Sunday, August 30, 2009


An article in the August 23, 2009 edition of the LA Times reports about the possibility of a “Sin Tax” on junk food. This would be similar to the one currently imposed on cigarettes. The purpose of such a tax would be to deter the purchase and consumption of junk foods and steer people towards eating healthier food.

The thinking behind such a tax is that by directing people to eat healthier food and avoid sweet, salty junk food, we can have an impact on reducing the incidence of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity in this country. In principle, this is a great idea. However, statistics from places already imposing this kind of tax reveal another story.

In Maine, for example, a 5.5% snack tax actually coincided with a doubling of the obesity rate from 10% to 20%. In other countries, such a tax apparently drove consumers from sweet foods to high fat and salt-rich foods. The result of such a diet is well known to have an adverse impact on health by increasing the rate of high blood pressure and heart disease. I think it is essential to move people to eat healthier food in general. But, simple nutritional education or the imposition of new taxes by themselves, just don’t seem to do the trick.

I recently saw a brilliant film called Food Inc. This documentary looks at the US food industry. It not only shows in high relief how our food is processed, but also depicts the politics and financial realities that work behind the scenes of US food production. The picture is appalling.

First of all, it is incredible to see example-after-example presented of how unconscious we are of the foods we consume every day. In addition, it is startling to understand the scope and impact that the massive, food corporations have on manipulating our food, often operating with complete impunity and wielding enough power to make the government genuflect. One frightening projection sees that in the next ten years, one out of three young people in this country will have Type II Diabetes. This statistic is terrifying especially in light of the national debate about universal health care coverage. The prospect of millions more diabetics will see medical costs and insurance rates skyrocket in this country. And guess who is going to pay for it? Not the big food companies.

I think that if we are contemplating universal health care reform, we should also be seriously considering some kind of enforcement of healthy, dietary guidelines. If the government is going to foot the bill, then there should be some accountability from the food industry to help improve our diet. It is a basic fact that eating a healthier diet can dramatically reduce most of the illnesses we face today. If the food industry is allowed to be driven solely by profitability and to continue producing whatever sweet, fat, salty garbage they want to sell to the public, then they should be held responsible for the consequences. After all, there is a successful precedent with reform of the tobacco industry.

The government is not going to be able to afford to pay for health care with such a large percentage of the American population suffering from various preventable illnesses. The stated foundation of health insurance is that the premiums of healthy individuals help to defray the cost of treating the sick. This logic will not work when significant proportions of the population are ill and require health care. If we insist on eating unhealthy food and the food industry continues to produce it, then they should be held responsible for footing the bill for the resultant illnesses and disease. It is logical and more importantly, it is in the public interest to let them reap what they sow.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


I read an amazing article in the August 5, 2009 NY Times about Wyeth, the Pharma giant who makes Premarin and Prempro. If you don’t recognize these medicines by name, these are horse hormones that are given to women. They are the same ones that have been shown in the ongoing Women’s Health Initiative study to cause an increased risk of breast cancer, heart disease and stroke. Unfortunately, these horse hormones are also giving ALL hormones a black eye.

In addition, Wyeth is the same pharmaceutical company that is lobbying heavily in Washington to shut down compounding pharmacies and to strictly regulate the production of compounded bioidentical hormones. The Times’ article goes on to report that Wyeth was discovered during the course of lawsuits to have hired ghostwriters to produce 26 so-called “scientific papers”. These were published in respectable medical journals under doctors’ names and all took the position of supporting the use of hormone replacement therapy in women. Written between 1998 and 2005, the articles emphasized the benefits and downgraded the risks of taking hormones. Coincidentally, sales of Wyeth products Premarin and Prempro rose to unbelievable heights of almost $2 billion in 2001.

Wyeth now faces approximately 8400 lawsuits from women claiming that their hormone drugs caused a variety of illnesses. Physicians rely heavily on drug companies for updated information on new treatments. It was reported in the LA Times that in 2005, 90% of all continuing medical education for physicians was paid for by drug companies. The article further reported that at least 75% of all Americans over the age of 65 take a prescription drug on a daily basis.

These statistics has to make you think about where your doctor is formulating his opinions and decision-making data. When doctors tell a patient about a drug or treatment plan, one has to ask—who is really doing the talking? Think about it. Do we ever question our doctors? Do we ever ask them where they got their information? Historically, doctors have been revered for their knowledge and objective judgment when it comes to decision-making regarding a patient’s welfare. I think it is time that we become more circumspect about doctors’ decision making process and how it impacts their patients. It’s a fact that many doctors today are in Big Pharma pockets. And these are very deep pockets.

If doctors are being controlled by Big Pharma both in the literature they read and the conferences they go to, who do you think is directing your medical care? It’s also important to recognize that Big Pharma has been at this game of influence for a long time. They are business people. They are not healers. They routinely calculate and build into their financial projections and bottom line how many deaths and lawsuits will be incurred by bringing new drugs to market. And if the drug looks profitable, they will release it, often knowing full well that people may die as a result. It is a calculated risk. The LA Times reported that most new prescription drugs are expected to show a profit within 90 days. This is unbelievable! How much marketing, lobbying, and “doctor education” must go into a developing the kind of product that can achieve this objective?

I believe that patients must take control of health care now and before it is too late. Doctors certainly don’t always have your best interest in mind. If they did they wouldn’t submit to influence of Big Pharma brainwashing. Doctors would do their own studying and research like they used to do. They would question Big Pharma more carefully instead of dispensing the “free samples” left in their office by that attractive, young Big Pharma rep.

I am sorry to say that medical ethics have fallen to new lows in this country and they continue to decline. Doctors have been pressured and even coerced into a position that is unheard of in the history of the healing profession. They are targeted from every angle. They are told what to prescribe and how much they can charge for their services. In many cases, they have lost control of their professional lives. It is sad. I recognize that I am also unfortunately a part of it, but will try to practice more consciously and with knowledge that the influence of Big Pharma is lurking out there.

Unfortunately, patients are victimized as well. And it starts when we are so young we don’t even realize it. In 2002, the head of the Drug Committee for the American Academy of Pediatrics said, “We are entering what could be the Golden Age for kids and pharmaceuticals”. Can you imagine? Kids and pharmaceuticals? Are there no limits? Where is the outrage and media attention? With media companies and print publications desperate in today’s down turned economy for advertising revenue, Big Pharm is seen as a white knight coming to the rescue—so don’t look for any exposes about this nefarious campaign soon.

I leave you with one last thought. In Ancient Greece, the word “pharmakon” meant both “remedy” and “poison”. It’s in the hands of the provider that modern medical chemistry can represent the former. So, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor about the safety and any medications that he prescribes—and be an informed consumer who reads the labels, contraindications, and does the research, especially on new products. And most of all, BE WELL!