Last year physicians wrote more than 36 million prescriptions for anti-osteoporosis drugs, such as Actonel, Fosamax and Boniva, mostly to women concerned about losing bone density, but also to cancer patients. These drugs, classified as bisphosphonates, alter the dynamics of bone construction by inhibiting the breakdown of bone. Dosing the body with phosphates year after year–the drugs have been on the market since 1995–is showing up as a side effect called fossy jaw, osteonecrosis of the jaw requiring surgery to remove dead bone–sometimes the whole jaw. Since 2001, more than 2,400 patients taking Fosamax and similar medications reported bone death in the jaws. Most of them were cancer patients taking potent intravenous versions of the drugs, but an additional 120 people who were taking bisphosphonates in pill form have been stricken with incapacitating bone, joint or muscle pain. Dentists have been noticing the increase. According to Kenneth M. Hargreaves, chairman of the endodontics department at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, more than 1000 cases of jaw necrosis have emerged in the past six to nine months. In March, the American Association of Endodontists released a position paper on the problem, warning “Until further information is available, it would appear prudent to consider all patients taking bisphosphonates to be at some risk” (Los Angeles Times, April 3, 2006). Actually, it’s a good idea to be prudent about any drug that has to be taken long term.
Once considered a scourge of wealthy countries, heart disease is now epidemic in the Third World. According to scientists working with the Disease Control Priorities Project, cardiovascular disease kills 13 million people per year in developing countries, triple the number that die from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. In China, heart disease is now the number one killer. Researchers blame the increase on access to “cheap, fatty foods along with migration from rural farming areas into cities.” The solutions proposed include “healthier” meals in schools, cholesterol-lowering drugs and taxing cigarettes (Associated Press, April 5, 2006). What’s really changed in these countries is not the amount, but the type of fat, with vegetable oils replacing animal fats for cooking as the supermarkets edge out open air markets. Some members of the project have called for the elimination of trans fats, but they have not called for a return to traditional animal fats, nor have they warned about the dangers of liquid vegetable oils. Another neglected factor is heavy use of pesticides as the Third World embraces the “Green Revolution” and confinement livestock systems.
OBSESSION FOR CLEANLINESS
Chlorox has come out with a new product to cater to the germ-free mania–highly dilute bleach in a product called “Anywhere Hard Surface.” According to company spokeswoman Vicki Friedman, a little taste of dilute bleach “isn’t going to hurt anyone.” She sprays her cutting board and knife with it after carving up a raw chicken, then cuts the apple and eats it. The spray is so gentle, claims the company, that it can be sprayed on a pacifier, which can then be handed right back to the baby unrinsed (Washington Post, January 5, 2006).
The diet promoted by Jane Brody, the New York Times nutrition guru, has not served her well. Eating soft spreads and lots of carbs, Ms. Brody ended up with breast cancer in 1999, and in 2005, unrelenting pain after double knee-replacement surgery and debilitating back and leg pain caused by a pinched nerve in her back (New York Times, December 20, 2005). She also takes drugs for hot flashes. Ms. Brody needs bone broth, butter and cod liver oil, of course, but don’t expect to be reading about these magic foods in the New York Times anytime soon.
MUMBLING ABOUT MUMPS
Health officials are dusting off the double speak in the face of a mumps outbreak in the Midwest. Only 3 percent of the 1000 cases had not been vaccinated while at least 64 percent had received two doses of the vaccine. (Vaccination records were unavailable in over 20 percent of the cases.) “The two-dose vaccine is very effective at preventing mumps,” says Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta “. . . but about 10 percent of people who get both doses are susceptible. That’s why there are hundreds of people in Iowa–a state of nearly 3 million–who are turning up with the disease.” Wait a minute, haven’t we been told that these vaccines are completely effective? In the face of incontrovertible evidence that vaccines just don’t work, the CDC has pledged to provide 25,000 doses of measles-mumps-rubella vaccine to Iowa from the agency’s stockpile and Merck is giving another 25,000 doses to the CDC for distribution to other states (Associated Press, April 19, 2006). Parents should stick with the recommended MMR vaccination schedule, says Dr. Gerberding, “We have no information to suggest there’s any problem with the vaccine” (Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2006).
Pfizer will have trouble meeting its marketing objectives this year as sales of its popular cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor have fallen “significantly short of expectation.” Pfizer had hoped to increase Lipitor sales by 7 percent in 2006; instead sales declined 3 percent in the first quarter. Financial analysts blame competition from other cholesterol-lowering drugs and generic versions of these statins now coming on the market. According to Hank McKinnel, chairman and chief executive of Pfizer, the company is counting on “powerful clinical data and new educational campaigns on [Lipitor’s] health benefits” (Financial Times, April 20, 2006). In other words, expect to see more phony science and heavy advertising to promote this dangerous and unnecessary drug, including to groups for whom clinical data has shown no benefit whatsoever–women, the elderly. . . and children.
