Which are safer: Drugs and hospitals or herbs and vitamin supplements?

Pharmaceutical drugs are 62,000 times more likely to kill you than vitamin/food supplements. In fact, research data collected by ANH-Intl (http://www.anh-europe.org/) demonstrates that food supplements are the safest substances regularly consumed by UK citizens even though they are the target of increasingly restrictive European legislation aimed at ‘protecting consumers.’

The data also found that pharmaceutical drugs were also 7,750 times more likely to result in death than herbal remedies. Both food supplements and herbal remedies were placed in the ‘supersafe’ category of individual risk -with a less than one in ten million risk of death.

By contrast, being admitted to a UK hospital or taking prescription drugs exposes a person to one of the greatest preventable risks in society. Overall, preventable medical injuries in UK hospitals expose patients to the same risk of death as being deployed on military service to Afghanistan – both of which are around 300,000 times greater than the risk of death from taking natural health products.

ANH-Intl executive and scientific director, Dr. Robert Verkerk, PhD, (http://www.anh-europe.org/news/dr-robert-verkerk-founder-anh-recognised-natural-health-campaign) hailed the figures as shedding new light on the question of natural healthcare’s safety. “These figures tell us not only what activities an individual is most or least likely to die from, but also what the relative risks of various activities are to society as a whole. It puts some real perspective on the actual risk of death posed by food supplements and herbal remedies at a time when governments are clamping down because they tell us they’re dangerous.”

Verkerk added, “When compared with the risk of taking food supplements, an individual is around 900 times more likely to die from food poisoning and nearly 300,000 times more likely to die from a preventable medical injury during a spell in a UK hospital. The latter is on a par with the risk of death from active military service in Iraq or Afghanistan.”

Among other key points presented in the data were:

* Pharmaceutical drugs pose nearly double the risk of death than motorcycle accidents on UK roads

* While herbal medicines can both be regarded as ‘supersafe,’ preventable medical injuries in UK hospitals are in the ‘Dangerous’ category, with a risk of death greater than 1 in 1,000.

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Scepticism and the natural medicine skeptics: not even distantly related

We think it’s about time to reclaim the word ‘sceptic’ from the anti-natural medicine skeptic movement – and yes, the difference in spelling is entirely deliberate! As we’ll see, they are two entirely different things.

Doubt versus dogma

We were very interested in a recent episode of the morning discussion show ‘In Our Time’, on the UK’s BBC Radio 4, entitled simply ‘Scepticism’. The programme, hosted by writer and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, traced the history of the proud philosophical tradition of scepticism, which has its roots in the ancient Greece of Plato and Socrates.

At its core, classical scepticism is the belief that it may be impossible to know anything with absolute certainty – that all beliefs and dogmas are equally subject to doubt and questioning. Doubt, and not negative assertion of the ‘such-and-such cannot possibly be correct’ type, is the true sceptic’s watchword. As such, philosophical scepticism has much in common with, and indeed has greatly influenced, the ideal of the modern scientific method: to objectively question the world around us, while realising that there can be no absolute ‘truth’ – only a balance of probabilities.

Sceptical paradoxes

Here’s an interesting situation thrown up by ‘true scepticism’. Sceptics have had great fun demonstrating that the dogmas of religion are unsupportable. And yet, taken to its logical conclusion, the sceptical rejection of all human reason can create the tranquillity through which many believe God can work; Michel de Montaigne, a noted sceptical thinker, concluded that, “After scepticism, man is like a blank tablet, upon which the finger of God can carve whatever word He wants”.

Bringing this line of thought up-to-date, the modern sceptical paradox is that a philosophy based on questioning all sides of a particular argument now finds itself harnessed to the ‘anti-natural’ cause. Such skeptics, typified by organisations such as Sense About Science, appear to find themselves firmly in a pro-GM, pro-mainstream medicine, anti-natural healthcare position. For a start, if scepticism leads us to question all sides of an argument – to reject the intrinsic ‘rightness’ of any position – how can the skeptics be so loudly pro-mainstream medicine and against all the alternatives? What scientific data are they using to support the very dubious view that genetically modified (GM) crops will resolve world hunger? Strictly speaking, it should be impossible for sceptics to describe themselves as ‘pro-science’ or ‘pro-technology’, since that clearly associates them with a belief in the correctness of modern science – an utterly non-sceptical position!

