More Bureaucracy, Taxes, Stimulants, False Claims, Salmonella, and Asthma

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When Senators Play Doctor
As ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross wrote in yesterday's Washington Times, two senators have been attempting to turn criticism of one GlaxoSmithKline diabetes drug into an excuse to create an entire new drug-approval bureaucracy -- even slower than the existing one. "Grassley and Baucus sent this 300-page report to the Senate and the FDA attacking GSK," laments Ross.

The report implies that the diabetes drug Avandia presents serious heart risks compared to another, similar drug. But as Ross's op-ed notes, "comparing outcomes between two or several unrelated trials, with different study populations and controls, is comparing apples and oranges." Worse, argues Ross, "The bureaucratic agenda behind this gratuitous and unscientific attack is spelled out in the report: The authors want to create an independent drug-safety division within -- but separate from -- the FDA."

At the root of all such calls for absolute safety: failure to recognize that all drugs have both benefits and risks.

Wealthier NY Ads How?
ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan would love to hear from Dispatch readers who know the answer to her big question for the day: Where is the money coming from for the massive ad campaign now being waged in New York, under the banner of a Healthier NY Now? "The question," she says, "is who out there has millions of dollars to promote a soda tax?" Might the state itself be coordinating the ads in favor of enhancing its revenues on the back of the latest demonized substance?

ACSH has often criticized attempts to target one specific food or beverage as if eliminating it would be a silver bullet against obesity. Such narrow crusades are one more misleading distraction from the larger issue of overall calorie consumption and body weight.

C Is for Caffeine Claims, D Is for Doldrums
Coffee is heart-friendly, new research shows. Unfortunately, studies showing just the opposite can be expected within days, if past patterns hold. "Coffee is one of the biggest health topics around," says Whelan. "Either coffee kills or, in this case, it's heart-healthy...if you're prone to heart arrhythmia, coffee will help."

In this case, says Ross, "I cannot conceive of a plausible biological mechanism by which coffee would help prevent arrhythmia."

Luckily, if you believe new studies about another topic of chronic claims and counter-claims -- vitamin D -- you may have another option for a morning pick-me-up on cold winter days. "If I take vitamin D in the winter, it will lift my spirits," says Whelan, skeptically summarizing new research.

FDA Warns Companies on Food Labels
While we often criticize the FDA for being over-cautious in some areas, we are pleased to see it taking note of some of the countless exaggerated health claims that crop up on food labels these days (enough to make one suspect that the blanket advice "Don't patronize so-called health food stores" would be a big step toward a more science-savvy society).

The FDA has now warned seventeen food companies about unproven or misleading claims on current labels, including the label for Gerber Graduates Puffs snacks for toddlers, which are sold as a "good source of iron, zinc, and vitamin E" -- despite the fact, says the FDA, that appropriate dietary levels of those substances have not been established for children under two years of age.

The one company that is reportedly planning to fight back against the FDA happens to be one that ACSH has harshly criticized. "I'm pleased to see POM on this list," says Ross. ACSH's Jeff Stier "wrote an article[[[ ]]] years ago about how there were ads all over the place almost making it sound as if drinking [POM Wonderful's pomegranate juice drink] would give you a long life full of good cognitive function and sexual vigor."

Weaker Vitamins, More Dangerous Flavors
In other news that may save you trip to the "health food" aisle, a report suggests that storing your vitamins in the kitchen or bathroom may make them less effective ("Why? Because of the humidity," summarizes Whelan). Ross responds: "I don't think you need them anyway" -- barring specific deficiencies about which you may have been warned by your mainstream physician, we should add -- most people getting all the vitamins and minerals they need from a conventional varied diet.

One thing that shouldn't be part of your diet, of course, is salmonella -- at least in amounts large enough to get you sick. Whelan says, "The biggest health story of the day -- it's puzzling -- is that the FDA has announced that salmonella is widespread and it's related to a common flavor-enhancer, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)."

However, notes Ross, "Nobody has gotten sick from this yet, that we know of." This is a story that creates more questions than answers. How did this flavor-enhancer become contaminated? If there is supposedly a health risk here, why did it take FDA five months to announce the contamination?

Asthma Fluctuations Baffling
Finally, in a reminder that statistics sometimes make things less clear rather than more, a new study suggests rising U.S. asthma rates, but "it leaves us with no explanation," says Whelan.

"And it varies by nearly 100% from state to state," observes Ross, suggesting that the range of error and uncertainty in these reports may be swamping any real but small nationwide increase.