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Science Has Not Failed Medicine, Medicine

Has Failed Science

Majid Ali, M.D.

Science in medicine is widely misunderstood. This simple fact alone can provide answers to the questions I raise in this letter. Science in medical research in the U.S. is true to the scientific tradition, but medicine is on a dangerous course when it greatly distorts real data generated by valid studies to meet the financial demands of our drug and medical technology industries. For example, in 1989 the New England Journal of Medicine reported the real but meager 1.8 percent reduction in the rate of heart attacks obtained with a drug was reported as a bloated 44 percent reduction in the risk.7 In another example, the Journal reported a paltry 1.2 percent reduction in the mathematical rate of heart attack obtained with a another drug as a robust but nonmathematical 34 percent risk reduction.8 I cite a large number of such distortions of raw data by prestigious medical journals in RDA: Rats, Drugs and Assumptions.9

Why are such data "massaged" to render the insignificant benefits of long-term drug therapies statistically significant? The answer is really simple: Americans won't take drugs for decades to reap the putative benefit of reducing the rate of heart attack by only one to two percent. The real data do not support the long-term use of drugs for chronic degenerative, nutritional, ecologic and stress-related disorders. Data are misrepresented to physicians who then use the distorted data to persuade patients to accept drug regimens. The same holds true for mechanical devices such as breathing machines for persons with sleep disturbances caused by the stress of modern life.

We cannot address environmental, nutritional and stress-related problems with synthetic chemicals. All our prevailing drug therapies are based on notions of disease based in turn on microscopic studies of tissues after they have been damaged by disease. The 21st century calls for medicine to address the energetic-molecular events that occur before cells, tissues and organs are injured. This requires a major intellectual adaptation, and that is unsettling for physicians trained only in drug therapies.

Preventive medicine cannot be practiced with drugs—this is self-evident. Disease prevention requires management of the environment, nutrition, stress and physical fitness. However, no real effort is made in drug medicine to address these issues. Indeed, physicians who practice nutritional and environmental medicine are aggressively persecuted by those who sit on hospital governing and state licensing boards. Americans pay an exorbitant price for this—in missed opportunities for healing with natural therapies, in escaping the toxicity of avoidable drugs, and in avoiding the high cost of unnecessary diagnostic and treatment procedures.

Empirical Medicine Is Maligned in the U.S.

A core problem in the U.S. today is that we have raised generations of physicians who believe that diseases can be treated only with drugs or scalpels. They dismiss as quackery all empirical therapies that have been proven effective by extensive clinical experience in the hands of physicians who practice empirical medicine, employing nondrug and nontoxic nutritional, environmental and physical therapies that do work. It is profoundly ironic that those who speak vehemently against empirical medicine seem to have the least understanding of how poorly prevailing medicine measures up to the standards of science in medicine. Consider the following quote from The Journal of the American Medical Association (1993;269:3030):

Much, if not most, of contemporary medical practice still lacks scientific foundation

An Open Letter to the U.S. Congres

Two elements characterize medicine in the U.S. today: The cost of health care continues to escalate, and the health of Americans continues to deteriorate. If the two trends were to hold, a time can be foreseen when the nation's total resources will have to be committed to health care, and everyone will be unwell.

On December 28, 1993, the Commerce Department announced that total health care spending in the U.S. will exceed $1 trillion in 1994 (The New York Times News Service, Dec. 12, 1993). As far as the deteriorating health of Americans, consider the following:

1. Pediatricians in Baltimore County prescribed drugs to six percent of the children there for disciplinary purposes (JAMA 260:2256; 1988). There are communities in the U.S. in which a still larger number of children are administered Ritalin, amphetamines and other drugs to control hyperactivity/attention deficit disorders.

2. The incidence of chronic fatigue among our children and adults is pervasive—one in four Americans saw his family practitioner for chronic fatigue according to some studies (JAMA 260:929; 1988).

3. It is felt that as many as 44 percent of adult Americans need antianxiety drugs (N Eng J Med 328;1399; 1993).

4. One in four American males is considered to suffer from disordered breathing while sleeping and is thought to require a machine to assist breathing (N Eng J Med 328; 1230; 1993).

5. The incidence of cancers of the breast and prostate is increasing in epidemic proportions, while progress in cancer treatment during the last 35 years is considered a failure (N Eng J Med 314:1226; 1986).

6. Deaths and the risk of death from asthma and other respiratory disorders are increasing as are immune disorders among Americans of all ages (N Eng J Med 321:1517; 1989).

7. Coronary angioplasty and bypass surgery do not reverse coronary artery disease; notwithstanding, the number of these procedures is skyrocketing.

The more we spend, the sicker we get. How can this be? The two core problems of American medicine—in my view—are these: 1) We address the 21st-century problems of environment, nutrition and stress with the 19th-century notions of disease and drugs, and 2) We have raised generations of physicians who believe all nondrug, nonscalpel therapies are quackery.

Nutrients—not drugs—heal injured tissues. Drug medicine is a medicine of blockage. Drugs—essential as they are for acute, life-threatening diseases—work by blocking essential physiologic processes, i.e., calcium channel blockers block cell membrane channels, ACE enzyme inhibitors block enzymes that are necessary for the production of certain essential hormones, beta blockers block beta receptors on cell membranes, antidepressants block the uptake of some neurotransmitters.

The fact that nutrient therapies work is suppressed today. Herbal prescriptions in experienced hands are both safe and effective for chronic disorders. Americans prefer nondrug therapies to drug regimensxx (N Eng J Med 328:246;1993), yet the leadership of organized medicine in the united States continues to vehemently oppose natural, nondrug therapies. The nutrient and herbal therapies are considered effective by those who prescribe them. Why do we allow those who neither prescribe such therapies nor understand them to dismiss them as ineffective? The U.S. Congress must answer these questions before it can change the direction of medicine in the U.S.

Medical research in the U.S. is outstanding. We outspend all other nations in new drug and technology

development. Our hospitals are far better equipped than those of any other country. American physicians, by and large, are well-trained, knowledgeable, diligent and caring professionals. So why are we Americans so disappointed with results? Why do so many Americans look to natural, nondrug and nontechnology solutions to our health problems?

Why is it that the more we spend, the sicker we get?

What can be done? I make five specific proposals to the U.S Congress:

First, it should enact legislation that will ensure freedom of choice in health care for all U.S. citizens.

Ironically, although Americans are known to hold dear their right to the pursuit of freedom of life, liberty and happiness, people with chronic illness in this land of Jefferson have less freedom of choice when it comes to therapy than those in any other country. The dogma of drug medicine emphatically denies Americans thousands of effective and inexpensive nondrug therapies widely used elsewhere. The principal reason for this is that the prevailing standards of drug medicine hold that any therapy that cannot be double-blinded and crossed-over cannot be scientifically valid. All nondrug therapies are considered unproven, unscientific and irresponsible. This frivolous notion is utterly irrelevant to holistic medicine, in which neither the practitioner nor the patient wants to be—nor can be—blinded to the true nature of therapy for extended periods of time.

Second, it should enact legislation that will liberate physicians who practice empirical medicine with natural, nondrug therapies from the tyranny of drug medicine.

Physicians who use the nondrug therapies of empirical medicine live in constant—and well-founded—fear of harassment and revocation of their licenses, regardless of how impeccable their credentials might be. Anyone can ascertain the legitimacy of this statement at conferences of the American Academies of Preventive and Environmental Medicines and the American College of Advancement in Medicine, the two three organizations committed to preventive medicine and use nondrug therapies.

 

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