14 March 2007

Big pharma creating disease?

The dietary supplement industry needs to push to get its message heard by the public and medical practice to counteract pharma companies setting new disease definitions.

The dietary supplement industry needs to push to get its message heard by the public and medical practice to counteract pharma companies setting new disease definitions and making more people think they need medication, a Nutracon speaker told attendees yesterday.

Physician and alternative medicine veteran Dr Julian Whitaker, who runs the Whitaker Wellness Institute in Newport Beach, California, pitted mainstream medical practice and the pharmaceutical industry against the potential of the dietary supplement industry to act preventatively. He said the medical establishment sets the definitions of disease so that more and more people fall within diseased ranks and need to be medicated.

"You create the conditions, you sell the conditions…," United Natural Products Alliance executive director Loren Israelsen said in his introductory comments. "Whoever defines these terms is likely to win the game."

Pharmaceuticals companies in the lead
So far, pharmaceutical companies and their political clout are winning the game, while the public and the dietary supplement industry lose, according to Whitaker.

"We are not being proactive enough as a group in informing the public," warned Whitaker.

Big pharmas' message gets out to the public and gets heard much more frequently than that of the dietary supplement industry, he said, and harsh treatments (which Whitaker controversially referred to as "placebos") prevail.

"We are in what I consider the darkest ages of medicine," said Whitaker. "The problem we face with using dangerous placebos is that they are bolstered by economic support."

Creating fear among the public
Whitaker cited that in 2004, the US spent $1,9mn on national health care expenditure and this figure is set to double over the course of the next decade. Despite this colossal investment, Americans rank 22nd out of 23 countries in terms of their health.

"In order to get people to take these drugs, they have to create fear," said Whitaker, pointing-out that pharmaceutical companies spend $4bn yearly on direct-to-consumer marketing in the US. The only other developed country that permits such a practice is New Zealand.

Whitaker emphasised that he is not against medical advancements and technology, but rather a more holistic view of what patients and the public needs.

"The future will be determined by how effectively we inform the public of the value of our products."

Early action necessary
Whitaker said companies need to be releasing press releases weekly to mainstream media, and not only responding to crises as they arise.

We now know that politicians attack the supplement industry along two lines of argument, said Whitaker: firstly, that vitamins and minerals are dangerous; secondly, that vitamins and minerals are not regulated.

"We should train our defense to withstand this," said Whitaker. "Therefore you don't have to sit back and wait." - (Decision News Media, March 2007)

Read more:
Antioxidants under fire
To supplement, or not to supplement


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