November 18, 2019
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One of the reasons we have a complete
healthcare system failure is because there is a root of an epidemic of misinformed doctors
and misinformed patients. And that stems from biased funding
of research. That is research that’s funded
because it’s likely to be profitable, not beneficial for patients. I’m Dr. Aseem Malhotra,
I’m a consultant cardiologist and author of the “Pioppi diet”. A few weeks ago I was invited to speak
at the European Parliament by MEP Nathan Gill for Wales and the topic of discussion was,
“Big food and big Pharma killing for profit?” And the real issue was to discuss to get to the root of why we have
a major healthcare crisis across the world and specifically in the UK and Europe,
but certainly relevant to other places as well. And essentially the main focus was the fact
that we on one level have an obesity epidemic and an epidemic of chronic disease, which is causing great havoc
on the healthcare system, but also intertwined with that is the fact we are overmedicating
millions of people with drugs that are not going to give them
any benefit whatsoever and only give them side effects. So really we need to shift that balance away
and one of the key themes of the talk was that we really need a campaign
over the next few years now to reduce the amount of medications
people are taking, because it’s causing considerable harm, but also simultaneously promote
lifestyle medicine prescriptions using the best available evidence, so that we can empower both doctors
and patients to improve people’s health very quickly
through lifestyle changes and improve their quality of life. And if we do that then
our healthcare systems will get better, our populations will get healthier,
our economies will be more productive. So really it’s a win-win for everybody. When one looks at the totality
of the evidence with research certainly from the pharmaceutical
company side most of the modern research now is not
high-quality or beneficial for patients. In fact John Ioannidis in Stanford,
professor of medicine statistics there, he calculated from analyzing
around 60,000 intervention studies that only 7% of them fulfill criteria of being
both high-quality and relevant for patients. On top of that when you look
at the behavior of the pharmaceutical industry we must understand that they have
a fiducial obligation to make profit for their shareholders, not necessarily to give you
the best treatment, for that isn’t the legal obligation for them. Most of the new drugs that they produced
in the last decade or so have essentially been copies of old ones, so they patent these drugs
and make lots of money off them, but they are no better than old drugs. Only about 11% of them
are truly innovative so they have better therapeutic value
than a previous drug. But also they engage in criminal activity. So there is very good evidence that shows that most
of the top 10 pharmaceutical industries have engaged in corporate crime, so basically between 2009 and 2014 the combined costs of fraud for most
of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies is close to $14 billion. And that’s for illegal marketing
of drugs, hiding data on harms, misrepresenting research results. So this is really quite extraordinary. So we are we have an industry
that clearly is out of control and what happens with all
of the research information that is biased is that we as doctors are then having
to make clinical decisions on biased information. So that isn’t going to just lead
to poor outcomes for our patients, but it’s also unethical. So what we need really
is a revolution essentially where we can have more transparency
in the system, remove commercial conflicts of interest
from guideline boards that made decisions that then doctors
prescribe drugs on to patients and also have a more honest discussion
with patients, more transparent conversation
with patients about many drugs that are prescribed
so they know that actually the majority of them
are not going to benefit. The question is, “What is that true benefit
for an individual?” and then let them make
an informed decision, we call that shared decision-making
and that’s much more ethical. So for example we know that statins
have shown benefit in clinical trials, although I would take those
with a pinch of salt because they are industry sponsored trials,
so they’re best case scenario. But statins for people with heart disease…
if you take a statin and you have a heart attack there is 1 : 83 chance it will prevent
or delay your death if you take it every day for five years and about 1 : 39 chance it will prevent
a nonfatal heart attack. But that means 82 out of 83
are not going to live longer and 38 of 39 people taking a statin
who have had a heart attack are not going to be prevented from another
heart attack because of the statin. So I think it’s about having
that informed discussion and that’s before we even talk
about side effects. At the same time we have a food industry
that profits from obviously selling food. But the regulations are so weak
that people are misled. So foods are allowed
to be marketed as healthy when they can be loaded with lots of sugar
like low-fat foods for example that will cause you more harm. So really across the board, you know, we are dealing with an epidemic
of misinformed population that is damaging people’s health. So there is also a question
about whether this is democratic. Especially when there is
a deliberate withholding of information when industries engage in tactics were they silence whistleblowers who have
information about a drug for example that may not be as effective
but it’s being for trade, or people that want to speak out
