Wednesday, June 22, 2005

AMA News

The American Medical Association website has a news section.  Recently, they restricted access to the site, allowing only AMA members to view the news.  They did this in an effort to boost membership, but it mostly just irritated people.

Now, I notice that Reuters is publishing more AMA news releases, which are echoed on Medscape.  Medscape News is open with free registration, and it includes news from more sources.  

A couple of recent AMA items caught my attention.  For one, the AMA is saying that "keepsake ultrasound "portraits" of fetuses are not medically appropriate and should be discouraged."  This refers to the practice of using ultrasound devices to create "baby's first JPEGs."  Note that they are not referring to the practice of giving a copy of a diagnostic ultrasound to the prospective parents.  Their argument is that exposing the fetus to ultrasound for nonmedical purposes is not appropriate.  Although the risks are belived to be zero, and almost certainly are very close to zero, they do not see any justification for nonmedical exposure.  The idea is that we can't prove, absolutely, that the risk is exactly zero.  Medical prudence would dictate refraining from unnecessary procedures, even if the risk is very low, and even if the risk is probably zero.

The second article concerns labeling for herbal supplements.  The AMA wants the FDA to require stricter labeling standards.  Specifically, they want manufacturers and distributors to prove the efficacy and safety of the product, and to list product ingredients.  Many people don't know that herbal remedies currently do not have to contain any active ingredient.  For example, a ginseng product does not have to contain any ginseng.  Such products can be banned only if they are shown to be unsafe.  In other words, it is possible to sell herbal remedies if there is no evidence that they don't hurt anyone; there is no requirement that they be proven safe and/or effective.  

Both of these proposals seem like good ideas to me.  I sometimes recommend products, such as fish oil, or melatonin, but I also suggest that people buy from reputable merchants.  A study done years ago by the Medical Letter showed that some "melatonin" products did not contain any melatonin.  Some contained chemicals that could not be identified readily (although they did not say how hard they tried.)  However, all of the products that listed the name and address of the actual manufacturer did contain what the label claimed.

categories: science, health