Consumer Health Digest #01-05

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 29, 2001


Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. 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.


"Energy Healer" debunked. Researchers in several cities have tested the assertion that an "energy healer" could, without physical contact, distinguish the presence or absence of a fertility problem in 37 women who lacked overt physical findings. Twenty-eight of the subjects had documented pathology resulting in infertility, and 9 were known to be fertile. The "healer" was given no medical history and performed diagnostic evaluations without physical contact with the women who were blindfolded, clothed, and silent. The examinations, which were videotaped, involved 3-5 minutes of "scanning," in which the "healer held his hands 1-12 inches from the subject's clothes. Following each evaluation, the healer was asked whether an abnormality was present and whether it involved the uterus, a pituitary/ovarian hormonal problem, or a problem with the ovary or fallopian tubes (passageways between the ovary and the uterus). The practitioner's accuracy (i.e., number correct/subjects evaluated) ranged from 41% to 58%, which is no better than would be expected by random guessing. The study's authors called for more tests of this type but commented that they could not predict whether repeated negative results would alter any practitioner's beliefs. [Eisenberg D and others. Inability of an "energy transfer diagnostician" to distinguish between fertile and infertile women. MedGenMed, Jan 22, 2001] Registration on the Medscape site is required in order to access the article.


NCCAM Issues "Strategic Plan." NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has issued a 45-page report outlining its goals for the next five years. [Expanding Horizons of Healthcare: Five-Year Strategic Plan 2001-2005. NCCAM, Sept 25, 2000.] It defines complementary and alternative ("CAM") practices as "those not presently considered an integral part of conventional medicine." The document is filled with misleading generalities about the prevalence, popularity, and reasons for use of CAM methods. NCCAM's stated vision is to "advance research to yield insights and tools derived from complementary and alternative medicine to benefit the health and well-being of the public, while enabling an informed public to reject ineffective or unsafe practices." It remains to be seen whether NCCAM will ever identify any "CAM" practice as ineffective. The most useful parts of the report are an outline of the important events in NCCAM history and two lists of NCCAM-funded studies.


Popular diets analyzed. James W. Anderson, M.D., and colleagues at the University of Kentucky have used a computer analysis to predict the relative benefits and potential harm of long-term use of eight popular diets: Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, Protein Power, The Zone, Sugar Busters!, the American Diabetes Association/ American Dietetic Association Exchange Diet, Dr. Anderson's High Fiber Fitness Plan, the Pritikin Diet, and the Ornish Diet. [Anderson JW and others. Health advantages and disadvantages of weight-reducing diets: a computer analysis and critical review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 19:578­590, 2000.]. Among other things, the researchers concluded:


AHA advisory on red wine. The American Heart Association has issued a summary of current data on the relationship between alcohol consumption and coronary artery disease:

Moderate intake of alcoholic beverages (1 to 2 drinks per day) is associated with a reduced risk of CHD in populations. There is no clear evidence that wine is more beneficial than other forms of alcohol, although further research is needed regarding the potential protective non­lipoprotein-altering effects of substances unique to wine. If wine does have additional effects, it appears that many of the same additional biological effects might be achieved with grape juice. Despite the biological plausibility and observational data in this regard, it should be kept in mind that these are insufficient to prove causality. . . . Although moderate use of wine and other alcohol-containing beverages does not appear to lead to significant morbidity, alcohol ingestion, unlike other dietary modifications, poses a number of health hazards. Without a large-scale, randomized, clinical end-point trial of wine intake, there is little current justification to recommend alcohol (or wine specifically) as a cardioprotective strategy.

[Goldberg IJ and others. Wine and your heart. A science advisory for healthcare professionals from the Nutrition Committee, Council on Epidemiology and Prevention, and Council on Cardiovascular Nursing of the American Heart Association. Circulation 103:472-475, 2001. (PDF version)]

Red wine and grape juice contain significant amounts of the antioxidant resveratrol. The statement notes that animal studies are resveratrol are conflicting, but it does not address whether resveratrol supplementation may be useful to humans. Quackwatch's dietary supplement task force has concluded that "while taking resveratrol pills is certainly safer than heavy consumption of red wine, supplementing with unproven substances is generally unwise." [McElderry MQB. Grape expectations: The resveratrol story. Quackwatch Web site, Sept 1, 1999.]


Chiropractic quackery is increasing. Applied kinesiology (AK) is based on the notion that every organ dysfunction is accompanied by a specific muscle weakness, which enables diseases to be diagnosed through muscle-testing procedures and treated with dietary supplements. Proponents claim that nutritional deficiencies, allergies, and other adverse reactions to foods or nutrients can be detected by testing muscle strength after placing a test substance is placed in the patient's mouth. "Good" substances supposedly make specific muscles stronger, whereas "bad" substances will cause specific weaknesses. Controlled studies have found no difference between the results with test substances and with placebos. Differences from one test to another may be due to suggestibility, variations in the amount of force or leverage involved, and/or muscle fatigue. In 1998, 43.2% % of 3,177 full-time American chiropractors who responded to a survey by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE) said they used AK in their practice and that 14.5% of their patients were involved. In 1991, a similar survey found that 37.2% used AK. Between 1991 and 1998, the reported percentage for "nutritional counseling, therapy, or supplementation" (much of which is not science-based) rose from 83.5% to 90.4% and the percentage using homeopathic remedies rose from 36.9% to 59.1%. [Christenson MG and others. Job Analysis of Chiropractic: A Project Report, Survey Analysis, and Summary of the Practice of Chiropractic within the United States. Greeley, CO: National Board of Chiropractic Examiners, 2000]


FTC blasts dubious HIV test. Two manufacturers of rapid HIV tests that lack FDA approval have settled FTC charges that, in some instances, their tests did not accurately detect the presence of HIV antibodies. Under the settlements, Chembio Diagnostic Systems, Inc. and Alfa Scientific Designs, Inc. will be barred from making or helping others to make any false or misleading representations concerning the accuracy of any unapproved HIV test or other unapproved device. {Manufacturers of Rapid HIV tests settle FTC charges. Agency alleges rapid tests produced inaccurate results. FTC news release, Jan 16, 2001]


Ephedra product manufacturer jailed. In 1997, the Chemins Co., Inc. of Colorado Springs, and its president, James Cameron, were indicted on 14 counts of conspiracy, violating federal food and drug laws, making false statements, and obstructing an FDA investigation. Cameron's products included an alleged weight-loss aid and energy enhancer called Formula One. The indictment charged that this product was promoted as "an all-natural supplement" but actually contained pharmaceutical-grade drugs ephedrine and caffeine. The investigation began after the death in 1994 of a Texas woman who had taken the product. In July 2000, Cameron pled guilty to one count of defrauding the U.S. Government. He was sentenced to 21 months in jail, and he and his company were ordered to pay more than $4.7 million in fines and other fees. FDA Consumer has reported in vivid detail how Cameron tried to conceal his wrong doing from FDA investigators.. [Lewis C. Dietary supplement maker fined twice what company profited. FDA Consumer, Jan/Feb 2001].


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This page was revised on April 28, 2001.