Consumer Health Digest #03-48

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 9, 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.


Echinacea fails to lessen cold symptoms in children. A well-designed study has found that echinacea use did not lessen the duration or severity of colds among 524 children who received either echinacea or placebo for up to 3 upper respiratory infections over a 4-month period. Echinacea use was begun at the onset of symptoms and continued for up to 10 days. The study yielded data from 707 colds (337 treated with echinacea and 370 treated with placebo) experienced by 407 children. Overall, the researchers found that between those receiving echinacea and those receiving placebo there was no difference in the duration of symptoms, overall severity of symptoms, number of days of fever, parents' assessment of severity of infection, or side effects, except that children taking echinacea were more likely to develop a rash. The researchers concluded that the "results do not support the use of echinacea for treatment of upper respiratory infections in children 2 to 11 years old." [Taylor JA and others. Efficacy and safety of echinacea in treating upper respiratory tract infections in children. JAMA 290:2824-2830, 2003] Although smaller studies have suggested benefit for adults, none were as well-designed as this one. Moreover, a recently published study found that fewer than half of "standardized" echinacea products purchased from retail stores in the Denver area contained the dosage stated on the product label. [Gilroy CM and others. Echinacea and truth in labeling. Archives of Internal Medicine 163:699-704, 2003]


Congress authorizes chiropractic study. The recently enacted Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (H.R. 1) includes authorization for four 2-year pilot projects designed to test expanded access to chiropractic services for senior citizens. The prime sponsor was Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA). The current Medicare program covers spinal manipulation to "correct a subluxation." The test program could add x-ray examinations, other diagnostic tests, and physiotherapy services. The study is intended to determine cost-effectiveness, quality of care, and patient satisfaction. A similar demonstration project within the Department of Defense health system that was approved by Congress in 1995 led to the enactment of laws to cover chiropractic care for active-duty military personnel and veterans. American Chiropractic Association chairman George B. McClelland, D.C. has called passage of HR 1 "chiropractic's biggest win ever on Capitol Hill." Federal laws that benefit chiropractors are rarely discussed in the general news media or even in the medical press.


Texas AG sues colonic promoters. In response to reports of one death and four cases of serious injury, the Texas Attorney General has filed a total of six lawsuits against:

The suits charge that all of the defendants have engaged in the promotion, sale or unauthorized use of prescription devices for colonic hydrotherapy treatments without physician involvement. The state is seeking (a) temporary and permanent injunctions, (b) civil penalties of up to $25,000 per day per violation of the state's Health and Safety Code, (c) civil penalties of up to $20,000 per violation of the state's Deceptive Trade Practices Act, (d) investigative costs, and (e) attorneys' fees. [Attorney General Abbott sues 'colonic hydrotherapy ' providers for abuse of medical devices; one death reported: Suits allege unsafe use of devices without physician oversight is a public health issue. Texas Attorney General news release, Dec 1, 2003]


"Ultramolecular" homeopathy flunks test. In a four-week double-blind trial, 253 people were given either homeopathic belladonna ("30C") or placebo and recorded their symptoms for four weeks. Homeopathic theory states that remedies given to healthy persons should provoke symptoms of the type reported during homeopathic "provings" conducted more than a century ago. The current experiment found that Belladonna-related symptoms were no more frequent among people who received the alleged remedy than among those those who received the placebo. [Brien S and others. Ultramolecular homeopathy has no observable clinical effects: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled proving trial of Belladonna 30C. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 56:562-568, 2003] Homeopathy's developers conducted "provings" in which they administered herbs, minerals, and other substances to healthy people, including themselves, and kept detailed records of what they observed. Later these records were compiled into lengthy reference books called materia medica, which homeopaths continue to use to match a patient's symptoms with a "corresponding" product. Advocates assume that every sensation recorded in these books was caused by whatever substance was administered, and that extremely dilute doses of that substance would cure ailments with those specific symptoms. Homeopaths also assume that substances exert powerful therapeutic effects even if they have been diluted so many times that no molecule of original substance remains. The recently published study contradicts these preposterous assumptions.


New book blasts "CAM" veterinary medicine. Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine Considered, by veterinarian David W. Ramey and physiologist Bernard E. Rollin, debunks veterinary use of acupuncture, "energy medicine," spinal manipulation, magnetic therapy, light therapy, homeopathy, herbal therapy, and other many dubious practices. The book also analyzes the political, ethical, and emotional problems related to veterinary use of "CAM" methods. Amazon Books has copies for $39.99 postpaid.


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This page was posted on December 9, 2003.