What does the rest of the world know that Dr. Rory Collins, Professor of Medicine at Oxford University does not? Why does Big Pharma and the medical establishment spend millions of dollars in an effort to show dietary supplements don’t work and then sell them to us in such low doses they have no chance of working anyway? If Professor Collins really does know what’s best for us, why does the public spend upward of US$20 billion every year on dietary supplements? Are we really the dupes Professor Collins says we are? I don’t think so, Professor! Let’s take a look at what’s really going on here.
This July the UK press, the BBC and CNN were full of the results of a new study conducted by Oxford University’s Clinical Trial Services Unit, led by Dr. Rory Collins, who conducted a five-year US$32 million survey known as the Heart Protection Study. The study was paid paid for by the pharmaceutical companies Merck and Roche, makers of two of the best selling cholesterol-lowering statin drugs on the market, Mevacor and Zocor. The main purpose of the study was to determine the effect of statin drugs on heart disease. The survey took 20,000 adults in hospitals between the ages of 40 and 80 who were at high risk of heart disease. Most were already suffering from diabetes, coronary heart disease or blocked blood vessels in their legs and some had already suffered strokes. Not exactly a healthy bunch.
Participants were given 40 mg per day of the cholesterol-lowering drug simavastin (Zocor), made by Merck, against a similar sized placebo group who received nothing. Alongside of the statin survey another group was given a daily dose of three vitamin antioxidants in the form of 250mg Vitamin C, 600mg vitamin E and 25 mg of Beta-carotene.
Heart Attacks Cut by a Third
The big news is, the study found a third of all heart attacks and strokes can be avoided by using statin drugs to lower blood cholesterol levels, irrespective of the person’s age or sex, and even if their cholesterol levels were not high. That is good news indeed, but there’s more. The survey also showed that statins are safe to use over an extended period.
“ These results are as important as the findings about aspirin’s effect on heart attack and strokes. In fact statins are the new aspirin”, crowed a triumphant Professor Collins, who has a penchant for conducting well-funded studies for big drug companies.
Indeed, if the study is to be believed this is very good news for potential victims of heart attacks and stokes. But, on a more cautionary note, bear in mind it is also very good news for the makers of statin drugs.
Not only does it claim to show that statins work, but that they are safe for long term use. A finding that is vitally important for the bottom line of the big drug companies who need to demonstrate this before statins can enjoy the multi-billion $ blockbuster status confidently predicted for them.
But Some Statins Kill……
Inconveniently for the drug majors, the statin drug Baycol or cerivastatin had to be withdrawn not long ago because it killed 32 people.
So there’s an awful lot of money and reputation riding on the results of a study like this. The temptation to cut corners and to tailor methodology to obtain the desired result are huge and there have already been questions about the structure and validity of this study’s conclusions.
You can get an idea of what’s at stake when Dr. Jane Armitage, the study’s clinical co-ordinator says “We think this will triple the number of people who should use statins. There are large numbers of people out there who are at risk and are not being treated”. Small wonder that Professor Collins is so cock-a-hoop! He and his team reckon they’ve hit the big time and will ride into a glorious future on the back of blockbuster statin drugs.
While statins have shown they are effective in cutting cholesterol, some time will need to elapse before we know they are as safe as the drug companies would have us believe. Statins are thought to have other major health benefits in other areas too, so if all goes well who cares if the drug companies are going to make zillions of dollars? Heart disease is the world’s No.1 killer, this could save millions of lives in a matter of decades. In this case they deserve the money. But for now, doubts remain. This study is supposed to dispel them, but if another Baycol situation occurs all bets are off.
But the Big News is…….
But is this what made the headlines?
Oh no! “Vitamins are a total waste of money!”, thunders Prof. Collins. “There is no need to supplement” , encourages Dr. Armitage, “ just eat your fruit and vegetables”. Where did all this come from? Well, it turns out that the people in the study who had been given the three vitamins had showed no change, good or bad.
You might think, mightn’t you, that when a finding about strokes and heart disease as important as this has just been announced, this is what would hit the headlines? Not a bit of it! CNN, the BBC and all the national newspapers had a field day making out that the 10 million plus people in the UK who spend about US$300m a year on nutritional supplements were fools and dupes.
What is it about supplements that causes such wrath on the part of the medical establishment and Big Pharma, do you suppose? Why are they at such pains to say it is a waste of time? And, if it is a waste of time, why are they so desperate to control it themselves? Why are they so outraged that you and I can decide for ourselves whether or not we want to buy the stuff?
Here’s an example of the lengths to which they are prepared to go. Last year the big drug companies were able to ban the sale to the public of red yeast rice, a natural substance which contains the same ingredient as certain of the statins and with the same cholesterol-reducing effect, but naturally, at far lower cost and without any of the adverse side effects of the synthesised statin drugs. Astonishingly, the statin manufacturers were able to claim successfully in court that theirpatents had been infringed. In other words, by law we can no longer buy a substance that has been freely available to us from the beginning of time because a drug company has been able to chemically synthesise the natural ingredient it contains and patent it. That is a rather frightening development!
Supplements are big biz. We buy somewhere between US$20 billion to $30 billion every year. This is money Big Pharma feels should go to them. The medical establishment thinks that they and not we should have the right to decide on matters of our own health. They are historically against anything that threatens their prerogatives to make money and their authority. Together with Big Pharma they form a powerful vested interest that will resist any new, or in this case old, forms of treatment which they feel threaten their interests.
Catching the Weasel……..
