I present the following to you as an example that you should check and study everything before attempting to jump on any bandwagon. In healing or undertaking the reversal of any disease be aware that not only are the Medical establishment at fault but also the alternative. It would be ridiculous for us to believe that there are others in this society that think of your health more than they think of their living standard. We all have bills and commitments, we all need to live and that takes money, some just think that at least they are not hurting others, while some really don't care as long as they sell their product. Think about all the crazes that we endured during the years, you know the ones I mean.
We all jumped on the bandwagon when they came out, the manufacturer of these vitamins, nutritionals or therapies became rich and went to the next one. there are endless stories of these mass marketers that create multi-level organizations and then close them only to open another in a short time. I have been involved with many personally and I never made any money, I do know that the owners did however and when they had their fill would go on to the next hype and just make some more. I do not agree with either but more encourage all those to take their own health in to their hands and do it yourself, it is a lot easier than having to trust or rely on others, only you know what is wrong, only you know what you feel, do not allow yourself to be put in a category, we are all different, we are all intelligent enough to do this for ourselves, our families and our children....
Knowledge is power. So also is supposed knowledge. Which is why those who practise mysterious skills have also been extremely anxious to conceal exactly what it is they do. If the ancient Greeks had been able to see the backstage activities of the priests of the Oracle at Delphi, those priests would soon have been out of a job. Nobody appreciates this better than the alternative therapist.
As medical science discovers ever more treatments for the
diseases of our modern society, people's expectations grow and they
demand more of medicine. Disease patterns have changed. The
eradication of diseases such as typhoid and cholera was accomplished
with the introduction of clean piped water, better sewerage systems
and better nutrition. Medicine played very little part in the
changes that doubled average British life spans. Later, with the
discovery of penicillin and the sulpha drugs, many other killer
diseases became curable. But even they were only the beginning.
Today, we see regular reports in the press of amazing medical
advances that foster expectations of a rapid and complete cures in
all cases in western societies. Certainly, in many cases, cures that
would once have been thought of as miraculous are possible, but when
the instant cures demanded do not materialise, patients become
disappointed with their physician and resort to alternative or
complementary medicine. Once there, the patient finds that the
alternative practitioner takes an intense interest in him as a
person with time to listen and to talk. He becomes hooked.
Many of the medical problems of our western world are still caused by the environment in which we live. But they are not the diseases of childhood caused by the filthy conditions of the last century. Indeed in many cases they are not diseases at all but illnesses. Although these two are synonymous to many, there is a difference between a disease and an illness; the disease being caused by a virus or bacterium that must be killed to effect a cure, for example, where illness can be a feeling of being unwell that is not caused by an organism.
The Placebo Effect
When an ailment is treated successfully, by whatever means, that success may be for of one of three reasons. The first is that the cure is a direct result of the treatment, as in the case of a bacterium killed by an antibiotic. The second is that the disease is what is known as self-limiting – in other words, the natural healing power of the body will clear it up eventually whether it is treated or not, as in the case of a cold. The third is where a substance that has no curative powers is given but, because the patient believes it is a curative treatment, he gets well. This is called the placebo effect.
The idea of placebos dates back to the dawn of medical history but the term in a medical sense wasn't coined until 1890. The editor of the Medical Press talks of the case of a woman who successfully sued her physician for using an injection of water and charging her for morphine. The editor says 'We feel sorry for it, but apparently the law does not think well of placebos'. Despite the physician's use of water, however, the lady had thought it to be morphine at the time and had been cured. If the physician had told her that it was water, her cure would probably not have happened.
The majority of people attending a doctor's surgery will have symptoms such as headache, backache, tummy upset, sore throat or tiredness. When a person with such a complaint has faith in his physician and the physician demonstrates faith in his treatment, the combination is powerful enough to effect an improvement, and in most cases, a cure. Generally, no medication is needed. However, the patient is conditioned to expect medication and feels cheated if told merely to go home and rest. The doctor, knowing this, prescribes something. In conventional medical practice, placebos tend not to be water but some licensed medicine, tonic, cough syrup, etc., which will have no adverse side effects but will be efficacious because the patient believes that it will – the placebo effect. It has been estimated that between 35% and 45% of all prescriptions today are unlikely to have any therapeutic effect on the diseases for which they were prescribed.
Patients are deluded into thinking that their treatment is curing them; doctors too may come to believe it. The distinguished physician, Richard Asher, pointing out that a therapist's enthusiasm was as important to the success of a treatment as the faith of his patient went on: 'If you can believe fervently in your treatment, even though controlled studies show that it is quite useless, then your results are much better, your patients are much better, and your income is much better too.'
The placebo effect is very strong. This was demonstrated very convincingly during the Korean War. An American surgeon was treating wounded soldiers at a M.A.S.H. unit, when he experienced an agonising pain in his abdomen. He diagnosed acute appendicitis. Knowing that if he stopped work he would be risking the lives of the wounded, he instructed a nurse to give him an injection of morphine. She gave him an injection, the pain went and he continued working pain free. Later he was operated on for a ruptured appendix. Some time after that, the surgeon read through the case notes on himself. He saw that the nurse had not given him morphine. Realising that his judgement might be impaired if she gave him the drug, she had merely given the surgeon an injection of salt water. His belief in the power of morphine was so strong, however, that the placebo had killed all sensation of pain.
The power of placebos is confirmed constantly in double-blind, controlled trials that are used to test the efficacy of drugs and other treatments. Patients are divided randomly usually into two groups; one group will take the drug, the other, acting as controls, will be given something which seems identical to the drug but which is actually an inert substance with no curative powers - the placebo. Neither the patients nor the doctors administering the substances know who is taking which. They are both 'blind'. Under these circumstances, you might expect a change in those taking the drug while those taking the placebo would remain the same. In fact, invariably, there are changes in both groups; the changes in the symptoms of those taking the placebo mimicking the changes in those taking the drug. This then is the placebo effect.
If a patient does get well under these circumstances, it may be no bad thing. The medical practitioner has determined that there is no disease present, so the opportunity for effective treatment is not missed; as the inert placebo can have no adverse side effects, it can do no harm; and the cost is minimal. Under these circumstances, all should be well.
It was undoubtedly this placebo effect that many alternative treatments relied upon when they began. You can make up your own mind from their histories outlined below. It may also be this placebo effect upon which some alternative therapists rely for the apparent effectiveness of their treatments today. Many have been developed since their inception. Where conventional medicine and alternative medicine have tended to differ is, to some extent, in their philosophies. The difference is between science and reason at the one extreme, and quackery and the dishonest exploitation of human suffering on the other. Both profess an honest search for truth and, for patients to benefit, both rely to at least some extent on faith.
Conventional vs Alternative Medicine
The Chinese have a proverb. It states that:
The superior doctor prevents sicknessConventional medicine is not without its faults. It relies not so much on preventing disease, but on treating it. To this extent, if the Chinese proverb is to be believed, conventional medicine is practised largely by mediochre and inferior doctors. They also concentrate on treating specific disorders or symptoms rather than the whole person. Alternative medical practitioners, on the other hand profess to take a different approach, treating the person as a whole – a 'holistic' approach – rather than symptoms, although not all do: homoeopathy, for example, concentrates on creating the same symptoms as the disease being treated.
