Best Products & Treatments for Scars

January 27, 2016

Pictures of Wesley’s lip after the car accident: with stitches & after healing

Today, you can barely tell where facial plastic surgeon Dr. Ed Farrior stitched up Wesley Winer after a terrible car accident, a few years ago.

“It was bad.  I lost a big portion of my lip,” Wesley said.  “I had just really come to the conclusion that I was going to be scarred for life, like horribly.”

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Are Vitamins and Supplements Safe?

January 21, 2016

Many of us take a vitamin or supplement (or several of them) every day hoping it will make us healthier.  Unfortunately, when it comes to vitamins and supplements, there’s little regulation to determine if what you are taking is actually effective or safe.

It’s quite remarkable when you consider it’s a $30 billion dollar industry, but the Food and Drug Administration does not evaluate these products before they hit the shelves.  Supplement manufacturers have few requirements placed upon them. The law prohibits them from selling products that are adulterated or mislabeled, and they cannot claim to cure things they don’t; but there is little oversight or enforcement.

The PBS program Frontline took an in depth look at the issue in its recent report Supplements and SafetyClick here to watch the program.

Frontline also shared this information to help you decide whether to take supplements:

Here are five questions a consumer may want to ask when considering supplements.

1. Has the product triggered any health warnings or sanctions?

Searching for a product or its maker on the FDA’s website will unearth any safety advisories or sanctions issued against them. The agency also maintains a list of all recent recalls and market withdrawals.

Because the supplement industry is constantly releasing new products, a product may be dangerous even if there are no advisories against it. A few minutes of online research may reveal key concerns about a supplement or its producer; the FDA has tips for searching the Web for information on supplements.

Researching individual ingredients can also be productive. For instance, Consumer Reports compiled a list of the “dirty dozen”: Twelve ingredients linked to serious adverse health effects, but that remain on shelves. The Federal Trade Commission also has a list of substances that have raised safety concerns.

2. Has the product been tested by independent labs?

Gaps in regulation have led to lapses in quality, even among mainstream brands. For instance, the New York Attorney  General’s tests found that pills labeled as medicinal herbs sometimes contained little more than fillers like rice or houseplants. In some cases, supplements were filled with substances that could be harmful to those with allergies. Similar results were reached by researchers at the University of Guelph in Canada, who in 2013 DNA tested 44 herbal products from a dozen companies. They found that only two of the companies had products without any substitution, contamination or fillers in their products.

A handful of private, independent nonprofits have stepped in to partially fill gaps in regulation, inspecting some dietary supplements and reporting the results. The United States Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) runs a voluntary program to inspect and certify the quality of a company’s products and facilities. Those that pass can place the organization’s yellow and black “USP Verified” seal on their product — less than 1 percent of all supplements on the market have this label. The international public health nonprofit NSF International runs a similar program aimed at sports supplements.

Two other organizations, ConsumerLab.com and LabDoor, randomly test dietary supplements and report their findings. Both groups provide general review information for free; full results are accessible to paid members. ConsumerLab has also aggregated a long list of health warnings and recalls for more than a decade.

3. Is the product too good to be true?

Supplement producers are prohibited from making unfounded claims of health benefits — which is why many avoid declarations like “cures disease” in favor of softer assertions like “supports immunity.” Nonetheless, it is not uncommon to find pills that make overzealous claims. Such instances are red flags that a product may be fraudulent in other ways, according to the FDA.

So before taking a supplement, consider what is being offered. Is it being sold as a miracle cure? A magic pill? A wonder drug? The FDA says consumers should beware of products that claim to do it all, and to do so instantly. Experts warn that products that primarily offer evidence in the way of personal testimonials are worthy of skepticism, as are products that use suspect medical jargon, like these examples offered by the FTC: “molecule multiplicity,” “glucose metabolism,” “thermogenesis,” or “insulin receptor sites.” And just because something is labeled “natural” is no guarantee that it is safe to consume.

There are millions to be made through medical fraud, so consumers are asked to consider how they heard about a product. If the person recommending or prescribing it stands to gain financially, they may not have a consumer’s best interest at heart.

