Dr. David Healey’s Book Review of Bad Pharma


Seatbelts, Aspirin, Shifting Facts and Informed Choice.

 They refused to put on their seatbelts in the front seat of my car, despite my instructions. I thought it was just male ego but as the discussion went on I realized they had a logical position I had never thought of:

People drown or burn to death due to seatbelts that they can’t free themselves of. Driving slowly along the bending roads of the Central Range, they felt any accident was more likely to land them in the river and less likely to involve a high speed crash.

I haven’t done a risk analysis with an expert on collisions to determine if they were right or wrong, but they made me think.

Rules and protocols are instituted to protect us. Or to make governance and data collection easier. But especially where rules and protocols are ENFORCED they also take away our right to make an informed choice or even to question the evidence.

Working in St. George East County I recall streams of patients questioning if they had to take aspirin. They were worried about bleeding risks. I generally told them that there was evidence to suggest that aspirin would reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke but I never insisted that they use it if they felt it gave them gastritis.

When I first learned what many practitioners have known for centuries, that there are foods with powerful anti-inflammatory effects, I began to question whether clients could not use these foods instead. That way they would get nutritional benefit AND anti-inflammatory benefits.

Aspirin of course was meant to help because of its anti-platelet effects as well as anti-inflammatory effects: it would make your platelets less sticky so your blood would be less likely to clot.

Could the anti-inflammatory foods do that too?

I really didn’t know enough to tell clients “eat this and stop that toxic tablet,” -even though I loathed writing “grocery list styled” prescriptions for people who looked, moved and spoke like the walking dead despite diligent pill consumption.

And so uncomfortably I kept prescribing. Still there were anti-inflammatory foods that had other powers. They had anti-oxidant effects that seemed to help the body to help itself.

There were so many people out there (not internal patients) but staff members and customers I met through the XanGo network, (a then popular MLM company I had joined at the time), who were getting relief with migraine, acid reflux, diabetes, PMS, weight loss, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cholesterol problems, just from drinking mangosteen juice, that I had to question what we did in the clinic.

What did we not know?

Back then, just 5 years ago, my senior colleague in the health centre actually laughed at me for believing in the “anti-oxidant/ free radical” explanation of why noni and mangosteen worked.

Five years later I maintain what my dear respected and very honourable teacher Dr. Aleong always said when he did not understand why something worked, “You can’t argue with success.”

There are foods and supplements that turn up your metabolism and reduce inflammation as well as strengthen your immune system, just because they switch on a gene by activating the PPAR receptors of your liver and fat cells.

(Phew! Finding some explanation was a relief!)

And guess what! There are some wicked foods lurking everywhere (Trevor Sears will tell you accurately that they include white flour, white rice and white flour) which switch off your PPAR receptors and have the opposite effect.

But that same food may have other mechanisms by which it helps your weight loss or your diabetes. We really are just figuring it out.

Just as a Scottish study conducted over 1998-2008 found no benefit to over 1500 persons believed to be at risk for atherosclerosis. The study was expected to prove that giving them aspirin would reduce their risk of heart attack, stroke and the like. It didn’t but they did have more adverse effects including major haemorrhage. The study was published in the March 3rd, 2010 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Of course many clients have independently opted not to use aspirin though when I was a student it was highly advocated as a preventative measure for persons “at risk” including everyone with high blood pressure or diabetes. It was thought that even persons over 50 who were well could take some for good measure, as a precaution.

The trouble is, doctors, bound by protocols and rules and ever wary of law suits, can’t use freedom of choice as their clients do. As long as you are part of the system you prescribe based on best practice guidelines.

Five, ten or twenty years later, when the guidelines change because the Evidence has changed (it’s called evidence based medicine), the doctor then changes his or her prescribing practices.

While you can do your own research about seatbelts and read why the advocates for personal freedom fear that the evidence in favour of seatbelts is skewed or interview all the A&E officers in your area to hear their evidence, I maintain, evidence based medicine is scary.

I love evidence but I need to be able to make choices that are not governed by the Establishment.

Perhaps one of the reasons I wouldn’t be caught dead setting up a private practice. Nuff Respect to my colleagues who have the guts to do it.

As for my friends out there, figuring out how to stay well: your doctor knows a helluva lot but he or she is forced to operate inside a box. Give your doctor some relief sometimes by making your own informed choices.