Since the time of Hippocrates, the practice of medicine has been
determined by two opposing philosophies: the scientific and the
non-scientific; the rational and the absurd. Although the
demarcation between conventional 20th century medicine, the
scientific, and the many alternative medicinal practices, the
non-scientific, is blurred to some extent because there are no
criteria for the demarcation of the absurd, there is a distinction
we can use:
In considering or selecting a medical treatment within conventional medicine, there is always recourse to their governing body or to law if anything goes wrong; outside conventional medicine, this may not be the case. It seems to me sensible to look at both before deciding on which way to go.
Below are some of the more popular alternative treatments that appear to me to have an unscientific foundation.
Acupuncture has been around since about 300 BC. In China, it was a religious ritual of bloodletting, in principle similar to the use of leeches of western medicine, which later developed into pricking with needles at points along 'meridians'. These meridians were imaginary lines on the body believed to be linked to internal organs, although they totally disregarded the anatomy, following instead what are called 'yin-yang' lines. Acupuncture was banned in China by the Emperor in 1822 as it was a serious bar to progress in medicine.
The practice was only revived for political reasons by Chairman Mao as a cheap form of anaesthesia. You may be interested to learn that acupuncture in 1972 was 'usually performed by a young girl aged 20-25 who is politically sincere and who spends 2-3 days in advance of the operation in encouraging the patient in his mental attitude, especially towards the works and thoughts of Chairman Mao'. Acupuncture has always been mysterious in the West but that mystery disappears when we find that the patients were carefully selected and that only some 10-15% of those carefully selected patients were deemed suitable; the acupuncture was used in conjunction with premedication, a local anaesthetic and other drugs, and an intravenous drip; and that, despite all this, not all patients were anaesthetised sufficiently. The reports of acupuncture as an anaesthetic tapered off rapidly in the late '70s and in 1980 when two Chinese professors denounced it as a myth and a political hoax.
There have been numerous clinical trials of acupuncture; none has been able to demonstrate any differences in pain relief between treatment and placebo groups. Not one has been able to show any lasting benefit from the treatment.
Aromatherapy is a form of herbalism where plant oils generally are massaged into parts of the body or inhaled, rather than being taken internally. Like most alternative strategies its concept has been around for centuries although the term 'Aromathérapie' was coined in the 1928 by a French chemist, René Maurice Gattefossé, whose family owned a perfume factory. Patricia Davis, founder of the International Federation of Aromatherapists, defines aromatherapy as 'the art - and science – of using essential plant oils in treatments'. This is an inaccurate and misleading description as for it to be a science, there would have to be clinical trials to provide evidence of efficacy, and there are none, and the word 'essential' which might infer that it is necessary, only means that the oils have an essence or smell.
Aromatherapy should not be undertaken lightly. As Patricia Davis, herself, warns, the oils used can build up toxins in the body and there have been several deaths attributed to aromatherapy. Her advice is to be sure to consult a qualified aromatherapist before embarking on any treatment. As anyone can set up as an aromatherapist, you may consider it prudent to consult someone rather more qualified than that.
It is claimed that aromatherapy can treat all manner of ailments. Apparently, the oils will help the body to destroy viruses and in this context, says Jean Valnet, President of the French Society, the smaller the amount of oil used, the greater is the effect. Presumably, therefore, using the smallest dose – none – will be the most effective!
The two oils which Davis claims will cure practically anything are lavender and fennel. Strangely, however, she says that fennel is toxic and should never be used.
Aromatic oils are frequently used in conjunction with other quack remedies and practices. For example many aroma-therapists tailor their treatment to a person's star sign. Plants are linked to signs of the Zodiac and an oil used to treat an Aries would not be used to treat the same complaint in a Leo. Other aromatherapists work on a person's aura or use acupuncture points as the site for their treatment. The new Reflexology or Zone therapy points are also used, so that someone who has a backache might be treated by having a spot of oil rubbed into a toe!
The oils, we are told, are antidotes to homoeopathic remedies and the two should not be used together. In fact, it seems that the effect is so strong that, ideally, they should not even be kept in the same room.
There is little doubt that in the modern, Western world there is a great deal of mental stress, and that a massage in a nice-smelling environment may help a person to relax. But there is little evidence that aromatherapy really does anything more than that – and the oils can cause harm. Aromatherapy may treat an imagined illness but claims of cures for diseases caused by micro-organisms are totally unsubstantiated.
Bach's Flower Remedies see Homoeopathy.
Biomagnetics, Radionics, and Radiesthesia
Biomagnetics is an extension of spondylotherapy invented by George de la Warr who died in 1969. His equipment consisted of a box in which were receptacles to hold blood, hair or other samples. From these receptacles were wires that led to eight control knobs on the front of the box and a rubber pad on top.
The procedure was as follows: With all the knobs set to zero, you placed samples from your patient into the box and rubbed your fingers on the rubber pad. If your fingers stuck suddenly, you noted 0 on the first knob; if they did not, you turned that knob to 1 and tried again. You kept repeating the procedure, turning the knobs up until the fingers did stick giving you a number somewhere between 0 and 99,999,999. Then you looked up that number in de la Warr's Guide to Clinical Condition and that would tell you what was wrong with the patient.
Once a diagnosis was arrived at, a similar box was used to treat the patient. Looking up its 'Broadcast Treatment Rate', you set up dials on this box and healing rays radiating from the box would cure the patient – wherever in the world he was and whether he knew he was being treated or not. Sometimes, 'practitioners will add the appropriate homoeopathic remedy, colour, flower remedy, vitamin or mineral sample by placing it on the treatment set near the blood spot'. It seems that a yellow/orange colour, for example, is good for liver disease, hard chronic tumours, idiocy and ulceration of the lung.
Biomagnetic treatment was so effective that, we are told, it could cure illnesses which hadn't yet occurred. On one occasion, while de la Warr was in Oxford, he was given a hair from a man who was fifty miles away in a London hospital. By examining the hair, de la Warr diagnosed that the man had tuberculosis in one lung. X-rays taken by the hospital showed no signs of disease so, obviously, he hadn't actually got tuberculosis yet. De la Warr broadcast his healing rays and the patient never did develop tuberculosis. Now, isn't that amazing!
Radionics, or Drown Radio Therapy
This was pioneered in the 1930s by Dr Ruth Drown, in collaboration with George de la Warr and Albert Abrams. It too used a mysterious black box to send healing waves through the air to alleviate illness. In this case, Dr Drown had a collection of samples of her patients' blood which she kept on blotting paper. If a patient didn't feel well, he would telephone Dr Drown, and she put the relevant sample in the box and 'broadcast' the appropriate waves towards the patient's home. Well, it saved time and the trouble of having to go out. Does it work? When tested by the Biological Sciences Division of the University of Chicago in 1950, Dr Drown's diagnoses were so far divorced from reality that she gave up before completing half of them.
