The Lowdown on Sweet?
2006-02-12, New York Times
When Dr. Morando Soffritti ... saw the results of his team's seven-year study on aspartame, he knew he was about to be injected into a bitter controversy over this sweetener. Aspartame is sold under the brand names Nutra-Sweet and Equal and is found in such popular products as Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Diet Snapple and Sugar Free Kool-Aid. Hundreds of millions of people consume it worldwide. Dr. Soffritti ... oversees 180 scientists and researchers in 30 countries. Dr. Soffritti's study concluded ... that the sweetener was associated with unusually high rates of lymphomas, leukemias and other cancers. The study ... involved 1,900 laboratory rats and cost $1 million. Soffritti said he was inspired to look at aspartame because of what he calls "inadequacies" in the cancer studies done by Searle in the 1970's. Others have also challenged Searle's studies. Years before the F.D.A. approved aspartame, the agency had serious concerns about the accuracy and credibility of Searle's aspartame studies. From 1977 to 1985 -- during much of the approval process -- Searle was headed by Donald H. Rumsfeld, who is now the secretary of defense. Searle was acquired by Monsanto in 1985. Dr. Soffritti said ... more research and open debate were needed on whether aspartame was a carcinogen. "It is very important to have scientists who are independent and not funded by industry looking at this."
Note: If you want to understand the influence of big money on your health, this article is well worth reading. Our Health Information Center Health Information Center has lots more. And for an incredibly eye-opening documentary on this that could very well improve the health of you and your friends, click here.
A dangerous dose
2004-09-05, Boston Globe
Marcia Angell [is] a faculty member at the Harvard Medical School [and one of the] former editors of The New England Journal of Medicine. Her new book, "The Truth About the Drug Companies," is a sober, clear-eyed attack on the excesses of drug company power. How does the drug industry deceive us? It plies attending physicians with expense-paid junkets to St. Croix and Key West, Fla., where they are given honoraria and consulting fees to listen to promotional presentations. It promotes new or little-known diseases such as "social anxiety disorder" and "premenstrual dysphoric disorder" as a way of selling the drugs that treat them. It sets up phony front groups disguised as "patient advocacy organizations." It hires ghostwriters to produce misleading scientific articles and then pays academic physicians to sign on as authors. It sends paid lackeys and shills out onto the academic lecture circuit to ''educate" doctors about a drug's unapproved uses. It hires multinational PR firms to trumpet dubious studies as scientific breakthroughs while burying the studies that are likely to harm sales. It buys up the results of publicly funded research. It maintains a political chokehold on the American public by donating more money to political campaigns than any other industry in the country. For many years the drug industry has reaped the highest profit margins of any industry in America. In 2002, the top 10 American drug companies had profit margins of 17 percent; Pfizer, the largest, had profit margins of 26 percent. So staggeringly profitable is the drug industry that in 2002 the combined profits for the top 10 drug companies in the Fortune 500 were greater than those of all the other 490 companies combined.
A New Way to Fight Cancer?
There are no magic bullets in the fight against cancer: that's the first thing every responsible scientist mentions when discussing a possible new treatment, no matter how promising. If there were a magic bullet, though, it might be something like dichloroacetate, or DCA, a drug that kills cancer cells by exploiting a fundamental weakness found in a wide range of solid tumors. So far, though, it kills them just in test tubes and in rats infected with human cancer cells; it has never been tested against cancer in living human beings. DCA ... is an existing drug whose side effects are well-studied and relatively tolerable. Also, it's a small molecule that might be able to cross the blood-brain barrier to reach otherwise intractable brain tumors. Within days after a technical paper on DCA appeared in the journal Cancer Cell last week, the lead author, Dr. Evangelos Michelakis of the University of Alberta, was deluged with calls and e-mails from prospective patients -- to whom he can say only, "Hang in there." DCA is a remarkably simple molecule. It acts in the body to promote the activity of the mitochondria. Researchers have assumed that the mitochondria in cancer cells were irreparably damaged. But Michelakis wondered if that was really true. With his colleagues he used DCA to turn back on the mitochondria in cancer cells -- which promptly died. One of the great things about DCA is that it's a simple compound, in the public domain, and could be produced for pennies a dose. But that's also a problem, because big drug companies are unlikely to spend a billion dollars or so on large-scale clinical trials for a compound they can't patent. (Anyone interested in helping can click here.)
Note: Thank you Newsweek for publishing this important article. Why haven't any other U.S. media reported this major story? Notice how even Newsweek acknowledges that the drug companies are not interested in finding a cure for cancer if they can't make a profit from it. Some suspect that the pharmaceutical industry has even suppressed cancer cures found in the past. For one amazing example of this, click here.
