We Are the Rats for Drug Companies Too

August 11, 2010 in Blog Recipes, Diabetic Menu Item, Health Claims, Mediterranean by Victor Bunderson

My recent post “We are the Rats” dealt with how the lack of testing new food-like substances make us the rats – subjects in massive uncontrolled research studies on how to maximize profits from the invention of new molecules and substances for use in food products.   This post extends that argument to the questionable necessity to taking some drugs as well, in this case, Statins.   My earlier post pushed back against the complaints of food company spokespeople that rat studies are not human studies.  It is impossible to do the detailed, highly controlled studies, harmful to the subjects that are done with lab rats, but using humans.  Nevertheless, when the foodstuffs become very widespread we become the unwitting subjects in massive field trials that eventually lead to the discovery of serious side effects, leading to our sickness and even death.

The same thing can be said of medications that get adopted and used by millions of people.  Lately the safety of statins, drugs that lower cholesterol in the blood, is being challenged.  FDA standards for approval have provided some safeguards. At least Statins and other mass-distributed drugs have stringent clinical trials to prove the safety of the drugs and doses before their release for wide use. But then the idea of greatly increased sales occurs to someone.  “Get healthy people to take Statins to prevent heart troubles. Then our market will be greatly enlarged”. This is a line of logic too financially tantalizing to resist. (Statins were originally prescribed for those who had already experienced one heart attack.  Statin use gave good results, so the companies sought FDA approval to use their products before the first heart attack or stroke.)

Melissa Healy describes the result in an LA Times column, August 9, 2010.

“About 24 million Americans take the drugs …

At the zenith of their profitability, these medications raked in $26.2 billion a year for their manufacturers…”

“Today, a majority of people who use statins are doing so for primary prevention of heart attacks and strokes. It is this use of statins that has come under recent attack.”

Healy also quotes Abramson, the author of "Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine (P.S.): The best way to drive down the risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the first place is to exercise regularly, not smoke, drink in moderation and eat a healthy Mediterranean-style diet. But, he added, "this message gets drowned out by the commercial interests" of pharmaceutical companies who stand to benefit from increased sales. (Italics added).

We would add the words of Dr. Neal Bernard, in Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings---And 7 Steps to End Them Naturally, p 25: “Rather than quitting the offending food, we end up on medications…Four thousand Americans have heart attacks every day, largely due to bad diets, smoking, and other lifestyle factors that we could potentially control, were we able to conquer our addictions.  I cannot tell you how many people tell me their cholesterol problems are genetic. And that may be true for perhaps one in ten, but for the rest, it was not bad genes their parents gave them, but bad recipes and tastes for foods that drive cholesterol levels up.”

More research can and will be conducted to assure that such a widespread use of Statins will not bring about other serious side effects.  Such research will show how much benefit the drugs can make for how much cost in side effects. Maybe the research will show that certain people with certain genetics or histories should not take them.  The research can be used in marketing to soothe people who want to take the pill rather than make the life-style changes. The point is, you can’t get the heart health benefits out of a pill that you can get from exercise and diet changes – a life-style change, not a temporary diet. The percentage improvement in your chances of getting a stroke or heart attack due to the pill will be much less than the percentage improvement you could achieve by following Dr. Abramson’s or Dr. Bernard’s advice, (or of course, Dr. Grandma’s advice).

In addition to learning about the costs of the side effects that eventually are identified from the preventive use of statins, it would also be possible to estimate the financial cost to those who take it (and their insurance policies).  It is only a drop in the bucket to add in the majority of that $24 billion! A Full or True Cost Accounting (See blogs Part 1 and Part 2 on this subject) would add multiples of these dollars in taxes for all of us, and health-care costs for those who rely on pills rather than life-style changes.  Those who choose pills rather than food and exercise changes are more likely to suffer the consequences in other areas of total health besides cholesterol, as the diagram in these two posts shows.  This culminates in greater health care costs across the board.

So here’s another Mediterranean-Style recipe from Dr. Grandma for those of you who want to get off the pill wagon and onto the yummy food and health train. This Fresh Apricot, Avocado and Cucumber Salsa is served on Orange Roughy (firm white fish), but it would be equally delicious on chicken, pork or whatever you enjoy. This really was an exceptionally tasty salsa. Another option is to use it for dipping. The Mediterranean-style of eating is shear pleasure (the flavors puts health in the background).