Archives for October 2012

Branding Illness

Pharmaceutical companies have an important role in providing us with the medication we need. But if one looks closely, it becomes obvious that this industry sells fewer drugs than…diseases, since the best way to multiply their earnings is to continuously invent new diseases, make us all feel that we are sick and in need of cures or prevention.

A woman in the grip of pre-menstrual dysphoric disease slams grocery carts outside a supermarket in frustration. A concerned young Japanese woman asks her husband if he has ever been happy. Peppy actors in lab coats reassure the audience that depression is like “a cold of the soul.”

These are scenes from some of the many pharmaceutical ads that pepper Maladies à vendre/Branding Illness (2010), a French eye-opening documentary about how big drug companies create diseases and then supply the medications that can cure them.

It’s a reversal of the traditional approach—trying to discover a drug that cures an illness—and one that relies far more heavily on marketing than on research.

The film offers case after startling case of how big pharma creates the conversation around new diseases and then offers up the solutions. Take pre-menstrual dysphoric disease. It appeared right about the time the patent on Prozac was about to expire, representing a significant loss of income. Enter PMDD. Prozac manufacturer Eli Lilly rebranded the drug, changed its colour, jacked up the price, and had a potentially profitable new medication to sell as a treatment for a disease few had ever heard of before.

Featuring at times acerbic commentary from experts including physicians, historians and medical anthropologists (among them maverick academic David Healy), BRANDING ILLNESS offers unprecedented insight into the ways illnesses and their potential cures are marketed. No claim seems too outrageous—whether it’s convincing the Japanese they have widespread depression, urging millions of healthy adults they need medication to lower their cholesterol, or even proposing that all adults over 50 take a “poly-pill” to lower their risk of common diseases.

In one particularly striking segment, a member of the Dutch Institute for Rational Use of Medicine recounts how her group pretended to represent a pharmaceutical company and created a fake awareness campaign for a drug to treat excessive flatulence. Their brochures were welcomed in doctors’ offices, their posters hung in medical centres, and television news reported on the “problem” and the treatment available.

The Internet is supposed to make medical information more accessible, but as the film points out, it’s very hard to know who is behind the information users find. A seemingly innocuous awareness campaign could be part of an expensive PR effort. Antoine Vial of the French Health Regulatory Agency puts a campaign for ankylosing spondylitis under the microscope, and finds that what it doesn’t say may be more revealing than what it does.

And if it’s hard for consumers to get access to objective opinions, it’s no easier for independent-minded academics. Medical anthropologist Kalman Applbaum says 80% of clinical trials and 97% of the most influential clinical trials are commercially funded.

Even science has become a tool to advance the sales of drugs.

Pomegranates & Cancer

Pomegranate may inhibit metastatic breast cancer(NaturalNews) Pomegranate juice is already known to be active against several cancers, but a new study out of California has just shown for the first time that it potently inhibits three key processes involved in breast cancer metastasis. The researchers were so impressed, they remarked that pomegranate juice is “potentially a very effective treatment to prevent cancer progression in general.”

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References

Rocha A, Wang L, Penichet M, Martins-Green M. Pomegranate juice and specific components inhibit cell and molecular processes critical for metastasis of breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res Treat 2012, DOI: 10.1007/s10549-012-2264-5

Adhami VM, Khan N, Mukhtar H. Cancer Chemoprevention by Pomegranate: Laboratory and Clinical Evidence. Nutr Cancer. 2009 November; 61(6): 811–815.

Paller CJ, Ye X, Wozniak PJ, Gillespie BK, Sieber PR, Greengold RH, Stockton BR et al. A randomized phase II study of pomegranate extract for men with rising PSA following initial therapy for localized prostate cancer. Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis 2012 Jun 12. doi: 10.1038/pcan.2012.20.

Jeune MA, Kumi-Diaka J, Brown J. Anticancer activities of pomegranate extracts and genistein in human breast cancer cells. J Med Food 2005; 8 (4): 469-475.