Many manufacturers offer money-back guarantees, no questions asked. But getting that money back may prove difficult or impossible. “Marketers of fraudulent products rarely stay in the same place for long,” writes the FDA’s division of emergency preparedness. “Because customers won’t be able to find them, the marketers can afford to be generous with their guarantees.”

4. Is there evidence that the supplement does what it promises?

Thousands of studies have been conducted on the effect of various substances on the human body. The National Institutes of Health has summarized what is known about the most commonly consumed supplements — vitamins and minerals — in a series of fact sheets. These explain how each vitamin or mineral behaves in the body, and the scientific evidence behind its health impacts. The U.S. National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus has similar information about other drugs, herbs and supplements. For a deeper dive into the science behind a specific supplement, explore the Library of Medicine’s PubMed Dietary Supplement Subset. The database includes scientific literature on vitamin, mineral, phytochemical, ergogenic, botanical, traditional Chinese medicine, and herbal supplements in humans and animal models.

Resources are also available for certain groups: The Department of Defense offers information about the safety of specific supplements to service members. Older adults can find resources aimed at them created by the FDAthe Federal Trade Commission, National Institute on Aging, and NSF International.

5. Do I really need supplements? If so, am I taking the right amount?

Health experts will say that your doctor is the best person to consult on whether vitamins or supplements are appropriate for you, and a pharmacist or registered dietitian may also have valuable input. People taking medications should exercise particular caution, since some supplements can interfere with their treatment.

As you research a supplement, think about dosage. Some otherwise safe vitamins and minerals can cause health problems if they are taken in excess. The Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board produces recommended daily dietary allowances as well as tolerated upper intake levels.

Also worth considering is that a supplement may have considerably higher quantities of a vitamin or mineral than it says on the bottle. Because certain vitamins degrade over time, manufacturers often provide more than the labeled quantities, to ensure there is still the labeled amount at the expiration date. The federally funded Dietary Supplement Ingredient Database hosts a multivitamin/mineral calculator that estimates the true quantity of a vitamin or mineral in a pill based on its labeled quantity.

Click here to read more from Frontline.

Understanding What Makes You Buy & How Retailers Get You to Buy MORE

January 19, 2016

Retailers spend billions of dollars to understand what makes you buy something as a consumer.  Understanding the psychology behind our shopping behavior can help make you a savvier shopper.

Why we buy

For a lot of folks, shopping is more than just buying something you need.  It actually improves your mood.

“Picks me up when I’m down,” shopper Leslie Martin told Consumer Wise host Angie Moreschi.

Psychologist Dr. Harold Shinitzky, who is he author of several books on behavior, says there’s a reason you feel that way.

“When someone goes shopping there’s this wonderful release of endorphins and dopamine,” Dr. Shinitzky said.  “It just feels good!”

Retailer Tricks to Increasing Buying

Retailers know this and spend billions to figure out how to maximize your experience so you’ll buy more, for example, the layout of a store.

“Where the more desired products are on the far side of the store, so you have to see distracting things, that might increase your probability of purchasing,” Shinitzky said.

Online search tools like Google track you and create pop-up ads to fit your interests.

“It’s kind of big brotherish, but that’s where the money’s made these days,” shopper Eric Long said.

“I think it’s annoying and I think it’s an invasion of privacy,” another shopper, Cassandra Earle, said.

Appeal to Your Senses

Another thing retailers do to entice you to buy more is appeal to your senses.

At a grocery store, for example, when you walk into the fruits and vegetables section, there is high intensity lighting to make the products shine more.  And they spray water on them to make them glisten, so they look more appealing. Then, you might notice you’re funneled through the flowers section and bakery, both of which create lovely scents to tempt you.

“All of this is to draw you in for your senses, all five of your senses; and the more they can stimulate, the more likely you are to feel good about the environment and purchase more,” said Dr. Shinitzky.

Smart Phone Tracks Buying Habits

More and more the tool of choice for tracking your buying habits is your smart phone.  Location services and all those apps you download give retailers a window into how you shop.  Besides what deals you click on, it also can tell researchers how long you linger in a certain location. The longer the so-called “dwell time’ as they call it, the more you tend to buy.

