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Pharmaceuticals Vs. Nutraceutricals

Friday, April 17, 2009

Pharmaceuticals Vs Nutraceuticals.
The debate goes on. The Pharmaceutical industry claims that their products are specifically targeted to disease and are more effective than nutritional supplements. But what about side effects?
What about the long term dangers and unknown risks? Nutritional supplement manufacturers do not have the advertising dollars available to pharmaceutical companies and fight an uphill battle to get their message out to the public.

News of dangers and side effects of pharmaceuticals are rarely given much attention by the press, whereas cautions about effectiveness of nutritional supplements compared to pharmaceuticals are given a lot of space by the media.

An example of the suppressed stories of pharmaceutical dangers is the recent story about the birth defects resulting from the epilepsy drug Valproate (Depacon, Abbott Laboratories). It has long been associated with spina bifida, and women of childbearing age have been advised to avoid it. But the media and medical journals virtually ignored its other risks, such as liver damage. In a recent New England Journal of Medicine article, physicians who until now have ignored the drug’s potential dangers to fetuses have been alerted to diminished IQ in children of mothers taking Valproate. This drug is taken by women who have epilepsy, a brain disorder that causes people to have recurring seizures, as well as for Migraine headaches and mood disorders.

Toddlers whose mothers had taken valproate had IQs of 92, on average, compared to IQ scores in the range of 98 to 101 for children of women who had taken other epilepsy drugs such as lamotrigine, phenytoin, and carbamazepine, and the higher the dosage of valproate a woman had taken, the lower the IQ of the child, the researchers found. For the other drugs, dosage levels made no significant difference. One defect of this study is that the researchers did not include the children of mothers who did not take any epilepsy medication.

The problem of media bias toward pharmaceutical press releases (and in this I include “research” articles in peer reviewed journals) is compounded by authors who are paid by the pharmaceutical companies to write favorable reports about their drugs. These financial relationships are sometimes concealed or otherwise downplayed. A recent Wall Street Journal article (April 15, 2009) revealed how the Journal of the AMA mishandled a case of an author who wrote a favorable article on Lexapro (an antidepressant) while having a financial relationship with the company that manufactures the drug. The author (Robert Robinson, MD of the University of Iowa) later admitted he was paid by Forest Laboratories, the maker of Lexapro, but the matter remains unresolved.

The coverage of abuses appears to by orchestrated to influence public opinion; by downplaying the bad results of pharmaceuticals and emphasizing the rare bad result of a nutritional supplement.

The problem is compounded by the fact that many Americans ignore news about drug risks, complications and recalls. They even ignore recalls of contaminated foods. According to Reuters News Service on April 17, 2009, only 60% of Americans checked their homes for products contaminated with Salmonella despite nine reported deaths and 700 illnesses caused by contaminated foods. “Getting consumers to pay attention to news about recalls isn’t the hard part. It’s getting them to take the step of actually looking for the contaminated food products in their homes”, said Professor William Hallman of Rutgers University. Most people think that the warnings apply to others, but not them.

Getting the news out about the higher risks of pharmaceutical drugs compared to nutritional supplements will help only when the public takes it seriously.

The fact is that nutritional supplements are, in many cases, safer and just as effective, in treating and preventing degenerative disease.

Spencer Thornton, M.D.