Prenatal Mercury Exposure May be Associated with Risk of ADHD-related Behaviors

Fish consumption may be associated with lower risk

GravidCHICAGO – A study of children in the New Bedford, Mass., area suggests that low-level prenatal mercury exposure may be associated with a greater risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)-related behaviors and that fish consumption during pregnancy may be associated with a lower risk of these behaviors, according to a report published Online First by Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, a JAMA Network publication.

ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood and affects 8 percent to 12 percent of children worldwide, although its cause is not well understood. The developmental neurotoxicity of mercury is known, but the findings from epidemiological studies are inconsistent with some studies showing associations between mercury exposure and ADHD-related behaviors and others reporting null associations, according to the study background.

Nonoccupational methylmercury exposure comes primarily from eating fish, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have recommended pregnant women limit their total fish intake to no more than two, six-ounce servings per week. However, fish is also a source of nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to benefit brain development, potentially confounding mercury-related risk estimates, the study background also indicates.

Sharon K. Sagiv

Sharon K. Sagiv, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the Boston University School of Public Health, and colleagues analyzed data from the New Bedford birth cohort, a group of infants born between 1993 and 1998, to investigate the association of peripartum maternal hair mercury levels (n=421) and prenatal fish intake (n=515) with ADHD-related behaviors at age 8 years.

“In this population-based prospective cohort study, hair mercury levels were consistently associated with ADHD-related behaviors, including inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity. We also found that higher prenatal fish consumption was protective for these behaviors,” the authors comment.

Statistical analysis indicates mercury exposure appeared to be associated with inattention and impulsivity/hyperactivity and some outcomes had an apparent threshold with associations at 1 μg/g (microgram/per gram) or greater of mercury. For example, at 1 μg/g or greater, the adjusted risk ratios for mild/markedly atypical inattentive and impulsive/hyperactive behaviors were 1.4 and 1.7 respectively, according to the study results.

There also appeared to be a “protective” (lower risk) association for fish consumption of greater than two servings per week with ADHD-related behaviors, particularly impulsive/hyperactive behaviors (relative risk = 0.4), the study results show.

“In summary, these results suggest that prenatal mercury exposure is associated with a higher risk of ADHD-related behaviors, and fish consumption during pregnancy is associated with a lower risk of these behaviors,” the authors conclude. “Although a single estimate combining these beneficial vs. detrimental effects vis-à-vis fish intake is not possible with these data, these findings are consistent with a growing literature showing risk of mercury exposure and benefits of maternal consumption of fish on fetal brain development and are important for informing dietary recommendations for pregnant women.”

 

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder a Preventable Epidemic?

Bruce P. Lanphear

In an editorial, Bruce P. Lanphear, M.D., M.P.H., of Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, writes: “The study by Sagiv et al, which tested whether prenatal exposure to methyl mercury was associated with the development of ADHD-related behaviors, is an important and rigorously conducted prospective birth cohort study.”

“What are the implications of the Sagiv et al study and other research on environmental contaminants and ADHD? First, we can take some comfort in recent legislation to reduce mercury contamination, at least from domestic sources. Second, these studies should spur our efforts to enhance the collection of data needed to calculate national estimates and trends in ADHD,” Lanphear continues.

“Third, it is time to convene a national scientific advisory panel to evaluate environmental influences of ADHD and make recommendations about what can be done to prevent it. Fourth, this study and a flurry of new evidence linking environmental contaminants with ADHD reinforce the urgency of revising the regulatory framework for environmental contaminants and toxicants,” Lanphear concludes.

 

References

Sagiv SK, Thurston SW, Bellinger DV, Amarasiriwardena C, Korrick SA. Prenatal Exposure to Mercury and Fish Consumption During Pregnancy and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder–Related Behavior in Children. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;():1-9. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2012.1286.

Lanphear BP. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder A Preventable Epidemic? Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;():1-3. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2012.1900.

 

An Inconvenient Tooth

“An Inconvenient Tooth” is a documentary film by Guy Wagner about fluoride. It was released September 6th, 2012 at the city hall in Portland, Oregon. On the same day a public hearing was held before the five-member City Council about whether or not the city should fluoridate its water supplies.  http://AnInconvenientTooth.org