Consumer Health Digest
Consumer Health Digest or ConsumerHealthDigest.com is a popular dietary supplement product review site. As of June 27, 2017, the site had an overall Alexa rank of 42,436 and a US Alexa rank of 10,978. The site earns money from commissions on some of the products that they review, so there is a monetary incentive for positive reviews.
The review staff includes experts from fields that could in principle be relevant (MD, pharmacy, dietician), it also includes several "experts" from woo-related fields, naturopathy, osteopathy, chiropractic, Ayurveda, nutrition, and holistic health. As of 2017, the main expert staff included in the "medical", "makeup, beauty & skin care", "nutritionist", "holistic health & diet" sections are:
- Dr. Ahmed Zayed Helmy, baccalaureate of Medicine and Surgery from University of Alexandria, Egypt[note 1]
- Dr. Vivian Bucay, dermatologist
- Dr. Adam Friedman, Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University
- Dr. Robert S. Rosenberg, osteopath
- Dr. Tammie Lee Demler, pharmacist
- Dr. Rubina Tahir, chiropractor
- Dr. Atanas G Atanasov, Ph.D. in biochemistry
- Dr. Zvi Zuckerman, MD
- Dr. Karen Gless, marriage and family therapist
- Dr. Manasa Hebbar, Ayurvedic medicine
- Dr. Navid Taghvaei, Doctor of Audiology
- Meighan Sembrano, Mass Communication
- Manroop Ahitan, owner of CoLaz and Advanced Beauty Specialists
- Tiffany Boutwell, Certified Nutritional Consultant
- Syeda Kiran Zahra Hussain, nutritionist
- Shirley Plant, nutritionist
- Kristeen Cherney, nutritionist
- Nicole Fetterly, Registered Dietician
- Stephanie Dodier, graduate from Institute of Holistic Nutrition and C.H.E.K. Institute
- Sara Thompson, journalist
- Michael Gales, B.Sc. in Exercise science
- Peter Twist, exercise physiologist with a Masters in Coaching Science
- Jake Cohen, chef
- Amie Valpone
- Garrick Dee Tan, juicer
There is also a cast of dozens of even less qualified people included in the "authors expert panel" section.
In 2018, the expert panel has been pared down to: Atanasov (above), Penny S. Brooks (registered dietician), Friedman (above), Mallory Haldeman (health & fitness coach), Tahir (above), Rosenberg (above), Carin Astrup (personal trainer), Rosa Mendes (professional wrestler), and Dennis Wolf (bodybuilder).
A typical product review is titled, "X Review: How Safe and Effective is This Product?" With that in mind, one should expect that the review of X will actually critically review the X's safety and efficacy. Alas, there is no effort to search the medical literature on the product's ingredients. A review typically consists of the following sections: expert rating (up to 5 stars), product details or overview, specific ingredients, advantages, disadvantages, summary (or bottom line), and a links to reviews of similar products. Some herbs are also reviewed independently of commercial products. Every page contains a Quack Miranda Warning at the bottom.[note 2]
- Rating: The rating is a bit deceiving since the actual range of ratings seems to be between 2.1 and 4.8 stars, and there is no indication as to how such precise ratings are arrived at.
- Advantages: This section can have an appeal to nature ("The ingredients are natural herbal extracts or naturally-occurring substances"), chemophobia ("It doesn’t contain harsh chemicals"), and vague testimonials ("Some people who have tried it claim it works") Appeals to nature can even appear in the same product review that seemingly questions its logical validity. For example, the review for Erectinol lists under the pros section, "Ingredients are natural", but lists under the cons section, "Contains Yohimbe which can results[sic] in brutal side effects".
- Disadvantages: This section does sometimes give medical warnings, but does not give an indication as to what the medical information is based on. In at least one case the warnings do not even include everything that is on the product label: Consumer Health Digest states, "Yohimbe is known for causing several side effects like rapid or irregular heartbeat, stomach upset, tremor, sleep problems, anxiety and kidney failure" but there is nothing about yohimbe being a monoamine oxidase inhibitor, which is on the label and is a rather serious issue for people taking certain pharmaceuticals, illegal drugs and herbal medicines.
Really awful reviews
Not only does Consumer Health Digest not do much in the way of searching the scientific literature, but once a problem product appears, the website neither removes nor updates the review. These reviews are additionally poorly written by being unnecessarily wordy.
