Consumer Health Digest #07-01

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 2, 2007


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.


Sex hormone trial fails to produce "anti-aging" benefits. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have concluded that DHEA and testosterone replacement do not produce the beneficial effects promised by "anti-aging" promoters. The conclusion was based on a 2-year, placebo-controlled, randomized, double-blind study involving 87 elderly men with low blood levels of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and testosterone and 57 elderly women with low levels of DHEA. Administering these hormones did raise the subjects' blood levels. However, it failed to produce any significant beneficial effects on body composition, physical performance, insulin sensitivity, or quality of life. [Nair KS and others. DHEA in elderly women and DHEA or testosterone in elderly men. New England Journal of Medicine 355:1647-1659, 2006] An accompanying editorial expressed doubt that negative studies would cause marketers to stop calling DHEA the "foundation of youth." [Stewart PM. Aging and fountain-of-youth hormones. New England Journal of Medicine 355:1724-1727, 2006]


Kava kava sellers sued for wrongful death. The estate of Laura Starks has filed suit against Nutraceutical International Corporation of Park City, Utah, and Chamberlin Natural Foods, which operates a retail outlet in Orlando, Florida. Products containing herbal extracts of kava have been implicated in liver-related injuries including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver failure. In 2002, the FDA issued a consumer advisory and asked doctors who encounter patients with liver failure to determine whether they were kava users. The suit states that in November 2005, Starks died of liver failure that was caused by ingesting a kava product called "Happy Camper" that had been purchased at Chamberlin. The product was and still is marketed with claims that it "helps reduce tension so you can relax" and "enhances your overall well-being." The suit charges that the product was unreasonably dangerous and should have carried a warning label.


More case reports link neck manipulation to strokes. The Journal of Neurology has published a German Vertebral Artery Dissection Study Group report about 36 patients who had experienced vertebral artery dissection associated with neck manipulation [Reuter U and others. Vertebral artery dissections after chiropractic neck manipulation in Germany over three years. Journal of Neurology 256:724-730, 2006] Twenty-six patients developed their symptoms within 48 hours after a manipulation, including five patients who got symptoms at the time of manipulation and four who developed them within the next hour. In 27 patients, special imaging procedures confirmed that blood supply had decreased in the areas supplied by the vertebral arteries as suggested by the neurological examinations. In all but one of the 36 patients, the symptoms had not previously occurred and were clearly distinguishable from the complaints that led them to seek manipulative care. This report is highly significant but needs careful interpretation. Although it is titled "Vertebral dissections after chiropractic neck manipulation . . . " only four of the patients were actually manipulated by chiropractors. Half were treated by orthopedic surgeons, five by a physiotherapist, and the rest by a neurologist, general medical practitioner, or homeopath. It is possible—although unlikely—that the nonchiropractors used techniques that were more dangerous than chiropractors use in North America. The authors suggest that the orthopedists' treatment was safer, but there is no way to determine this from their data. Regardless, the study supports the assertion that neck manipulation can cause strokes—which many chiropractors deny.


Chiropractor disciplined for misleading advertising. Hawaii's Board of Chiropractic Examiners has fined Farris Odeh, D.C., $1,000 and suspended his chiropractic license for three years for (a) practicing without a valid license and (b) engaging in misleading advertising. The suspension documents state:

Chirobase has additional information about Odeh's background and activities.


New book laments lack of supplement/herbal regulation. Natural Causes: Death, Lies, Politics in America's Vitamin and Herbal Supplement Industry, by Dan Hurley, discusses the dangers of "natural" products and how the dietary supplement industry persuaded Congress to weaken the FDA's regulation of them. Amazon.com sells the book for 16.29 plus shipping.


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