc apologizes for anti-vax column, hospital promises discipline. Cleveland Plain Dealer, Jan 8, 2017] David Gorski, M.D., who reviewed the situation in depth, noted that what happened was an inevitable result of a deeper problem—that the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute promotes a wide range of unscientific beliefs and practices.
Robocalls are a growing nuisance. In November 2016, Americans received 2.4 billion unwanted robocalls. The most practical way to deal with them is to transfer your phone to an Internet-based service, such as OOMA, which costs much less than a land line and will block most of the calls. More than 700,000 people have joined Consumers Union's campaign to stop illegal robocalls.
This page was posted on January 15, 2017.