“When someone passes 40 minutes of spending time shopping, that’s the point where we start seeing 50% of all of their impulse purchasing,” Dr. Shinitzky said.

Binge Shopping

Shopping can become addictive, so be on-guard for warning signs.

“Purchasing things you don’t need, didn’t want, can’t afford… you need to really take a hard look at your decision making,” Dr. Shinitzky said.

Take this insight into why you buy and how retailers try to get you to buy more and use it to empower yourself, so you can avoid impulse buying and buyer’s remorse.

*Angie Moreschi is the Consumer Wise Reporter for Bay News 9 in Tampa and News 13 in Orlando*

Nursing Home Giant to Pay $125 Million in Whistleblower Settlement

January 13, 2016

Nursing home therapy giant RehabCare has agreed to pay the government $125 million to settle a whistleblower lawsuit alleging it knowingly caused facilities it contracted with to inappropriately bill Medicare for services.  Money from the settlement will be returned to the taxpayers, under the False Claims Act.  The FCA makes it possible for private citizens to file suit on the government’s behalf, if they learn of fraud against the government.  The whistleblower ultimately gets a percentage of the money recovered.

In the lawsuit, the whistleblowers and government alleged that RehabCare, whose parent company is Kentucky-based Kindred Healthcare, set unrealistic financial goals and scheduled therapy to get maximum reimbursements regardless of patients’ actual needs, according to an article in Business Insurance, a sister publication of Modern Healthcare.

Among other things, RehabCare allegedly scheduled and reported therapy after the patients’ treating therapists had recommended they be discharged from therapy. It also allegedly reported that skilled therapy had been provided to patients who were sleeping at the time or otherwise unable to undergo or benefit from therapy.

The provider also allegedly placed patients in the highest therapy reimbursement levels rather than determining their levels of care based on individualized evaluations.

Two former RehabCare employees filed the original whistleblower lawsuit; one was a physical therapist and manager, and the other was an occupational therapist.

Click here to read more in Business Insurance.

Top Money Mistakes to Avoid in 2016

January 12, 2016

A new year is here and that means it’s time to get your financial future in order.  Here are the top money mistakes to avoid in 2016.

Number 1Don’t fail to have a plan.

“If you don’t have a goal, you’re gonna end up somewhere.  It’s not maybe where you want to be,” certified financial planner Chris Redhead says.

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Nearly $4 Billion Recovered for Taxpayers in 2015 Whistleblower Cases

January 11, 2016

For the 4th year in a row, the Department of Justice recovered more than $3.5 billion in settlements and judgements in False Claims Act cases for fraud against the government.

“The False Claims Act has again proven to be the government’s most effective civil tool to ferret out fraud and return billions to taxpayer-funded programs,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “The recoveries announced today help preserve the integrity of vital government programs that provide health care to the elderly and low income families, ensure our national security and defense, and enable countless Americans to purchase homes.”

These recoveries are often made possible by private individuals who were employees of the companies responsible and had inside information on the fraud taking place. These so-called relators come forward to the government and file suit under the False Claims Act. They are entitled to a percentage of the recovery returned to taxpayers and are generally represented by whistleblower law firms.

Taxpayers Against Fraud, a non-profit which works to works to educate the public about whistleblower programs, noted that a higher percentage of successful cases were filed by whistleblowers in 2015.

  • Of the $3.58 billion collected under the federal False Claims Act in FY 2015, a record $ 2.91 billion was awarded in whistleblower-initiated cases.
  • Whistleblowers were awarded a record $597.6 million for their contribution in helping recover this $2.91 billion dollars.
  • Of the total amount awarded to whistleblowers, $334.6 million was awarded to relators in declined cases –  a record amount.

Patrick Burns, co-Executive Director of Taxpayers Against Fraud Education Fund, noted that the law was working exactly as it should.

“Government will never have all the resources it needs to find and pursue every act of fraud. That’s why the False Claims Act incentivizes whistleblowers to come forward with non-public information, and why it allows private lawyers, working for those whistleblowers, to pursue fraud cases on the government’s behalf,” said Burns.