Alternative Health - Now You See It, Now You Don't
Alternative health is under assault, but not in the way people think. I'm not talking about some imagined government conspiracy or obsessing over some exposé of medical cabals actively suppressing secret cures for cancer. Besides not being true, that line of thought is pretty much unproductive and, in the end, facilitates the very result you're trying to avoid. No, what I'm talking about is a series of unconnected, below the radar, events that mean very little by themselves but when taken as a whole, have a devastating impact on your ability to access the supplements you want and need.
By choosing to focus on imaginary conspiracies, the alternative health community is much like an audience at a magic show distracted by the exaggerated movements of the magician's right hand, while his left hand does all the magic stuff -- unnoticed by the audience. In fact, there have been a series of headline stories that have appeared in the media over the last couple of months that when taken as a whole are like the magician's right hand -- thoroughly distracting us, while our pockets are quietly being picked, unbeknownst to us, by the left hand. (This is the same phenomenon I talked about in my Don't Look at the Pinstripes newsletter back in 2003.) Ultimately, this represents the single greatest threat to your right to obtain the supplements and foods you want and need to maintain your health and reverse catastrophic illness.
Let's start our examination of this issue by looking at a couple of those attention grabbing, right-handed stories in the news.
What the right hand is doing to confuse the public about complementary medicine
I recently published a blog entry on United States House Bill 875. All over the internet, Emails, the blogosphere, and YouTube videos abound on this issue -- all claiming a grand conspiracy by the US government to take away your right to have access to organic food, not to mention plans to throw you in jail for planting a home garden. Although the conspiracy aspect is total nonsense, the danger of misguided government regulation is not. If not conspiracy, then what motivates government officials to attack the alternative health industry? I believe there are a number of motivations including money, ignorance, and publicity seeking. For example:
- Some regulations are designed to protect large farming interests (the growers of some supplement ingredients) from foreign competition.
- Other regulations, such as HR 875, are the result of a misguided attempt to address a real public issue -- people getting sick from contaminated foods or supplements.
- Or how about Governor Patterson's proposal to tax soda pop in New York?
- Then again, other regulations such as the assault on Cocaine Soda a couple of years ago are the result of petty bureaucrats trying to capitalize on an easy target and capture some newspaper headlines. In fact, the State of Connecticut went so far as to seize 300 cases of the soda in order to grab headlines. And even though it's all nonsense, I believe these were the same contributing factors behind HR 875. Oh, I almost forgot to mention, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, who proposed the bill, is from Connecticut, the state of the soda seizers. It seems legislators from Connecticut will do anything to steal a headline from their New York counterparts.
- And yet other motivations such as those behind Codex Alimentarius or GlaxoSmithKline's petition to the FDA truly represent a blatant attempt by big pharma to take control of the supplement industry.
I think you get the idea. Although the reasons share certain elements in common, they really are too varied and represent too many different interests to be part of a single grand conspiracy. Also keep in mind how hard it is to keep everyone in government on the same page -- even in the same party -- unless you're running a dictatorship. And keep in mind that government restriction on your right to choose the supplements you want and need is hardly an American exclusive. In fact, access to alternative supplements and remedies is probably greater in America than just about anywhere else in the world -- a very scary concept.
- Canada pretty much restricts any supplement actually demonstrated to have an effect -- even those supplements extracted from food such as DMAE.
- The European Health Initiative bans virtually any supplement or vitamin not part of the "accepted mainstream" and in any amounts beyond pixie dust. Again, similar to Canada -- if it works, you can't have it -- even if it has a safety record stretching back hundreds of years in countries with ancient medical traditions such as India or China.
- And Australia is now using a variety of regulations to ban the importation of everything from digestive enzymes to wheat grass juice powder -- mostly based on agricultural and trade issues as opposed to health or safety issues.
Instead of conspiracy, look to uninformed legislators hoping to capitalize on hot issues by scoring points ahead of the "competition." There is nothing new here. I talked about this phenomenon several years ago in my Counting Camels newsletter.
