Prevention doesn’t mean drugs

As 21st century diseases from cancer to diabetes cripple our economies, ‘prevention’ is on everybody’s lips. But prevention, like medicine in general, is once again being hijacked to mean drugs.

One billion prescriptions were dispensed last year, or 1,900 a minute, and mainly for ‘prevention’ in the over 60’s. Statins still hold number one position with one, Lipitor (atorvastatin) having generated $140 billion to date. They have no real benefit unless you have heart disease, or a high risk for it, but are frequently given to those with neither risk nor raised cholesterol as so-called ‘prevention’. An anti-cancer drug such as Herceptin, which is only likely to be of any benefit if a person has the Her2 gene, is now the 13th most profitable drug and is handed out inappropriately to far too many women as a ‘prevention’ for cancer. Oestrogen blocking drugs such as Tamoxifen and Raloxifene are also being recommended by the NHS for ‘prevention’ in women deemed ‘at risk’ of breast cancer.

So, why not instead campaign for women to eat more beans whose phytoestrogens have the same effect, and cut back on meat and milk – milk being a high source of oestrogens and the growth hormone IGF, which is known to cause both breast and prostate cancer cells to grow rapidly? You know the answer – there’s no money in it. High blood pressure is a known associated risk factor for Alzheimer’s. The only conceivably ‘prevention’ oriented trial funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), who receive the lion’s share of Cameron’s governmental hand-out to fund dementia research, involves giving ACE inhibitors to lower high blood pressure and see if it prevents Alzheimer’s. It might work. After all, if you lower blood pressure you get more nutrients and oxygen into the brain. But at what cost? A study published last month finds that long-term use of calcium channel blockers, one of the most popular antihypertensive medications, more than doubles breast cancer risk. These drugs effectively do the same as giving magnesium, but with side-effects. So, instead of dealing with the real causes of high blood pressure such as a lack of magnesium or a high glycemic load diet, let’s give a drug with side-effects.

Prevention should mean dealing with root causes, such as deficiencies in nutrients and excess in anti-nutrients, such as sugar. None of these diseases are caused by a deficiency of drugs. The irony is that all these ‘prevention’ drugs mug the vitamins. Diuretics to lower blood pressure rush various minerals and vitamins out of the body including vitamin C, calcium, potassium and magnesium – all of which are involved in controlling blood pressure. ACE inhibitors, the kind of hypertensive drug used in the NIHR trial for Alzheimer’s prevention, make zinc less available. Zinc is needed to lower homocysteine – a known factor in Alzheimer’s, also lowered by taking B vitamins. The drug metformin is now being touted, not just for diabetes treatment, but for diabetes prevention, but it knocks out B12 – vital for the brain and bones. Thus, we enter an era where healthy people will be encouraged to take a cocktail of daily drugs for diet and lifestyle related diseases, arguably because the medical profession and health authorities are inept at encouraging real prevention through diet and lifestyle changes. In the public domain all that is needed to support the drive for drug sales as prevention is endless conflicting messages about this or that diet and supplements being good or bad generating confusion and complacency.

If prevention really is better than cure, the main charities and research funding bodies should spend a substantial portion of their budgets on non-drug prevention. At the moment that just isn’t happening.