However, here we are in 2022 and both the medical profession and public alike remain largely hypnotised into thinking the way forward for the prevention and treatment of 21st century killer diseases depends on drugs and now vaccines.
So how did we get there and why do we need a quantum leap into the nutritional medicine era? It all started with antibiotics.
Drugs – a short history
Before the discovery of antibiotics, people died in their millions. When penicillin became available in the 1940s it literally saved hundreds of thousands of lives. The next blockbuster drug was cortisone in the 1950s. It miraculously cured people’s arthritic pain and other inflammatory disorders. Thus the myth of a drug for a bug, a pill for an ill, was born and the pharmaceutical industry started to flourish.
But then the dark side of cortisone emerged. Those on the drugs gained weight, their spines degenerated and if withdrawn suddenly, they could even die. These side effects gave birth to the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin. A very effective painkiller, but it also can cause internal bleeding. About 3,000 people in the UK die from drug-induced internal bleeding every year.
So along came the Cox 2 anti-inflammatories, like Vioxx. Painkillers without the gut damage – that was the promise. But they increased the risk of heart disease because these kinds of drugs promote blood clotting. Your joints don’t hurt, but up goes your chances of a heart attack. One expert estimated that 140,000 Americans died or now suffer from vascular problems as a result.
A similar story applies to many common drugs for today’s chronic diseases. Take statins, for example. The story was simple. Cholesterol causes heart disease. So, eat a low cholesterol diet and take cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. Egg sales went into decline, while statin sales boomed.
These were so heavily marketed that some experts have recommended putting statins in the water. In 2007 the UK government’s heart disease supremo said that every man over 50 and woman over 65 should be on them. Today, an estimated 8 million people in Britain take statins but the evidence that they actually reduce heart disease risk is flimsy at best.
Why do we fall for it. Doctors are financially rewarded for testing your cholesterol, and paid again to give you statins to lower it. The top three selling statins alone generated $200 billion to date (1), but the patents have run out, and so has the enthusiasm to sell them. Without the patents, statins, which now cost as little as 4p per daily dose, and half that to make, are no longer a significant source of profit for the pharmaceutical industry. Instead, we’ll be touted a very dirty drug ‘injection’ which drives vital cholesterol right down. Without sufficient cholesterol the brain degenerates as does your sex drive. Low cholesterol is second only to high Homocysteine is an amino acid found in the blood. Elevated levels of homocysteine have been associated with narrowing and hardening of the arteries, an increased… (to do with B vitamins) in predicting dementia risk.
After the most popular diabetes drug, metformin, ran out of patent, the next hero drugs for diabetes were the glitazones. Until they were found to increase risk of heart disease. Next on offer for diabetes were the GLP1 agonists, widely advertised in the US, but already there are warning signs of a link with pancreatic cancer.
Ask the man in the street what causes diabetes and he’ll probably say sugar and obesity. Yet doctors are taught a lot more about drugs than diet and how to help people lose weight. And I mean a lot. One leading medical school in the UK spends less than ten minutes on diet. Few even know that type-2 diabetes, which is the main kind, is a completely reversible disease with the right diet – a low Glycemic Load (or GL) diet. A low GL diet also cuts risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer.
Talking of cancer, we are losing the cancer war, not winning it. Back in the 70’s the lifetime risk of cancer was 1 in 5, despite everyone smoking. Now it’s 1 in 3, and expected to hit 1 in 2 by 2030.(3) Since 1970 the five year survival rate has barely changed from then 49% to now 54%. In the US, more than a million are diagnosed each year and a half a million die from it. (4)
Our ancestors were not only fit, they ate fit food – lean meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, whole foods. Before the invention of fridges and refined food all food was fresh and whole. Before cars we burned more calories through exercise, ate a lot more fresh food and got more nutrients as a consequence.
Now the average person around the world eats 24 kilos of sugar a year.(5) This mountain of sugar is also driving weight gain. Obesity is literally widespread.
