It's Not Broken So Don't Fix It.
Updated: Apr 2
Parts One and Two (Part three added 3/11/2018)
Part One PSEUDO-PHARMACEUTICALS
Pseudo-pharmaceuticals are items that occupy an entire wall of your local pharmacy and health shops as well as extensive shelves in supermarkets. They are not cosmetics or prescription drugs – they are those vitamins, minerals, enzymes, concoctions and similar products promoted as health products. They are recognised as therapeutic goods by the Therapeutic Goods Administration which is part of the Government of Australia Department of Health. This department assesses them for quality and safety but NOT for efficacy. These non- prescription pharmaceuticals have a number, e.g. AUST Lxxxxxx printed on the label. The “L” signifies “Listed” therapeutical.
Having said that, the Listed products are not recognised by the general population for what they really are – an enormously profitable, no risk, rip-off-the-customer, rort. Some do have some medicinal value – the vast majority have absolutely no value and in some cases can be dangerous to health.
All prescription medicines are assessed for quality, safety AND efficacy and, when passed, are identified by a number, e.g. AUST Rxxxxxx which must appear on their label. The R signifies prescription medicines.
The marketing strategies of the companies that present these items is simple - charge exorbitant prices, make vague claims of health benefits - but steer widely clear of any claims that can be challenged at law – but publicise them widely on line, on TV and in the print media. One of the favourite promotional words is “may”. As examples; May assist in the prevention of osteoporosis; May help reduce joint inflammation. Note also to qualifiers: May help; May assist… May is a word with several meanings but in the current context is equivalent to might or possibly. So, in the above examples we could replace “May” with “might” and it would be quite valid, and sensible, to write, “May or may not.” Or “Might or might not.” There is never anything more scientific such as, “This product has a 75% (or 25% or 50% or Buckley’s) chance of helping reduce joint inflammation…”
By adding the qualifying words help, assist etc, they just about immunise themselves from litigation. If someone sued claiming a product did not work the company only has to say, “But we never said it would work, we only suggested that it May work. And further-more we only said it may “assist” or “help” in the treatment of the ailment not cure it.”
Another common ploy is the use, on labels, of bold print words or phrases that really mean nothing but imply that a product is good for preventing or treating certain conditions. Examples: For general wellbeing; Joint mobility enhancer; Eye health; Supports the health of blood vessels; Bone health; Metabolic health; For healthy skin, heart and nervous system; Inner balance; Immune; Supports immune function; Provides antioxidant protection; Dietary supplement (sheep placenta) - and so on.
What really distresses me about all this is the targeting of children and even babies, via the parents, that they need these spurious products. And to me, the most frightening con is the use of so-called probiotics. We all know that antibiotics were one of the most effective medical treatments ever invented and have saved millions of lives across the world in 70-odd years of their existence. Antibiotics work by killing pathological bacteria – germs - that cause disease.
Probiotics are bacteria which are germs – designated “Good” germs by pseudo-pharmaceutical industry and it is going out of its way to convince the world that, in order to be healthy, we adults must all swallow capsules full of germs up to three times every day. (This means somewhere between 20 BILLION and 150 BILLION germs per capsule.) And feed it to babies and children even though they are in perfect health. The vast majority of these babies, children and adults do not have any signs or symptoms of significant bowel disease - their system is not broken. If they get broken then they should be consulting their doctors not taking pot luck with this stuff.
Why? Mother nature has managed that task since day one without the use of probiotics. The lower end of the human digestive tract, (the colon), naturally contains millions of bacteria from several distinct species. At birth it is sterile – no bacteria – colonisation of the baby starts as it passes through the vagina during delivery. It continues with breast feeding, cuddling and handling with bacteria being transferred to the baby from the skin and clothing of the mother and others and feeding. Even the germs that cause gangrene and tetanus are present in the human bowel. But as long as they stay there, do not get into the tissues or blood stream and remain in numerical balance with the other species they are not a problem. And it is extremely rarely that they do become a problem. These bacteria are essential to the normal function of the bowel – the digestion and absorption of food and some even make vitamins. They live in a finely balanced symbiosis with the host, (the human), and each other. But people want to interfere with that symbiosis even though the system is not broken – they want to fix it – and fix their wallets and share portfolios while they are about it.