Not only that, but while philosophical scepticism has had enormous influence on the modern scientific process, the modern skeptic turns his or her back on the scientific method by ignoring centuries of human experience – and the clinical experience being gathered every day by practitioners – as ‘anecdote’. Only randomised, controlled trials in human subjects will do to prove any treatment approach worthy of consideration. So, it seems that the ‘pro-science’ ‘skeptics’ are actually in some respects ‘anti-science’, and they’re certainly not sceptics. Their position is effectively a form of intellectual fraud — and that’s being kind.

Descent into thuggery

Chris Woollams runs the charity CANCERactive, which provides information on both mainstream and non-mainstream cancer therapies – a the latter being a red flag for many skeptics, including Professor David Colquhoun of University College London. Colquhoun wrote a piece on his blog accusing Woollams of illegally profiting from CANCERactive. When Woollams protested that this was entirely untrue, Colquhoun admitted as much on his blog – but without removing the offending article! In the meantime, Colquhoun rallied skeptic friends via Twitter, to pen their own poisonous articles against CANCERactive, and Woollams. (Woollams founded the charity because his daughter had died from a brain tumour. He is yet – after 9 years- to take a penny from the charity and even donates all the considerable profits from his books and speeches to the charity.) Colquhoun only removed his defamatory post upon legal advice, presumably that he was guilty of libelling Woollams.

Bitter fruits

When the fruits of the skeptic movement are intellectual fraud, thuggery and empty character assassination, can society be expected to take the movement’s views seriously?

Perhaps today’s ‘anti-natural’ pseudo-skepticism will one day be condensed into a short chapter — of academic interest only — in scepticism’s rich history.

Call to action

Share this article widely with those you feel may have been swayed by skeptics who hold themselves out to be objective, but in reality are using a form of pseudo-scepticism to impart a dogma that supports the status quo.  This may be through the over-use of prescription drugs or childhood vaccination in healthcare, or the notion that GM crops are required to alleviate poverty and hunger in developing countries

If you consider yourself a sceptic, and can, hand on heart, say that your sceptical deliberations rely on the open-minded principles of enquiry on which the great philosophical tradition of true scepticism is founded — congratulations! However, if you are purporting to use skepticism to demonstrate that natural solutions to healthcare or agriculture are worthless, you may wish to re-examine if skepticism is an appropriate term to describe your method.  Have you, for example, become wittingly or unwittingly involved in what Martin Walker calls ‘corporate science’?

Let’s remember that an open and questioning mind is one of the greatest gifts a human being has.

The Alliance for Natural Health: http://www.anh-europe.org/

CANCERactive: www.canceractive.com



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This article is from The Alliance for Natural Health, Europe.

Poorly written or implemented laws always lead to chaos, especially when they apply across a huge and diverse geographical and political area like the European Union (EU). And once again, the EU’s Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD) is proving itself to be one of the most flawed pieces of legislation yet devised by the EU – which, given the competition, is quite an achievement!

Puppet on a string

In the UK, the medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), is showing just how ‘independent’ and ‘unbiased’ is its interpretation of the THMPD. It has begun to crack down on ‘unlicensed medicines’ via the THMPD and EU medicines law – and its interpretation of those laws appears to be at the bidding of a shady campaign aimed at protecting the profits of the bigger companies that can buy their way into the narrow regulatory regime, built around their specific types of product. A far cry from the MHRA’s proclaimed virtues of integrity, openness and impartiality, we would say!

Predator becomes prey?

The latest victim of the MHRA is a sports nutrition company, Predator Nutrition. Predator was in the news recently after the MHRA became the first EU Member State competent authority to begin targeting companies selling products containing 1,3-dimethylamylamine or DMAA. DMAA is taken before a workout to help boost performance, and controversy has raged over possible links to liver damage and the deaths of two US servicemen – as well as over whether the substance is artificial or derived from the geranium plant.

Casting the net wider

It appears that the MHRA may be using the DMAA furore as a convenient ‘foot in the door’ at Predator, since it has also told the company that it must cease selling products containing milk thistle, valerian, clary sage and many other herbal ingredients. Some of the herbs in Predator’s products are on restricted lists in the UK, such as Ephedra spp. and Pausinystalia yohimbe (yohimbe). Therefore, the MHRA could be said to be only doing its job by targeting these products. The same cannot be said for herbs like milk thistle, with centuries of safe use in the UK and elsewhere – but the MHRA doesn’t see it like that. “The MHRA has told us that if our products contain higher doses of herbal ingredients than are found in foods, then they’re medicines and should be licensed under the THMPD,” Reggie Johal, Predator’s founder, told ANH-Intl. And that’s not all. “They’ve also told us that any herbs we’re using in our products that have never been eaten in the UK are medicines,” continued Mr Johal. A double whammy from the medicines regulator that could see many of Predator’s products disappear from the UK.

