Consumer Health Digest #11-34

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
October 13, 2011


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.


Study questions vitamin E safety. A major clinical trial has found that dietary supplementation with vitamin E appears to increase the risk of prostate cancer among apparently healthy men. [Klein EA and others. Vitamin E and the risk of prostate cancer: The Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT). JAMA 306:1549-1556, 2011] The study, which spanned more than seven years, followed what happened to more than 35,000 men who received either 400 IU of vitamin E, vitamin E plus selenium, selenium, or a placebo. The group that received vitamin E alone had a 17% higher incidence of prostate cancer. The researchers warned:

The observed . . . increase in prostate cancer incidence demonstrates the potential for seemingly innocuous yet biologically active substances such as vitamins to cause harm. The lack of benefit from dietary supplementation with vitamin E or other agents with respect to preventing common health conditions and cancers or improving overall survival, and their potential harm, underscore the need for consumers to be skeptical of health claims for unregulated over-the-counter products in the absence of strong evidence of benefit demonstrated in clinical trials.


Offbeat "autism specialist" charged with unprofessional conduct. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation has charged Anjum I. Usman, M.D., who operates the True Health Medical Center in Naperville, Illinois, with unprofessional conduct in her management of a boy with presumed autism. The complaint charges that she failed to obtain informed consent for this treatment, failed to maintain appropriate medical records, and prescribed chelation therapy, dietary supplements, hormones, enzymes, antifungal drugs, and various other treatments that have not been proven effective against autism. Usman is also facing a civil suit brought on the child's behalf.


Infomercial huckster escapes jail sentence. Donald W. Barrett, Jr., 36, has been sentenced to one year probation, which includes three months of confinement at a community correction center and another three months of home confinement with electronic monitoring. Last May, Barrett pleaded guilty to willfully failing to report $573,724.94 of his 2003 income on his 2003 tax return.. He also pleaded guilty to violating federal drug laws by distributing infomercials which claimed that Supreme Greens could prevent arthritis and cancer. Under the plea agreement, he could have received up to three years of imprisonment and a $250,000 fine, but the prosecutors asked for only a year and Barrett's attorneys told the court that he had very little money. The judge did not specify why his sentence was light, but probably thought that government actions have punished sufficiently. In 2009, in response to FTC action, a federal judge ordered Barrett, an associate, and the corporations through which they marketed their products to (a) pay $48.2 million, (b) refrain from making unsubstantiated claims, and (c) refrain from unauthorized billing. In 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld this ruling.


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