UCSF study questions drug trial results
2007-06-05, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
Money talks -- and very loudly -- when a drug company is funding a clinical trial involving one of its products. UCSF researchers looked at nearly 200 head-to-head studies of widely prescribed cholesterol-lowering medications, or statins, and found that results were 20 times more likely to favor the drug made by the company that sponsored the trial. "We have to be really, really skeptical of these drug-company-sponsored studies," said Lisa Bero, the study's author and professor of clinical pharmacy and health policy studies. The trials typically involved comparing the effectiveness of a drug to one or two other statins. UCSF researchers also found that a study's conclusions -- not the actual research results but the trial investigators' impressions -- are more than 35 times more likely to favor the test drug when that trial is sponsored by the drug's maker. Bero said drug companies fund up to 90 percent of drug-to-drug clinical trials for certain classes of medication. The researchers found other factors that could affect trial results. For example, pharmaceutical companies could choose not to publish results of studies that fail to favor their drugs, or they could be designed in ways to skew results. The study found the most important weakness of trials was lack of true clinical outcome measures. In the case of statins, some trials focused on less-direct results such as lipid levels but failed to connect the results with key outcomes such as heart attacks or mortality. "None of us really care what our cholesterol level is. We care about having a heart attack," Gibson said. "For the drug to be worthwhile taking, it has to be directly related to prevent a heart attack."
Note: For lots more reliable information about corruption in the pharmaceutical industry, click here.
Doctors Reap Millions for Anemia Drugs
2007-05-09, New York Times
Two of the world's largest drug companies are paying hundreds of millions of dollars to doctors every year in return for giving their patients anemia medicines, which regulators now say may be unsafe at commonly used doses. The payments are legal, but very few people outside of the doctors who receive them are aware of their size. The payments give physicians an incentive to prescribe the medicines at levels that might increase patients' risks of heart attacks or strokes. At just one practice in the Pacific Northwest, a group of six cancer doctors received $2.7 million from Amgen for prescribing $9 million worth of its drugs last year. [A] report prepared by F.D.A. staff scientists said no evidence indicated that the medicines either improved quality of life in patients or extended their survival. Several studies suggested that the drugs can shorten patients' lives when used at high doses. The medicines ... are among the world's top-selling drugs. They represent the single biggest drug expense for Medicare. Since 1991 ... the average dose given to dialysis patients in this country has nearly tripled. About 50 percent of dialysis patients now receive enough of the drugs to raise their red blood cell counts above the level considered risky by the F.D.A. Unlike most drugs, the anemia medicines do not come in fixed doses. Therefore, doctors have great flexibility to increase dosing – and profits. The companies have [failed] to test whether lower doses of the medicines might work better than higher doses. There is little evidence that the drugs make much difference for patients with moderate anemia, and federal statistics show that the increased use of the drugs has not improved survival in dialysis patients.
Note: For lots more on major corruption in health care, click here.
Inside Medicine: Is your doctor giving you this important number?
2007-05-05, Sacramento Bee (Leading newspaper of California's capital city)
By Dr. Michael Wilkes. I recently wrote a column about cholesterol-lowering medications. I stated that if 67 healthy men with elevated cholesterol took a cholesterol-lowering drug ... for five years, only one would benefit. The other 66 would not benefit, and it would cost about $5,500 over the five-year period. I received a ton of e-mail from readers. Many readers wrote that after knowing this number, they did not feel taking the drug was worth the effort or expense. Others took the opposite view. Both interpretations are valid, depending on the person's values. This number -- the 1 in 67 -- is a term doctors call "the number needed to treat," or NNT. It is a relatively new concept [that] is grossly underused in sharing information with the public. Doctors and pharmacists do a poor job talking with patients about their medications. Many people will derive little or no benefit from their medicines, but they are never told this. The key is for doctors and patients to understand the NNT. Here are some estimates of NNT: 1 in 2,550: The number of breast cancer deaths prevented in women between the ages of 50 and 59 screened annually for five years with mammograms. 1 in 2,000: The number of women ages 60-64 without risk factors who would prevent a hip fracture by taking medicine for osteoporosis for five years. 1 in 700: The number of people with mild high blood pressure who would prevent a stroke or heart attack by taking blood pressure medicine for one year. 1 in 16: The number of infections prevented by treating a victim of a dog bite with a week of antibiotics. 1 in 7: The number of children (otherwise healthy children) who benefit from treatment with an antibiotic for an ordinary ear infection.
