Consumer Health Digest #19-38
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
September 22, 2019
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H., with help from Stephen Barrett, M.D. 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. Its primary focus is on health, but occasionally it includes non-health scams and practical tips.
FTC enforcement action against Prevagen reinstated. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District has ruled that the FTC and New York Attorney General can continue their suit against the promoters of the widely advertised "memory supplement" Prevagen. In January 2017, the agencies charged the marketers 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] In September 2017, a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the complaint after ruling that it was too speculative. However, in February 2019, the appellate court vacated the dismissal and returned it to the lower court for further consideration. The key issue in the case is whether or not the non-peer-reviewed study upon which Prevagen's marketers relied was statistically valid. Prevagen's supposedly active ingredient is a protein called "apoaequorin," which is easily digested and thus unavailable to act on the brain. [Schwarcz J. Prevagen for mental clarity? McGill University Office for Science and Society. Jan 14, 2019] TruthinAdvertising.org has an archive of documents associated with its investigations of the marketing of Prevagen.
Home therapy charges scrutinized in chiropractic business investigation. In a follow-up to its August 14th investigative report on neuropathy treatments promoted at dinner seminars in Southern California by Optimal Health/Straw Chiropractic, the NBCLA I-Team interviewed a couple who paid $16,000 for a dozen in-office visits each plus items for use at home. The couple was charged $4,995 for a home therapy treatment system, which consists of a HoMedics foot massager available online for $27.16, a paleo diet book that retails for $11, EFAC pain relieving cream which sells for $26.95 a jar, and these proprietary products: three bottles of Neutragenix capsules that supposedly help repair damaged nerve tissue, and a device to shine light on ailing feet. The couple's total bill has risen to $24,816 with charges for financing arranged by Optimal Health. Neurologist Jonathan S. Katz, M.D. told the I-Team: "I would say this thing sounds too expensive and I can tell you for sure there is no evidence it works. At which point I would say, I wouldn't go near that thing with a 10-foot pole." NBCLA I-Team reported that the company said in January it was closing its doors, but it appears to have reopened as "Superior Health Centers." [Johnson C. Rohrer C. 'This is what we went through': more patients come forward after I-Team's investigation into a SoCal chiropractic business. NBC Los Angeles, Sept 13, 2019]
Trust in mega-retailers lost when consumers informed about homeopathy. Findings from a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults plus an oversample of 200 Washington, D.C. residents reveal that learning that homeopathy is fake medicine leads a large percentage of consumers to feel deceived by drugstores that sell homeopathic products. [Consumers feel "scammed" by Walmart and CVS over homeopathic fake medicine. Center for Inquiry press release, Sept 17, 2019] Key findings include:
- A majority of respondents reported purchasing a homeopathic OTC drug for themselves at least once a year, including more than one-in-five who said they bought homeopathic OTC drugs at least once a month. D.C. residents reported purchasing homeopathic OTC drugs only somewhat less frequently.
- One-in-ten adults reported having accidentally purchased a homeopathic OTC drug when they meant to purchase a non-homeopathic OTC drug. Another 1-in-5 was unsure.
- Only 1% of respondents nationwide and in Washington, D.C. correctly identified Anas barbariae, the diluted ingredient in the homeopathic cold/flu product Oscillococcinum as duck heart and liver. A solid majority could not even hazard a guess.
- Just over 4-in-10 respondents nationwide—and over one-third in Washington, D.C.—initially said they would be likely to purchase Oscillococcinum for a child suffering from a common illness, like a cold or flu. Another 19% of all adults—and 18% in D.C.—were unsure. However, after hearing what Anas barbariae actually is, nearly half reported feeling less favorable toward the product.
- After hearing that "200 CK HPUS" means that the supposed active ingredient is absent, fully half of adults said they felt less favorable towards homeopathic OTC drugs in general. Just 1-in-6 felt more favorable as a result of this information, and the remainder said it made no difference or were unsure.
- Homeopathy's claims that a drug's strength increases when there is more water or sugar and less active ingredient, and a drug is at its strongest when basically no active ingredients remain also drew a negative response, with over one-third of respondents feeling less favorable toward homeopathic OTC drugs.
Netflix series examines efforts people take to stay youthful. The first two seasons of the outstanding Netflix series "A User's Guide to Cheating Death" starring Timothy Caulfield are available for streaming and download. Season 1 episodes addressed detoxing, cosmetic surgery, genetic testing, slimming down, "natural and organic foods," and stem cell treatments. Season 2 episodes addressed the sleep improvement industry; dietary supplements; alternative relationships; disinfectants and antibacterial cleaners; "bio-hacking"; and coping with stress. In a Stat interview last year, Caulfield discussed the series and its goal to invite people to think critically about health practices and products.
Refund checks coming to Vemma distributors who lost money. As a result of a settlement with Vemma Nutrition Company, which the FTC considered to be an illegal pyramid scheme, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced that it will be mailing 28,224 refund checks averaging $78.93 to former Vemma distributors (known as "affiliates") who lost money. Vemma allegedly presented its affiliate program as a profitable alternative to traditional employment but failed to disclose that the program's structure ensured that most affiliates would not earn substantial income. [FTC returns more than $2.2 million to Vemma affiliates who lost money. FTC press release, Sept 19, 2019] The FTC has prosecuted about a dozen multilevel companies that sold health-related products, but hundreds of similar violators have been left alone.
This page was posted on September 23, 2019.