Prevention is Better Than Drugs
“Optimum nutrition is the medicine of tomorrow,” said twice Nobel prize winner Pauling, who had 48 PhDs. However, here we are in 2014 and both the medical profession and public alike remain largely hypnotised into thinking the way forward for the prevention and treatment of 21st century killer diseases depends on drugs.
So how did we get there and why do we need a quantum leap into the nutritional medicine era? It all started with antibiotics.
Drugs – a short history
But then the dark side of cortisone emerged. Those on the drugs gained weight, their spines degenerated and if withdrawn suddenly, they could even die. These side effects gave birth to the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin. A very effective painkiller, but it also can cause internal bleeding. About 3,000 people in the UK die from drug-induced internal bleeding every year.
A similar story applies to many common drugs for today’s chronic diseases. Take statins, for example. The story was simple. Cholesterol causes heart disease. So, eat a low cholesterol diet and take cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. Egg sales went into decline, while statin sales boomed.
Doctors are financially rewarded for testing your cholesterol, and paid again to give you statins to lower it. The top three selling statins alone have generated $200 billion to date (1), but the patents have run out, and so has the enthusiasm to sell them. Without the patents, statins, which now cost as little as 4p per daily dose, and half that to make, are no longer a significant source of profit for the pharmaceutical industry.
After the most popular diabetes drug, metformin, ran out of patent, the next hero drugs for diabetes were the glitazones. Until they were found to increase risk of heart disease. Next on offer for diabetes were the GLP1 agonists, widely advertised in the US, but already there are warning signs of a link with pancreatic cancer.
Talking of cancer, we are losing the cancer war, not winning it. Back in the 70’s the lifetime risk of cancer was 1 in 5, despite everyone smoking. Now it’s 1 in 3, and expected to hit 1 in 2 by 2030.(3) Since 1970 the five year survival rate has barely changed from then 49% to now 54%. In the US, more than a million are diagnosed each year and a half a million die from it. (4)
Now the average person around the world eats 24 kilos of sugar a year.(5) This mountain of sugar is also driving weight gain. Obesity is literally widespread.
In Britain we have a 5 a day policy. By the age of 65 half of us are on 5 different drugs – one for each bit that breaks down.(6) Following official medical guidelines which results in multiple drug taking is one of the greatest but most invisible threats to health in the ageing population.(7) Drugs also mug vitamins. The most popular diabetes drug metformin inhibits B12 absorption, and gives some people stomach trouble.
Osteoporosis, like every other chronic disease, isn’t caused by a lack of drugs, although it can be caused by an excess of drugs - nor is it caused by a lack of calcium for that matter.
The further north, the greater the risk. Sun exposure, which makes Vitamin D, can help you a lot more than any drug. If you live far from the equator it’s all rather depressing. Maybe that’s why more than one in ten North Americans have been prescribed anti-depressants.
When makers of schizophrenia drugs – known as antipsychotics - wanted to increase their market they changed their name to ‘mood stabilisers’. Then, simultaneously, more and more ‘depressed’ people were diagnosed as ‘bipolar’, enabling them to be given anti-psychotic ‘mood stabiliser’ drugs as well as an anti-depressant. Double the number of diagnoses and double the drugs you can prescribe and you’ve got four times the market. Drugs for mental illness generate in excess of $220 billion a year.(10)
In the time of Hippocrates diseases were thought to be caused by the Gods. He didn’t buy that and set out to find the real causes of disease. He had a hunch a lot of disease was down to diet and lifestyle. “Let food be your medicine” he said.
A maximum of 15% of the risk for breast cancer is due to inherited factors, and since not all inheritance is genetic, that means even less is ‘in the genes’.(11)
After all, both breast and prostate cancer incidence goes up and up with every generation, yet the genes haven’t changed. So why didn’t your grandmother get breast cancer? This idea of removing the part that may get disease is a perverse kind of prevention. What do you remove for heart disease or Alzheimer’s?
One of the editors of the journal Nature said by the end of this century ‘genomics will allow us to alter entire organisms out of recognition to suit our needs and tastes’…and ‘will allow us to fashion the human form into any conceivable shape. We will have extra limbs, if we want them, and maybe even wings to fly’.
All we know genes do is tell the body how to put proteins together, which make enzymes, or hormones, for example. Having defective enzymes or hormones could increase your risk for disease, but rarely causes it.
It’s what you eat and how you live that switches genes on and off. For example a low GL diets switches on a set of genes that keep you young and healthy. Sugar, on the other hand, turns them off.
