Tom Ballard, ND's blog

Drugs: No Comparison
January 13, 2011, 11:29 am
Filed under: Commentary, Medications | Tags: , , ,

Researchers from Harvard, writing for the Journal of the American Medical Association, have concluded that, “Many of our nation’s research priorities are driven by the pharmaceutical industry. These companies, not surprisingly, focus most of their attention on new therapies.”

This is what I’ve been writing about for years. How can we improve our health when the powerful pharmaceutical industry controls research? Their goal is to make money. New drugs make more money, whether they’re any better than the old or not.

Among this study’s conclusions was that few drugs are ever compared with other drugs for safety or efficacy. Instead they’re usually compared to placebos. When drugs are compared one on one, the report states, they usually don’t compare safety. Doctors and patients can be lured into thinking that the new drug on the block is better than an older, less expensive, drug, when in reality the question was never asked. This is one of the reasons why drug companies make more profits than any other industry.

It goes without saying that drugs are rarely compared to lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. Drug studies also tend to be relatively short in duration, months rather than years, and limit their scope to very narrow parameters (ie, does it lower cholesterol, not whether it prolongs life).

There is one area where I have seen comparative studies. Cancer research usually involves comparing two chemotherapy programs or chemotherapy to radiation. You’ll never see a cancer therapy compared to life style changes or even doing nothing. Cancer researchers would argue that it would be unethical to use humans with cancer in a study and give them nothing, but the fact is they usually have no idea whether patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation are in fact helped at all. They may be able to tell you therapy X prolonged survival over therapy Y, but not if either prolonged life over no therapy.

The American public has been dazzled by the advances in medicine over the past few decades. And there have been remarkable achievements. As more reports like this one emerge, the public will undergo a slow awakening to the dangers of allowing a largely unregulated industry to dictate how medical research is conducted.


Drug Side Effects in the Elderly
January 6, 2011, 10:09 am
Filed under: Commentary, Medications | Tags: , , ,

The elderly aren’t the only ones being prescribed pharmaceuticals, but they’re more likely to be taking several. Along with children, the elderly are most likely to have adverse reactions to medicines. This is mostly due to their lessened ability to detoxify and remove chemicals from the body.

From: (Public Citizen)

Each year, more than 9.6 million adverse drug reactions occur in older Americans. The referenced study found that 37% of these adverse reactions were not reported to the doctor, presumably because patients did not realize the reactions were due to the drug. This is not too surprising considering that most doctors admitted they did not explain possible adverse effects to their patients.

The following national estimates are based on well-conducted studies, mainly in the United States:

  • Each year, in hospitals alone, there are 28,000 cases of life-threatening heart toxicity from adverse reactions to digoxin, the most commonly used form of digitalis in older adults. It is estimated that as many as 40% or more of these people are using this drug unnecessarily, even by pro-pharmaceutical researchers. Therefore, many of these injuries are preventable.
  • Each year 41,000 older adults are hospitalized—and 3,300 of these die from ulcers caused by NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, usually for treatment of arthritis). Thousands of younger adults are hospitalized due to these drugs.
  • At least 16,000 injuries from auto crashes each year involving older drivers are attributable to the use of psychoactive drugs, specifically benzodiazepines and tricyclic antidepressants. Psychoactive drugs are those that affect the mind or behavior.
  • Each year 32,000 older adults suffer from hip fractures—contributing to more than 1,500 deaths—attributable to drug-induced falls. In one study, the main categories of drugs responsible for the falls leading to hip fractures were sleeping pills and minor tranquilizers (30%), antipsychotic drugs (52%), and antidepressants (17%). All of these categories of drugs are often prescribed unnecessarily, especially in older adults, according to medical experts that are not anti-drugs. The in-hospital death rate for hip fractures in older adults is 4.9%. Multiplying this times the 32,000 hip fractures a year in older adults attributable to drug-induced falls, 1,568 older adults die each year from adverse drug reactions that cause hip fractures. Continue reading

Statins Harm More than Help
November 18, 2010, 11:50 am
Filed under: Medications, Research | Tags: , , ,

It may seem like I’m picking on statin (cholesterol) drugs, but they’re such an easy target for scorn.  They’re such a good example of how bad science and greed walk hand in hand in our current medical system.

Example 1:

You may have read reports of the push to prescribe statins to younger, healthy people. The rationale for this is that the sooner you stop heart disease the better. The research support for this was the JUPITER study, funded by a drug company, which claimed a 44% reduced risk of a cardiovascular event for those using a statin.

One obvious problem with the study is that it was conducted on sick people, not healthy ones. There has been no study on the consequences of giving statins over prolonged periods to healthy people.