The history of biological systems being manipulated by man is fraught with danger. At the macro level, the introduction of foreign species into Australia and becoming feral being a case in point – the rabbit, the fox, the camel, the horse, the cat have each left a legacy of disaster. Not to put too fine a point on it the cane toad hasn’t helped a lot either. But here we have people promoting the use of living bacteria in very high numbers to aid in the, “Establishment of a healthy bowel flora!” in infants and young children even though they already have a Healthy and NORMAL bowel flora. They are trying to introduce a foreign bacterial ecology into the bowels of babies and young children. The vast majority of these children are perfectly healthy – their digestive system is not broken; but the avarice of these pharmaceutical companies drives them to want to fix it. If the system does gets broken and child is ill then it is the roll of the doctors to decide upon the treatment not of the pharmaceutical giants.
The bacteria they use are, generally, not, pathogenic up to certain levels but the doses they recommend will upset the entire natural bacterial balance in the colons of these children. (The bacteria are counted in terms of Colony Forming Units i.e. the number of germs that can replicate.) And they unashamedly announce seven digit numbers of CFUs per capsule or gram. The bacteria are specially grown, (cultured), I know not where but with those numbers how can they guarantee there is not a single mutant germ in the dose? A healthy colon has well known bacterial flora in well understood numbers and proportions. The probiotic bacteria are not the same bacteria normally found in the colon. Flooding the healthy colon with foreign bacteria will change the numbers and proportions of normal bacteria possibly eliminating them. The colon will become unhealthy!
To get to the colon these artificial germs must endure the acidic environment of the upper gastro-intestinal tract – the stomach and duodenum. Most of the bacteria used by these companies are “acid resistant” and it is obvious that the normal bacterial flora have trod the same path to colonise the bowel. They did so in the first weeks after delivery before the digestive tract began to make these digestive enzymes. But that is not the end of the story. The stomach, pancreas, liver and small intestine all inject various digestive enzymes into the intestines that digest fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. The cell walls of bacteria are composed of these same substances. Even the salivary glands in the mouth secrete amylase that begins the digestion of starches and complex carbohydrates.
I did, an admittedly brief, Google search for scientific papers on this subject. There has not been a lot of research done but of those papers I found and that reported what appeared to have been scientifically valid studies were, overall, inconclusive. Most studied the effects of probiotics on the times of crying in babies before and after the use of probiotics. The theory was that crying was a sign of “colic” which was, in turn, a sign of inflammation in the babies’ bowels. Some papers concluded it helped; others concluded that it didn’t. One or two did report improvement in some immune system markers. (Immune system markers also become elevated when a person has pathological infection.) The question here is - was the increase a desirable non-pathological side effect, (the so-called immune system boost), or a reaction by the body to what it perceived to be pathological bacteria? There was certainly not enough evidence to persuade me to support the use of probiotics in babies and children. And I found no research results on the diagnosis of inflamed colon being responsible for common colic.
The use of probiotics by adults is also actively encouraged by the pseudo-pharmaceutical companies. They are usually presented in capsule form and dose varies widely between companies. That suggest to me that there is more guesswork than science behind the practice. Further, there is no recommendation as to duration of use. Surely, if the aim of this treatment is to recolonise the colon with the chosen bacteria then there will come a time when that is achieved and, as in the case of the natural gut flora, be self-sustaining. Alternatively, is it because the stated aim of the treatment is spurious and the probiotics are known to be not surviving in the human gut? Or is it simply because the companies just want to keep on selling as much of the stuff as they can for as long as they can and reap the profits?
