22.09.2014 Natural Health

Medicine or Dogma?

Western medicine has been overwhelmed by dogma leading to greater dependence on drugs and more illness. Story by Peter Dingle PhD

Hippocrates said "There are, in effect, two things: to know and to believe one knows. To know is science and to believe one knows is ignorance."

Unfortunately, most of modern medicine has become dogma. "Dogma" is any belief that is held stubbornly. When you repeat something over enough times it becomes a belief. It is repeated in the papers and all media messages and sent to doctors in a never-ending stream.

Medicine prides itself on being a science; however it is not. Science used correctly can be a marvellous thing. The role of science is to observe, explore, clarify, ask questions, form a hypothesis and have open debate. Most people don't understand that science is based on hypothesis, not fact. A theory is proposed and it is supported or proven wrong. In medicine, we confuse hypotheses with facts. All that information about cholesterol being a killer is a hypothesis, or that depression is caused by low levels of serotonin is another hypothesis. They are not facts. And when enough evidence accumulates against them they are disproved unless, like today, there is too much drug money involved. It is upsetting to learn that medicine has pursued a certain direction for decades based on hypothesis that has been shown to be wrong from the onset, particularly when theories are inaccurate and disproved and there are life-threatening and tragic consequences.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Medicine is riddled with major findings that have blocked the advancement of health. Back in the 1940s, Oxford University scientist Hugh Sinclair realised that omega 3 fatty acids were good for us and that the Inuit (indigenous peoples of the Arctic regions) ate vast amounts of fat yet hardly ever suffered from heart disease. He believed this was due to the protective effect of one fat, omega 3, found in oily fish. However, this was too controversial and he was ridiculed and lost his post at the university. Undeterred, he continued to study omega 3 and put himself on an "Eskimo diet" for 100 days; he ate nothing but seal blubber and fish. It took nearly 40 years for this information to be recognised by the mainstream establishment, as all fats were considered "bad". Now we know that fish oils are associated with reducing many major diseases including CVD and some cancers.

Folate Debate

Another example is the debate on folate, which lasted for decades. Observational studies, in vitro, animal and epidemiological studies clearly demonstrated the benefits of folate to reduce neural tube defects in newborns dating back to the 1960s. The authorities argued in relation to the animal studies that we are not rats, and in regard to the epidemiological studies that you cannot confuse correlation with causation, and so nothing was done. That is, until the bulk of the evidence became overwhelming and, all of a sudden, everyone thought it a good idea. Foods were fortified and those in the mainstream patted themselves on the back for their brilliant insight. These were the same authorities who had resisted the information and change for nearly 30 years while thousands of people suffered. Fortunately, midwives and naturopaths have been recommending folate to pregnant women since the 1950s.

H pylori and peptic ulcers

Over-the-counter medication for ulcers and stomach complaints accounted for most drug sales in the 1980s and 90s, until dogma was overwhelmed by science. Robin Warren and Barry Marshall were the joint winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery that gastritis and peptic ulcers arise from an infection of the stomach caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori. However, it took 20 years for the two researchers to overturn established medical dogma and revolutionise the treatment of peptic ulcers - and only when they put their own lives on the line.

Warren first discovered the role of Helicobacter pylori in 1979, "but trying to convince other people of that was impossible," he stated. Orthodox medical teaching at the time was that bacteria did not grow in a normal stomach. However, as Warren wrote in the 2002 book Helicobacter Pioneers, "I preferred to believe my eyes, not the medical textbooks or the medical fraternity." While Marshall was able to convince the scientific microbiologists, as they had no dogma to overcome about the causes of gastritis and peptic ulcers, the wider medical community remained hard to convince. Even the first major publication of their results, in the journal Lancet in 1984, was almost impossible to get published. The editors, Marshall recalls, found it difficult to find reviewers who could agree the paper was important, general, and interesting enough to be published.

In 1984, in an act born out of frustration, Marshall deliberately infected himself by drinking a solution swimming with the bacterium. But many clinicians still remained unmoved. It wasn't until the early 1990s that the findings of Marshall and Warren became impossible to ignore, at which point pharmaceutical development and clinical practice underwent a shift toward eradication of H pylori to treat ulcers instead of over treatment with over-the-counter drugs and poor advice. They won the Nobel Prize for their work a decade later and helped millions of people around the world.

Our health system is badly broken. It does not need a touch up here or there or a few bandaids; it needs to be rewritten and reinvented. It is just not working. We have a collective conditioning that is failing. We continue to spend more and more money on a drug-based medical system and we are just getting sicker and sicker and dying from avoidable lifestyle diseases more frequently than ever before.

