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can help prevent
Posted: 04 February 2008 09:21 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Is “helps prevent” any different from “can help prevent”?
“X prevents Y” is 100% and should have scientific, peer-reviewed evidence to support it e.g. penecillin, but how do “helps” and “can help” differ, if at all? Is the latter less litigious regarding truth-in-advertising in being one step further ("can") away than “helps prevent”?
These terms would be interesting when applied to the veracity and marketing of homeopathic treatments. Toothpastes often use “helps prevent” but never “can help prevent” (about plaque and gum disease) from my reading of tubes.

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Posted: 04 February 2008 10:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I can’t speak to the legal issues.

But “X prevents Y” is not only effective in 100% of the cases, but indicates that X is the only thing needed in the prevention regime. If you use X, you don’t need to do anything else.

The addition of “helps” indicates that X is not the only thing needed for prevention. “Brand X helps prevent tooth decay” hints that flossing and regular dental checkups are important too. But here it also indicates that X works in 100% of the cases--brushing is always helpful.

When you say “can help,” you indicate there are cases where X is not effective in prevention. “Condums can help prevent sexually transmitted diseases” indicates that there may be STDs, such as herpes or crabs, that are not necessarily prevented by a condom.

That’s how I would read them. But the differences are pretty subtle and are probably not universally observed.

In the case of homeopathic treatments, truth-in-advertising would demand a statement like, “Other than benefits from the placebo effect, X will do absolutely nothing to prevent Y.”

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Posted: 11 February 2008 10:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I agree entirely with you on the homeopathic evaluation, Dave, lol, but there could be advocates here so I toned it down.
However, ‘hinting’ is equivocation in advertising - facts must be stated.  Special K cereal only works with a calorie-controlled diet, was their disclaimer, and lots of exercise too, I would add.
Still not clear about the distinction between Condoms help prevent STDs and Condoms can help prevent STDs and I think the consumer wouldn’t be either.
My impression was that these two expressions are unique to advertising and marketing, rather than scientific research.

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Posted: 11 February 2008 10:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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A search of the MEDLINE database of medical journal articles turns up 238 hits for the phrase “can help prevent”, 285 for “helps prevent”. Only the abstracts (summaries) and titles of the articles are included in the search, so these numbers do not include articles that use the phrases in the main body of the article, only those for which they occur in the abstract.

So my impression is that your impression is mistaken.

[ Edited: 11 February 2008 10:59 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 14 February 2008 09:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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You could be right though the ‘can help prevent’ references in the abstracts could be dismissive or big pharma sponsored or non peer reviewed . It is not an expression that inspires confidence in investors but obviously working tentatively towards medical discoveries is a vital part of medical research and the terms are to be saluted in this context. You’d expect toothpaste makers with products on the market to be able to define their terms better, however, and I believe the naive will be hoodwinked by such claims. Unless the claims are true, verifiable, and comprehensible, that is.

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Posted: 15 February 2008 07:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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However, ‘hinting’ is equivocation in advertising - facts must be stated.

Starting to get off topic here, but this is an extremely general statement. The laws regarding what can be claimed in an advertisement vary widely by jurisdiction, not only in space but by which government agency regulates which product.

Pharmacological products in the US have moderately strict rules regarding claims in advertising--although there are exceptions that you can drive a truck through. Herbal remedies and nutritional supplements, on the other hand, are completely unregulated--manufacturers of “herbal remedies” can say just about anything they want in advertising (and put just about anything into the product without regard to quality control). I don’t know what laws and regulations apply to toothpaste makers, but I don’t think they’re considered pharmacological. Procter and Gamble, after all, is not “Big Pharma;” they’re a soap company.

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Posted: 25 February 2008 09:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I see your points and that this is emotive language in a way when it should be scientific and clearly defined, statistically, as I said.
You can approach it from the opposite direction, however: Viagra causes tumescence; Viagra helps cause tumescence; Viagra can help cause tumescence.
You men, what is your perception of these claims?