12 million people in Britain are obese and 500 die every week as a result of it. One in three adult Americans are obese, predicted to be one in two by 2030. By 2030 the prediction is that we will have 2 billion people significantly overweight and half a billion with diabetes. Already, for every person who dies from starvation two die from obesity. The solution is diet, not drugs.
In Britain we have a 5 a day policy. By the age of 65 half of us are on 5 different drugs – one for each bit that breaks down.(6) Following official medical guidelines which results in multiple drug taking is one of the greatest but most invisible threats to health in the ageing population.(7) Drugs also mug vitamins. The most popular diabetes drug metformin inhibits B12 absorption, and gives some people stomach trouble.
Not to worry, there’s a drug for that – PPI drugs that stop you making stomach acid such as Nexium which has clocked up $ billions in sales. But you need stomach acid to absorb B12 and if you don’t your brains and bones are likely to shrink at a faster rate. Not to worry, there’s a drug to stop your bones shrinking – bisphosphonates. But they knock out What it does: As a component of red blood cells, iron transports oxygen and carbon dioxide to and from cells. Also vital for energy production…..
Osteoporosis, like every other chronic disease, isn’t caused by a lack of drugs, although it can be caused by an excess of drugs – nor is it caused by a lack of What it does: Promotes a healthy heart, clots blood, promotes healthy nerves, contracts muscles, improves skin, bone and dental health, relieves aching muscles and bones,… for that matter.
If you draw a map of the incidence of lowest osteoporosis across the world, and a map of the highest calcium or milk intake they bear no resemblance. In fact, the ‘milky way’, where most milk is drunk, is pretty much where you see the highest incidence of 21st century diseases. Milk doesn’t keep your bones strong.(8)
The further north, the greater the risk. Sun exposure, which makes What it does: Helps maintain strong and healthy bones by retaining calcium. Deficiency Signs: Joint pain or stiffness, backache, tooth decay, muscle cramps, hair loss…., can help you a lot more than any drug. If you live far from the equator it’s all rather depressing. Maybe that’s why more than one in ten North Americans have been prescribed anti-depressants.
But guess what? They don’t work for mild or moderate depression and they double the risk of suicide, according to a British Medical Journal review(9) of 702 studies. As anti-depressant prescriptions rise in the US so too does the incidence of suicide.
When makers of schizophrenia drugs – known as antipsychotics – wanted to increase their market they changed their name to ‘mood stabilisers’. Then, simultaneously, more and more ‘depressed’ people were diagnosed as ‘bipolar’, enabling them to be given anti-psychotic ‘mood stabiliser’ drugs as well as an anti-depressant. Double the number of diagnoses and double the drugs you can prescribe and you’ve got four times the market. Drugs for mental illness generate in excess of $220 billion a year.(10)
In the time of Hippocrates diseases were thought to be caused by the Gods. He didn’t buy that and set out to find the real causes of disease. He had a hunch a lot of disease was down to diet and lifestyle. “Let food be your medicine” he said.
Our current fixation with genes as the mysterious causes of disease are a bit like the Gods of old, because genes play a relatively small role in most of the diseases you or I are likely to get.
A maximum of 15% of the risk for breast cancer is due to inherited factors, and since not all inheritance is genetic, that means even less is ‘in the genes’.(11)
Lately, people have become paranoid about having a cancer gene, such as BRCA and HER2 gene, and more and more people are electing to remove their breasts, ovaries and, for men, prostate, just in case, without realising that genes can be turned on and off by what you eat.
After all, both breast and prostate cancer incidence goes up and up with every generation, yet the genes haven’t changed. So why didn’t your grandmother get breast cancer? This idea of removing the part that may get disease is a perverse kind of prevention. What do you remove for heart disease or Alzheimer’s?
The cause of the big 5 diseases – cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s – is down to the food we eat, what we drink, smoking, stress and exercise. Genes play a tiny part. With the right diet, attitude and lifestyle you can add years to your life, and life to your years. I believe that instead of removing body parts to cure diseases we should instead focus on diet and lifestyle to prevent the widespread incidence of these diseases in the future.
