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Mainstream Medicine vs. the Wellness Industry (Part I)


Financial incentives and disincentives have pitted those in the allopathic medical world against those in the wellness industry.

A recent observational study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine (Vol 171 October 10, 2011) states that multivitamin and copper supplementation is associated with increased all-cause mortality based on data from the Iowa Women's Health Study. The writers made several conclusions based on this study, and several extrapolations from those conclusions, which merit comment.

To begin, it should be mentioned that the nutriceutical industry is a trillion dollar industry today. In 2008, it made $800 billion. It is one of the industries (along with Big Pharma) that are seeing no recession, requiring no bailouts. The wellness industry is successful partly because allopathic medicine is not; multiple studies indicate that a large percentage of American patients (those who receive a lot of allopathic medical care) make use of “alternative” medicine or complementary medicine of some kind. Natural medicine is in demand - the marketplace speaks for itself. Furthermore the wellness industry is not blessed with millions of dollars of mainstream advertising opportunities that affords Big Pharma such astounding profits.

Financial incentives and disincentives have pitted those in the allopathic medical world against those in the wellness industry, and this is regrettable since it is in the patient's interest to have both allopathic and nutriceutical therapeutic options. Ultimately the patient should be advised to use treatments that work, and that have substantiating evidence for their use. However the Iowa study is not an example of an accurate interpretation of data; rather it merely highlights the century-old misunderstanding and suspicion that the allopathic establishment has of the wellness industry.

The study analyzed data from "self-reported multivitamin use" in women aged 55-69. Those who used multivitamins were found to have a 3 percent to 6 percent increased risk of death, a higher education/income level, more physical activity, and more likely to use hormone replacement therapy (this last is associated with increased risk of death from heart attack, stroke, and breast cancer). Clearly there are a lot of confounding variables here that cast in doubt any role the multivitamin intake may have played.

Furthermore the authors state that "the belief that antioxidant supplements are beneficial seems likely to have resulted from a collective error. Perhaps oxidative stress is one of the keys to extension of our life span." Clearly this statement is not scientifically valid and more betrays the author's personal paradigm of thinking. Oxidative stress is associated with inflammatory cytokines and neuro-hormones, which are the root cause of most diseases of modernity, from cancer to heart disease. These so-called "diseases of aging" more should be called "diseases of inflammation," as there are plenty of elderly people who live healthy lives with healthy organs that can be attributed to their healthy, anti-inflammatory lifestyle. We can attribute a longer life-span not to oxidative stress, but rather, to improved conditions of living, sanitation, and improved management of infectious diseases such as cholera, tuberculosis, and typhoid. Oxidative stress leads to organ dysfunction and chronic illness.

Interestingly this study was partially financed by the National Cancer Institute, which is among many cancer organizations that have historically engaged in legal and ideological battles against doctors and treatment strategies that make use of natural medicines. In my article next week I will explore this topic more and discuss how nutriceuticals can be used in a systematic, scientific, evidence-based, and cost-effective manner in the management of any patient with chronic illness.

In my next blog, I will explore how to effectively make use of nutriceutical supplements in the care of patients with chronic illness.

For more on Dushyant Viswanathan and our other Practice Notes bloggers, click here.

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