Drugging Ourselves to Death
It seems we keep reading about studies that
reveal how beneficial various pharmaceutical drugs are, and how different
vitamins do us no good. One reason for this is the very nature of the news
business. Every hour the mainstream media strains to get our attention in an
environment of information saturation. To draw our eye amid all this chaos,
they'll promote anything that's sensational, even if it's not actually
sensational at all.
This is what happened in November 2004 when the Annals of Internal Medicine
released a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine meta-analysis of vitamin E
Researchers analyzed the results of 19 studies in which vitamin E supplements
played a role.
Their conclusion: Doses of vitamin E in excess of 400 IU per day may slightly
increase the risk of death! The media sent out the sensationalized message that
Vitamin E supplements can kill you, with headlines like "Vitamins E Can Be
Deadly" and "Vitamin E Dosages May Be Lethal".
Of course, the media left out a few non-sensational but still essential details.
• The 19 studies in the report represented a total of 45 years of research,
averaging less than three years per study. Three years means nothing when you're
talking about long-term mortality studies.
• The "results" flew in the face of decades of research, using doses up to 2400
IU with excellent results. It appears that "old" research isn't as exciting.
• The subjects in the studies were already at grave risk with existing diseases
including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and kidney failure, so
it was inappropriate for the researchers to draw conclusions for the entire
Now, what about the other side of the coin? How are pharmaceutical studies
reported? By way of example, the big news at the American Association for Cancer
Research (AACR) meeting in early April 2006 was that the non-Steroidal
anti-inflammatory drug Celebrex was associated with a significant reduction in
occurrence of benign polyps of the colon. The mainstream media presented this as
a big advance in preventing colon cancer: "Drug Cuts Risk of Colon Cancer in Two
Studies" - Wall Street Journal. "Studies: Celebrex May Stop Colon Cancer" - ABC
News. "Celebrex May Lower Colon Cancer Risk" - Fox News.
These headlines are a blatant exaggeration of the facts. Celebrex was shown to
lower the occurrence of colon polyps, but be aware that reducing the incidence
of colon polyps cannot be directly equated with preventing colon cancer. There
are still many uncertainties about the practical value of preventing polyps in
this way. Also, the fact that some of the patients who took Celebrex developed
colon cancer anyway cannot be overlooked. So despite the headlines, Celebrex
hasn't been proven to prevent colon cancer. That wasn't even the purpose of the
studies. Furthermore, Celebrex was shown in these trials to have serious
Cancer Prevention No, Increased Risk to heart Attack Yes
Caution is definitely advised when dealing with this class of drugs. Readers may
recall that Merck withdrew the very similar drug Vioxx from pharmacy shelves in
2004, after clinical trials indicated that patients taking that drug for 18
months were twice as likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke as the general
population. Like Vioxx, Celebrex was shown to cause heart attacks and strokes,
especially in those patients with any cardiovascular risk factors. Yet the fact
that Celebrex causes very serious adverse effects - sufficiently serious that
they triggered the early termination of one of these trials - was downplayed by
many reports in the mainstream media. If all seems like a desperate attempt to
rehabilitate this discredited category of drugs by associating Celebrex, the
last remaining COX-2 inhibitor on the market, with the universally desired goal
of preventing colon cancer.
Why does it seem that so many people (doctors and patients alike) believe that
drugs are the answer to all our health problems? The statistics are dismal -
North American health-care spending has gone up by 73% over the past five years,
but we are last in healthy life expectancy among the 21 major industrialized
countries. What gives?
Follow the Money...Again
According to Dr. John Abramson, author of Overdosed America: The Broken Promise
of American Medicine (Harper Perennial), health care in America is going in the
wrong direction. He says much of the reason has to do with drug companies.
Dr. Abramson Says, "The first thing people can do to improve their health and
protect themselves from distorted health care is to understand the information
about drugs and health is being brought to them and to the doctors by the drug
companies, because of it's commercial value. the fundamental purpose of that
information is to improve corporate profits, not to improve our health."
Dr. Abramson believes that many drugs are over-prescribed and that the focus on
specific measures, such as high cholesterol, deprives doctors of the opportunity
to talk with their patients about practices that have been repeatedly shown in
research to improve health and reduce risk for heart disease and other killers -
things like exercising, quitting smoking, and other lifestyle changes. Such
changes are far cheaper than drugs and usually better for you in the long run.
The problem is that there aren't any companies making money from your lifestyle
changes. In fact some, like tobacco companies, will lose money.
It won't surprise you to find out that of the Celebrex studies mentioned above,
there were actually two separate trials, and that the first was sponsored by the
National Cancer Institute (NCI) and Pfizer (the manufacturer of Celebrex), while
the second was sponsored entirely by Pfizer.
Health Sciences Institute e-Alert, November 16, 2004
The Moss Reports Newsletter, April 23, 2006
Daily Health News, March 14, 2006
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