Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Supervegan Supersavers avoid Superflous

Of course one doesn't want to be smug, but it's hard enough what with BSE, Foot and Mouth, Salmonella, E Coli, Swine Fever, cholesterol, saturated fat, hormones, pus without this latest piece in the Daily Mail.

Of course many vegans try to avoid the drugs tested on animals and including animal ingredients and gelatine capsules. The argument of testing drugs destined for humans on animals is a shakey one and instances like this do nothing to inspire confidence in the multinational multi billionaire companies that peddle them.

More of us than ever are succumbing to chronic disease, and the figures make grim reading.
One in six of us is set to develop diabetes, and expected to die prematurely, the most likely cause being heart disease, stroke or cancer.

By the age of 50, one in three of us will be officially obese and a quarter of us will spend the last 30 years of our lives with the pain of arthritis.
At the moment, what happens to all these people hit by chronic disease?
In a word, drugs - perhaps two or three to start with, then a dozen or more towards the end.
Many more of us will be put on drugs for less serious conditions such as high blood pressure or raised cholesterol, with the promise that they will reduce our chances of joining the ranks of the chronically ill.

But is this really the best way to deal with the rising tide of poor health? So many of us view doctors as a kind of one-stop pill dispensary that we rarely consider how limited this way of thinking is.

In fact, we have a prescription addiction and we really need to kick the habit, because the truth of what drugs are really doing for us makes worrying reading.

In the UK, 10,000 people are killed every year by adverse drug reactions (ADRs) which happen when the prescription drug supposed to be curing you kills or harms you instead.

That is more than the number who die from cervical cancer, taking illegal drugs, cancer of the mouth and passive smoking combined.

It's actually more dangerous to visit your doctor than it is to drive your car - in 2004, traffic accidents were responsible for some 3,221 deaths.

Yet a further 40,000 people each year are made sick enough by drugs they are taking to be admitted to hospital.

Yet while most things that could harm us are a focus of campaigns and charities who work tirelessly to limit the damage, nothing comparable is happening to cut our use of the drugs that harm us.

So why is so little being done to warn us of the dangers? We have both the pharmaceutical industry and the health authorities to blame.
It seems we are in the grip of an extensive and deliberate cover-up by drug companies, who appear to hide the negative side of their products and buy our loyalty through paying those we believe in, including our GPs.

Stated as baldly as that, these claims may sound wildly exaggerated. But let's look at the facts.
Sixty per cent of seminars and courses our GPs attend are funded by drug companies.
In the UK the pharmaceutical industry spends £3.3 billion a year on research, financing about 90 per cent of all clinical drug trials. That could hardly be called independent research.
A report in the Nineties found that out of all 56 studies conducted by drug companies into painkillers, not a single one was unfavourable to the company that sponsored the trial.
A Parliamentary health committee hearing was told by one consultant cardiologist that he was offered bribes by a pharmaceutical company not to publish unfavourable research results.
Some drug companies can spend up to £10,000 a year targeting an individual doctor with drug reps or salespeople who provide information about latest developments.
And as an article in The Lancet suggests, it's not clear that doctors are immune to the drug companies' persuasiveness.

Within just six months of the Cox-2 drugs like Vioxx being marketed for conditions such as arthritis, they'd become the preferred form of pain relief for 55 per cent of doctors. This was due not to what the patient needed but was based on "physician preference".
In 2005, the UK's Parliamentary health committee investigation, the little-publicised but very telling report, The Influence Of The Pharmaceutical Industry, concluded:
"(the industry) buys influence over doctors, charities, patient groups, journalists and politicians, whose regulation is sometimes weak or ambiguous".

Full Spectrum Dominance is a term used by the American military which involves being ready "to defeat any adversary and control any situation across the range of military operations".
But it's actually not a bad description of the strategy employed by the pharmaceutical industry throughout the process, from creating drugs to testing and selling them.
Even worse, the very organisations we put our trust in, such as the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), part of the Department of Health, seems far too intimate with the drug companies to regulate them effectively.

Many reading this will be shocked. After all, when you are ill or worried about being ill, you want to be able to trust your doctor, and indeed authorities such as the MHRA and the Government, and believe that the treatment they recommend is designed only to make you better.
This is just the culture surrounding the drugs, what about the actual products themselves?
There is plenty of evidence that many of today's bestselling medicines are money-making devices rather than effective, safe, affordable and practical remedies.
To begin with, the drugs for chronic disease almost never do anything about the underlying cause. They're designed to treat symptoms, raised blood pressure, the pain in your joints. And, in the end, they don't do the job.

It's important to understand we're not talking about medicines used in emergencies here.
No one would want to be without antibiotics for meningitis for instance — but those used for the prevention and treatment of the chronic conditions that now plague us — arthritis, depression, diabetes, heart disease.

Suppose your doctor discovered that your blood-sugar level is getting dangerously high and that you have Type 2 diabetes. You will very likely be given a drug called metformin, which will bring down your blood-sugar level.

Once it's done its job, however, metformin will obviously not get to the root of why you've got blood-sugar problems in the first place.

Another problem with instantly reaching for the prescription pad is that many of the most widely-used drugs turn out to have dangerous and debilitating side-effects.
And these side-effects are made even more damaging by the drug companies' practice of downplaying and concealing them.

The story of what happened to the painkiller Vioxx provides a valuable lens through which to look at just how the drug industry, governmental agencies and the medical profession behave.
The drug, which was taken by 80 million worldwide was very high profile, and sold to us as a 'super aspirin' with none of the gut problems associated with the previous generation of painkillers.