Doctors get to regulate medical care AND alternative health
Another problem that alternative health faces is that doctors are not gods; often they are all too human and are hardly disinterested third parties. They have every reason in the world to promote their expertise and dismiss any discipline or so called "expertise" not in their purview -- and yes, any products or treatments that do not represent their financial interest. This results in many problems.
First, it can lead to out and out fraud. If one digs a little, the internet is riddled with countless stories of doctors who falsified study data to produce results that advance their interests -- whether ego related, or financially motivated. And one does not have to dig very far to find them. In fact, just last week one of the principle researchers for Pfizer's Vioxx and Celebrex painkillers was shown to be falsifying his data in dozens of high-profile research studies and lectures. And of course, those studies served as references and citations for hundreds of subsequent studies. So, why would someone do something like that? Well, it turns out the doctor in question received grants for his research from Pfizer from 2002 to 2007, and he also gave talks about Pfizer drugs to colleagues as part of the drug company's speakers' bureau. It should be noted that as word of his fraudulent research emerged, Pfizer quickly attempted to distance itself from the discredited work, saying the company was "not involved in the conduct of any of these independent studies or in the interpretation or publication of the study results." And yes, I'm sure it's true that they didn't actually "ask" him to falsify his results; they merely paid him to produce good results -- a subtle distinction.
One might ask why no one questioned his data sooner. Perhaps it has something to do with the hostile way the medical community treats its own whistle blowers and/or supporters of alternative therapies. In any case, the bottom line is that vitamin companies do not have the assets to compete with pharmaceutical companies when it comes to partnering with doctors and researchers (that is to say, buying their affection and support). Until that changes, so called scientific studies will always be biased in favor of pharmaceuticals.
Silly studies that discredit complementary health remedies
The press regularly prints and reprints the results of bogus studies without question. I could turn rebutting "scientific nonsense" into a full time job (if someone paid me for it):
- Science VS antioxidants
- Vitamins E, C, Beta Carotene and Cancer
- The Case against Vitamin E
- Vitamin E, One More Time
- JAMA VS Echinacea
- Echinacea, Have Mercy
Even worse, because money for investigative journalism is in such short supply, the press now regularly recycles old stories -- making them look like fresh news -- since it's much cheaper and easier than coming up with new stories. The net result is an overwhelming sense that the scientific community believes that alternative health remedies, natural supplements, antioxidants, and vitamins are a waste of money.
What the left hand is actually doing to pick your pockets and take away your access to complementary medicine
Actually, before we get to the left hand, it's probably worth mentioning the effect of all these right hand activities mentioned above.
- The sponsors of HR 875 have already said they are going to rewrite the bill to take care of the concerns of organic farmers and home gardeners. And let's get real here. Did anyone really think Michelle Obama was going to jail for growing an organic garden on the White House grounds? Not gonna happen. I mean the whole purpose of the garden is "to educate children about healthful, locally grown fruit and vegetables at a time when obesity and diabetes have become a national concern."
- Cocaine Energy drink merely renamed itself "Censored" and is still for sale.
- It's been a year since GlaxoSmithKline submitted its petition to the FDA to restrict weight loss claims for alternative health products. Their petition has not yet been approved.
- Despite all the news stories and studies knocking their effectiveness, sales of Echinacea, vitamins, and antioxidants are more popular than ever -- literally surging over the last few months.
- Codex creeps along, year after year, but has not been approved in any form yet that would impact sales of supplements in the United States.
The net result of all this right hand activity, as Shakespeare might say, is that it struts and frets its hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." But then again, "signifying nothing" does not mean that nothing is happening. Remember, the magician's left hand is hard at work.
So what do I mean by the left hand? I mean all of those activities that are happening below the radar, out of your line of sight -- transgressions that are steadily eroding your right to purchase the supplements you want and need, or even to have access to information that would let you know what those supplements might be.
