Pfizer announced yesterday that they were abandoning their newest “miracle drug”, torcetrapib. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Torcetrapib.
Turns out that in a recent large-scale controlled study, “rolls-off-the-tongue” killed more people than even the previous miracle drug, Lipitor. Pfizer had invested over $800 million in their most recent attempt to stem the rise of heart attacks and stroke by lowering cholesterol.
The main focus of torcetrapib was to raise HDL (the “good” cholesterol that has been shown to reduce fatty plaque formation on arterial linings). Since Lipitor is coming off patent soon, Pfizer needs a new blockbuster to fill the income pipeline – now at $51 billion a year. Meanwhile, news wire services are suggesting that this is a huge setback for millions with heart disease who have been awaiting another magic pill to reverse the damage brought on by poor lifestyle choices.
Here’s the deal: as long as the medical community continues to approach heart disease by promoting cholesterol reducing drugs, they will fail.
Cholesterol is not necessarily the bad guy here. It is the inflammatory processes of C-reactive protein and homocysteine, occurring within the arterial walls, that begin the process of coronary artery disease. These inflammatory processes are the real culprits. Cholesterol production is merely the response mechanism! Attempting to avert heart problems by reducing cholesterol is literally akin to removing scabs from wounds as they try to heal. (If that analogy turns your stomach, you’ll have an inkling as to how sickened I am by Big Pharma.)
The root cause of inflammation is a combination of poor diet, sloth and stress. The good news is that most cardiovascular disease is completely preventable and largely curable without side effects.
Cholesterol is the unfortunate scapegoat in all this. It’s a shame, because this endlessly-eviscerated lipid is one of the body’s most useful and dynamic substances. Among other duties, it’s a necessary component of every cell membrane and it’s involved in hormone production. The body makes about 1400 mg a day just to keep reserves up. Unfortunately, when you have a stressful lifestyle, toss in a bad diet and lack of exercise and you can get an inflammatory process within the arteries that causes lesions on arterial walls. The inflammation problem is completely unrelated to amounts or types of cholesterol.
Nevertheless, the ever-inventive human body adapts to this inflammation sequence by using cholesterol as a band-aid to cover up the lesions until healing can take place – which, of course, almost never happens since most of us keep living the inflammatory lifestyle with little regard for how destructive it is. We’re inflammation rock stars.
Eventually, the cholesterol band-aids harden (sclerosis), narrow the arteries and sometimes break off, causing a heart attack or stroke. Of course, we blame the cholesterol for all this and embark on a national campaign to rid the body of this important substance by dousing everyone with drugs, instead of focusing on the foods (and other stresses) that promote inflammation in the first place. And these drugs have some pretty nasty side effects. And yet, we continue to worship at the idol’s altar.
Bottom line: In my opinion, diet, exercise, stress reduction and prudent supplementation should be the primary focus of any primary care physician.
UPDATE 12/11/06: Another interesting analysis.
THOUGHTS ON THE FOOD POLICE, INFORMATION TRANSPARENCY, & RELATIVE GLUTTONY
Right now, our gifted men and women in the House of Representatives are tucking into the MEAL Act, and the Senate may consider a similar measure soon. The MEAL Act (Menu Education And Labeling) is the latest clever acronym brought to you by the food police. And I have to ask myself – and you – if one more piece of litigation or legislation will do a lick of good.
The MEAL Act would require restaurants with more than 20 locations to post basic nutritional information on their menus (special and seasonal food items excluded).
Let’s step into the world of the MEAL Act. You mosey into McDonald’s, taking a gander at the bright, colorful panel of meal choices. Caloric information is duly noted. Choice #1: 970 calories. Choice #2: 890 calories. Choice #3: 650 calories. Let’s say you choose option 3 – hey, it’s healthier, right? Enter relative gluttony. Would caloric information really matter in the Cheesecake Factory, where a single slice of carrot cake weighs a pound and the best alternative to that slice (the original cheesecake) still comes packed with over 600 calories? You probably know that a salad with a little vinegar and generous helping of veggies delivers, at most, 300 calories, but you don’t eat at McDonald’s, either. The unfortunate consequence of a little sprinkling of caloric information could be relative gluttony; the easing of the conscience because 650 calories is better than 970 calories. At most, I predict a temporary blip in increased chicken sandwich orders before everyone reverts right back to whatever bacon-cheese-beef monstrosity is normally favored.
I am strongly in favor of information transparency – open doors are always in the best interests of the consumer. It almost goes without saying that the food, drug and chemical industries would get away with a lot less if there weren’t doors to close in the first place. More information, more education, more legislation – these are rational, logical, well-intentioned goals.
In a rational culture, such measures would work. But we already have information. We have media specials and documentaries. We have lawsuits. We have weight-loss centers and therapy and steps. We spend billions on diets and diet books and diet foods and diet pills – and billions more on pharmaceuticals and surgeries.
And yet, we have the top 5 causes of death being entirely preventable through better diet choices. We have a majority of the population suffering from the effects of this national food problem. That includes children. More education? More legislation? Those are rational solutions to problems stemming from things like simple misunderstanding or glitches the free market hasn’t had time to correct. Guess what? We’re not dealing with anything rational.
Our problem is far more troubling: it is emotional. Our problem as a nation is food addiction. The fact that bacon-cheese-beef monstrosities even exist is evidence enough of that. Like alcoholism, Americans are in an emotionally addictive grip that I fear no amount of intervention or good intentions can resolve. Alcoholics cannot function normally. They cannot stop their behavior even when death is a very real possibility. Consider how many Americans cannot even do a simple push-up or a jog around the park. How many require larger seats on airplanes and in restaurants? How many can keep up with their children? How many have balanced blood sugar levels so that they do not feel anxious, stressed or depressed by daily life? How many millions of Americans are affected by food addiction? Certainly more than those affected by alcoholism. This is addiction on a massive scale, with entire industries – diet books, diet foods, diet pills, health care, surgery, exercise gimmicks, pharmaceuticals – created in service to the addiction.