The toxicity of Aristolochia was first discovered around 2000, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that Aristolochia was a human carcinogen by 2002. By 2012, IARC concluded that the aristolochic acid that is naturally-occurring in Aristolochia is also a human carcinogen.
“”Aristolochic Acid does seem to have two dual sides to it. Therefore, while it does appear, it does have very visible benefits, there is another side that says to apply caution using this acid. It doesn’t matter if it is in an herbal medicine or another form. So, with this said, do consult your healthcare professional for more information on this element before attempting to use it personally for health reasons or whatever else.
“”Albeit Aristolochic Acids has some benefits, however, this does not overshadow its toxicity. It is an inevitable fact that the Aristolochic Acids has carcinogenic properties. It causes cancer and kidney problems. It would be vital not to ingest or intake Aristolochic Acid under any circumstances. People should be cautious about the ingredients used in a product and make sure that the product label has no mention of Aristolochic Acid.
What a proper review should have concluded with would be something to the effect of "Do not take products containing Aristolochia or any of its various synonyms (or any of the herbs with which it is a known substituent) under any circumstances. It causes cancer and kidney disease." Simply warning people not to take aristolochic acid is not helpful because this chemical never appears on ingredient labels and because Aristolochia has been found to be a substituent in herbal medicine, not appearing on on the ingredient label in any obvious way.
As of 2017, Consumer Health Digest still had positive reviews for ephedra-containing products (e.g., "Hellfire EPH 150" and "Lipodrene With Ephedra") even though the US FDA banned such products in 2004 over safety concerns due to cases of heart attack, stroke and death. The 2017 Lipodrene With Ephedra review concluded the following, with all the cruftiness associated with horrible writing:
“”Even though lipodrene may help you lose weight there are other risks involved with the consumption of this pill that you must seriously take into consideration before going for it. It is strongly recommended to consult a doctor to discuss about it before trying this pill.
A 2018 revision of the conclusion stated the following:
“”The product contains Lipodrene which might help you lose* weight. However, this supplement contains Ephedra, an ingredient which has been slammed by serious side effects which could cause deaths. Thus, the products containing Ephedra were completely banned by the FDA. We, therefore, suggest our readers consult their physicians before using this supplement in order to avoid any serious health issues.
Himalaya ProstaCare is a "prostate health supplement" that includes betelnut as an ingredient. Betelnut is a human carcinogen that can cause cancers of the mouth, liver, cervical, stomach, prostate, lung, and sweat gland. Bizarrely, the Consumer Health Digest review states the opposite, "This nut is usually used to treat higher risk of prostate diseases, cancers in liver and esophagus." The review's section on side effects and warnings is vague and confusing:
“”Some of the ingredients can cause side effects on the user. But most of it have[sic] no known side effects. But this does not mean that it is all-safe. Seek the advice of a health professional about using this supplement. Keep away from children and direct sunlight. This product is specifically formulated for men and not suitable for pregnant or nursing women. Color variations on the product are natural.
In 2016, the FDA took action against three herbal supplement products for hepatotoxicity: Lipokinetix, OxyELITE Pro, and Hydroxycut. Of the three products, Consumer Health Digest has reviews of two of them, OxyElite Pro and Hydroxycut.
In the case of OxyELITE Pro, hepatoxicity was possibly due to the ingredient aegeline, a chemical extracted from the fruit of the Aegle marmelos tree. In the case of Hydroxycut, it is suspected that green tea extract caused the hepatotoxicity. In some cases, consumers of these products required a liver transplant.
In the case of OxyElite Pro, the Consumer Health Digest review warns against taking it if one has a liver disorder but does not state that the product can itself cause a liver disorder (hepatotoxicity). Though the formulation that the review gave did not include aegeline, it is not possible to tell whether the review came before or after the aegeline formulated version of OxyElite Pro since Consumer Health Digest are not dated and are not archived by the Internet Archive. In the case of Hydroxycut Sx-7, the Consumer Health Digest review does not give any warning about liver toxicity. A 2018 revision of the review now mentions hepatotoxicity, but not the FDA action against these products. The product remarkably has the same rating for both versions of the review (3.5 out of 5.0).
- Consumer Health Digest — caveat emptor
- Examine.com — a site that actually does do "independent, unbiased, and objective" reviews of dietary supplements and is easier to read.