within academic institutions that are aware of research misconduct
and fraud going on. And we know that’s a big problem
in British institutions and it’s not being reported
because I think people are scared. So what really needs to happen and what came out in the talk I gave
in the European Parliament with a number of other doctors as well is that really we call for an inquiry similar
to what happened in the UK when there was an inquiry to the Iraq war,
called the Chilcot inquiry. We need that sort of inquiry to really help resolving
and revolutionize the system because finances trumped healthcare
at every level of the system where there is the quality of the recess,
they way it’s funded, medical journals and their reliance
on pharmaceutical industry funding, journal editors to get high salaries, a lot of it being funded
by the pharmaceutical industry. Medical education is being captured
by the industry as well and biases information is being given,
medical training… The information is really
between doctor and patient, financial incentives to prescribe drugs
for example, that shouldn’t really be there. There should be a financial incentive to have an informed discussion
with the patient. So we have the solutions,
but we have to put them into practice and there are many
powerful vested interests that are going to oppose that
because they profit from this old system. But the old system is causing
tremendous harm to our patients and our population. I think there has to be an inquiry. I think we learned from history
that any revolution happened because there was media attention
and there was sunlight. And in this we have
malodorous health policy. Sunlight is going to be
the most powerful disinfectant and that has to happen
with a full public inquiry, so everybody knows what’s going on. And if everybody knows, it becomes
much harder for people to be misled. So when I walk into a coffee shop and the person who’s serving me coffee
is aware that much of the clinical research
that’s published in medicine cannot be reliably trusted at the moment and really needs to have
a healthy skepticism about it or the taxi driver talks to me about this, then I know we can win this battle. So statins have been one of the most
prescribed drugs in the history of medicine over the last three decades and they were prescribed
on the basis that… there was a belief that tackling and
lowering cholesterol as much as possible would eradicate heart disease,
which it hasn’t is. In population studies really it’s had
very little if any impact. Even in people with heart disease, because many patients
even who had heart attack stop statins within a couple of years. And their side effects is being the reason. I think there is a role of statins, but I think it needs to be much smaller
than at the moment. I think we have overmedicated
millions of people on statins, but the key thing is giving information
to that individual patient, based upon the data that is there
to tell them what the true benefit is. And that benefit is very small, certainly it doesn’t prolong life in people
who haven’t had heart attacks and there is a small benefit from clinical
studies in people who’ve had heart disease. So as long as you give
the information to patients to help them make an informed decision
about taking a statin, that’s the best most ethical way
of practicing medicine. And to not do that
we’re selling our patient shorts and the other thing is it gives many people
the illusion of protection. They think if they are taking a statin
and they are controlling a lab number, the cholesterol levels, then that means everything’s fine
and they can eat junk food. And in fact actually
that can be very harmful. So in fact there is a net harm in my view
in giving statins to healthy people, especially for those people
following unhealthy lifestyles. For me the health misinformation mess
is a gross injustice that’s going on, being perpetrated on doctors
and patients throughout world. So we need to clean this up. And one of the mechanisms,
of the most important mechanisms to start is to make that visible. So I was really delighted that the talk
in European Parliament that had 50,000, the full talk which was, you know… And also with other people was, you know,
over about two hours, and it’s had about 50,000 views on
YouTube. One particular section
from the talk that I gave had also through social media
more than half 1 million views already. But actually I think
what was particularly impactful was the fact that this made front-page news
in two British newspapers in two consecutive days. And for me that was really important
because the information is getting out there. I’ve already had a lot of response
even from politicians. I know from various parties
who were aware of the talk and saw clips of it and congratulated me. So it’s actually making as many people aware,
but also the powerful the influential people. But I think also we need to think
about the fact that our individual happiness I believe is dependent
on collective happiness. We don’t live in cocoons and actually
if people in our society are feeling that they are being treated unjustly
or if they are unhealthy and they are ill and they are sick,
they’re going to be miserable. And that actually affects all of us. So we have a duty to our community
to help our communities as well. And also my oath, my duty as a doctor
is to look after my patients, to protect scientific integrity, so I’m doing what I can to uphold that oath
with all the work I do. But thinking broadly, you know,
if we will act together and help each other then we as individuals
also flourish and benefit.

Randall Smitham

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