Some of these transgressions are committed by government agencies
Much of the information we rely on concerning alternative health remedies comes from the internet...and independent bloggers in particular. Well, that's just unacceptable for the powers that be. Revised guidelines on endorsements and testimonials by the Federal Trade Commission, now under review and expected to be adopted, would hold companies liable for untruthful statements made by bloggers and users of social networking sites who receive samples of their products. And if that's not bad enough, those guidelines would also hold bloggers liable for the statements they make about products. Imagine that: potential fines and jail time for making an offhanded comment in your blog about a product you like. Note: unlike HR 875, these regulations do not require public debate, do not require a vote in congress, and are slipping through under the radar. While people are screaming about HR 875, has anyone contacted you about these regulatory changes that specifically put bloggers who share alternative health information at risk?
Some of these transgressions are committed by the pharmaceutical companies and big business
Everyone seems to think the major pharmaceutical companies are out to eliminate alternative health remedies. Not true. Far from it! What they want to do is squeeze out the competition and take the field over as another profit center. This is done in several ways.
Buying up the makers of vitamins and supplements
Did you know that:
- Bayer already owns One-a-Day and Flintstone vitamins?
- Natrol, Inc was acquired by India's Plethico Pharmaceuticals Limited?
- Tom's of Maine was purchased by Colgate Palmolive
- Odwalla Juice is owned by Coca Cola
- Burt's Bees was acquired by Clorox
- And on, and on, and on
- It's also worth noting that Merck's nutritional supplement business is growing by close to 10% a quarter -- accounting for some $124 million (93.8 million Euros) in sales in just the last quarter.
- And it's not just people supplements. Pfizer, for example, has a whole line of pet supplements.
There's no principal involved here. It's all about money. If there's a profit to be made, the major pharmaceutical companies want it -- all of it -- and they have no problem co-opting the enemy's products to get it.
Producing patented, prescription only versions of said supplements
It's worth noting that this has all been done before. The entire pharmaceutical/drug industry is an outgrowth of the herbal industry. Many, many prescription drugs are based on the active ingredients found in medicinal plants. Tamiflu is a plant extract from the Chinese star anise. Digitalis is derived from foxglove, aspirin from white willow bark, and tamoxifen from the Pacific yew to name just a few.
In fact, the word "drug" comes from the old Dutch/German word "droog," which refers to the process used to dry herbs to turn them into medicines.
Nowadays, we see things such as:
But worst of all is the general dumbing down of alternative health concepts by companies large and small
- How useless has the word detox become? Detoxing now refers to everything from colon cleansing products, to shampoos, and even foot baths.
- And what product doesn't have added probiotics now? Heck, companies are even selling meat with added probiotics.
- And how many times a day do you need 100% of your recommended daily allowance of synthetic vitamins, fiber, or Omega-3 fatty acids?
- Or think about how many cases of skin cancer would have been prevented (not) if people had just been using enough pomegranate shower gel or acai berry skin lotion or probiotic toothpaste or, or, or!
Conclusion - Supplements are being picked from your pocket
The net result is that valuable supplements are being rendered meaningless. The mere mention of their names is becoming laughable. And this is happening, every day, under the radar. The bottom line is that while people are being distracted by things that will never happen, the very things they are trying to protect are being picked from their pockets on a daily basis.
Maybe an analogy will help. When people obsessed over major crime (murder, robbery, etc.), it continued to grow year after year. Once police started focusing on cleaning up the previously ignored petty crimes such as graffiti and broken windows (AKA zero tolerance policing), major scale crime started to plummet. I submit that until the alternative health community learns to stop focusing exclusively on major issues (Codex, Congressional bills, etc.), and starts paying attention to the smaller things, the rights of everyone interested in optimized health will be steadily eroded. Yes, there is a need to make your voice heard when it comes to Codex and HR 875 -- but not to the exclusion of those things that are picking your pocket today.