Consumer Reports Health News

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 General News
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YONKERS, N.Y., Nov. 16 Welcome to Consumer Reports Health News for health and medical journalists. Consumer Reports and cover issues pertaining to the efficacy and safety of prescription and non-prescription drugs (including natural medicines), mental health, diet and nutrition, food safety, and fitness. CR tests health and fitness products, rates the effectiveness and affordability of prescription drugs, and evaluates the claims made by drug companies and the health care industry -- all without commercial agendas or advertiser influence.


Vitamin D is shaping up to be the nutrient of the year -- if not the decade. Mounting evidence suggests that vitamin D plays an important role in reducing the risk of a host of illnesses, notably osteoporosis, and possibly certain cancers and autoimmune, infectious, and cardiovascular diseases.

However, it's hard to get enough vitamin D. Although sun exposure converts a chemical in the skin to vitamin D, a stroll outdoors probably won't suffice, especially when wearing sunscreen, according to a special report from Consumer Reports Health. Other factors -- like being overweight, dark-skinned, or middle aged -- can slow or stop a person's conversion of vitamin D. And when it comes to good dietary sources of vitamin D, the pickings are slim. The best sources are fatty fish, such as herring (1,300 International Units in a 3-ounce serving), salmon (up to 850 IU in a serving of wild salmon and much less in farmed varieties), and mackerel, sardines, and tuna (about 200 to 300 IU in a serving). Dairy products as well as some breakfast cereals, orange juices, soy-based foods, and other products are fortified with about 100 IU a serving. Multivitamin and calcium supplements can help pick up the slack. Although special vitamin D supplements may not be necessary, ones that contain vitamin D3 are a good choice, as they may be more potent.

How much vitamin D is the right amount? According to experts interviewed by Consumer Reports Health, most people should get at least 800 to 1,000 international units (IU) daily, far more than the current dietary reference intake of 200 to 600 IUs daily for adults. Some nutrition researchers suggest even higher amounts to raise blood levels in adults sufficiently to reduce risk of conditions such as heart disease or cancer. Copies of this special report on vitamin D are available on request.


Many people are understandably nervous about the H1N1 flu, and scam artists are flooding the Internet to prey on those fears. Since May, the Food and Drug Administration has warned more than 75 Web sites selling more than 135 products to stop making fraudulent H1N1 flu claims. Among the scams claiming to prevent or treat H1N1 flu: air "sterilizers," photon machines, immune boosting supplements, and even a non-prescription version of the antiviral drug Tamiflu that turned out to be powdered talc and a generic chemical, or even worse, unapproved doses of the drug that could be impure, subpotent, superpotent, or contaminated.

At least one ad selling colloidal silver claims that the metal is "the answer to prevent or treat swine flu, MRSA, and other bacterial or viral infections, and superpathogens." Colloidal silver may have mild antiseptic powers, but it has no proven use against any illness. And even low doses can build up to toxic levels in the body. Silver ingestion can cause unhealthy affects, including a permanent bluish discoloration of the skin, nails and whites of the eyes; birth defects; and in severe cases organ damage and neurological disorders.

The only FDA approved treatments for swine flu are the prescription antiviral drugs Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir). And those medications should be taken only when you need them and with a doctor's prescription. For more information, go to


In a new special report, Consumer Reports Health looks at the varied validity of home gene testing.

It's as easy as swabbing your cheek and dropping the sample in the mail. Dozens of companies offer at-home genetic test kits for common disorders such as cancer, heart disease, and dementia. When Consumer Reports Health editors checked the Web sites of three leading gene testing companies --,, and -- we found tests ranging in price from $100 to $1,000, depending on the options chosen.

Consumer Reports Health notes that interpretation of at home test results can be challenging. Most primary care doctors lack the genetics education necessary to interpret and explain genetic test results. Furthermore, a genetics expert interviewed by Consumer Reports Health suggests that primary care physicians might feel compelled to order additional tests to protect themselves. And while some research suggests that gene testing may motivate people to take a more active approach toward improving their health, there is still little evidence that the testing translates to improved health.

A thorough evaluation of a person's family medical history is by far the most cost-effective genetic test. Consumers can learn about their risk for genetic disorders by charting the illnesses of their siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, and other blood relatives. If suspicious patterns emerge through a family history, it's best to consult a physician about the need for genetic testing, and to ask for referral to a qualified genetic counselor.

Copies of the report are available upon request.


With more people opting to work out at home, sales of home exercise equipment are expanding, and elliptical exercisers have grown the fastest. Consumer Reports Health testers pedaled on 18 machines, evaluating exercise range, ergonomics, construction, safety, and more. Prices ranged from $300 to $3,700. The pricier machines generally have sturdier designs and more features, but there are bargains that can offer a good workout, such as the $900 NordicTrack AudioStrider 990, one of two Consumer Reports Best Buys. The report also identifies two machines with safety risks. For more information, go to


Consumers Union 2009. The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for commercial or promotional purposes. Consumer Reports on Health(R) is published by Consumers Union, an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. To achieve this mission, we test, inform, and protect. To maintain our independence and impartiality, Consumers Union accepts no outside advertising, no free test samples, and has no agenda other than the interests of consumers. Consumers Union supports itself through the sale of our information products and services, individual contributions, and a few noncommercial grants.

SOURCE Consumers Union

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