Radiesthesia was invented by a priest, Abbé Mermet. It was the original dowsing concept on which Biomagnetics was based. When a shaman had difficulty communicating with the spirits, he used a stick – the magician's wand. A number of such aids were used and, instead of a stick, the Abbé used a pendulum to pick up the 'vibrations'. To diagnose disease using Radiesthesia, a sample from the patient was placed with 'an inert powder impregnated with the vibrations of various diseases' and a homoeopathic remedy. Then the pendulum was swung over them and by some obscure means, the patient was cured. Radiesthesia was fashionable in the 1930s and may still be found occasionally today.
Chiropractic see Osteopathy.
In some respects, colour therapy is already an everyday practice. We
all have our favourite colours with which we like to live. Colour
therapy is a bit like aromatherapy. The difference is that colour
therapists believe in the therapeutic effects of coloured lights
instead of smells. The ancient belief that colours can heal was
developed into an alternative medical treatment in the twentieth
century. It is based on the colours associated with various emotions
as in 'seeing red' when one is angry, or being green with envy, or
is that a relaxing colour?
Dianetics is the brainchild of the science fiction writer, Lafayette Ronald (Ron) Hubbard, who founded Scientology in 1952. Its first mention was in a 1950 article in Astounding Science Fiction. Hubbard claimed that dianetics was 'a milestone for Man comparable to his discovery of fire and superior to his invention of the wheel and the arch.'
Dianetics is so convoluted that it is difficult to summarise. The theory is that we each have two minds. One is like a computer and is perfect, the other is the source of all the elements which make that computer malfunction. This reactive mind, it seems, remembers everything which happens to us and, as some of the things are not nice, we remember these 'engrams' and become unhappy. Where the dianetic therapy is used is in ridding the patient of these engrams by making him re-live them until they are erased from his memory. Once you are 'clear' of all your engrams, Dianetics teaches that your IQ knows no limit. As Hubbard put it: 'The Dianetic Clear is to the current normal individual as the current normal individual is to the severely insane.'
Like a number of other pseudo sciences, dianetics had its box of tricks to aid the auditing process. This one was called an electropsychometer. Even when the patient said that nothing was bothering him, if the needle on the box moved, this indicated that an engram was lurking somewhere to be cleared.
Later, other concepts were added; one of which was the 'thetan'. The thetan, it seems, is an immortal being which is such a fine mind that 'a raving mad thetan is far more sane than a normal human being'. At the moment it is 'you' but it can remember past lives going back trillions of years (according to Hubbard), and its memory includes all the engrams that entails. Clearing you of these engrams frees the immortal thetan. It didn't matter to Hubbard that we haven't been around for trillions of years. He frequently used even more ridiculously large numbers. He talks, for example, of 'creation implants' which happened seventy trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion years ago. To put that in context, it is generally accepted that the Universe began only a mere 15 billion years ago.
There is a story that Hubbard invented Scientology as a bet that he could invent a new religion and become rich on it. People's gullibility won him that one; and, it seems, they continue to fall for it.
Biologists teach that the eye focuses by altering the thickness and curvature of the lens, making it fatter and shortening its focal length when looking at close objects, and making it thinner and lengthening its focal length when looking at distant objects. But Dr William Bates, who died in 1931, believed that biologists had got it wrong. He said that what really happened was that the lens moved backwards and forwards, like the camera lens does. This was accomplished, he said, by muscles which squeezed the eye thus changing the distance from the lens to the retina. There are animals whose eyes do focus in this way, but man isn't one of them.
Dr Bates' cure for sight problems was not spectacles but exercises designed to strengthen or relax the squeezing muscles. Some of the exercises were quite dangerous; he recommended staring at the Sun, for example. Doing so would destroy part of the retina and cause blindness.
Faith healing in its most public form consists of the laying on of hands at revivalist meetings. But ordinary hands will not do. At one time, only Royal hands were effective and healing was a royal prerogative for some 700 years. King Pyrrhus we learn, cured the sick by laying his toe on them. Nowadays the powers of healing are generally attributed to religious persons. However, it has been argued that if the power of prayer were as powerful as the religious community would have us believe, it should be possible to demonstrate evidence of increases in longevity. By studying tables of longevity, Galton noticed, however, that royalty and the clergy did not enjoy long lives. He also noted that churches and cathedrals were just as likely to be damaged by lightning, earthquakes or fires as any other buildings of comparable size.
The church best known for its reliance on faith rather than conventional medicine to treat sickness is the Church of Christ Scientist, founded by Mary Baker Eddy in the 19th century because she was disillusioned with homoeopathy. She reasoned that, since a homoeopath's patients were cured with remedies which contained nothing, then diseases didn't exist. Indeed, the church teaches that disease is not real but a dream from which the patient must be awoken. 'Tumours, ulcers, tubercles, inflammation, pain, deformed joints are waking dream-shadows, dark images of mortal thought which flee before the light of Truth.' By 'dissolving the mental attitude from which all diseases ultimately stem', diseases such as cancer, meningitis, club foot and pernicious anaemia can be cured. Similarly, the church teaches that poisons do not exist. They teach, for example, that strychnine is harmless, and that it is only the belief that strychnine can kill that is responsible for a person's death. Personally, I wouldn't want to risk it.
Studies of strict religious groups have usually shown that their
adherents do tend to live longer than the general population.
However, a study of mortality patterns, carried out by a coroner in
1956, found that the average age at death of Christian Scientists
was significantly lower than average and that they suffered
higher incidences of heart disease and cancers.
Homoeopathy and Bach's Flower Remedies.
Homoeopathy was invented by Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) in 1796 as a reaction to excessive bloodletting, purgation, induced vomiting and the non-scientific approach of the medical profession of his time. He became very successful during the period 1821-43. Homoeopathy works on the principle that the symptoms that the patient is displaying of a disease are not caused by the disease, but are the body's way of combating the disease. The homoeopath does not treat diseases, he treats symptoms. So the homoeopath gives the patient a medicine which will cause the same symptoms as he is already displaying thus, so the theory goes, assisting the body to fight the disease. An example might be to brush a person suffering from measles with nettles! Hippocrates, the father of medicine said: 'By opposites opposites are cured.' Homoeopathy's motto: 'Like cures like' is the exact opposite of this.
Hahnemann originally conceived homeopathy as a form of placebo treatment where dilute substances which were believed to mimic the symptoms were given. Later, he introduced 'Succussion' and 'Dynamism' to homoeopathy, and the potency theory of 'vitalism' where the spirit of the person entered the dilute solution to bring about a cure.
Homoeopathic remedies use active substances, but in infinitesimally small quantities. Indeed, Hahnemann advised that they should be so dilute that 'not a single molecule of the curative substance should reach the patient's lips'. To achieve this, homoeopathists take one drop of active substance and mix it with 100 drops of distilled water. One drop of the mixture is then mixed with another 100 drops of water. One drop of that mixture is mixed with yet another 100 drops of water, and on it goes. Each of these mixes is called a 'potency' because it is supposed that with each dilution, 'vital force' is imparted to it and the medicine gets more potent. The usual minimum commercial potency is 12. This means that one drop has been mixed with 100 drops 12 times so the dilution is one part in 1000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 (10 -24 ). But homoeopathic remedies can be bought with potencies as high as 30, or one part in 1000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 (10 -60 ). That is the equivalent of one grain of sand in a volume many times greater than that of our entire solar system! These, it seems, are even more effective.