Here’s how this survey is fatally flawed in what it says about dietary supplements;
u They claim this is the first “proper” survey of nutritional supplements. Not so. In the past thirty years there have been over 70,000 surveys conducted, including 13,000 properly conducted clinical trials and 5,000 random controlled studies. Even such bastions of the medical establishment as the American Medical Assoc. and it’s journal JAMA now allow the beneficial effects of supplementation. Even the US government’s Department of Health says so.
u The survey measures only three substances Vitamins A, C & E, and yet it would have you believe that ALL supplements are useless. That is totally unsupported by the f indings and it is most irresponsible to indicate otherwise. If nothing else, this shows the partisan nature that inspires this research.
u Nobody has ever claimed or said that vitamins A, C & E by themselves will cure you of existing diabetes, heart disease or prevent you from having a second stroke when you are at high risk of it. It is farcical to take a group of people who already suffer from all of the above, give them a few vitamins and then claim that all nutritional supplementation doesn’t work because they are not cured. What has been shown beyond any doubt is that supplementation at therapeutic levels can and does prevent chronic conditions like heart disease and cancer. That it delays aging and, as an adjutant therapy, can play a major part in the successful treatment of degenerative disease.
u This study gives a very limited amount of supplementation, on which it bases flawed and sweeping conclusions. Just three substances: vitamin C 250 mg, vitamin E 600 mg and beta carotene 20mg, a form of vitamin A. Nowhere does it state what form these took. Vitamins come in a variety of forms, some more effective than others. Unless you have a full spectrum of vitamin E for example, the benefits are limited. Given the suspect methodology employed and the fact that they do not publicly release exactly what was used, the suspicion that this study has a second agenda, i.e. to discredit the use of supplements, is re-inforced.
u It is, alas, a sad fact that Oxford University is an institution in much reduced circumstances. Like many other universities, Oxford badly needs and increasingly dependsupon money from big business and there are few businesses bigger than Big Pharma. If statin drugs are anything like as effective and free of major adverse side effects as we all hope, and if Prof. Collins is right about their being “the new aspirin”, then the profits are going to be astronomic. Especially at the huge profit margins to be made on these drugs. They won’t cost the same as aspirin, of that you can be sure!
u And lastly, if you think the drug majors Merck and Roche are going to shell out $32 million to what is now an impoverished, second tier university, which never was exactly at the cutting edge of medical research even in it’s heyday, and not expect to get the answer they want, I respectfully suggest you may be being a little naive. The ante is far too big for that and Big Pharma has never allowed ethics to get in the way of profits, judging by the criminal activities they have pleaded ‘no contest’ to recently.
Of Saints, Sinners & Cartels…..
The thing about Big Pharma is that they are both heroes and villains. They spend billions of dollars to come up with the magic bullet, the drug that hits big. From time to time they hit paydirt with something like the statins, which look like they will save millions of lives and be of enormous service to humanity. But as often as not they will spend these same billions competing to developing a new Viagra or some other “life-style” drug.
All too often they have shown themselves to be sadly lacking in scruple and have been found guilty of routine price-gouging and operating an illegal cartel to fix prices by both the US and EU governments. Just like Enron and others, their managements are not particularly principled people. They are not entirely to blame, the medical and regulatory bodies bear a lot of responsibility for the obscenely high cost of drugs and collaborate with the drug companies to rig the market. It costs something like $800 million simply to get FDA approval to introduce a new drug.
In the developed world today one in five people are taking supplements of one kind or another. Professor Collins, eager to oblige his paymasters, says we are all fools and are wasting our money. He and others like him only want us to buy what they say is good for us. He and his pals want to regulate the supplements market so you can’t buy any supplement in a dosage that would do you any good at all. Unless, that is, you first go to a doctor, who at a nice price will recommend you buy an expensive drug, which has been synthesised and patented from a natural herb or substance that you used to be able to buy in shop yourself for a fraction of the price and without the cost of a consultation and prescription.
While it may be true is that 70% of all nutritional supplements don’t work, that is not because they are ineffective. On the contrary, they can and do play an enormous part in preventing disease as well as treating it.
Nor is it because some makers are outright villains, which more than a few undoubtedly are. No, it is because most makers sell you these things in such low doses it’ll not do you any good at all. They are aided and abetted in this by our governments who have been persuaded to pass upper limits on almost everything that would work. Only in the US does the public still retain the right to decide for themselves on such things. In Australia and Europe you no longer can. That is why you cannot buy therapeutic formulations from these countries any more.
We’re Doing this For You, Honest!
It’s all being done for our own good of course.
But that is just so much Ostrich Ordure. Properly prescribed medical drugs kill hundreds of thousands of us every year. Is this what you hear about? No it is not. What you hear is a whole palava how ephedra, a natural stimulant, has killed a few tens of people in as many years and how legislation is needed to protect us from ALL dietary supplements by classifying them as drugs and putting upper limits on anything you can buy over the counter. Puhleese! Pull the other one, it’s got bells on!
And now just guess, who owns the biggest of these companies who will be selling you these low-dose supplements they say won’t work and have just spent a few millions in small change on a study to tell you that?
Why Yes! It’s Big Jim Pharma himself, your friendly ‘ethical’ drug pusher that’s who! He’s out to get your money either way if he can. Its’a wicked, wicked world……..
Comments or queries
Copyright © 2002 ParacelsusAsia
The study is fundamentally flawed. It is farcical to take a group of sick people , who already suffer from diabetes, stroke and heart disease, give them an unspecified dose of 3 vitamins a day and then claim all nutritional supplements don’t work because these patients are not cured.