In justifying its draconian policy on herbal ingredients, the MHRA is sticking to a familiar position – but it appears to have expanded its enforcement strategy. Its opinion that herbal doses in excess of what can be obtained from foods are medicinal is explained in Figure 1, which represents our interpretation of the second limb of the EU medicines directive. This limb defines any substance as medicinal if it, “….may be used in or administered to human beings either with a view to restoring, correcting or modifying physiological functions by exerting a pharmacological, immunological or metabolic action” (Article 1(2), Directive 2004/27/EC). This covers everything in the red zone of Figure 1 – anything that acts to bring the human body back to normality from a position of dysfunction, or illness – and includes doses of herbal ingredients beyond those obtainable from foods. It is also an astonishingly broad definition that technically classifies a glass of water as a drug: a loaded gun for regulators to use on products they don’t like. And the MHRA is as trigger-happy as they come.

Figure 1. The effect of the Human Medicinal Products Directive. Everything in red is defined as a drug.

A disputed history of food use

The MHRA has also long used ‘history of food use’ as a basis for deciding whether or not herbs are medicinal. In the past, a history of food use has meant that the herb can be sold as a food supplement. But in the case of Predator Nutrition, the MHRA is calling even benign herbs like milk thistle and clary sage medicinal – even though its own guidance document clearly states they have a history of food use!

According to UK-based magazine The Ecologist, “Milk thistle is another weed that can prove a tasty addition to your supper…raw shoots can…be eaten as crudités”, while the National Toxicology Program of the Department of Health and Human Services in the USA declares that, “Milk thistle has a long history of European cultivation for food”. As for clary sage, the Oxford English Dictionary entry for the plant reads, “An aromatic herbaceous plant of the mint family, some kinds of which are used as culinary and medicinal”.

So, what we have here are two herbs with obvious histories of food use. So, the only argument the MHRA has left is that the amounts of active ingredients within the herbal products – i.e. the silymarin in milk thistle and, say, the sclareol in clary sage – are way higher than those that could normally be consumed in food. Their evidence for this? We’re not sure they have any.

MHRA: the enforcement arm of Big (Phyto)Pharma

So, the MHRA is contradicting its own guidance and the published historical data by declaring certain herbs as drugs. Why might that be? Well, cackling gleefully in the background of this story is one Simon Mills, spokesman for the Herbal Quality Campaign (HQC). “It’s what we’ve been asking for,” he gloats. Behind the thin modesty veil of the HQC’s ‘public safety’ stance hides a campaign designed to protect the profits of companies, such as Schwabe and Bionorica, who invested heavily in the THMPD and are unhappy that the MHRA hasn’t been forcing the non-THMPD-registered competition, i.e. botanical food supplements, off the market. It seems that pressure from the HQC – whether direct or via UK Members of Parliament (MPs), who have been the main target of the HQC’s lobbying – might be persuading the MHRA to crack down. Never mind that its justification is spurious, or that the herbs, as opposed to the products, being targeted are perfectly safe and legal.

In a lovely example of synchronicity, George Monbiot wrote an article on conflicts of interest in public bodies for the UK’s Guardian newspaper on Monday 12th March – and guess who was one of the corrupt bodies he pointed to? “While the [MHRA] board contains retired senior executives from AstraZeneca and Merck Sharp & Dohme, it includes no one from a patient group, or any other body representing people whose health could be damaged by its decisions,” Monbiot wrote, drawing an instant response from the MHRA. Since the MHRA is entirely funded and partly staffed by the pharmaceutical industry, it’s difficult to see how its regulatory strategy could avoid being biased toward Big Pharma interests – which raises an interesting question. Now that they are being officially regulated by the MHRA, will phytopharmaceutical companies and HQC backers contribute to the MHRA’s upkeep in the same manner? It seems only fair for ‘services rendered’.

Alliance for Natural Health: http://anh-europe.org/

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