It then emerged that Vioxx had potentially dangerous side-effects, boosting the risk of blood clots and doubling the risk of heart attacks, and it was withdrawn in 2004.
It rapidly emerged that behind the scenes, alarm bells had been ringing for years about the drug's link with these problems.

In 1998, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania had sent the results of a trial showing the possibility of a link with heart disease to Merck, makers of Vioxx.

In 2001, a big analysis of trials involving 18,000 patients getting Vioxx found that compared with an old form of pain relief it caused between four and fives times as many heart attacks.
There are now an estimated 10,000 court cases outstanding against Merck brought by patients in the U.S. who claim to have been damaged by the drug and not properly warned about the risks.

One expert estimates that 140,000 Americans were killed or now suffer from vascular problems as a result of the drug, and the cost of legal actions to Merck has been put at from $5-$50billion.
There are 400 people from the UK who are also now trying to sue Merck.
Of course, it could just be that this was an unfortunate accident, the sort that happens in the best-run industries.

Planes crash, buildings go up in smoke, but in general we are confident that systems are in place to keep such preventable disasters to an absolute minimum. One of the reasons for our confidence is that in the wake of such disasters, there is an inquiry to find out what went wrong.

Unfortunately, this kind of inquiry never happens in the wake of drug disasters because regulators have all too often looked the other way — another problem with the industry.
After Vioxx was withdrawn, for instance, the MHRA took no apparent action.
The report, The Influence Of The Pharmaceutical Industry, concluded that the way drugs are monitored after they are launched was "inadequate", that medical institutions were "indifferent", and that the MHRA knew little about "the overall impact of drug-related illnesses in the community".

It called for changes, one being that the MRHA should actively be on the lookout for problems with side-effects and that there there should be a public inquiry whenever a drug is withdrawn.
But the Government has chosen not to take action on any of these. But why not?
It is perhaps significant that not only is the MHRA almost entirely funded by the drug companies, to the tune of £65 million, but it wasn't until the beginning of 2005 that MHRA members were banned from having shares and financial links with drug companies.

The sense that drug companies' interests were the agency's first priority and patients' a distant second was reinforced by Richard Brook, director of the mental health charity Mind and the first patient's representative to sit on an MHRA review committee. He declared himself "horrified" in October 2004 to find that the agency had kept quiet about the possible dangers of higher doses of certain drugs for at least a decade. When he resigned, he declared that the MHRA was either guilty of "extreme negligence or worse, dishonesty".

Documents obtained recently by another journalist via the UK's Freedom of Information Act showed that the industry privately drew up its own detailed blueprint of how the MHRA should be run, proposing to "build on the excellent working relationship between the industry and the regulator".

It is, surely, an arrangement that is a little too cosy? The fact that people are being damaged unnecessarily by drugs that are being prescribed to millions is bad enough.

But the myth that these drugs are all firmly science-based has led to another, possibly even more harmful long-term effect on our health. It has meant that any non-drug treatments that do tackle the underlying problem and don't inevitably have side-effects are not researched properly, and end up regarded by mainstream doctors as unscientific and ineffective.

Yet it is clear that food and supplements directly affect many of the same biochemical pathways in the body that drugs target, but with far fewer side-effects. For instance, omega-3 fats lower production of the same inflammatory chemicals that Vioxx does without damaging the heart.

Statins work by reducing the amount of cholesterol in the blood. But how well do they work when compared to a change in diet?

A study published in 2002 found that after four years, those on the Mediterranean diet had a 70 per cent lower incidence of heart disease, three times better than the usual risk reduction in similar patients given statins.

There are many other examples of the way nutrition targets the same pathways as drugs, only more safely, and cheaply. Given the way the truth about drugs is often spun or concealed, handling chronic disease with various non-drug methods makes a lot of sense.

Arthritis pills gave me a heart attack
Frederick Myers, 68, from Norfolk is married to Angela, 59. Three years ago the retired IT technician, suffered a heart attack after taking Vioxx for several years. He is now pursuing damages from manufacturer, Merck, through the American courts. He says:
Before I started taking Vioxx, in early 2000, I was a relatively fit 62-year-old, who just happened to have rheumatoid arthritis. Today I still have RA but in addition to that I have gone through the trauma of a major heart attack and have been left with an ongoing heart condition. I take stacks of pills every day. Perhaps worst of all I have to live with the knowledge that the people who run the drug company Merck knew it was dangerous and kept selling it. To say it makes me angry is an understatement.

I had been living with my rheumatoid arthritis for about six years before my GP told me about this new drug called Vioxx. I was thrilled because it offered pain relief with no side-effects. I started taking it and after about three months the arthritis improved.
For nearly three years everything was fine. My yearly check-ups showed I had normal levels of cholesterol and blood pressure. But out of the blue, and against all medical expectations, in December 2003 I suffered a major heart attack.

The consultant cardiologist looked at my medical records and said he was surprised that it had happened to me. A few weeks later I recommended Vioxx to my friend Alex, who checked it out on the internet. He rang with me the news that Vioxx had been implicated in heart problems. I then contacted a British law firm. As the case rumbles on through the courts, back in real world I am suffering the consequences of taking Vioxx. I get out of breath very quickly and that affects every area of my life. I can't even play football with the grandchildren.

I understand that drugs have side-effects but it is the duty of the drug company to tell us about them and let us make up our own mind. If I'd been given the knowledge I wouldn't have taken Vioxx. You can live with RA but you can't live without a heart that works. A spokesman for Merck said: "Merck & Co. Inc. acted responsibly and appropriately as we developed and marketed Vioxx. When questions arose about the safety of Vioxx we took steps to investigate and address these issues head on."

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