Consumer Health Digest #20-24

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
June 21, 2020


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.


COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs associated with social media use. Researchers have reported the findings of three online surveys about COVID-19 protective behaviors, use of social media as a source of information about COVID-19, and COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs. The conspiracy beliefs included claims that the COVID-19 public health crisis was caused by a manufactured virus and that the risks involved have been greatly exaggerated. The survey participants were UK residents aged 18 or older who had expressed an interest in surveys about COVID-19. [Allington D. Health-protective behaviour, social media usage and conspiracy belief during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Psychological Medicine. June 9, 2020] The findings included:

The researchers concluded:

In the UK, broadcast media are subject to official regulation, and many print media platforms are subject to voluntary regulation, but social media are largely unregulated. One wonders how long this state of affairs can be allowed to persist while social media platforms continue to provide a worldwide distribution mechanism for medical misinformation.


Reporting of "regenerative medicine" harms encouraged. Two officials with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have emphasized the importance of reporting harms experienced by patients receiving unproven, unapproved regenerative medicine products promoted for a wide range of conditions including aging, arthritis, autism, and complications of COVID-19. [Marks PW. Hahn S. Identifying the risks of unproven regenerative medicine therapies. JAMA, June 17, 2020] Regenerative medicine products include (a) those derived individual's own bone marrow or fat, (b) donated tissues such as placenta or cord blood, and (c) products secreted or derived from unrelated donor cells. The officials advise prospective patients to ask promoters if their therapy is FDA-approved or has active Investigational New Drug (IND) application on file with the FDA. The rules for such investigations include:

Inadequacies of FDA's supplement warning system identified. A new report reveals serious inadequacies of CAERS, the adverse event reporting database of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, in protecting users of dietary supplements. [Felton R. FDA's Supplement Warning System Has Deadly Limitations. Consumer Reports. May 27, 2020] The inadequacies include:

Federal regulations don't require supplement manufacturers to prove that their products are safe and effective before going to market, as is required for drug products. The Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act of 1994 greatly weakened the FDA's regulatory authority of dietary supplements and has been a boon to the dietary supplement industry.


"Holistic" doctor accused of unprofessional conduct. In March 2020, the Medical Board of California accused Karima Hirani., M.D. of gross negligence; repeated negligent acts; and excessive prescribing or treatment in her management of a nine-year-old girl with a chief complaint of intermittent stomach pain. The accusation states that Hirani:

Hirani operates the Hirani Medical Wellness Center in Culver City, California where she practices what she calls "holistic and preventative medicine." [Barrett S. Karima Hirani, M.D. accused of unprofessional conduct. Casewatch. June 11, 2020]


CFI will appeal dismissal of Walmart homeopathy fraud lawsuit. The D.C. Superior Court has dismissed the Center for Inquiry's lawsuit against Walmart, which accuses the world's largest retailer of committing wide-scale consumer fraud and endangering the health of its customers by marketing homeopathic drugs. The suit charged that Walmart misrepresents homeopathy's safety and efficacy by hawking homeopathic products alongside real, evidence-based medicines on its shelves and in its online store, with no distinction made between them, under signs indicating them as treatments for particular ailments. The judge ruled that CFI lacked standing as a consumer protection organization and had failed to specify which of Walmart's actions could harm consumers. Calling the judge's ruling "inexplicable," CFI has announced that it will appeal. [Walmart homeopathy fraud lawsuit: Center for Inquiry to appeal judge's inexplicable dismissal. Center for Inquiry news release. June 15, 2020] CFI has a similar suit pending against CVS, the country's biggest pharmacy chain. 


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This page was posted on June 21, 2020.