But even that is really only a start. The World Health Organisation reports that dilutions, sorry, potencies, of over 100,000 (10 -200,000 ) have been used successfully. It would not be unreasonable for you to wonder how a quantity as minute as nothing at all can do any good. Well, this is where 'succussion', or 'dynamism' or 'potentisation' comes in. Like James Bond's Martinis, it seems that it is important that these mixes are shaken, not stirred. By this means, we are asked to believe, the water 'remembers' the active substance which was mixed in it originally even though it is no longer present. We are not told, however, why it doesn't remember all the other chemicals, fish droppings and toxic waste that were mixed with it when it was sea and river water.
The Dean of the Faculty of Homoeopathy in Great Britain prescribed common salt, diluted so that there was not one molecule left, to treat 'a girl with a broken love affair or a woman who has never been able to cry'. Well, tears are salty, aren't they? Because red pepper gives people feelings of homesickness, a German homoeopathist suggested that the 11 million foreign workers in Europe might benefit from a homoeopathic dose of red pepper.
There have been many trials into homoeopathy; not one has ever found any evidence of benefit. A French clinical trial that purported to do so was reported in Nature in 1988. It made sweeping claims and was hailed by homoeopaths as scientific proof of the veracity of their claims. However, the editor of Nature was attacked for publishing nonsense so he, together with the man who had exposed Uri Geller's paranormal powers and a specialist in scientific fraud, asked the French laboratory to repeat the tests in their presence to confirm the results. Their request was granted but with them present, the laboratory was quite unable to repeat its original findings.
Dr David Reilly, a staunch defender of 'scientific' homoeopathy said after the first French trial: 'If we prove the observations wrong we will have exposed homoeopathy as one of medical science's greatest misadventures – a folly so massive it will merit study in itself'. They did, and it is.
Reilly and colleagues conducted a study of their own in 1986. It was, he claimed, the first double-blind, controlled trial of homoeopathy in hay fever. At the end of the 5-week trial a third of the subjects had given up and left, far too high percentage for an acceptable trial. Nevertheless, they published conclusions – which were so erroneous that they provoked a vast amount of correspondence.
Because homoeopathy is sponsored by the Royal Family and its supposed remedies are prescribed by some general practitioners, it has been given a veneer of respectability. That, however, doesn't make it any less ridiculous.
A variation of homoeopathy is Bach's Flower Remedies , the brainchild of Dr Edward Bach (1886-1936). This claims to cure ailments as diverse as itches, cuts and bruises, premature ejaculation, Delirium Tremens, fever, convulsions, and painful periods. Dr Charles Elliott, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth's homoeopath, called it 'one of the most comprehensive state-of-the-art systems of healing known'. Its claims don't stop at curing humans, apparently; we are asked to believe that it will revive unconscious animals if it is rubbed behind their ears and that it is even a tonic for out-of-sorts plants.
Iridology is a diagnostic technique which involves gazing into the eyes. Its proponents believe the body's organs are shown in the iris, and that the iris shows what illness a patient is suffering. It was invented in 1881 by a man named von Péczely. Because it is still believed in today, a test was carried out in 1988 to test the diagnostic accuracy of those who professed to use it. It is claimed that gall bladder disease is the easiest condition to find so 39 subjects known to have the disease and 39 healthy controls of the same sex and age were sent to five leading iridologists. On average each iridologist got about half of the diagnoses correct, about what one would expect to get by chance. When the results of the trial were sent to the iridologists, they were disappointed but said that evaluating the image of the iris without other medical information from the patient was difficult - but then if the practitioner had the other information, why would he need iridology? The study concluded that iridology was not a useful diagnostic aid.
A later study of the change in doctors' belief in iridology was carried out. The paper mentioned above was sent to physicians who had written articles in medical and alternative medical journals in favour of iridology, and they were asked whether it had changed their belief in the reliability in the procedure. While the belief of the conventional doctors, on average, changed from 50% belief to strong disbelief, there was less impact on practitioners of alternative therapies. They, it seems, preferred to prolong the myth.
Metamorphic Technique see Reflexology
Naturopathy can trace its history back for centuries. It is a hotchpotch collection of pseudo-medical therapies which have as their base teachings that all illness can be treated by purely natural means. What he believed to be its fundamental principles were laid down by Harry Benjamin in 1936. The first principle was ' that all forms of disease are due to the same cause , namely the accumulation in the system of waste materials and bodily refuse, which has been steadily piling up in the body . . . through years of wrong habits of living' (Benjamin's italics). To rid the body of these accumulations, Benjamin proposed: fasting, scientific dieting, hydrotherapy, general body-building and hygiene, and psychotherapy. These pose questions such as: how long should one fast and may one drink; what constitutes a 'scientific diet'; as there are many contradictory forms, what form of psychotherapy should be undertaken. Naturopaths vary so much that you may not get the same answer from any two.
The best-known proponent of naturopathy this century was probably John H Kellogg, the brother of the man who invented cornflakes. The Kellogg family were Seventh Day Adventists. As Seventh Day Adventists, by and large, are vegetarians, his brand of naturopathy was vegetarian based. Other aspects of naturopathy include: belief that fasting will cure cancer and other serious diseases; the belief that germs do not cause disease, it is the disease which causes germs; and most naturopaths believe strongly in 'colonic irrigation', where a hose pipe is inserted into the rectum and copious amounts of water are flushed up it. In some cases it may have done some good but it is anyone's guess how many people have been killed in this way.
Naturopaths are hard to find in the High Street. Where they flourish is on Health Farms , most if not all of which operate on the principles of naturopathy.
New Age Treatments
Cashing in on the current trend towards 'complementary' medicines are a number of new confidence tricks which masquerade under the generic title of New Age treatments. They include sticking lighted candles in the ear. This is supposed to create a chimney effect and suck pressure out of the head which, it is claimed, will cure such ailments as migraines and clear ear wax. Nonsense. Even if there were a chimney effect, it would have to be very strong for that. And as for pressure in the head, firstly the eardrum would stop any flow and, even if this were ruptured (which a suction strong enough to remove ear wax would undoubtedly do), all that could be sucked out would be air from the back of the nose via the Eustachian tube which connects the middle ear to the back of the throat (pharynx). Perhaps those who believe in this idea would be well advised not to venture outside on a windy day – the wind going in one ear, so much stronger than the effects of a candle, might blow their brains out of the other!
A friend of mine uses another similar treatment which, he says, is called holistic therapy . In his case, he has a pain which, he has been told, is caused by a trapped nerve where it emerges from his spine into his shoulder. The holistic therapist uses suction pads on the skin. These, it appears, are supposed to suck the trapped nerve to another position so that it is no longer trapped. The relief he gets is only temporary.
Another 'New Age' treatment is crystal therapy where crystals of various minerals are supposed to make you better if, for example, you sleep with one under your pillow. Is it possible to get any sillier? Well, probably – new ones are being dreamed up all the time.