Finally, I spent some time this afternoon perusing the pseudo-pharmaceuticals in the local supermarket. Most of the prominent brands were represented. I was examining the labels of their products looking for evidence that they were made in Australia or, if not, then where they were made. I found one, only, product among many of the same company that stated on the label – “Australian made……”. The other products of that company, and of all the others I looked at, (I did not examine every single bottle), made no mention of where the product was made. We are pretty finicky about where things like canned fruit and fish come from and what proportion of other foods comes from Australia; but here, we have no idea where the germs and other useless products they want us to consume are manufactured.
In another life, when I was practicing medicine, I did once or twice, suggest probiotics might be helpful for people who had persistent, watery diarrhoea after major bowel surgery which had necessitated pre-operative sterilizing of the bowel with antibiotics. More recently some gastroenterologists have been performing faecal microbiota transplants to treat a range of diseases. They transplant normal colon bacteria from the bowel of one person to another – via a long tube inserted through the mouth or nose down into the small intestine.
And, in fairness, it must be said that there have been no known outbreaks of disease related to probiotics – yet. The placebo effect must also be acknowledged – if people take these things and feel better for it without doing them any harm then so be it. All they have to complain about is the extravagant cost.
If it’s not broken then don’t fix it.
Ref: New Scientist 27 February 2020
New Scientist 6 Spetember 2018
"Probiotics are mostly useless and may actually hurt you."
Posner, Gerald; "Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America.
Part Two - PSEUDO-PHARMACEUTICALS
In Part One of this essay on Pseudo-pharmaceuticals I shared my thoughts and opinions about these Pseudo-Pharmaceutical companies and the products they promote and sell using spurious marketing techniques. I focussed on probiotics. In this part I will look at a broader picture.
To begin with let’s define a few words:
1. Vitamins. Vitamins are chemicals, (yes – chemicals), that have various functions in biological systems, e.g. the human body. They exist in very small quantities and most cannot be produced by the body hence they are derived from food. Most vitamins are essential to life and/or health. The B vitamins (there are 8), plus Vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and Folate all have specific functions within the biological chemical environment - metabolism.
2. Hormones. These are chemicals produced by specific glands in the human (and animal) body but exert their effects in other organs or parts of the living body. Pituitary hormones, testosterone, oestrogen, insulin and thyroxine are examples.
2. Minerals. Minerals are naturally occurring inorganic solids, with a definite chemical composition, and an ordered atomic arrangement. They are inorganic substances (i.e. they contain no carbon atoms) and are essential for life. Some are simply metallic ions. E.g. sodium, potassium, iodine, iron, calcium, zinc, copper, magnesium. Others, e.g. are compounds of specific atoms. The human body cannot make them.
3. Enzymes. Enzymes function as catalysts. Catalysts enhance or enable specific chemical reactions without being changed themselves. In biological systems they are made within the system.
4. Antioxidants. Oxygen is an oxidant! Antioxidants neutralise oxidants! Oxidants, generally, have “spare”electrons which are “scavenged” by antioxidants. Oxidation is a loss of electrons; reduction is again of electrons.
Oxygen is an absolute requirement for life. The concentration in air is 16%.
Without it, or even when it’s concentration is significantly reduced, humans and animals, become ill and will die. If anti-oxidants worked they would be fatal.
Is, simply, the sum total of all the multitudinous chemical reaction that occur continuously in the human from conception to cremation.
Individual humans and animals are really seething, bubbling cauldrons of chemical reactions occurring continuously and producing energy – via oxidation and reduction; among other reactions – and converting food into energy and the body’s structural components. The by-products are carbon dioxide, water, urea and various other chemicals.
The chemical reactions take place within cells, and then again, within mitochondria which are organels within the body of cells. There is a complex mixture of chemicals, ions, atoms and molecules all inter-reacting, combining, separating, splitting and uniting. Among this conglomeration of chemicals are oxidants – chemicals that donate to or share electrons with other chemicals. Oxygen and its ions – some times referred to as oxygen-free-radicals – are part of this but so are numerous other oxidants.
