“Optimum nutrition is the medicine of tomorrow,” said twice Nobel prize winner Pauling, who had 48 PhDs. However, here we are in 2014 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.
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 Those on the drugs gained weight, their spines degenerated and if withdrawn suddenly, they could even die.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.
Doctors are financially rewarded for testing your cholesterol, and paid again to give you statins to lower it. The top three selling statins alone have 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.
We now learn they increase your risk for diabetes and memory loss and do relatively little to reduce heart disease risk. Around 1,000 healthy people who haven’t had a heart attack but who do have some risk factors, such as being overweight or raised cholesterol, have to take statins for just one death from heart attack to be avoided.(2) And meanwhile a hundred would be expected to have significant adverse effects.
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.
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