STARTING WITH THE YOUNG
Yes, children are now a target of lipid-lowering campaigns. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (March 23, 2006), which found fewer “coronary events” in young blacks genetically predisposed to have lower LDL-cholesterol levels, has led to renewed calls for cholesterol lowering in young people. “The new findings suggest the need to redouble our efforts to reduce LDL-cholesterol levels in younger persons by promoting healthy diets and reducing obesity,” wrote Alan R. Tall of Columbia University Medical Center. “Even small successes will probably be leveraged for later gains in lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.” Dr. Scott Grundy, an unabashed apologist for the lipid hypothesis, went further: In addition to restricting cholesterol and saturated fat, he argues that “[i]n some people it may be necessary to add drugs to reduce cholesterol levels.” These lowfat and statin proponents seem oblivious to research showing the downside of low cholesterol levels in young people. For example, a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology (161(7):691-99, 2005) found that non-African-American children with cholesterol concentrations below the 25th percentile were nearly three times as likely to have been suspended or expelled from school as those with total cholesterol levels at or above the 25th percentile. Among many roles in the body chemistry, cholesterol is necessary for neurological development, for the proper function of serotonin and other “feel-good” chemicals, and for the production of sex and stress hormones.
Falling sales may be giving Pfizer executives nightmares because cholesterol-lowering drugs are giving nightmares to the people taking them. A recent report published in the British Journal of Medicine (April 21, 2006) describes a 72-year-old woman who experienced extreme nightmares after beginning “treatment” for “hypercholesterolemia” with Lipitor. When she discontinued the drug the nightmares ceased, and when she agreed to a rechallenge with Lipitor, the nightmares occurred again. The problem was solved by going off Lipitor for good. The author of the report speculates that the nightmares could be a direct effect of the statin on the central nervous system and notes previous reports of nightmares associated with other cholesterol-lowering drugs.
More bad news for Pfizer includes a doubling of heart failure rates since statins were introduced (Circulation, February 6, 2006). A new study of older men and women shows that higher LDL-cholesterol levels are associated with decreasing mortality risk in women. For both men and women, the risk of fatal heart failure decreases with higher LDL-cholesterol levels (Journal of the American Geriatric Society, December 2005).
SCIENCE VALIDATES TRADITION ONCE AGAIN
In his pioneering work Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, Dr. Weston Price noted that traditional peoples in the South Seas and Africa took steps to ensure at least three years between children born to the same mother. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (April 18, 2006) found that the risk of low-birth-weight babies, preterm birth and small size for gestational age increased for pregnancies spaced less than 18 months. Babies born to women who had an interval of less than six months between pregnancies had a 40 percent increased risk of preterm birth, a 61 percent increased risk of low birth weight and a 28 percent increased risk of small size for gestational age compared to children of mothers with an interval of 18 to 23 months between pregnancies. According to Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, the ideal interval between pregnancies is 20 to 40 months. Interestingly, researchers also found a risk of gestational problems in babies whose mothers had babies at an interval of 59 months or more. According to Dr. Peter Bernstein, a member of the CDC panel developing guidelines on preconceptual care, “It may be related to the fact that women who have long intervals are getting older, and women of advanced maternal age have an increased risk of some of these things” (Medline Plus, Health Day, April 18, 2006). The study found that the risks of short and long birth intervals held true for both developing and developed nations.
TRANS FATS AND IQ
A recent study validates a phenomenon that educators have been noticing for some time–that children’s cognitive skills are on the decline. A British study involving 25,000 children in state and private schools found that “the intelligence of 11-year-olds has fallen by three years’ worth in the past two decades.” Denise Ginsburg, a member of the research team, suggests that parents can help remedy the situation by encouraging their children to play with “mud, plasticine and Meccano” instead of “Xboxes and computer games” (www.inthewake.org/cogdecline). How a change in toys will help the body make the right connections in the brain is not explained. (Have the cognitive skills of researchers also declined?) A much more fruitful avenue of investigation would be changes in the diet over the past 20 years. British children no longer get cod liver oil (as they did during the war), nor do they consume much butter or whole milk, but now mostly exist on a diet high in trans fats and MSG–both shown to interfere with neurological development.