The rational has gone out the window – please pull forward to the second window.
How do we cure the addiction? Do we numb it with drugs? Attempt to sate the cravings with diet foods like an alcoholic might with a non-alcoholic beer? Find a crutch to prop us up, like government or schools or support groups? Is that freedom or slavery by another name?
How do we cure it? Tell me.
Technorati Tags: addiction, gluttony, MEAL act, food police, restaurant nutrition information, top causes of preventable death, weight loss industry, pharmaceutical industry, Cheesecake Factory, public health, information transparency, government regulation, obesity
Remember the bread-is-to-crumb logic section on the SAT’s? Or how about the interminable hours spent in Mr. Johnson’s English Lit class deconstructing the deeper meaning of that tree in that poem by that guy? The latest and greatest fish debate is worse.
Environmentalists, food lobbyists, and fishermen and women everywhere are in a big huff over whether we should label certain fish as organic or not.
Take a wild salmon and a farm-raised, sea-lice-infested, sick salmon. Which one is organic?
It’s not a trick question. The fish furor (as reported in the New York Times today) is because the government is likely to permit only farm-raised fish to be called organic. That means pristine, wild, icy-water Alaskan salmon cannot be labeled organic.
This is not a joke.
The reason wild, and ostensibly healthier, fish cannot be labeled organic is because we don’t know where their food comes from. And the official requirements of organic food include strict feeding rules. That’s great for a chicken, clucking around in a cage in Omaha. By all means, feed that darn chicken some organic seeds! But the day a wild, clean, natural Alaskan salmon cannot be labeled organic is the day I officially conclude our government employees did not sit through Mr. Johnson’s English Lit class.
The debate gets more complicated (as if we care). Evidently, because salmon are not vegetarian fish, said fish fishers cannot prove that the fish these salmon eat in their natural habitats are also organic. (It’s okay if you have to read that a few times.)
However, a farmed fish, infected with sea-lice, raised so quickly it doesn’t have adequate Omega-3 levels, and crowded in with other fish like, oh, I don’t know…sardines… can be labeled organic. Because we know where its food comes from.
On the other side of the net, one organic-fish-scandal expert says that to allow wild salmon organic status is just really disrespectful to the meaning of organic. Organic, by definition, means organic feed. In other words, we’re following the rules because those are the rules, rather than remembering that rules exist to serve our needs. If a rule doesn’t serve a need or reflect a situation accurately, it needs to be modified. End of story. No deeper meaning, no semantic salmon. Let’s remember the entire reason for starting this organic craze: the realization that we need to go back to natural, healthy foods.
Junior Apple Sarah writes:
“I just saw something on the news for an e. coli antidote and how it will revolutionize not only the food industry but also healthcare. What ever happened to just making sure that the food and facilities are clean? It’s my understanding that e. coli comes from fecal matter. Is it too much to ask to keep poop off my food? Why do we have to put another chemical in something / everything we eat?”
A recent article in the New York Times entitled “The Vegetable-Industrial Complex” deals with this issue at length. Writer Michael Pollan explores how modern food production yields more than bumper crops – it also yields very high potential for significant public health hazards. It’s the law of unintended consequences put to play on the dinner table.
I really recommend that you check out the article. In a nutshell:
- Modern food production has created two problems out of what was once a single solution. Animals fertilized crops, and crops fed animals. Pull them apart, mass produce them in factories and feedlots, and you have two problems:
1) As it collects in feedlots, manure becomes pollution, full of antibiotics, chemicals and e. coli, leading to the second problem:
2) Crops are now at risk for contamination, which invariably means crops get fertilized artificially. Great for the chemical industry, not so great for small farms, public health, economic efficiency, animals, or the earth.
- Calling for local, organic, small-time food production isn’t about being a dread-locked tree-hugger. It’s actually far more logical and economically viable to return to the way we used to do things. Small-scale food production is healthier. It’s easier to trace if something goes wrong, and fewer people are likely to be affected. Small-scale food production benefits small businesses instead of huge single food conglomerates. That means a freer market, more competition, better choice.
Everyone wins: small-scale farming is better for the environment and creates a solution whereas now we have two big problems.
- Small-scale farming also avoids the current obvious threat of terrorism. The article points out that our meat comes from but a few slaughterhouses. All the bagged spinach in the country passes through just four locations. How easy would it be for a terrorist to contaminate our food? That’s what Homeland Security is wondering.
Unfortunately, industrial food production looks to short-term, engineered fixes. When e. coli was found in the beef supply during the whole Jack in the Stomach fiasco of the 90s, producers just blasted the meat. (Pollan writes: Rather than clean up the kill floor and the feedlot diet, some meat processors simply started nuking the meat — sterilizing the manure, in other words, rather than removing it from our food.)
Why bother cleaning up the waste? It’s only our health on the line. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if our government starts requiring that our entire food supply be irradiated.
- Finally, well-meaning though it may be, calling for even more regulation and inspection of our food actually makes things worse. What small-time farmer can afford the safety requirements when he’s only got 10 cows to milk? Lucerne, Darigold, et al, can afford the hassle of regulation. And the lobbyists. And the chemicals.
Short-term solutions = long-term disaster. You’d think we would learn by now to think about those unintended consequences.
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