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Posted: 25 February 2008 04:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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venomousbede - 25 February 2008 09:14 AM

I see your points and that this is emotive language in a way when it should be scientific and clearly defined, statistically, as I said.
You can approach it from the opposite direction, however: Viagra causes tumescence; Viagra helps cause tumescence; Viagra can help cause tumescence.
You men, what is your perception of these claims?

I think they all show a lack of understanding of physiology. Tumescence is the result of a sequence of events and Viagra plays a role near the end of the sequence. It has no effect on the events early in the sequence and if they don’t happen, then nothing happens, regardless of how much Viagra you take.

The first statement is unequivocally false. The others are open to interpretation, but I don’t ever see Viagra as “causing” anything.

If you have a hose that is blocked, then you could argue that unblocking the hose “causes” the water to flow. But the water will never flow if the faucet hasn’t been opened. No amount of unblocking will cause the water to flow if the faucet is off. So is it the unblocking or the turning on of the faucet that “causes” the water to flow?

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Posted: 26 February 2008 08:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Happydog is right but I was thinking more about what resonance these phrases would have with potential users if Viagra marketed them in any of these ways.
‘Helps prevent” etc is negative and hard to establish so I thought something with testable and, er, palpable results might alter one’s perception of these phrases ie which of the three inspires confidence in attaining a stiffy in a marketing sense. It is still very vague usage, especially scientifically.
But if you consider the same claims when made for penicillin or antibiotics you get “prevents"or “cures” with no shilly shallying at all.

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Posted: 28 February 2008 06:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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This just in: from a packet of Nabisco Reduced Fat Triscuits - May Help Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease.
Is “Risk” taking us another step away from any meaningful understanding of the delicacy’s efficacy?
That’s me done!

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Posted: 29 February 2008 02:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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*Triscuits*?

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Posted: 29 February 2008 02:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Trade-name of a delicious cracker made by Nabisco. About the size of an ordinary saltine (soda cracker), but they’re made of shredded wheat, with a little oil and salt (and, depending on the variety, other flavors) added.

[ Edited: 29 February 2008 02:26 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 03 March 2008 10:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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The Triscuits statement is without any semantic, nutritional, health or legal worth. They might as well bung in both “sometimes” and “in some cases” for good measure.
But what “can help prevent/cause/cure” etc means in medical papers is interesting, as Dr T said.

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Posted: 04 March 2008 09:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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venomousbede - 03 March 2008 10:33 AM

The Triscuits statement is without any semantic, nutritional, health or legal worth. They might as well bung in both “sometimes” and “in some cases” for good measure.
But what “can help prevent/cause/cure” etc means in medical papers is interesting, as Dr T said.

Your point seems to be that an advertising blurb doesn’t give us the whole picture on nutrition and health… gee what a shock.

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Posted: 04 March 2008 09:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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It’s a damnable thing, happydog, to be sure. What should we do as consumers? My intake of Triscuits has made me entirely immune to irony but, as I said, there are government-funded boards that investigate such claims in the States and in the UK which don’t do a very good job. I reckon Triscuits should be forgiven because they are part of a “calorie-controlled diet” which is a key element. You should exercise too.

I’d still love to hear from an impartial medical researcher re whether “can help prevent” is considered a tentative/hopeful/promising result or something more positive in their parlance. Anyone?

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Posted: 04 March 2008 10:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Although I wasn’t doing clinical work, I spent about 15 years (post-PhD) as a researcher at two major American medical schools, and although I now work at a small college, I continue to do research in a medically-relevant area, funded by the NIH.  I think my take on the phrase is representative of how a medical scientist would interpret it, which is that since there are many variables, both genetic and environmental, involved in the development of complex disorders such as heart disease, “can help prevent” is a perfectly reasonable way of phrasing a claim of benefit with due caution.  Typically, no one modification of diet, change of lifestyle, or even medical intervention is going to absolutely prevent the occurrence of something like heart disease, nor will it have the same effect on risk in all people.  I find your continued flogging of this hobbyhorse rather tiresome.

[ Edited: 04 March 2008 10:40 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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