BIRD FLU PANIC
On April 15, the head of the federal Centers for Disease Control stated that there is “no evidence” that bird flu will become the next pandemic or that it is evolving in a direction that is becoming more transmissible to people (The News Tribune, April 15, 2006). (For corroboration on this, see the new website www.birdfluhype.com.) The next day, April 16, Bruce Gellin, head of the federal National Vaccine Program Office, warned of a dire bird flu pandemic, announcing a plan that assumes a worst-case scenario in which as many as 90 million Americans become sick and 2 million die (Associated Press, April 16, 2006). A few days later, the Wall Street Journal (April 20, 2006) revealed the hidden agenda–kill outdoor birds first, ask questions later–while admitting that bird flu poses no threat to humans. “If bird flu virus shows up in US chickens or turkeys, the government will kill flocks suspected of having the virus before tests are completed. At greater risk are free-ranging chickens and small, backyard flocks–as many as 60,000 in Los Angeles alone. . . Owners will want to report sick birds because they will be paid fair-market value for destroyed flocks.” USDA officials insist that chickens on big commercial operations that keep birds indoors “are well protected against the spread of disease.” Authorities expect bird flu to arrive this year. . . watch out for government-sanctioned slaughter of all those outdoor birds that are competing with the products of confinement operations and which give many Americans a semblance of food security.
A VOTE FOR GM-FREE AGRICULTURE
Congratulations to the People’s Initiative for GM-Free Food Products, an alliance of farmers, consumers and environmentalists in Switzerland. Thanks to their efforts, over 55 percent of voters and all cantons voted in favor of a five-year moratorium on the cultivation of genetically modified plants and the raising of genetically modified animals by Swiss farmers. The new constitutional article supersedes the Gene Technology Law of 2004, which permits the cultivation of genetically modified plants under strict conditions and subject to a lengthy test procedure (Swiss Review Magazine, December 2005). According to WAPF member Judith Mudrak, the Swiss envisage a bio-Switzerland that opens up new markets to its farmers for their high-quality, GM-free-certified products. An even more fundamental reason lies in the national psyche, which opposes any intervention in the genetic makeup of humans and plants and, by extension, in the nature of creation.
A NEW DISEASE
We’ve turned cholesterol into a villain and menopause into a disease. Now the pharmaceutical industry is paving the way to pathologizing the most basic rhythms of life. Many doctors are now encouraging young women to use birth control pills and other hormonal contraceptives to avoid having a menstrual period. For example, 22-year-old Stephanie Sardinha hasn’t had a period since she was 17 thanks to a vaginal contraceptive ring which she replaces every three weeks, instead of following instructions to leave the ring out for a week to allow for the menstrual period. “It’s really one of the best things I’ve ever done,” says Sardinha, who got the idea from her aunt, a nurse practitioner. “I have a ton of young girls in college who are doing this,” says Dr. Mindy Wiser-Estin, a New Jersey gynecologist. For many young women, eliminating the menstrual cycle means an end to monthly fatigue, heavy bleeding and really bad cramps–conditions that respond well to improved nutrition, but that’s a solution that requires knowledge and commitment. Seasonale, the popular contraceptive that makes women bleed just four times per year, will soon be replaced by drugs that eliminate bleeding altogether. Doctors point out that women on hormonal contraception don’t really have periods anyway, just withdrawal bleeding during the break from the hormone progestin. In their enthusiasm to avoid the most basic rhythm of mammalian life, physicians and their patients are glossing over potential risks, such as infertility, increased risk of heart attack, stroke and blood clots and, most seriously, unknown dangers to the health and mental capacity of the next generation. Awe at the wonder of life and respect for the processes of nature seems to have completely disappeared from the practice of medicine. According to Linda Gordon, a New York University professor specializing in women’s history and the history of sexuality, the period is “way over-romanticized.” (Santa Fe New Mexican, May 20, 2006).
AND ANOTHER NEW DISEASE
In an article that could have appeared in the satirical publication The Onion, we learn that scientists have identified a new disease called Motivational Deficiency Disorder (MoDeD), which causes debilitating apathy. This piece of news was actually published in a tabloid (Examiner, May 8, 2006), so we will just quote verbatim and let our readers decide whether this is spoof or serious news: In extreme cases. . . MoDeD can be fatal because the sufferer is literally too lazy to breathe. “This disorder is poorly understood and is underdiagnosed and undertreated,” proclaims neurologist Leth Argos, a member of the team that discovered the ailment at the University of Newcastle in Australia. But there is hope for the terminally slothful. Trials of a new drug called Indolebant show promise in treating the condition, which scientists estimate to affect as many as one in five of all Australians. “Indolebant is effective and well tolerated,” says Argos. “One young man who could not leave his sofa is now working as an investment adviser.”