Consumer Health Digest #03-15

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
April 15, 2003


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.


Viagra-laced "dietary supplement" recalled. Ultra Health Laboratories, Inc., and its marketing subsidiary Bionate International, Inc., both of Phoenix, Arizona, are warning consumers not to purchase or consume Vinarol tablets. Ultra Health, which markets Vinarol as a "dietary supplement," describes it as an "all natural herbal formula" that increases desire, confidence, and sexual performance. Its Web site identifies the active ingredient as a proprietary blend of cassia tree, dodder seed, epimedium, wolfbery, saling, cistanche, magnolia vine fruit, red raspberry, narrow leaved polygala, rehmannia root, eucommia bark, hindo lotus seed, bidemate bark, milk vetch seed, Cherokee rose, arborvitae seed, American ginseng, and ginkgo bilboa. However, FDA investigators have found that Vinarol contains sildenafil, the active ingredient of the prescription drug Viagra, which poses serious health risks to some users. The combination of sildenafil and nitrates (found in medications used by many patients with cardiovascular disease) can result in life-threatening lowering of blood pressure. The recall notice urges purchasers of Vinarol to discontinue its use and return their remaining supplies to their place of purchase or directly to Ultra Health. [Ultra Health Laboratories, Inc. and Bionate International, Inc. warn consumers against taking their dietary supplement product with their voluntary recall of Vinarol tablets. News release, Ultra Health Laboratories, April 4, 2003]


Questionable SARS preventives. Several companies have begun claiming that products they sell can help prevent severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Most notable are a disinfectant and and various dietary supplements claimed to strengthen the immune system. Experts interviewed in The New York Times state that (a) insufficient time has elapsed to test whether a disinfectant would be useful and (b) products claimed to increase immunity probably don't do so and that infection with SARS is not the result of a weak immune system. [Petersen M. Internet ads promising cures and protection. New York Times, April 14, 2003] Comprehensive information about SARS is available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Weight Watchers program demonstrates "modest" weight loss. A two-year controlled study has found that participants in Weight Watchers International programs did better than similar participants who were given printed materials on dieting and exercise guidelines. About 300 people (about 75% of the original participants) completed the study. After a year, the average (mean) weight loss was 4.3 kg (about 9.5 pounds) in the Weight Watchers group and 1.3 kg (about 2 pounds) in the self-help group. At the two-year mark, the Weight Watchers participants had lost an average of 2.9 kg (6.4 pounds), whereas the self-help participants were back to their original weights. [Heshka S and others. Weight loss with self help compared with a structured commercial program. JAMA 289:1792-1798, 2003]


JAMA article reviews low-carbohydrate diets. Experts who evaluated reports indexed since 1966 in MEDLINE have found that weight loss was associated with longer diet duration and calorie restriction but not with reduced carbohydrate content. The researchers concluded:

There is insufficient evidence to make recommendations for or against the use of low-carbohydrate diets, particularly among participants older than age 50 years, for use longer than 90 days, or for diets of 20 g/d or less of carbohydrates. Among the published studies, participant weight loss while using low-carbohydrate diets was principally associated with decreased caloric intake and increased diet duration but not with reduced carbohydrate content.

[Bravata DM and others. Efficacy and safety of low-carbohydrate diets: A systematic review. JAMA 289:1837-1850, 2003]


Atkins seriously injured in fall. On April 8, Robert C. Atkins, M.D., chief proponent of low-carbohydrate dieting, slipped on an icy sidewalk and suffered a head injury that required surgery to remove a blot clot within his skull. On April 14, his Web site reported that he is still in a coma and that his doctors believe his chances of meaningful recovery are small.


Chiropractic group joins weight-control bandwagon. On April 7, 2003, "as a partner in National Public Health Week," the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) issued a news release containing tips for lifestyle and dietary changes and suggesting that chiropractors be used for nutritional advice. Dr. Stephen Barrett has posted a line-by-line response which points out that (a) most of the tips are not relevant to weight-control; (b) chiropractors have very little training in clinical nutrition; (c) most chiropractors who give nutrition advice make inappropriate recommendations for supplements; and (d) the news release seems to be an attempt to create visibility for ACA. [Barrett S. Silly chiropractic advice about obesity prevention. Chirobase, April 13, 2003] The American Public Health Association Web site invites organizations to become National Public Health Week partners by filling out a one-page applicationwhich indicates how the applicant and the project can publicize each other.


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This page was posted on April 15, 2003.