According to the National Cancer Institute 19 out of 23 studies have shown a positive association between dairy intake and prostate cancer. (12) Milk makes things grow. Unfortunately that includes cancer cells.
Hippocrates said ‘first do no harm’. Prescribed drugs have now become the fifth largest cause of death (in the US).(13) Excluding errors in prescription, tens of thousands die every year from adverse drug reactions in the UK.(14)
When doctors go on strike the death rate falls, according to Professor Robert Mendelson, who monitored medical malpractice for the US government.(15)
We’ve gone from eating no sugar, to over 150lbs a year in the US(16), and have switched to a cheaper but even deadlier form of sugar, high fructose corn syrup. We have been ‘fructed’. A 2 litre bottle of cola can provide over 50 teaspoons of sugar.
We should be taxing sugar and sugary drinks, as we do alcohol and cigarettes, and spending it on health and nutrition education. Instead of giving a pill for every ill we need to focus on the true causes of disease. We have to make good food more attractive and less expensive and bad food less attractive and more expensive.
In 2012 we wrote Ten Secrets of Healthy Ageing concluding that the secret to surfing the silver tsunami was ‘sex, no drugs, and rock ‘n roll’. The fewer drugs you take the longer you live, and exercising, having fun, and staying in touch with friends and family are vital pieces of the health equation.
Too much of the bad stuff
Not enough of the good stuff
When you repeatedly go for the ‘bad stuff’ your health lists towards the bad side. Your body goes into an unhealthy ‘inflammatory’ state, and all kinds of body systems become out of balance. The sicker you are the more of the good stuff you need. That’s why higher amounts of vitamins and minerals work to reverse diseases.
My definition of good medicine is:
Hippocrates was on the case more than 2000 years ago concluding that ‘When enough sins [against Nature] have accumulated disease suddenly results’. He also thought “what’s good for the heart is good for the head.”
My latest book, Good Medicine, applies these principles to today’s 75 most common diseases. Most of the advice, about diet and lifestyle, is not known to your doctor - not because there isn’t good scientific evidence, but simply because it isn’t taught in medical school. The truth is if you want to find out how to prevent or reverse most of today’s chronic diseases you are going to have to find out for yourself. The only person who can transform your health is you.
1. Forbes, ‘The Best Selling Drugs Since 1996 – Why AbbVie’s Humira is set to Eclipse Pfizer’s Lipitor’
2. F. Taylor, et al., ‘Statins for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease’, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2011;(1):CD004816
3. Cancer Research, ‘Lifetime risk over time’
4. Cancer Prevention Coalition statistics http://www.preventcancer.com/losing/nci/manipulates.htm
5. Wikipedia on sugar, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar
6. BBC News Channel, ‘Older People on Drug Cocktail’, Tuesday 28 July 2009
7. D. Garfinkel and D Mangin, ‘Feasibility study of a systematic approach for discontinuation of multiple medications in older adults: addressing polypharmacy.’, Arch Intern Med. 2010 Oct 11;170(18):1648-54
8. H.A. Bischoff-Ferrari et al, ‘Milk intake and risk of hip fracture in men and women: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies’, J Bone Miner Res, 2011 Apri;26(4):833-9 doi:10.1002/jbmr.279
9. D.Fergusson et al., ‘Association between suicide attempts and SSRIs: Systematic review of randomized controlled trials’ British Medical Journal, 2005; 330:396-404
10. Total cost of mental health in 2010 is estimated at £2,500 billion, of which 33.3% is direct cost (see ), of which 27% is prescription drugs (see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18519528) http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/12/17/seven-facts-about-americas-mental-health-care-system/)
11. P. Lichtenstein et al., ‘Environmental and Heritable Factors in the Causation of Cancer — Analyses of Cohorts of Twins from Sweden, Denmark, and Finland’, N Eng J Med, vol 343(2), 2000, pp. 78-85
12. J.L. Stanford, et al., ‘Prostate cancer trends 1973–1995’, SEER Program, National Cancer Institute. NIH Pub. No. 99–4543. Bethesda, MD, 1999
14. M.Pirmohamed et al., Adverse drug reactions as cause of admission to hospital: prospective analysis of 18 820 patients.’ British Medical Journal 2004 Jul 3;329(7456):15-9.
15. R. Mendelsohn, Confessions of a Medical Heretic, Contemporary Books, 1976
16. USDA statistics http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=56589