Consumer Health Digest #10-18

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
May 6, 2010.


Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. 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.


Dental watch critiques "performance mouthguards." Dental Watch has published an article about the history and marketing of custom-fitted mouthguards that are claimed to enhance athletic performance by realigning the jaw joints. Most such devices cost at least $495 plus the cost of dental services. About 50 years ago, two dentists reported improved performance for athletes fitted with mouthguards. These dentists stressed that the primary value of the guards was protection from injury by acting as a "shock absorber." Later, however, others claimed that benefits could be explained by the theories of "applied kinesiology" and determined by muscle-testing procedures. Today's advocates claim that the alleged benefits have a hormonal basis. Although mouthguards can protect against certain types of injury, there is no logical reason to believe they will initiate hormonal changes, lessen "stress" throughout the body, or benefit athletic performance or general health. Leading marketers cite various studies, but these are insufficient to back their claims. [Barrett S. A skeptical look at the Under Amour mouthguard. Dental Watch, May 3, 2010]


Lead found in herbal product. The FDA has announced that Vita Breath may contain hazardous levels of lead.[FDA warns consumers to avoid Vita Breath dietary supplements. FDA news release, May 1, 2010] The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene analyzed a sample and reported it contained 1,100 parts per million of lead, which is more than 10,000 times higher than FDA’s maximum recommended level for lead in candy. The New York agency notified the FDA about a patient with lead poisoning who reported taking Vita Breath and two other herbal products. Vita Breath is manufactured by American Herbal Laboratories of Rosemead, California and marketed at health fairs and on the Internet. The ingredients identified on the company's online distribution site (newvita.com) are astragalus root, cordyceps, atractylodes ovata rhizome, jujube, fritillaria bulb, apricot kernel, ginkgo nut, lycium berry, white fungus, tangerine peel, and cinnamon bark. News reports describe Vita Breath as a "dietary supplement marketed to children and adults with asthma." However, New Vita's 62-page Symptom - Formula Index recommends it for allergic bronchial asthma; allergic rhinitis; anemia; anhidrosis; ascites (cardiogenic); asphyxia; asthmatic bronchitis, atonic bladder; bed wetting; "bi syndromes - pain in joint, stiff weak"; bladder paralysis; blood deficiency; delayed healing of bone, tendons and ligaments; frequent (weak) bowel movement; shortness of breath; "bronchitis, white discharge - phlegm, chronic"; cold feet + hands; congestive heart failure; chronic weak + dry cough at night; diarrhea, caused by body; dizziness due to anemia; Down's syndrome; asthmatic dyspnea; premature ejaculation; emaciation; emphysema; breast enhancement; "erection difficulty (not thirsty)"; excess salivation; general weakness; growth; cold hands; heaves; hernia; hindquarter weakness; Cushing's disease; impotence; urinary or bowel incontinence; male infertility; kidney yang deficiency; weak knees; hypo libido; dribbling syndrome; loose, soft bowels; loss of voice caused by weakness; weak lung vital capacity; weak lung function; malnutrition; mitral valve prolapse; myelopathy; not wanting to be the leader in a race; Osgood-Schlatter disease; osteomyelitis; low platelet count; polyuria; poor performance; premature ejaculation; prolapse of anus or vagina; lung hemorrhage; Raynaud's disease; weak rectocele; decreased red blood cells; retained testicle; rhinitis, sinusitis; senility; sexual dysfunction (without thirst); spontaneous sweat; decreased sports performance; tachypnea; decreased testosterone; thalassemia; thrombocytopenia; urinary frequency; prostate enlargement; urine retention; wasting syndrome; Wei syndrome; and wheezing. No dietary supplement or herb is FDA-approved for treating such problems. The New Vita home page states that the site currently"down for maintenance."However, it can be explored by entering through an interior page.


B-vitamin supplements may increase heart attack risk. A placebo-controlled trial has found that women with kidney disease secondary to diabetes who received supplements of folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 achieved lower blood levels of homocysteine but had higher rates of heart attacks, strokes, and kidney function decline. [House AA and others. Effect of B-vitamin on progression of diabetic nephropathy. JAMA 303:1603-1609, 2010] In 1969, a connection between homocysteine (a sulfur-containing amino acid) and cardiovascular disease was proposed when it was observed that people with a rare hereditary condition called homocystinuria are prone to develop severe cardiovascular disease in their teens and twenties. Supplementation with one or more of the three B-vitamins can lower plasma homocysteine levels, but large controlled studies have found that this does not reduce the incidence of cardiovascular events. The authors of the latest report note that it is not possible to know whether the result can be generalized to other groups of patients. More trials are sill in progress, but at this point it does not look like taking B-vitamins to lower homocysteine levels makes sense except for people with homocystinurea. Nor is it advisable to do routine screening for homocysteine levels. Quackwatch has additional information.


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This page was revised on May 7, 2010.