One of the editors of the journal Nature said by the end of this century ‘genomics will allow us to alter entire organisms out of recognition to suit our needs and tastes’…and ‘will allow us to fashion the human form into any conceivable shape. We will have extra limbs, if we want them, and maybe even wings to fly’.
When the human genome was being mapped it was predicted that we humans, being the most advanced species, would have about 100,000 genes. When our genome was finally unravelled we had a paltry 23,000. That’s a bit more than a fruit fly (17,000), less than a sea urchin (26,000) and much less than mice which have 38,000.
All we know genes do is tell the body how to put proteins together, which make enzymes, or hormones, for example. Having defective enzymes or hormones could increase your risk for disease, but rarely causes it.
Only 1% of Alzheimers, for example, is caused by genes.
It’s what you eat and how you live that switches genes on and off. For example a low GL diets switches on a set of genes that keep you young and healthy. Sugar, on the other hand, turns them off.
Instead of removing the body part why not remove the diet part, such as sugar in the case of diabetes or dairy products in the case of prostate and possibly breast cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute 19 out of 23 studies have shown a positive association between dairy intake and prostate cancer. (12) Milk makes things grow. Unfortunately that includes cancer cells.
The danger of drugs
Hippocrates said ‘first do no harm’. Prescribed drugs have now become the fifth largest cause of death (in the US).(13) Excluding errors in prescription, tens of thousands die every year from adverse drug reactions in the UK.(14)
Whichever way you cut it, modern medicine seems to have very little to do with health. Countries with more doctors don’t have less disease, nor do countries that spend more on health care.
When doctors go on strike the death rate falls, according to Professor Robert Mendelson, who monitored medical malpractice for the US government.(15)
The reason our healthcare systems are failing is that no-one is talking seriously about the F word – food – and how to change the 21st century diet and lifestyle that’s killing us – because we are literally digging our own graves with a knife and fork.
We’ve gone from eating no sugar, to over 150lbs a year in the US(16), and have switched to a cheaper but even deadlier form of sugar, high Fructose is a simple sugar that occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables and their juices, as well as in honey…. corn syrup. We have been ‘fructed’. A 2 litre bottle of cola can provide over 50 teaspoons of sugar.
So what’s the solution?
We should be taxing sugar and sugary drinks, as we do alcohol and cigarettes, and spending it on health and nutrition education. Instead of giving a pill for every ill we need to focus on the true causes of disease. We have to make good food more attractive and less expensive and bad food less attractive and more expensive.
In 2006, award-winning medical journalist Jerome Burne and I gave a plan for action against each major chronic disease and a blueprint for a healthcare system that could actually work in our book Food is Better Medicine than Drugs.
In 2012 we wrote Ten Secrets of Healthy Ageing concluding that the secret to surfing the silver tsunami was ‘sex, no drugs, and rock ‘n roll’. The fewer drugs you take the longer you live, and exercising, having fun, and staying in touch with friends and family are vital pieces of the health equation.
The vast majority of health conditions you are likely to suffer from in life are primarily the result of :
Too much of the bad stuff
Not enough of the good stuff
If you list to the left you have bad health; in the middle we have average-poor health; but to the right you have good health.
When you repeatedly go for the ‘bad stuff’ your health lists towards the bad side. Your body goes into an unhealthy ‘inflammatory’ state, and all kinds of body systems become out of balance. The sicker you are the more of the good stuff you need. That’s why higher amounts of vitamins and minerals work to reverse diseases.
But supplements are a competitor to drugs and, as such, there’s a steady stream of myths about supplement dangers. In truth, no-one has ever died from taking a multivitamin. You have, in fact, more chances of dying from being struck by lightening than from a food supplement.(17)
My definition of good medicine is:
- It is proven to work – it prevents or helps reverse disease processes by addressing the real causes.
- It is good for your health, even if you are not sick.
- It conforms to your natural design and evolutionary principles.
- and It does no harm.