The chemical processes taking place are regulated and controlled by mechanisms such as the endocrine system, (hormones), and neurological systems. Control breaks down in illnesses such as diabetes, thyroid disease, kidney and liver disease – among others.
Oxidants are thought by some scientists, and adamantly accused by others, to cause cancer and aging. The cranks among these people propose that this can be prevented by consuming large quantities of antioxidants. They are wrong. If what they propose was correct then all those unfortunate people who buy and consume large quantities of antioxidants would die through destruction of their oxygen dependent metabolism!
So, when some self-styled guru urges you to eat heaps of kale. “…it’s packed full of anti-oxidants.” – ignore him/her. If that were true then kale would be a toxic plant.
And when you see the word MEGA, SUPER, BIO, BIOACTIVE, ULTRA STRENGTH, FORTE, CLINICAL STRENGTH, NATURAL(so are arsenic, cyanide and uranium) and so on ad nauseum, on the label of vitamins and minerals understand that the words are a con – there may well be mega quantities of the vitamin but that does not make it a good thing. There are serious concerns that excessive Vit D, calcium and folic acid may cause serious health problems and excessive folic acid can mask signs of Vit B12 deficiency resulting in permanent nerve damage.
All 8 of the B group vitamins are fat soluble - which means they can be stored in the fatty tissues in the body and accumulate to toxic levels. But, if you are taking vitamin B supplements, and the proprietary brands usually contain multiple B vitamins, then keep an eye on your urine – if it is a very bright yellow colour - especially within a few hours of taking your supplements – you may be assured that most of the stuff you paid an exorbitant price for has been taken out of circulation and excreted by your kidneys. But that doesn’t mean some isn’t being stored in your body fat and accumulating.
The non-B vitamins are water soluble and do not accumulate in the body but you can overdose with them.
Now, the darling of most of the pseudo-pharmacological manufacturers – CoQ10 – aka co-enzyme Q10 and ubiquinone/ubiquinol. At the end of the day it is just another of the chemicals the body needs to run its metabolism and it makes its own. There is nothing magic about it. Its chemical structure is well known and relatively simple. It is called UBIquinone because it is ubiquitous in the human body but especially in heart, liver, kidneys and muscles. Just about every cell contains it. No doubt about it being a very important chemical. It is prefixed by the letters “Co” because it is a “co-enzyme” i.e. it resembles an enzyme in its functions. Oh, and need I mention, it is cheap and easy to make mountains of it and to convince the gullible population that if they want to see tomorrow they have to start swallowing buckets of the stuff! And it would be cheap at half the price! I’ll bet.
Ibiquinone acts like an enzyme in the mitochondria of cells. It facilitates the conversion of nutrients into energy – along with other substances. It is found in all types of human cells and it seems all of those cells can and do make it. It is insoluble in water and requires fat or oil in the gut to be absorbed. Average daily dietary intake is 3 – 5 mg – thought by some to be insufficient. It is found in many vegetables and meats especially heart, liver, kidney.
It is touted as an anti-oxidant (sigh – what isn’t?) and “supports heart health and cellular energy production.” Well, therefore, if you take large doses of it, it will do you good. Right? No! Look at it this way. In a supermarket there is a set number of check-out stations each with one person working it. It is slow but efficient. If the manager suddenly decides to double the number of check-out operators it will be of no use unless the number of stations is also doubled. So it is with the body’s chemical reactions. Each cell is equipped to handle a finite number of reactions. Trying to force feed the cells with excessive components will not work. And may be dangerous.