In other words, the “scientific” medical community’s attitude is: Hey, don’t let the lack of scientific evidence stop the prescriptions. Let’s proceed on assumptions.

Example 2:

You’d think from the advertising and 20 million prescriptions that statins are miracle drugs. The scientific truth is something completely different. The British Medical Journal in 2010 published yet another study showing how poorly these drugs perform. They found, in following over 225,000 people, that only 2.7% benefited (271 out of 10,000). Not what you call cost-effective.

Even more damning in the BMJ study was the number of people suffering side effects, including liver damage, kidney failure, cataracts, and extreme muscle fatigue. This group made up 4.4% of participants. In other words, almost twice as many people did worse on statins than did better.

Mathematics is a science: 4.4% of 20 million is 880,000 people suffering, even dying in the hopes that 2.7%, 540,000, will have less heart disease. Clearly doctors who prescribe statins are not doing their math.

Pushing Down the Limits
November 4, 2010, 10:40 am
Filed under: Medications | Tags: , , , ,

It is in the interest of drug companies to push for tighter guidelines on tests such as cholesterol and blood pressure. If they can convince doctors that cholesterol levels should be below 200 and blood pressures below 140/90, then they sell more pills.

I’m too cynical you say?

I predict that in the next few years, guidelines for cholesterol and blood pressure will be lowered, despite research showing that the new recommendations actually increase health problems.

In early 2010 the New England Journal of Medicine reported the results of the nationwide ACCORD study of 4,733 diabetics. It concluded that lowering cholesterol and blood pressure below current levels provided no benefit when weighed against side effects. (Fun fact: patients in the intensive treatment group took an average of 3.6 medications to lower their blood pressure! Talk about good for business.)

Will a large study with a negative impact on drug sales be tolerated?

Watch and see.

Osteoporosis in a Pill
October 28, 2010, 9:18 am
Filed under: Medications | Tags: , , , , ,

In the twisted logic of our dominant medical system it makes since to treat osteoporosis with a drug that interferes with normal bone development rather than providing bone-supporting nutrients.

Osteoporosis drugs such as Fosamax, Actonel, and Boniva have been found to actually increase bone fractures, as well as cause loss of jaw bone calcium, irregular heartbeats, incapacitating musculoskeletal pain, and esophageal cancer.

A New York Times analysis of found that patients are widely dissatisfied with these drugs. If only their doctors knew as much.

Yes, these bone-damaging drugs are still commonly prescribed – instead of calcium, magnesium, vitamins D and K, omega-3 oils, and weight-bearing exercise.

Who is your doctor listening to?

The drug companies or basic bone physiology?

Diabetes, the FDA, and your safety
September 30, 2010, 9:47 am
Filed under: Commentary, Medications, News | Tags: , , , , ,

Here’s the unfolding of a story that impacts millions of diabetics.

  • 1999: Avandia diabetes drug released and with massive advertising becomes the most popular drug for type 2 diabetes.
  • 2007: The prestigious Cleveland Clinic reports that Avandia increases heart attacks and stroke.
  • 2010, February: After pressure from Congress, the FDA finally takes another look at the safety of Avandia.
  • 2010: Avandia maker GlaxoSmithKline launches a study (TIDE) on safety of their drug (foxes watching the chicken coop).
  • 2010: In spite of internal FDA reports that GlaxoSmithKline study is “unethical and exploitative”, FDA allows study to proceed.
  • 2010, July: The FDA panel vote: 12 feel the research warrants removing Avandia from the market. 10 vote for keeping it on the market with restrictions. 7 vote to keep it on the market with increased warnings. Only 3 recommend keeping it on the market without any changes. Result: Avandia stays on the market.

Important fact: There is no reason for Avandia to stay on the market, even if you only believe in the drug treatment of disease. Several safer drugs exist (Not to mention the proven, safe results of diet and exercise).

[Update: Avandia diabetes drug placed under severe FDA restrictions]

Gotcha: The TIDE safety study will not be completed until 2020. The patent expires in 2012 at which time the profits will be fully milked and untold numbers of users may die needlessly.


1.   FDA did an inadequate job of screening Avandia in the first place.

2.   FDA was painfully and potentially deadly slow in responding to studies demonstrating Avandia’s dangers.

3.   FDA action was precipitated by Congressional pressure as a result of citizen action.

4.   Drug safety is not a priority of the FDA. Avandia is an unnecessary drug. Why let it remain on the market?

5.   FDA allows pharmaceutical industry to conduct its own safety studies! (Do we allow bridge builders to inspect their own bridges? Was your home inspected by a reliable third party or by the builder?)

6.   Seriously flawed “scientific” studies are allowed by the FDA, even when their own scientists recommend against it.

7.   Money controls the science and safety of the pills millions of people have been led to believe are safe and effective.