Consumer Health Digest #15-45

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
November 15, 2015


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.


FDA reviewing use of "natural" in labeling. The FDA is asking for public comments about use of the term "natural" in food labeling. This action was triggered in part by three citizen petitions asking the agency to define the term for food labeling and one calling for a ban. In addition, some federal courts, as a result of litigation between private parties, have asked the FDA to determine whether food products containing high fructose corn syrup or genetically engineered components can be labeled as "natural." Although the FDA has not engaged in rulemaking to establish a formal definition, it has a longstanding policy under which the term "natural" means that nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in or added to a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food. However, this policy was not intended to address food production methods, such as the use of pesticides, nor did it explicitly address food processing or manufacturing methods, such as thermal technologies, pasteurization, or irradiation. The FDA also did not consider whether the term "natural" should describe any nutritional or other health benefit. The agency will now consider whether it is appropriate to define the term "natural" and, if so, how it should be defined and used on food labels. Until February 10, 2016, comments can be made via docket folder FDA-2014-N-1207 on Regulations.gov.


California boards criticized for approving dubious CE activities. Professor William M. London has severely criticized the California nursing and dental boards for awarding continuing education credits for attending the annual convention of the Cancer Control Society (CCS). In a lengthy article, he describes the "pernicious nonsense" promoted at CCS and expresses hope that the boards can improve their CE standards. [London WM. Continuing education in the toxin haunted world of the Cancer Control Society. Committee for Skeptical Inquiry Web site, Nov 9, 2015]


Herbal products blasted. Donald M. Marcus, Professor of Medicine and Immunology Emeritus at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, has severely criticized the use of herbal products and the loose way in which they are regulated. [Marcus DM. Dietary supplements: What's in a name? What's in the bottle? Drug Testing and Analysis, Nov 2, 2015] He concludes:

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), which arbitrarily classified herbals and other medicinal products as dietary supplements, obscured fundamental differences between two classes of products. Authentic supplements to the diet, such as multivitamins or calcium, have nutritional value and are safe. Herbals are used worldwide as medicines, they do not supplement the diet, they may cause severe adverse events, and they should be regulated as medicines. DSHEA also prevented the FDA from effectively regulating herbal supplements as medicines. One consequence of weak FDA regulatory oversight is the poor quality of herbals. FDA inspections of manufacturing facilities have revealed violations of good manufacturing practices in over half of facilities inspected, including unsanitary conditions and lack of product specifications. Moreover, many "all natural" herbals marketed for weight loss, enhancement of sexual health and improving sports performance are adulterated with prescription and over-the-counter medications that have caused adverse cardiovascular events. New procedures to authenticate the identity of plants used in herbals will neither detect adulteration by medications nor provide assurance of appropriate pharmacological activity or safety. Nonvitamin, nonmineral "supplements" should be regulated as medicines, but revision or repeal of DSHEA faces strong opposition in Congress. The marketing of botanical supplements is based on unfounded claims that they are safe and effective. Health professionals need to inform patients and the public that there is no reason to take herbal medicines whose composition and benefits are unknown, and whose risks are evident.

The full text of the article is accessible free of charge.

Canadian naturopaths found willing to treat cancer patients. Posing as a patient's relative, the National Post asked naturopaths in British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia whether they would treat someone newly diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma, with enlarged glands in the chest and groin, who refused to undergo chemotherapy. Thirteen of the 18 who responded said they would take on the patient solo—only one said no. [Blackwell T. Cancer patients are losing valuable time—and risking their lives—with alternative therapies, doctors say. National Post, Nov 11, 2015] In 2012, a Canadian team that reviewed 185 charts of women with breast cancer who had refused standard treatments reported that the overall 5-year survival rate was 43.2% vs. 81.9% for comparable cancer patients who had received them. [Joseph K and others. Outcome analysis of breast cancer patients who declined evidence-based treatment. World Journal of Surgical Oncology 10:118, 2012]


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This page was posted on November 15, 2015.