The simple fact is that countries that are less developed and spend the least amount on pharmaceuticals have the longest lives, and highest health and quality of life with less chronic illness without drugs and processed lifestyles. This should ring warning bells everywhere. The countries that spend the most money on health have the sickest populations.

Vicious cycle of drug dependence

By not treating the illness, we get into a vicious cycle of prescription drug dependence, in which people begin with one drug then another, then one to manage the side effects of the first and, within a few years, may be on three, four, five or even more drugs. Many people are now on multiple drugs and have never felt worse. It is likely that all they had in the beginning was normal. They have gone from being normal to being caught in a cycle of pharmaceutical drug addiction because they trusted their doctors who put the fear of fire and brimstone in them if they did not take the drug. Fortunately, many of these people come off their drugs when they are shown the facts and they find a doctor who understands what good health means. There are also many doctors who refuse to use these drugs.

It is time for the medicine industry to stop wasting money and resources on useless research and to adopt commonsense strategies that will save lives.

In all Western nations, based on just raw statistics, the three biggest killers in order are: cardiovascular disease, cancer and the medical system. A sobering note is that very conservative figures report more than 100,000 people in hospitals in the United States die as a result of the medications they are taking, one million people are hospitalised and 2.2 million people have severe and often permanent disabilities each year from the side effects of medications in the US. The numbers are likely to be much higher than this, so if your doctor says not to worry, it is time to get another doctor. A more recent study found one in seven people in hospitals have adverse drug reactions.

However, if one looks deeper one can see that the medical system is the single biggest killer in our society and far outweighs either cancer or CVD. Drugs are the leading killer in Western society. Not only do they kill some half a million every year directly, but they also indirectly sentence millions more. The false hopes promised by pharmaceutical companies often result in patients not taking any other steps that could actually save their lives (besides taking a pill that may or may not help at all). The dependence on a self-serving industry to deliver good health outcomes means interventions such as stress relief, exercise or promotion of dietary strategies are ignored or relegated to the "too hard" basket. It is much easier taking a pill; this does not serve the interests of the population.

The four different types of deaths caused through the medical system are:

1. Adverse reactions to drugs;

2. Adverse reactions to drugs that lead to an increase in other diseases but are reported as the new disease (statin drugs increase a person's risk of Alzheimer's or diabetes), which go unreported as a death caused by drugs;

3. The adverse reactions of drugs that don't go reported that have negative impacts on the quality of our lives such as energy and pain levels which stop us from being active and taking care of ourselves; and

4. The disempowerment of the medical system that fools people into believing that many of the drugs used to treat chronic illness work. This misinformation also includes the absence of information on what people can do to take care of their own health that really does work instead of drugs.

Each extra drug that is taken virtually doubles the risk of serious side effects and death. It does not just add onto the risk, it multiplies the risk. Unfortunately, recent observations and research shows pharmaceutical drug use on the rise. The latest research shows 70% of Americans are taking at least one prescription drug, and more than half are taking two. Twenty per cent - or one in five - Americans are taking five or more drugs regularly and the average 70 year old is taking seven different prescription medications. The same drug use patterns are likely in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and other Western nations.

One person I know started on statins to lower cholesterol, then was put on seven pharmaceutical drugs - half of them to manage the side effects of the other drugs. He then had a heart attack, which was supposed to be prevented, and is now on 13 tablets a day. And the specialists (all four of them) put the fear of death into him if he should not take one of them, but warned him against nutrition. In fact, one specialist said it was like a stack of champagne glasses - if you take one out the rest will collapse. What utter rubbish. The specialist has absolutely no idea about the drug interactions and side effects and even less about nutrition. In fact, that same person has now been told he has a failing liver and kidney.

All medications have serous side effects, some of them more deadly than the illness they are purporting to treat. Clinical trials are designed to show that a drug is safe and effective. But even the largest trials can't identify unusual or even dangerous side effects experienced by only a tiny proportion of those people taking the drug. They also aren't designed to study how drugs interact with other drugs; for example, antidepressants called SSRIs interact with a common blood pressure medication to significantly increase the risk of a potentially deadly heart condition. Nor are they designed to determine long-term side effects.

It is time as a society to consider the implications for our health of the profound insights of Hippocrates, the "father" of Western medicine.

DISCLAIMER: Dr Peter Dingle is a researcher, educator and public health advocate. He has a PhD in the field of environmental toxicology and is not a medical doctor.


Peter Dingle

Dr Peter Dingle (PhD) has spent the past 30 years as a researcher, educator, author and advocate for a common sense approach to health and wellbeing. He has a PhD in the field of environmental toxicology and is not a medical doctor. He is Australia’s leading motivational health speaker and has 14 books in publication.