Note: Many doctors and scientists have made valid claims that drug companies are hyping disease in order to make profits on their drugs. For a top MD's discussion of this vital topic, click here.
Under The Influence
2007-04-02, CBS News
If you have ever wondered why the cost of prescription drugs in the United States are the highest in the world or why it's illegal to import cheaper drugs from Canada or Mexico, you need look no further than the pharmaceutical lobby and its influence in Washington, D.C. Congressmen are outnumbered two to one by lobbyists for an industry that spends roughly a $100 million a year in campaign contributions and lobbying expenses to protect its profits. One reason [drug company] profits have exceeded Wall Street expectations is the Medicare prescription drug bill ... passed three-and-a-half years ago. The unorthodox roll call on one of the most expensive bills ever placed before the House of Representatives began in the middle of the night. The only witnesses were congressional staffers, hundreds of lobbyists, and U.S. Representatives like Dan Burton, R-Ind., and Walter Jones, R-N.C. "The pharmaceutical lobbyists wrote the bill," says Jones. Why did the vote finally take place at 3 a.m.? "They didn't want [it] on national television in primetime," according to Burton. "I've been in politics for 22 years," says Jones, "and it was the ugliest night I have ever seen." Jones says the arm-twisting was horrible. It certainly wasn't ugly for the drug lobby which ... has been a source of lucrative employment opportunities for congressmen when they leave office. In all, at least 15 congressional staffers, congressmen and federal officials left to go to work for the pharmaceutical industry, whose profits were increased by several billion dollars. "They have unlimited resources," Burton says. "And when they push real hard to get something accomplished in the Congress of the United States, they can get it done."
Note: This article also states that the Medicare prescription bill "was the largest entitlement program in more than 40 years, and the debate broke down along party lines." Usually Republicans are against entitlement programs while Democrats support them. Why was it the opposite in this case? Could it be that big industry made huge profits from the passage of this bill? For lots more, click here.
Big Pharma snared by net
2004-09-26, The Observer (One of the U.K.'s leading newspapers)
No one foresaw ... the shocking extent to which the internet would change the terms of trade between corporations and society. One of the world's largest drug companies [was] the first victim. Britain's GlaxoSmithKline, the world's second-largest pharma, denied any wrongdoing, but agreed to pay $2.5m ... for concealing evidence of its antidepressant Seroxat's potential for harming children, while doing them no measurable good. Infinitely more frightening ... this pharma had the backing of institutions that we, the public, rely on to protect us from poisoning by prescription. The Royal College of Psychiatrists had insisted only a year earlier that 'there is no evidence that antidepressant drugs can cause dependence syndromes'. It was really the internet that allowed public health activists to do an end run around GSK's and the medical authorities' denials of the drug's risks. An explosion of websites dedicated to vivid accounts of antidepressant reactions told these campaigners about hundreds of thousands affected by a problem that officially did not exist. Health activists in Britain and America have uncovered the core of pharma might. In both countries, clinical drug tests are paid for by the pharmas, who tweak the trials' design for the best possible results. Until recently, only the most favourable findings got published in the 20,000-odd biomedical journals, many of them dependent on pharmas for funding. The drugs are approved for marketing by regulators, whose salaries are mostly financed by the subjects of their evaluations. The medicines are then prescribed by doctors routinely courted with pharma gifts ... meant to persuade them to change their prescribing habits.
Note: For a two-page summary with lots more reliable information on major health cover-ups by a doctor who was editor-in-chief of one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world, click here.
U.S. health care is bad for your health
2007-06-03, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
[A new] study ... finds that not only is the U.S. health care system the most expensive in the world (double that of the next most costly comparator country, Canada) but comes in dead last in almost any measure of performance. Although U.S. political leaders are fond of stating that we have the best health-care system in the world, they fail to acknowledge an important caveat: It is the best only for the very rich. For the rest of the population, its deficits far outweigh its advantages. [The] study compared the United States with Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Although the most notable way in which the United States differs from the other countries is in the absence of universal coverage, the United States is also last on dimensions of access, patient safety, efficiency and equity. The other five countries considered spend considerably less on health care, both per capita and as a percent of gross domestic product, than the United States. The United States spends $7,000 per person per year on health care, almost double that of Australia, Canada and Germany, each of which achieve better results on health status indicators than the United States. The United States also lags behind all industrialized nations in terms of health coverage. 46.6 million Americans (about 15.9 percent of the population) had no health insurance coverage during 2005. It is no wonder, then, that medical bills are overwhelmingly the most common reason for personal bankruptcy in the United States.
