Consumer Health Digest #12-15

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
April 26, 2012


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.


New fluoridation advocacy site launched. The Center for Fluoride Research Analysis has compiled a compendium of position statements from 13 scientific advocacy organizations. [The Science of Fluoride: Policy and Information on Fluoride from America's Leading Scientific and Consumer Advocates] The Center's primary goal is to provide information to practitioners and policymakers to ensure that all decision-makers have the best information available about the use of fluoride. Graduate students and faculty in dental public health will review the quality of research publications and other reports, and their findings will be posted on the new Fluoride Science Web site.


Medscape promotes dubious acupuncture review. A meta-analysis has concluded that Traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture and herbal medicine, is more effective than placebo and lifestyle interventions and equal in efficacy to prescription anti-obesity drugs. [Sui Y and others. A systematic review on use of Chinese medicine and acupuncture for treatment of obesity. Obesity Reviews 409-430, 2012] After screening 2,545 potential articles from electronic databases, the reviewers identified 96 randomized controlled trials; comprising 49 trials on Chinese herbal treatment, 44 trials on acupuncture treatment and 3 trials on combined therapy for appraisal. There were 4,861 subjects in the treatment groups and 3,821 in the control groups, with treatment duration ranging from 2 weeks to 4 months. The report noted that about 80% of the studies were published in Chinese, (b) nearly all of the Chinese-language studies were of lower quality than the rest, and (c) the favorable findings were "limited by the small sample sizes and low qualitiy of methodologies" of the studies. (The short duration of the studies also makes the whole data set questionable.) Edzard Ernst, M.D., Ph.D, who has authored or co-authored hundreds of reviews of nonstandard methods, has severely criticized the report's findings:

This review is a prime example of how one can mislead people with seemingly sound science. The authors summarize all the studies that have tested acupuncture for body weight reduction. Yet they fail to adequately account for the mostly poor quality of the primary data. Because biased studies tend to produce false positive results, it is hardly surprising that the results of most studies suggest that acupuncture is effective. From this, the authors conclude that acupuncture works. The correct conclusion, however, would have been that the totality of the evidence is far too weak to draw any conclusion about the effectiveness of acupuncture for obesity.

Medscape Medical News reported favorably on the meta-analysis last week. [Barber J Jr. Traditional Chinese medicine appears useful for obesity. April 19, 2012] The Medscape article regurgitated statements from the review but neglected to include commentary from an independent expert who could point out the its methodologic problems.


American Airlines cancels antivaccination ad. American Airlines has canceled an interview with Meryl Dorey that had been scheduled to for the airline's inflight television and magazine in July and August. Dorey, who heads the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN), has been widely criticized for spreading misinformation. [Plait P. American Airlines to air dangerous antivax propaganda. Bad Astronomy Blog, April 23, 2012] Australians have established the Vaccination Awareness and Information Service to debunk the false and misleading claims spread by AVN and other antivax groups. Among other things, the site notes that the New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) concluded that the Dorey and AVN oppose vaccination and the advice and information they give about vaccination is inaccurate and misleading. In February 2012, the NSW Supreme Court ruled that the HCCC did not have jurisdiction to investigate the AVN because the original complaints failed to show an individual that was affected by its communications. However, the ruling did not negate the HCCC's conclusions.


New Web site criticizes Burzynski treatment. The Twenty-First Floor Web site has reported that several patients whose stories have been used to promote antineoplaston treatment had died of their disease. [Liddle K. Burzynski's ghosts. Twenty First Floor blog, March 22, 2012] The author has posted the information to counter the tendency of Burzynski and many of his patients to publicize case reports with little or no follow-up.


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This page was revised on April 28, 2012.