By Dr. Mercola
When it comes to medicine, mere disclosure of conflict of interest is not nearly enough.
Patients need unbiased advice when it comes to making decisions that can impact their very life, and physicians and scientists with financial ties to the drug industry should not be allowed to participate in broad policy and public-health recommendations in the first place.
But this is exactly what happens routinely, as a still-relevant Washington Post article from several years ago pointed out.
Conflict of interest is rampant in the field of medicine, even when it comes to recommendations from supposedly independent authorities, like the federal government, which makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to trust conventional health advice.
Cholesterol Guidelines a Prime Example of Medical Advice Influenced by Conflict of Interest
One of the most revealing examples of what happens when policy makers are allowed to accept money from drug companies lies in the current U.S. cholesterol guidelines. In 2004, the U.S. government's National Cholesterol Education Program panel advised those at risk for heart disease to attempt to reduce their LDL cholesterol to new specific, very low, levels.
Before 2004, a 130-milligram LDL cholesterol level was considered healthy.
The updated guidelines, however, recommended levels of less than 100, or even less than 70 for patients at very high risk -- levels that often require multiple cholesterol-lowering drugs to achieve. In 2006, a review in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that there is insufficient evidence to support the target numbers outlined by the panel. The authors of the review were unable to find research providing evidence that achieving a specific LDL target level was important in and of itself, and found that the studies attempting to do so suffered from major flaws.
Several of the scientists who helped develop the guidelines even admitted that the scientific evidence supporting the less-than-70 recommendation was not very strong.
So how did these excessively low cholesterol guidelines come about? Eight of the nine doctors on the panel that developed the new cholesterol guidelines had been making money from the drug companies that manufacture statin cholesterol-lowering drugs -- wouldn't you know it, the same drugs the new guidelines suddenly created a dramatically larger market for in the United States.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident, but rather is par for the course when it comes to many widely accepted tenets of conventional medicine, even those recommended by official government agencies. As the Washington Post reported:
"The extent of the connections was stunning: Of the nine members of the panel that wrote the guidelines, six had each received research grants, speaking honoraria or consulting fees from at least three and in some cases all five of the manufacturers of statins; only one had no financial links at all. If all the members with conflicts had recused themselves, in fact, only two would have been left."
Can You Trust Health Advice from Government Agencies?
Not with a blind eye, no. The federal government has a long history of siding with, and protecting, the drug companies, such as:
- Previous drug company funding -- to the tune of $2 billion -- in helping drug companies bring flu vaccines to the market faster
- Letting drug giants like Pfizer off the hook for fraudulent marketing charges so their products could continue to flow through Medicare and Medicaid
- Including incentives in the "Affordable Health Care for America Act" for people to purchase more expensive prescription drugs in favor of their less expensive over-the-counter cousins
So there should be no doubt about the power the drug industry wields in shaping the U.S. health care system. There are simply so many revolving doors between the pharmaceutical industry and the government that it makes your head spin. Here are just a few examples:
- The American Cancer Society has close financial ties to both makers of mammography equipment and cancer drugs. Other conflicts of interest include ties to, and financial support from, the pesticide-, petrochemical-, biotech-, cosmetics-, and junk food industries—the very industries whose products are the primary contributors to cancer!
- The second-highest funding source for drug studies is the National Institute of Health (NIH), which is not the group of neutral government experts you may have assumed them to be. In fact, NIH accepts a great deal of money from Big Pharma and is deeply enmeshed with the industry.
- Drug companies pay seven-figure amounts into FDA coffers to gain approval of their drugs. FDA staff knows that the cash means higher salaries and more perks in the agency budget. (Incidentally, the FDA's new commissioner Margaret Hamburg came straight from the boardroom of America's largest seller of dental amalgam, Henry Schein, Inc.)
- Conflicts of interest are also rampant in a mass vaccination infrastructure that has the same people who are regulating and promoting vaccines also evaluating vaccine safety.
- The vaccine industry gives millions for conferences, grants, and medical education classes sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The vaccine industry even helped build AAP's headquarters.
These types of blatant conflicts should simply not be tolerated, but they most certainly are. For now the majority still does not understand the pharmaceutical industry's power and influence over government, and the field of conventional medicine itself, but the tide is beginning to turn, and will continue to do so as more and more people get informed.
Which Industry Controls Congress With the Most Lobbying Dollars?
The pharmaceutical industry spent $1.5 billion lobbying Congress in the last decade, and in so doing has manipulated the government's involvement with medicine and secondarily reinforced our dependence on them, through government policies. Drug companies, of course, are the BIGGEST political lobby, and political lobbying is one of the primary reasons why the drug companies are controlling nearly the entire health industry. Lobbyists, by definition, "conduct activities aimed at influencing public officials and especially members of a legislative body on legislation." This is Big Business doing what it does best: using its power and money to strong-arm the legislative process.
In 2010 alone, the pharmaceutical industry as a whole spent over $244 million on lobbying, and that's just the dollars-and-cents influence that was reported. As former political lobbyist Jack Abramoff explains in the video below, there are other methods that are FAR more effective for getting desired results.
By plying Congressmen and their staffers with gifts, from meals to use of private jets, Abramoff was able to have significant influence over about 100 congressional offices—a failure, according to his own standards, as there were still 355 offices that he did not control. In return for gifts and special treatment, the Congressional members he had pocketed would vote yes for legislation and tax breaks that were favorable for his clients.
The most effective strategy employed by industry and lobby groups is the promise of extremely lucrative jobs once their service on the Hill is over. Similarly, revolving doors between industry and the federal agencies that oversee them have caused untold harm by hampering health freedom and promoting corporate interests. If this doesn't disturb you, I don't know what will—especially when you consider that as of 2011, there are an estimated 12,220 other Abramoff's out there lobbying Congress and federal agencies for various industries.
What Can You do to Take Control of Your Health?
The good news is that increasing numbers of people are now waking up to these harsh realities, and you, being among those who are informed, can help share this knowledge with others. Remember that the definition of fascism is a government system that has complete power in regimenting all industry and forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism. What we have here is a hybrid—a sort of corporate fascism, where industry has powerful control over government, and forcefully suppresses anything that threatens their monopoly on profits.
Unfortunately, this can be extremely dangerous as it pertains to your health.
Virtually every measurable index indicates that despite the ever-increasing amounts of money invested, if you live in the United States your chance of achieving optimal health through the medical system is only getting worse. While the U.S. spends more than twice the amount on health care as other developed nations, we rank 49th in life expectancy worldwide—far lower than most other developed nations! The time is ripe for you to take control of your health, and my site is chock full of free comprehensive recommendations that can serve as an excellent, truly independent starting point.
When it comes to your health, you simply cannot accept claims at their face value … you've got to dig below the surface and use all the resources available to you, including your own commonsense and reason, true independent experts' advice and other's experiences, to determine what medical treatment or advice will be best for you in any given situation. Ultimately, you must come to the realization that YOU are responsible for your, and your family's health -- not me, not your physician, and certainly not any researchers or government health agencies on a drug or vaccine manufacturer's payroll.
You've got to become an active participant in your care and make sure you are making decisions that correspond with your own best judgment, knowledge and experiences.