Consumer Health Digest #10-48
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 2, 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.
Recommended dietary intake levels for calcium and vitamin D revised. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has published new calcium and vitamin D recommendations for healthy Americans. Vitamin D is essential for promoting calcium absorption in the gut and maintaining the blood calcium and phosphate levels needed for bone growth and maintenance. Together with calcium, it helps protect older adults from osteoporosis. Much recent attention has focused on vitamin D because studies suggest that it may play a major role in the prevention of cancer and several other diseases. There has also been widespread concern that Americans are not getting enough. However, the new IOM report concludes:
- Aside from bone health, current evidence does not support other benefits for vitamin D or calcium intake.
- The amount of calcium needed after infancy ranges from 700 to 1,300 milligrams per day, depending on age.
- Most Americans up to age 70 need no more than 600 international units (IU) per day of vitamin D.
- People 71 and older may require as much as 800 IU per day because of potential physical and behavioral changes related to aging. Higher levels have not been shown to confer greater benefits and have been linked to other health problems.
- Except for institutionalized elderly and dark-skinned people, most Americans are getting enough vitamin D.
- The number of people with vitamin D deficiency in North America may be overestimated because many laboratories that measure blood levels appear to be using standards that are much higher than the IOM report considers appropriate.
The new report, Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D, can be read online free of charge or purchased at a discount from the National Academy Press Web site.
Homeopathic marketers receive warning letter. In June, the FDA and FTC jointly notified Homeopathy for Health, of Moses Lake, Washington that it was illegal to market unapproved products "intended to diagnose, mitigate, prevent, treat (including to treat the symptoms of) or cure the H1N1 Flu Virus in people." The warning letter covered claims made for 20 homeopathic products from six manufacturers—Heel, Inc. (BHI), NaturalCare, Inc., Hyland's Homeopathic, Standard Homeopathic Company, and Boiron Borneman, Inc., and Celletech / Micro-Nutrition Plus—each of which received a copy of the letter. The products included Oscillococcinum, which for many years has been marketed to treat the symptoms of colds and flu. The FDA's Fraudulent 2009 H1N1 Influenza Products List now has 185 entries.
FTC warns about online dating scams. The Federal Trade Commission is warning that scammers are using online dating and social networking sites to try to persuade people to send money in the name of love. In a typical scenario, the scam artist creates a fake profile, gains the trust of an online love interest, and then asks that person to wire money—usually to a location outside the United States. The following should be considered red flags:
- Wanting to leave the dating site immediately and use personal e-mail or IM accounts.
- Claiming instant feelings of love.
- Claiming to be from the United States but currently overseas.
- Planning to visit, but being unable to do so because of a tragic event.
- Asking for money to pay for travel, visas, other travel documents, medication, a child or other relative's hospital bills, recovery from a temporary financial setback, or expenses while a big business deal comes through.
People have reported scammers who immediately expressed undying love and affection; others who secured their trust through passionate and intimate conversation; and still others who took a more deliberate approach with months of patient wooing before asking for money. Regardless, people who send money once nearly always receive additional requests. The FTC's warning is posted to OnGuardOnline.gov, which provides tips from the federal government and the technology industry to help people guard against Internet fraud, secure their computers, and protect their personal information. The FTC maintains the site with help from 35 other agencies and organizations.
Mannatech settlement documents posted. Casewatch has posted documents from last year's settlement of charges brought by the Attorney General of Texas against Mannatech, Inc. and its founder and former chief executive officer, Samuel Caster. [Barrett S. Mannatech and founder agree to pay $7 million to settle Texas Attorney General charges. MLM Watch, Dec 3, 2010] The complaint, filed in 2007, charged Mannatech and Caster with orchestrating an unlawful marketing scheme that exaggerated their products' health benefits. The complaint alleged:
- Marketing materials falsely claimed that Mannatech's dietary supplements could cure and treat Down Syndrome, cystic fibrosis, cancer, and other serious illnesses.
- Mannatech encouraged their salespersons' false statements by allowing sellers to continue utilizing various sales tools, brochures, videotapes, and personalized Web sites that exaggerate the supplements' effectiveness.
- Mannatech encourage product user "testimonials" that tout their supplements' alleged healing effects. The testimonials, along with misleading "before and after" photos, were displayed prominently in seminar booths, brochures, videos, sales associates' personal Web sites, and training materials.
- Together, these marketing techniques misled consumers into believing that the supplements dramatically cure or treat serious illnesses.
Under the settlement, signed in February 2009, the defendants agreed:
- Mannatech would pay $6 million to the State of Texas. Of this, $2 million was designated as attorneys fees and investigative costs and the remainder would be placed in a fund from which Texas customers can obtain restitution.
- Mannatech would implement a comprehensive monitoring and compliance program that will monitor sales associates' statements about Mannatech's products and would not advertise or otherwise claim that its dietary supplements can cure, treat, mitigate, or prevent disease.
- Caster would pay a $1 million civil penalty and cannot serve as an officer, director, or employee of Mannatech for the next five years.
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This page was revised on December 4, 2010.