- "Baccalaureate of Medicine and Surgery" is an archaic degree title that seems to be still used in Egypt and is apparently the equivalent of an MD.
- Their variant of the Quack Miranda Warning is "The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition."
- consumerhealthdigest.com Traffic Statistics Alexa (archived from 28 Jun 2017 02:52:29 UTC7).
- FTC Disclosures Statement Consumer Health Digest (archived from 28 Jun 2017 02:55:18 UTC).
- Meet the ConsumerHealthDigest.com Expert Panel: We have selected top doctors & professionals in their fields to help give you expert tips and advice. Consumer Health Digest (archived from 28 Jun 2017 03:14:46 UTC).
- People – Medical Doctors, Fitness Expert’s & More Consumer Health Digest (archived from 4 Sep 2018 20:01:25 UTC).
- Yohimbe Power Max 2000 Review: How Safe and Effective is This Product? Consumer Health Digest (archived from 28 Jun 2017 04:21:43 UTC).
- Erectinol Review: How Safe and Effective is This Product? Consumer Health Digest (archived from 6 Jul 2017 04:07:00 UTC).
- Action Labs Yohimbe Power Max 2000 — 100 Capsules Amazon.com (archived from 28 Jun 2017 04:37:07 UTC).
- Yohimbe: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings… WebMD
- Urothelial carcinoma associated with the use of a Chinese herb (Aristolochia fangchi) by J. L. Nortier et al. N. Engl. J. Med. 2000 Jun 8;342(23):1686-92.
- Some Traditional Herbal Medicines, Some Mycotoxins, Naphthalene and Styrene. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, Volume 82 (2002) World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer.
- Review of Human Carcinogens IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, Volume 100A (2012) World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer.
- Whois Record for ConsumerHealthDigest.com (archived from 30 Jun 2017 06:22:21 UTC).
- Aristolochic Acid: Benefits, Side Effects, Dosage and Interactions Consumer Health Digest (archived from 30 Jun 2017 06:25:12 UTC).
- Aristolochic Acid: Benefits, Side Effects, Dosage and Interactions Consumer Health Digest (archived from 4 Sep 2018 05:39:31 UTC).
- Aristolochic acid nephropathy: A worldwide problem by Debelle et al. Kidney International (2008) 74, 158–169; doi:10.1038/ki.2008.129.
- Hellfire EPH 150 Review: How Safe and Effective is this Product? Consumer Health Digest (archived from 30 Jun 2017 06:51:09 UTC).
- Lipodrene With Ephedra Review: How Safe And Effective Is This Product? Consumer Health Digest (archived from 30 Jun 2017 06:52:38 UTC).
- FDA's Ephedra Ban Takes Effect: Sale of Dietary Supplements Containing Ephedra Now Illegal (April 12, 2004) WebMD.
- Lipodrene With Ephedra Review: How Safe And Effective Is This Product? Hellfire EPH 150 Review: How Safe and Effective is this Product?] Consumer Health Digest (archived from 30 Jun 2017 06:52:38 UTC).
- ProstaCare Review: How Safe and Effective is This Product? Consumer Health Digest (archived from 2 Jul 2017 03:07:09 UTC).
- "IARC Monographs Programme finds betel-quid and areca-nut chewing carcinogenic to humans." World Health Organization. 2003 August 7.
- Scientific and Regulatory Perspectives in Herbal and Dietary Supplement Associated Hepatotoxicity in the United States by Mark I. Avigan et al. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2016 Mar; 17(3): 331. doi:10.3390/ijms17030331.
- OxyElite Pro Review: How Safe and Effective is This Product? Consumer Health Digest (archived from 2 Jul 2017 03:36:35 UTC).
- Muscletech Hydroxycut Sx-7 Review: How Safe And Effective Is This Product? Consumer Health Digest (archived from 2 Jul 2017 03:37:58 UTC).
- See the Wikipedia article on Aegeline and nonviral hepatitis.
- Hepatotoxicity of green tea: an update by G. Mazzanti et al. (2015) Arch. Toxicol. 89(8):1175-91. doi: 10.1007/s00204-015-1521-x.
- OxyElite Pro Review: How Safe and Effective is This Product? Consumer Health Digest (archived from 4 Sep 2018 06:30:30 UTC).