Hippocrates was on the case more than 2000 years ago concluding that ‘When enough sins [against Nature] have accumulated disease suddenly results’. He also thought “what’s good for the heart is good for the head.”
And he was right. The risk factors for Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer and diabetes, are all very similar. It’s 21st century diet and lifestyle that’s killing us, not a lack of drugs.
The truth is if you want to find out how to prevent or reverse most of today’s chronic diseases you are going to have to find out for yourself. The only person who can transform your health is you.
Understanding You Body’s Processes
Central to this new paradigm of health prevention and treatment is an understanding of the body’s processes as well as the potential gradual breakdown of four processes that are vital for good health:
Lipidation Relative excess omega-6, a lack of omega-3 and too many oxidised fats
Glycation The loss of blood sugar control, with blood glucose levels that are too high, and with too much Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas. It is responsible for making the body’s cells absorb glucose (sugar) from the blood…., a lack of sensitivity to insulin all of which disrupts the balanced supply of energy giving glucose to the cells
Oxidation Too much damaging oxidative activity as a consequence of a lack of antioxidants and an excess of oxidants.
Methylation is what occurs when the body takes one substance and turns it into another, so that it can be detoxified and excreted from the… The breakdown of this process is indicated by a high homocysteine level, a toxic amino acid, which is a consequence of insufficient B vitamins and is often brought on by the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 gradually worsening.
How the Holford Health Club Can Help
I created the Holford Health Club to support you on the journey to 100% health, primarily through a Free Health Check.
There are three levels of health.
- Most people are vertically ill. That is upright but not feeling great. With low energy, poor digestion, mood dips, frequent infections and niggling aches and pains.
- Some, become horizontally ill. That’s when you keel over and need to see a doctor.
- I want to keep you vertically well. Free from pain and the need for medication.
After taking the Health Check, you will find out your Process scores for lipidation, glycation, oxidation and methylation as well as your body systems scores.
You’ll also find out your overall level of health using a five colour traffic light system to help you understand where you are from ‘unhealthy’ in deep orange to ‘very healthy’ in dark green. My job is to help get you into the ‘Green’.
1. Forbes, ‘The Best Selling Drugs Since 1996 – Why AbbVie’s Humira is set to Eclipse Pfizer’s Lipitor’
2. F. Taylor, et al., ‘Statins for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease’, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2011;(1):CD004816
3. Cancer Research, ‘Lifetime risk over time’
4. Cancer Prevention Coalition statistics http://www.preventcancer.com/losing/nci/manipulates.htm
5. Wikipedia on sugar, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar
6. BBC News Channel, ‘Older People on Drug Cocktail’, Tuesday 28 July 2009
7. D. Garfinkel and D Mangin, ‘Feasibility study of a systematic approach for discontinuation of multiple medications in older adults: addressing polypharmacy.’, Arch Intern Med. 2010 Oct 11;170(18):1648-54
8. H.A. Bischoff-Ferrari et al, ‘Milk intake and risk of hip fracture in men and women: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies’, J Bone Miner Res, 2011 Apri;26(4):833-9 doi:10.1002/jbmr.279
9. D.Fergusson et al., ‘Association between suicide attempts and SSRIs: Systematic review of randomized controlled trials’ British Medical Journal, 2005; 330:396-404
10. Total cost of mental health in 2010 is estimated at £2,500 billion, of which 33.3% is direct cost (see ), of which 27% is prescription drugs (see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18519528) http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/12/17/seven-facts-about-americas-mental-health-care-system/)
11. P. Lichtenstein et al., ‘Environmental and Heritable Factors in the Causation of Cancer — Analyses of Cohorts of Twins from Sweden, Denmark, and Finland’, N Eng J Med, vol 343(2), 2000, pp. 78-85
12. J.L. Stanford, et al., ‘Prostate cancer trends 1973–1995’, SEER Program, National Cancer Institute. NIH Pub. No. 99–4543. Bethesda, MD, 1999
14. M.Pirmohamed et al., Adverse drug reactions as cause of admission to hospital: