By Dr. Mercola
I have enormous respect for the scientific method, and I believe, when properly applied, it can provide us with profound and valid truths that can guide and direct our treatment strategies.
But what many people fail to appreciate is that much of the research published has been deeply influenced and severely tainted by tremendous conflicts of interest and profit-driven motives.
Shockingly, according to a British poll from last year, more than one in 10 scientists and doctors claimed to have witnessed colleagues deliberately fabricating data in order to get their research published.1
Needless to say, this kind of medical and scientific fraud has profound implications for patients. After all, published research is used to devise medical recommendations for patients across the country, if not the world.
Other hallmarks of the American health care system are gross overcharges, billing fraud, and the routine use of tests and treatments that have little or no benefit—or worse, do more harm than good.
Fraudulent Data May Have Led to Use of Risky Treatment in ICUs
One of the latest examples of scientific fraud endangering patients is that of a type of starch (hydroxyethyl), which is used intravenously to replace lost blood volume in critically ill patients. A recent report by MedicineNet.com2 reveals that this practice turns out to be based on studies "loaded with fraudulent data," and actually does more harm than good:
"'According to a new review article in the Feb. 20 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association,3 the starchy solution may instead boost their risk of death or kidney failure,' the featured article says.
'Almost certainly, what is happening is that some of the starch molecules leak out of blood vessels into the kidney itself so the kidney doesn't work as efficiently,' said Dr. David Taylor, chairman of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Ochsner Health System in New Orleans. He was not involved in the new review."
The issue was initially uncovered in 2011, when investigators discovered that a majority of the research conducted by Dr. Joachim Boldt, a German anesthesiologist, contained fraudulent data. Several of his studies were subsequently retracted. When Dr. Boldt's research was excluded from the pool of available research on the treatment, hydroxyethyl starch was found to be associated with an increased risk of death, kidney failure, and need for dialysis.
"Luckily for American patients, hydroxyethyl starch is not commonly used in the United States, Taylor said. But the new analysis serves as a cautionary tale on how fraudulent data can end up endangering patients' lives."4
Medical Waste: 90 More Unnecessary Tests and Procedures Called Out
In related news, a second report has been issued by the Choosing Wisely campaign,5 sponsored by the Foundation of the American Board of Internal Medicine. The list was compiled by 17 specialty groups representing more than 350,000 doctors. Last year's report warned doctors against using 45 tests, procedures and treatments that either provide no benefit, or worse, do more harm than good. This year, another 90 tests and treatments were added to the list. As reported by NPR:6
"The idea is to curb unnecessary, wasteful and often harmful care, its sponsors say — not to ration care. As one foundation official pointed out last year, rationing is denial of care that patients need, while the Choosing Wisely campaign aims to reduce care that has no value."
Examples of care deemed to be of little or no benefit include the following. To learn more, I encourage you to browse through the Choosing Wisely web site,7 as they provide informative reports on a wide variety of medical specialties, tests, and procedures.
Using feeding tubes in patients with advanced dementia. Assisting such patients to take food by mouth is more advantageous to the patient
EEGs on patients with recurring headaches. The test does not improve diagnosis or outcome, only increases cost
Routine annual PAP tests on women between the ages of 30-65. Once every three years is enough
Leaving implantable defibrillator on when a patient with incurable disease has elected to forgo resuscitation
Using cough and cold medicine in children under the age of four suffering from respiratory illness. These medications offer little benefit, can have serious side effects and can lead to accidental overdose
Repeat bone scans for osteoporosis more frequently than bi-annually. Healthy women over 67 with normal bone mass can go up to 10 years without repeat bone scan
Use of benzodiazepines such as Valium, sedatives, or sleep aids in older adults with insomnia, agitation or delirium. These drugs more than double risk of auto accidents, falls, hip fractures, and death
Screening healthy individuals for cancer using CT or PET scans, as the likelihood of finding cancer with these means is only about one percent. The scans are likely to detect harmless growths, which lead to additional tests, biopsies and unnecessary surgeries
Inducing labor or performing a cesarean section for a baby who's less than full term without medical cause. Labor induction and/or C-section can increase the risk of learning disabilities and respiratory problems
Routine CT scans on children with minor head injuries. Simple observation is just as good, and spares the child from radiation-related health risks
American Pays the Most for Health Care But Gains the Least...
When you start to consider the volume of unnecessary drugs, tests, procedures, and surgeries conducted each and every day, the reason why Americans spend twice as much on health care per capita than any other nation on the planet, yet still rank dead last in terms of quality of care among industrialized countries becomes clearer.
According to a 2011 report by the global consulting firm Milliman, annual healthcare costs for the average American family of four, if covered by a preferred provider organization, is a staggering $19,393.8 Between 2002 and 2011 alone, the average cost of health care for American families doubled. A recent article lists 50 signs that the US health care system is a gigantic money making scam that is about to collapse.9 This list includes the following amazing statistics:
- This year the American people will spend approximately 2.8 trillion dollars on health care, and it is being projected that Americans will spend 4.5 trillion dollars on health care in 2019
- If the U.S. health care system was a country, it would be the 6th largest economy on the entire planet
- Approximately 60 percent of all personal bankruptcies in the United States are related to medical bills
- The U.S. health care industry has spent more than 5 billion dollars on lobbying our politicians in Washington D.C. since 1998
- The U.S. ambulance industry makes more money each year than the movie industry
However, it's not just a matter of ignorantly doing too many things that provide little value or benefit. The United States' health care system is also fraught with gross overcharges and outright billing fraud. In a recent Time Magazine interview,10 Steven Brill discussed his cover story, Bitter Pill:
"Simple lab work done during a few days in the hospital can cost more than a car. A trip to the emergency room for chest pains that turn out to be indigestion brings a bill that can exceed the price of a semester at college. When we debate health care policy in America, we seem to jump right to the issue of who should pay the bills, blowing past what should be the first question:
Why exactly are the bills so high? Steven Brill spent seven months analyzing hundreds of bill from hospitals, doctors, and drug companies and medical equipment manufacturers to find out who is setting such high prices and pocketing the biggest profits."
Bitter Pill—The Absurd Costs of American Health Care
In Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills are Killing Us,11 Brill dissects our profit-driven sickness management industry posing as health care. It's a fascinating piece, and I highly recommend reading in its entirety. In it he writes, in part:
"Recchi's bill and six others examined line by line for this article offer a closeup window into what happens when powerless buyers... meet sellers in what is the ultimate seller's market.
The result is a uniquely American gold rush for those who provide everything from wonder drugs to canes to high-tech implants to CT scans to hospital bill-coding and collection services. In hundreds of small and midsize cities across the country... the American health care market has transformed tax-exempt 'non-profit' hospitals into the towns' most profitable businesses and largest employers, often presided over by the regions' most richly compensated executives.
And in our largest cities, the system offers lavish paychecks even to midlevel hospital managers, like the 14 administrators at New York City's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center who are paid over $500,000 a year, including six who make over $1 million.
Taken as a whole, these powerful institutions and the bills they churn out dominate the nation's economy and put demands on taxpayers to a degree unequaled anywhere else on earth. In the U.S., people spend almost 20% of the gross domestic product on health care, compared with about half that in most developed countries. Yet in every measurable way, the results our health care system produces are no better and often worse than the outcomes in those countries. According to one of a series of exhaustive studies done by the McKinsey & Co. consulting firm, we spend more on health care than the next 10 biggest spenders combined: Japan, Germany, France, China, the U.K., Italy, Canada, Brazil, Spain and Australia.
We may be shocked at the $60 billion price tag for cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy. We spent almost that much last week on health care. We spend more every year on artificial knees and hips than what Hollywood collects at the box office..."
General Health Checkups and Medical Screening Tests—Do You Really Need Them?
Last year I interviewed Alan Cassels, a drug policy researcher at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, and author of several books, including Seeking Sickness: Medical Screening and the Misguided Hunt for Disease, which addresses medical screening and disease prevention.
There is an enormous amount of effort and research invested in the traditional community into medical screening procedures, which conventional medicine views as "prevention." This is a fatally flawed view since diagnostic tools, some of which are grossly inaccurate, cannot actually prevent disease from occurring. They can only help diagnose what has already occurred. Furthermore, regular screening tends to increase unnecessary use of medicines, and you may receive a diagnosis and treatment for a "condition" that might never have led to any symptoms or had any impact on your longevity...
Much like myself, Cassels research has led him to seriously question common tests like mammography for breast cancer, and the PSA test for prostate cancer. According to Cassels:
"[S]o much of what we consider to be disease in the orthodox medicine world has been created, has been shaped, and has really been molded by the pharmaceutical industry. And very much what we consider to be medicine is determined by the kinds of things that end in what the drug industry calls the 'drug successful visit.' Not just anything that we potentially could be sick with, but anything that any healthy person could get.
And really, screening is about looking in healthy people to find signs of disease.
I want to distinguish right off the bat that when I'm talking about screening, I'm talking about people who have no symptoms, who are otherwise healthy, and who have really no reason to consult the doctor or being told, 'You need to be proactive. You need to seek out early signs of disease. That's a good thing to do to keep yourself healthy.' People that actually have symptoms – feel a lump or whatever – and then go in for a test, that's a diagnostic test. That's something different. I'm talking about a screening test where you're taking otherwise healthy people and trying to find signs of disease in them."
Download Interview Transcript
Natural is Better, and Less is More
The U.S. health care system surely has a lot of room for improvement. Since the United States has the highest infant mortality rate among high income countries, and ranks dead last in terms of life expectancy among 17 affluent nations, it's obvious that money doesn't buy health. The answer, then, to better health must be something else. When it comes to figuring out what that "something else" is, I don't think there's anyone in the medical community who doesn't agree that simply changing your lifestyle can go a long way toward "fixing" a number of chronic conditions, such as diabetes. As identified by the NIH,12 five life-changing factors that can do this are:
- Following a healthy diet
- Maintaining an optimal body weight
- Engaging in regular physical activity
- Not smoking
- Keeping alcohol use to no more than one drink per day for women, and two drinks per day for men
What Constitutes a Healthy Lifestyle?
That's not an impossible list. The great thing about these behavior changes is that they don't cost extra money to do – and they're almost guaranteed to save you money in the long run. I would add a few things to this list, though. Of all the healthy lifestyle strategies I know of that can have a significant impact on your health, normalizing your insulin and leptin levels is probably the most important.
There is no question that this is an absolute necessity if you want to avoid disease and slow down your aging process. That means modifying your diet to avoid excessive amounts of fructose, grains, and other pro-inflammatory ingredients like trans fats. In addition to the items mentioned above, these additional strategies can further help you stay healthy:
- Learn how to effectively cope with stress – Stress has a direct impact on inflammation, which in turn underlies many of the chronic diseases that kill people prematurely every day, so developing effective coping mechanisms is a major longevity-promoting factor.
Meditation, prayer, physical activity and exercise are all viable options that can help you maintain emotional and mental equilibrium. I also strongly believe in using energy psychology tools such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to address deeper, oftentimes hidden emotional problems.
- Optimize Your Vitamin D Levels to between 50 and 70 ng/ml, ideally by exposing enough of your skin to sunshine or a safe tanning bed.
- High-Quality Animal based omega-3 fats – Correcting the ratio of omega-3 to healthful omega-6 fats is a strong factor in helping people live longer. This typically means increasing your intake of animal based omega-3 fats, such as krill oil, while decreasing your intake of damaged omega-6 fats (think trans fats).
- Get most of your antioxidants from foods – Good sources include blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, beans, and artichokes.
- Use coconut oil – Another excellent anti-aging food is coconut oil, known to reduce your risk of heart disease and Alzheimer's disease, and lower your cholesterol, among other things.
- Avoid as many chemicals, toxins, and pollutants as possible – This includes tossing out your toxic household cleaners, soaps, personal hygiene products, air fresheners, bug sprays, lawn pesticides, and insecticides, just to name a few, and replacing them with non-toxic alternatives.
- Avoid prescription drugs – Pharmaceutical drugs kill thousands of people prematurely every year – as an expected side effect of the action of the drug. And, if you adhere to a healthy lifestyle, you most likely will never need any of them in the first place. However if you are currently taking prescription drugs it is best to work with a trained natural health care professional to help you wean off of them.
Take Control of Your Health
Incorporating these healthy lifestyle guidelines will help set you squarely on the path to optimal health and give you the best shot at living a much longer life. Remember, it's never too late to take control of your health. And when you do go to the doctor, know that it's OK to ask questions and opt for less medical intervention while choosing a more natural way of healing your body – you should NEVER think that you're not supposed to, or can't, ask questions of the person you've entrusted with your body and health.
Also, while it's important to find a doctor who is willing and able to keep up with the research, it's equally important to realize that the field of medical research has become inundated with and corrupted by the same greed guiding our health care system.
Scientific fraud occurs far more often than one might suspect, so common sense and digging a little deeper into the research is always a good idea—especially if your physical welfare is hanging in the balance. If the problem is acute, this may not be possible, but if you're trying to address chronic, long-term health issues, I would urge you to become more personally involved in your own treatment.