Osteopathy, Chiropractic and Somatography
Osteopathy was discovered in 1876 by Andrew Still, a bone setter in Missouri. When three of his children died from meningitis, he lost faith in the medical profession and developed the bizarre theory that all diseases were caused by pressure on blood vessels, particularly in the spine. These pressures apparently were caused by misalignments of the vertebrae for which he invented the term 'subluxations'. To give some idea of the power of osteopathy, Still claimed to have cured baldness, growing three inches of hair on a bald head in only one week! He even claimed that in one small American town he reset seventeen dislocated hips in one day. Why there should have been quite so many dislocated hips in one town on that particular day, we shall never know.
A review of 35 trials into the efficacy of spinal manipulation for patients with back or neck pain was published in 1991. Eighteen of the studies (51%) showed favourable results for manipulation; 5 more reported positive results in sub-groups; and 8 attempted to compare manipulation with some form of placebo, with inconsistent results. But all the trials were poorly conducted and most of them reported only short-term effects. The studies that included a long-term follow-up mostly showed no positive results. Others, particularly those that were better conducted, reported that the placebos gave better results than the manipulation! The authors conclude: 'The results of all the trials presented indicate that manipulation is not consistently better than other therapies.'
Chiropractic was invented by Daniel Palmer, an
Iowa grocer, in 1895. It is similar to osteopathy but more
restricted and even more naive. It was advertised as a cure for
almost all human ailments from tonsillitis to cancer. In a way it is
similar to acupuncture or zone therapy in that chiropractors believe
that there are control points ranged along the spine.
Somatography is yet another form of manipulation therapy. Invented in the 1960s by Bryn Jones, it differs only in that the patient isn't touched – it is only the patient's aura which is massaged.
Backache, particularly in the lower back is a common complaint.
This complaint is the single most common reason for people's
consulting a manipulator. In the vast majority of cases it will
clear up by itself without any treatment at all, and the claims for
the effectiveness of manipulative treatments are unsubstantiated.
Radionics see Biomagnetics
Reflexology or Zone Therapy, and Metamorphic Technique
Reflexology is like acupuncture only even more absurd. The concept goes back to ancient Egypt but the present theory and mode of use was the brainchild of an American named Eunice Ingham early in the 20th century. It seems that the body can be divided into ten zones (hence its other name, Zone Therapy), and each of the zones corresponds to a finger or, more generally now, a toe. These zones are subdivided then into 'reflex points' on the foot corresponding to the various internal organs. The reflexologist presses various points on the foot and, if discomfort is felt, that indicates a problem in some organ of the body. Continuing to apply the pressure until the discomfort disappears, is supposed to cure the ailment.
The Metamorphic Technique was developed in the 1960s by Robert St John. Originally it was based on Reflexology but now they differ from each other significantly. Anyone may practice the technique: all one needs, apparently, is the right attitude
Aromatherapists also use reflexology points. Well, it saves time, the patient doesn't have to get undressed and as it doesn't require as much oil, it is cheaper and thus more profitable for the therapist.
The technique is based on the assumption that our physical, mental, and emotional structures are built up in the nine months from conception to birth, and that later disorders are traceable to experiences during this period in the womb. Practitioners of the technique work on the spinal reflexology points in the feet which are now considered to correspond not only to the spinal vertebrae but also to the 38 week pre-natal period (see Figure 1). Massaging the feet for about half-an-hour each brings this formative period back into focus so that energies blocked at that time are freed. The idea seems to be that using the technique releases the patient's innate ability to change, allowing things that go wrong in the womb to be corrected later. Its practitioners believe that even genetic disorders can be corrected by these means. In which case, one wonders why we waste so much time, money and resources treating cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, and so on, when all that is needed to cure these conditions is a little foot massage!
According to Dr Albert Abrams' theory of spondylotherapy, every disease has a characteristic set of vibrations. These could be detected by a device called an oscilloclast, a box of tricks which had two external wires. One wire ran to a power supply, the second to the forehead of a healthy volunteer who, for some reason, had to face west. A sample of blood from the patient was placed in the box and Abrams manipulated the healthy volunteer's abdomen until he detected the vibrations of the disease on the blood sample and was able to diagnose the disease. Later Abrams found he didn't need a blood sample, claiming he could do as well with a sample of handwriting.
It appears that to test Abrams' claims, the American Medical Association sent him a blood sample from 'Miss Bell'. Dr Abrams diagnosed cancer, sinusitis and an infection in Miss Bell's left fallopian tube. 'Miss Bell' was actually a healthy, male guinea pig! On another occasion Dr Abrams diagnosed cancer, malaria, diabetes and clap in a sample which had been obtained from a chicken.
Trepanation was a surgical technique used by Tibetan monks to open the 'third eye'. They drilled a hole in the skull in the region of the pineal gland and then poked around inside with a sharp stick. With this third eye open one was supposed to be able to see a person's aura (presumably enabling him to practise somatography). In Europe, trepanation was 'invented' by a Dutchman, Bart Huges in 1965. He didn't claim to be able to see auras. Instead Huges claimed that the procedure relieved the hydrostatic pressure on the brain allowing the arteries to expand. Huges claimed that it was similar to having a permanent LSD trip.
During the times of LSD and hippies, there was an underground magazine Gandalf's Garden . In an article recommending trepanation the authors warned: 'We do not advise anyone to try trepanning themselves, since even a fractional miscalculation could cause death or insanity.' Wouldn't you have to be insane already?
Zone Therapy See Reflexology
The various therapies outlined above differ from conventional medicine in a number of important respects. Firstly, they tend to be irrational: claiming to cure practically everything. Secondly, when they are tested clinically, they consistently fail to live up to their promises. In fact, many won't work anywhere if there is a sceptic present. How can it be that a remedy doesn't work merely because there is someone around who doesn't believe in it? It really beggars belief.
Conventional medicine may only be practised, by law, by those who have had a considerable amount of higher education and university, medical training. A study in Britain, published in 1985, showed that only 50% of alternative medical practitioners had had any secondary or tertiary education. Many also had no qualifications, even in the therapy they professed to practice.
The placebo effect is strong. Many ailments have psychological causes. They, and many more which are caused by bacteria and viruses, are self-limiting; that is, they will get better by themselves without any treatment. These can be 'cured' by anything, no matter how absurd - whether you believe in it or not.
In the cholera epidemic of the 1850s, the death rate in the London Homoeopathic hospital was 18% while in many others, which practised blood letting, it was 2-3 times as high. Homoeopathic treatment didn't do anything, but it was better then to do nothing than deplete a sick person's reserves of strength with leeches. But today that is not the case. Since the discovery of sulpha drugs in 1935, homoeopathy has been obsolete.
Most back pain is psychosomatic – produced by the brain. That is not to say that back pain sufferers are malingerers or 'imagine' their pain. It has been discovered that, although many more people use backache to obtain sick notes to excuse their not working, the actual numbers of cases of back pain has changed very little since the last century. Many try conventional medicine's answer, the physiotherapist, then an osteopath or chiropractor. A trial on several where all these had failed, using the newly-developed positron emitter (PET) brain scanner, discovered that areas in their brains were more sensitive to the pain. This, in turn, increased the tension in their back muscles thus increasing the severity of the pain. It was a vicious circle. What they needed was not the manipulation they had been getting, but simply to relax. Where manipulation had worked, whether from conventional or alternative medical sources, it was not the treatment itself that was found to be beneficial – merely the relaxation. And since an alternative therapist, charging by the hour, can afford to spend more time with his client, in this situation he is likely to be more successful. But all the patient really needs is to rest – which costs nothing.