Note: For a treasure trove of reliable information on health, click here.
First, do no harm (to whites)
2006-12-31, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
[Book Review of] Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times to the Present. Harriet Washington opens the door on the torture room in "Medical Apartheid". Experimental operations on the skulls of slave children, Washington writes, were a favorite pursuit of a particularly sadistic South Carolinian doctor named J. Marion Sims, widely revered today as the "father of gynecology." For years, Sims experimented on a group of slave women, to whom he refused anesthesia. The most notorious post-slavery racial crime of American medicine [was] the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service between 1932 and 1972. More than 100 black subjects ... were denied treatment, even and especially after the discovery of penicillin in 1943. The research required that they suffer and die, the more slowly the better. Tuskegee was hardly unique. The Rockefeller Institute ... conducted a study in 1910 that saw 470 black syphilitics injected with a deadly strain of malaria. Black Americans were also disproportionately used ... as subjects in government inquiries into the effects of radiation. Washington's chilling history ends with contemporary case studies. At the Incarnation Children's Center in New York, Columbia University doctors continue to administer experimental AIDS drugs to minority orphans, even after many develop painful and debilitating reactions. As for current clinical trials in Africa, Washington describes the continent as the new "laboratory for the West," where unsuspecting patients regularly receive experimental therapies that might never receive state sanction in the United States or Europe.
Doctors' Ties to Drug Makers Are Put on Close View
2007-03-21, New York Times
Dr. Allan Collins ... is president of the National Kidney Foundation. In 2004 ... the pharmaceutical company Amgen, which makes the most expensive drugs used in the treatment of kidney disease, underwrote more than $1.9 million worth of research and education programs led by Dr. Collins. In 2005, Amgen paid Dr. Collins at least $25,800, mostly in consulting and speaking fees. The payments to Dr. Collins and the research center [are in records] from Minnesota, the first of a handful of states to pass a law requiring drug makers to disclose payments to doctors. The Minnesota records are a window on the widespread financial ties between pharmaceutical companies and the doctors who prescribe and recommend their products. From  through 2005, drug makers paid more than 5,500 doctors, nurses and other health care workers in the state at least $57 million. More than 100 people received more than $100,000. Research shows that doctors who have close relationships with drug makers tend to prescribe more, newer and pricier drugs -- whether or not they are in the best interests of patients. Drug companies "want somebody who can manipulate in a very subtle way," said Dr. Frederick R. Taylor. Kathleen Slattery-Moschkau, a former sales representative [said] "it all comes down to ways to manipulate the doctors." Some of the doctors receiving the most money sit on committees that prepare guidelines instructing doctors nationwide about when to use medicines. "It is critical that the experts who write clinical guidelines be prohibited from having any conflicts of interest," said Dr. Marcia Angell, a former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.
Note: This article only scratches the surface of legal and illegal corruption by the powerful pharmaceutical industry. If you care about who really controls our health system, don't miss Dr. Marcia Angell's incredibly revealing essay showing the unbelievable wealth and influence of the drug companies available here.
A change of heart changes everything
2005-06-00, Ode Magazine, June 2005 Issue
A California institute demonstrates how people can actually make their heart beat in a healthier way. HeartMath's research shows that emotions work much faster, and are more powerful, than thoughts. And that -- when it comes to the human body -- the heart is much more important than the brain to overall health and well-being. Briefly re-experiencing a cherished memory creates synchronization in your heart rhythm in mere seconds. Using a simple prescription that consists of a number of exercises that anyone can do anywhere in a few minutes ... HeartMath is successfully battling the greatest threat to health, happiness and peace in this world: stress. A successful anti-stress strategy provides results precisely at the moment the stress is experienced. This is what HeartMath does, which is why its client list now includes such leading companies as Hewlett Packard, Shell, Unilever, Cisco Systems, and Boeing. HeartMath ... has published a large body of scientific research in established and respected publications such as the Harvard Business Review and the American Journal of Cardiology. You can learn the techniques in five minutes and get positive results if you do them a few times a day for 30 seconds. Feelings of compassion, love, care and appreciation produce a smoothly rolling ... heart rhythm, while feelings of anger, frustration, fear and danger emit a jagged ... image. When people experience love, they not only feel happy and joyful, but they also produce ... the hormone that prevents aging and gives us feelings of youthful vitality. HeartMath's slogan -- a change of heart changes everything -- pretty much sums it up. We can change the world, starting with ourselves.
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