Many of those who resort to alternative remedies do so because conventional drugs may have uncomfortable side effects. On the whole, there are few side effects with alternative medicines; but then, a treatment can't have side effects if it doesn't do anything. Most alternative treatments are not harmful in themselves (although some are), the real danger with these treatments is that medically untrained alternative practitioners may miss important symptoms and deny a patient effective therapy. By resorting to such dubious practices, a seriously ill person could waste precious time so that by the time he goes to a conventional doctor with cancer, say, it is too late to treat it. In the USA, an estimated $10 billion is spent annually on alternative therapy and half of that is spent on cancer 'cures'. It is becoming a growth industry in Britain as well. It is unfortunate that influential people, such as the British Royal Family, help to give credence to these therapies. By so doing, they do a grave disservice to their subjects.
Most alternative practitioners really believe in their products
but some are opportunist charlatans and their 'remedies' are a cruel
hoax. As Beaven points out: 'Practitioners of alternative medicine,
unfettered by regulatory standards, or any established code of
ethics take advantage of minors and the credulous. Ethnic
minorities, immigrants and younger people are among those who may
not understand methods of access to orthodox medicine and are
particularly vulnerable.' They prey on the gullible and the sick – a
case of your money and your life.
Under the circumstances, it seems that the best advice I can think of is for anyone who has a medical problem to check out both sides of the medical divide as widely as possible, look at the evidence for both, see which ones make more sense and are more likely to be of value, and then make their own informed decision on which way they want to go for treatment.
But I repeat, always get a qualified diagnosis first.
Editorial. The Placebo in Medicine. Medical Press, 18 June
The Drug Industry’s Chokehold on America’s Health Care By Joanne Laurier
3 January 2005
“The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive us and What to do About It” By Marcia Angell M.D., published by Random House, 304 pp;
“Overdosed America: the Broken Promise of American Medicine”, By John Abramson, M.D., published by Harper Collins, 332 pp.
Major pharmaceutical companies have been hit recently by an array of scandals regarding the safety of certain “ blockbuster” drugs. Merck’s Vioxx, a leading arthritis and pain medication was withdrawn from the Market after it was shown to have caused thousands of heart attacks and an estimated 55,000 deaths. Its leading competitor, Celebrex, manufactured by Pfizer, faces similar difficulties.
Other drugs, including over-the-counter remedies, are also being Scrutinized for severe, unwanted side-effects. On December 18 the Detroit Free Press released its own analysis concluding that many thousands of Americans Are getting sick and dying from prescription drugs prematurely entering the market.
Two recently-published books provide valuable insights and describe in devastating detail the operations of the pharmaceutical industry—the consequences of its domination of government agencies and the medical establishment. The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us And What To Do About It is written by Marcia Angell, M.D.; Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine is authored by John Abramson, M.D.
A former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), Angell witnessed the work of that prestigious journal come increasingly under the influence of the drug industry. She claims in the volume’s introduction that the pharmaceuticals began exercising “a level of control over the way research is done that was unheard of when I first came to the journal, and the aim was clearly to load the dice to make sure their drugs looked good.” (p. xviii)
The author of Overdosed America, Abramson, is a family doctor on the clinical faculty of Harvard Medical School. He was prompted to write his book because of what he perceived as the corporate takeover of medical research. Trained as a statistician, he “ researched the research,” and found that “even the most respected medical journals seemed more like infomercials whose purpose was to promote their sponsors’ products rather than to search for the best ways to improve people’s health.” (p. xii)
The most profitable industry
Americans spend a staggering $200 billion a year on prescription drugs Out of worldwide sales of $400 billion. From 1980 to 2000, prescription Drugs tripled as a percentage of US gross domestic product. Since that time, PhRMA—the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America—has consistently ranked by far as the most profitable industry, while its CEOs have raked in eight digit salaries combined with eight digit stock options. In 2002, the combined profits of the 10 drug companies in the Fortune 500 ($35.9 billion) were MORE than the total profits of the OTHER 490 Businesses ($33.7 billion) !!
Both Angell and Abramson contend that PhRMA began its astronomical rise In the late 1970s and early 1980s—particularly under Ronald Reagan. In 1980, Congress enacted a series of laws, such as the Bayh-Dole Act (Senator Birch Bayh [D-Indiana] and Senator Robert Dole [R-Kansas]) that enabled universities and small companies to patent discoveries made through publicly funded research and then grant exclusive licenses to drug companies. Until that time, taxpayer-financed research was public property available to Any company. The nascent biotech industry was thus given a tremendous boost. Through similar legislation, the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—the major distributor of tax dollars for medical research—was permitted to Enter into deals that would directly transfer NIH discoveries to industry.
As Angell points out: “These laws mean that drug companies no longer have to rely on their own research for new drugs, and few of the large ones do. Increasingly, they rely on academia, small biotech start-up companies, And the NIH for that.” (p. 8) This, argues Angell, has changed the ethos of medical schools and teaching hospitals, who now see themselves as partners of industry and become “just as enthusiastic as any entrepreneur about the opportunities to parlay their discoveries into financial gain.” (p. 8) She cites the example of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, a Harvard hospital, which has a deal with the drug company Novartis, giving it rights to discoveries that lead to new cancer drugs.
In 1984, the Hatch-Waxman Act extended monopoly rights for brand-name drugs—drugs for which the manufacturer has marketing exclusivity. (After brand-marketing rights expire on a drug, generic copies can be produced By any manufacturer for a fraction of the cost. The monopoly status of a brand-name drug also translates into an exorbitant selling price by comparison with its generic equivalent.) Other congressional laws enacted in the 1990s have increased the patent life of brand-name drugs from 8 years in 1980 to 14 years in 2000.
In 1992 Congress passed the landmark Prescription Drug User Fee Act, effectively putting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on the pharmaceutical industry’s payroll, according to Angell. To expedite approval of drugs, the law authorized drug companies to pay user fees to the FDA, making the governmental agency dependent on the industry it regulates. Today, industry-paid FDA employees constitute more than half of the agency’s staff involved in approving drugs. The FDA now generally approves drugs faster than counterpart agencies anywhere in the world. Since the law was enacted, 13 prescription drugs, causing hundreds of deaths, have had to be withdrawn from the market.
The origin of the FDA is not discussed extensively by either Angell or Abramson, but a brief historical review would be in order. The agency Was established in 1906, by the Food and Drug Act, partially in response to exposures such as muckraker Upton Sinclair’s famous novel, The Jungle, treating the appalling conditions in Chicago’s slaughterhouses.
Several medical disasters in 1937 and 1938 compelled President Franklin Roosevelt to sign the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938, which Brought cosmetics and medical devices under government control and required That drugs be labeled with adequate directions for safe use. The quarter Century that followed the 1938 bill saw a vast expansion of the pharmaceutical industry. As science matured and patent laws changed—making possible the profitable control of a drug by the company that owned it—the industry discovered, developed and marketed drugs, some of which no doubt had important value in treating disease.
Drug companies also used the 1938 law to devise the concept of
Prescription drugs—drugs available only through physicians at a price set by the companies.
Anti-regulatory action began under the Carter administration, but Reagan slashed the FDA’s enforcement budgets in earnest. The routine actions By which the agency kept contaminated foods and problem drugs off the market—seizures, injunctions and prosecutions—dropped dramatically. The limits of the FDA budget paved the way for the 1992 bill, which provided additional funds for the agency—by putting it at the service of the pharmaceutical industry.
Bringing the companies into the drug approval process was vital for the pharmaceuticals because patents on new drugs are usually obtained before clinical testing begins, thereby eating into a drug’s 20-year patent life—the time it can be sold without competition. To maximize profitability, the drug companies are under pressure to shorten the trials so that marketing the drug can get underway.
The truth about research and development
As public opposition to rapacious drug pricing has grown, Angell Reveals that the industry’s media campaign to counter this centers on its claims to be innovative. “Big pharma likes to refer to itself as a ‘research-based industry,’ but it is hardly that.”(p. 73) In reality, the budget of the Drug companies for research and development is dwarfed by massive marketing expenditures. Only a handful of important drugs have been developed—mostly based on taxpayer-funded research—in recent years. (R&D costs are tax-deductible.) This, despite the fact that the number of clinical trials under way in any given year is staggering.
In 2001, about 2.3 million American were involved in an estimated 80,000 studies.
“The great majority of ‘new’ drugs are not new at all but merely Variations of older drugs already on the market. These are called ‘me-too’ drugs. The idea is to grab a share of the established, lucrative market by Producing something very similar to a top-selling drug,” (p. xvi) writes Angell. For example, there are six cholesterol-lowering drugs (Mevacor, Lipitor, Zocor, Pravachol, Lescol and the newest, Crestor). She continues: “But instead Of investing more in innovative drugs and moderating prices, drug companies are pouring money into marketing, legal maneuvers to extend patent rights, and government lobbying to prevent any form of price regulation.” (p. xix)
In 2002, of the 78 drugs approved by the FDA, only 17 contained new Active ingredients and only 7 were classified as improvements over their older versions. Consequently, trouble may be looming for PhRMA. Some of the top-selling drugs, representing combined sales of some $35 billion a year, are scheduled to go off patent within a few years of each other.
Pharmaceuticals also extend the life of a blockbuster drug that is going off patent by creating another drug just different enough to qualify for a new patent and then shifting users to the new drug. AstraZenaca’s Nexium, a revamped version of the company’s older drug, Prilosec, is a case in point. Shortly before the patent for Prilosec was set to expire, the FDA approved Nexium, which became the most heavily advertised drug in the US. “Today’s purple pill is Nexium, from the makers of Prilosec,” became a well-aired sound bite. After Nexium sales outstripped Prilosec’s, the latter became a non-prescription drug, selling for a fraction of Nexium’s cost.
The market for existing drugs is also expanded by redefining what constitutes medical need or illness. For example, the cutoff for high cholesterol has been lowered over the years, from more than 280 milligrams per deciliter to 240 and now to below 200. Although many doctors will recommend diet and exercise to achieve that level, it may be easier for the patient to take a prescription. The expansion of the definition increases the demand for medication by millions of customers. The cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor was the top-selling drug in the world in 2002, followed by its competitor Zocor. Similar processes are at work with remedies for other ailments, such as hypertension.
Shortage of life-saving drugs
While me-too, or copycat, drugs flood the market—proliferating in many Cases because of an industry-created demand—there are growing shortages for life-saving medicines, as companies try to free production capacity for drugs with bigger market potential. Angell reports that in 2001 there were serious shortages of drugs to treat premature infants, antidotes for certain drug overdoses, and an anti-clotting drug for hemophilia, as well as drugs used for cardiac resuscitation and gonorrhea and vaccines against flu and pneumonia, among other much-needed remedies. This season’s flu vaccine shortage in the US imperiled thousands of high-risk sections of the population, including the elderly, children, pregnant women and those with chronic and life-threatening diseases such as cancer.
The situation is particularly stark in relation to the development of Drugs for life-threatening diseases common in underdeveloped countries. In contrast to the cornucopia of drugs to treat erectile dysfunction, mood disorders, hay fever and heartburn, the pharmaceuticals are largely uninterested in developing drugs to treat widespread tropical diseases like malaria. Under the Clinton administration, the pharmaceuticals vehemently opposed South Africa’s threat to produce or import generic drugs to control its raging HIV/AIDS epidemic. While the Clinton administration was eventually forced to back off from its warning of trade sanctions at the behest of the drug industry, the Bush administration stood alone among 143 World Trade Organization countries in opposing the relaxation of patent protection for HIV/AIDS medicines for Third World countries.
Marketing a drug
Angell cites some of the more egregious examples of direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising. DTC was made legal in 1981 and extended in 1997 by Allowing that only major side effects and contraindications had to be included in the media ads. The sky was then the limit: GlaxoSmithKline and its co-marketer Bayer signed a deal with the National Football League to promote Levitra, the me-too erectile dysfunction competitor of Viagra. Angell quips: “In fact, to watch the 2004 Super Bowl was to wonder whether football causes erectile dysfunction.” (p. 116) Pfizer, the maker of Viagra, then phased out its old and tired promoter Bob Dole in favor of baseball star Rafael Palmeiro. The company also sponsors a Viagra car on the NASCAR circuit.
The explosion of drug ads in the 1990s coincided with the transition of Many Americans to HMO-type health plans that covered the cost of Prescription drugs. Researchers from Dartmouth Medical School found, among other things, that two out of five ads attempted to medicalize ordinary life issues. (“Routine hair loss or a runny nose, for example, became a medical Problem requiring treatment with expensive prescription drugs.” p. 154) Not only was advertising a boon for the drug industry, but it has also become the financial staple of many media outlets; most medical journals are also dependent on drug ads for survival. DTC ads are prohibited in every other advanced capitalist country except New Zealand.
Angell asks: “If prescription drugs are so good why do they have to be pushed so hard?... Important new drugs require very little marketing. Me-too drugs, by contrast, require relentless flogging, because companies need To persuade doctors and the public that there is some reason to prescribe One instead of another.” (p. 133) Or perhaps instead of a far-cheaper, over-the-counter drug with equal or better benefits.
Big advertising agencies have become involved in the PhRMA direct-to-consumer advertising bonanza. Madison Avenue giants such as Omnicom, WPP and Interpublic are cashing in. Omnicom owns a medical education and communication company that ghostwrote the articles that turned Neurontin, a drug originally approved for a very limited use affecting only around 250,000 people, into a blockbuster taken by millions. This was accomplished by marketing the drug for unapproved (“off-label”) uses. Angell notes that such practices are illegal.
Covering all bases, the pharmaceutical companies also fund a major Portion of the costs of continuing medical education for physicians. They financially endow the meetings of professional organizations, such as the American College of Cardiology and the American Society of Hematology, where much of the continuing education for doctors takes place. This is combined with the $11 billion worth of “free samples” the drug companies gave doctors in 2001.
Marketing a disease
“Marketing a disease is the best way to market a drug,” notes the well-known breast cancer expert, Dr. Susan Love. Abramson quotes Love in Overdosed America in regard to the marketing of Premarin, a hormone replacement therapy (HRT) drug. In an attempt to overcome bad publicity that linked the drug to cancer in 1975, Premarin was rehabilitated as a drug to prevent osteoporosis. With the help of the National Osteoporosis Foundation and a New England Journal of Medicine report on the positive effects of estrogen on heart disease, Premarin sales in 1992 once again soared to their 1975 levels. One out of five postmenopausal women in the US was taking hormones. Premarin use increased another 40 percent over the next three years and in 1995 became the most frequently prescribed brand-name drug in the US.
In 1998, the results of the first randomized controlled clinical trial Of HRT were published, establishing that HRT increased women’s risk of Heart disease by 50 percent. Despite this, Premarin was still the third most frequently prescribed drug in the country. Premarin’s demise came with the well-publicized Million Women Study in 2003.
Abramson writes: “Twenty million American women have taken HRT not only To relieve symptoms such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness but also Believing that hormones would protect their hearts, decrease Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, prevent tooth loss and diabetes, strengthen their bones, preserve sexual function and urinary continence, improve the quality of their lives, and increase their longevity. The women who took HRT had access to the best care that American medicine had to offer: Compared with the population at large, they were more likely to have graduated from college, were wealthier, and were more likely to have received preventative care. Despite this, they unwittingly exposed themselves to increased risks of breast cancer, heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and blood clots.” (pp. 70-71)
Related to this development is the marketing of drugs for osteoporosis—a disease whose risks were largely unknown until the HRT educational campaign was initiated in 1982. Drugs such as Fosamax and Actonel became approved by the FDA. However, a 2001 study in NEJM showed that even women with severe osteoporosis derived only small benefit from these drugs. Although these drugs increase the score on bone-density tests, they do not necessarily contribute proportionately to fracture resistance. This is because the new bone, as a result of taking the osteoporosis drugs, is formed primarily on the cortical bone—the outer part of the bone. Neither drug affects the locations of the body that have an internal structure of trabecular bone, bone that provides additional strength in areas of the skeleton most vulnerable to fracture, such as hips, wrists and spine.
“In the final analysis,” argues Abramson, “the ‘disease’ of age-related osteoporosis is not a disease at all, but the quintessential example of successful ‘disease mongering.’ The drug industry has succeeded in planting the fear that bones will suddenly and without warning ‘snap’ in women who had naively believed they were healthy.” (p. 219) He further states:
“The net effect of drug treatment on the risk of serious illness in the Highest risk women? Nothing—except the cost of the drug” (p. 214). Citing the NIH’s Study of Osteoporotic Fractures, the author reveals that regular Exercise achieved twice the reduction in hip fractures compared to Fosamax use In women over 65.
One of the most serious risks attendant on the commercialization of medicine, according to both Angell and Abramson, is “polypharmacy,” the taking of several prescriptions at once. Both authors point out that very few drugs have only one side effect. Besides the real possibility of drug interactions, multiple drug taking likely leads to one of the drugs interfering with organ function. It would be extremely difficult to gauge with complete accuracy the implications of all the various side effects—short term and long term—of multiple prescriptions on an individual. Drug testing is generally not slanted to produce such an evaluation. In any event, multiple prescription takers don’t all imbibe the same drug cocktails.
Bush’s prescription drug plan
Drug company lobbyists, doling out tens of millions of dollars, are extremely well connected to both Republicans and Democrats. Drug company influence reaches deep into the Bush administration. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was CEO, president and chairman of G.D. Searle, a major Drug firm that merged with Pharmacia and was then bought out by Pfizer. The Elder George Bush was on Eli Lilly’s board of directors before becoming president. The 2003 meeting of PhRMA featured Bush the elder, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, former FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan and the chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, Senator George Allen (R-Va.).
Last year, former FDA chief McClellan, brother of White House press secretary Scott McClellan, delivered a speech in Mexico in which he excoriated other countries for regulating drug prices, demanding that the gap between the high costs of drugs in the US and those of other countries be bridged by other countries raising their own drug prices.
“The heavy hand of big pharma is felt at all levels of government. Nothing demonstrates that influence more plainly than the prescription drug Benefit added to Medicare in late 2003,” writes Angell in The Truth About the Drug Companies. (p. 193) Described by both authors as a gargantuan bonanza For PhRMA, the Medicare “reform” is dealt with in more detail by Abramson. He notes that not only will the drug plan cost seniors more money (an Average Medicare recipient who spent $2,318 out-of-pocket for prescription drugs in 2003 will spend $2,911 in 2007), but the bill also specifically prohibits the federal government from negotiating prices with drug manufacturers. PhRMA also helped defeat an amendment that would have funded research To determine which drugs actually provide safe and effective treatment—a worthwhile endeavor considering that 3 of the top 15 drugs most frequently prescribed for American seniors in 2003 were Celebrex, Vioxx and Fosamax!
While “The Truth About the Drug Companies” and “Overdosed America” have their independent areas of focus, there is much overlapping material. The contamination of science and the scientific process is a theme Seriously addressed by both Angell and Abramson. Unfortunately, their works Confirm that an in-depth analysis does not automatically lead to adequate conclusions.
Angell’s book ends with a whimper not a bang as she promotes the notion That “most of the changes could be achieved with simple congressional legislation.” Although she does mention that the pharmaceutical industry should be “regarded much as a public utility,” demanding that its books be opened, her basic advice is to strengthen the FDA; require that new drugs be compared not just with placebos but with older drugs for the same ailments; curb monopoly marketing rights; and prohibit direct-to-consumer advertising. As is often the case these days with many such powerful exposés, the ensuing recommendations appear as an impotent wish list attached to the faint hope that the powers-that-be can be persuaded to take the moral high ground and eliminate their anti-social excesses.
On a somewhat different note, Abramson correctly states that the failure of the market to serve American’s medical needs is not a “market failure, but a market success.” He adds: “Drug companies earn higher profits when more people use expensive drugs, not when people achieve better health. Doctors and hospitals are paid more for doing more, largely without regard for evidence of improved health outcomes.... Health care providers that deliver high quality, efficient care are financially penalized for not delivering a higher volume of more intensive services, beneficial or not (referred to as the ‘perverse incentive’).” He goes to on to say that “American politics, science, and health care has created an imbalance between corporate goals and public interest that is no longer self-correcting. In, fact, it was become resistant to correction”. (pp. 254-256).
An advocate of universal health care, Abramson pushes for his version Of reforming the system. He believes that extending coverage to the Uninsured would trigger a demand for accountability from industry and government, thereby resurrecting the medical watchdogs. If Americans would stop thinking that universal health care is “un-American,” then commerce and the state would fall into line.
In fact, extricating medical science from the clutches of the conglomerates is bound up with a far greater social transformation, which requires changes in the foundations of the present system. The present disastrous state of health care in America is the logical outcome of a medical system entirely subordinated to profit, with no attention on health. Protest and public awareness will not halt the process, nor will futile appeals to a bought-and-sold Congress.
Despite their limitations, “The Truth About the Drug Companies” and “Overdosed America” draw a disturbing picture of the inhuman character of production-for-profit in the medical sphere.
The books are an important contribution to exposing the utter incompatibility of the present state of affairs with the health and welfare of the population.