In one of the voluminous inserts in the Weekend West a few weeks ago there were literally hundreds of advertisements for all this sort of stuff. One that stuck out was an advertisement for CO Q10 Cream and the enticement, “Visibly reduces the signs of aging”. If it contains any CoQ10 at all and they mixed it up with a simple moisturising cream like sorbolene then sure, the skin will absorb most of it and the wrinkles, (a sign of aging, I know, I’ve got some), and will be much improved for a day or so. But it will be all about the moisturiser and have nothing to do with however much, or little, CoQ10 it contains.
For example, I use Sorboline moisturiser on my aged, dry skin. Its constituents are:
White soft paraffin
The constituents of Healthy Care CoQ10 Cream are, ( as described on their web site):
Water (Purified) Ubidecarenone (Co Enzyme Q10) Xanthan Gum Vanilla flavour Caprylic (?) Citric acid Capric Triglycerides Tocopheryl Acetate Cetearyl Alcohol Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate Glycerine PEG-20 StearateI can’t help but wonder about the Vanilla flavour – in a skin cream! The glycerine is probably the most active component of both.
I could go on forever raging about this but I won’t. I think I have made my point – which is that most of this sort of pseudo-pharmaceutical stuff is expensive, useless, has no proper scientific proof of efficacy and some of it may be dangerous. One final point I struggle with is that Australia’s pharmacies have not the slightest compunction about promoting and selling this stuff. And pharmacists spend years at university learning all about drugs and other medication. I would have though principle would prevent them from making a dollar out of the big con – apparently it doesn’t.
Finally- deficiencies of many of these substances can result in severe, even fatal, illnesses. Scurvy is probably the most well known and possibly the most common and – untreated will be fatal. There have been recent reports of scurvy being endemic in USA. It is due to a deficiency of Ascorbic acid – Vitamin C – and can be cured by treatment with Vitamin C. But if you have a healthy balanced diet containing adequate vitamin C you will not get scurvy. So, if your diet is inadequate then by all means take the supplements – they will save your life. But if your body is not broken - don’t fix it.
Part Three - "Detox"
There are two types of “detox” around these days. One is the processes used to help drug addicts kick their habit. The other is the witch doctor stuff that has been around since the year dot. The first consists of legitimate, science based, genuine processes that do often work and result in many people becoming independent of drugs. The other is based on superstition, pseudo-science, fear and boils down to brazen efforts at relieving as many people as possible of their money.
The witch doctors and early priests were Masters of Human Psychology. They knew how to strike fear and dread into the hearts of people by setting themselves up as special people with special relationships with the “gods”. They professed to have superhuman skill and knowledge about the human state, illness and how to manage it – all for a price of course. They had no difficulty convincing people, parents and children that they were afflicted by dreadful ailments which they, the witch doctors and priests, could treat. The victims did not even have to have any symptoms or signs of illness. The witch doctor said they had it or were “possessed” by evil spirits so that was that – they had it and their only hope of salvation was to accept the treatments offered - horrendous as many were
Things are not much different today. We have far too many of the “witch doctor” types running around the place convincing perfectly normal, healthy, happy people that they are ill and are riddled with “toxins” (something like evil spirits). They will surely not make it to Xmas if they do not sign up for a fortnight or more in some detoxication clinic and/or buy up big of just discovered “miracle cures” previously known only to the ancients of some distant land. These “cures” will stimulate the immune system - just about every pseudo-pharmaceutical available today claims to do that; “cleanse” the body - is a hot topic too but it doesn’t seem to mean having a shower; colon hydrotherapy seems to be a winner – probably just an enema plus a bit of mumbo-jumbo, and while they are about it the “blockages” in the body will be opened up. No need to specify what blockages and where they are. If the witch doctor says they are there then that is that – you’ve got it. Must not forget the anti-oxidants either. Many of the “detox” practitioners will throw these in just for good measure. If you have read my previous notes here, you will know that if antioxidants worked they would be fatal.
Some of these practitioners claim the “patient” will feel lighter on completion of the treatment plan. That, of course, will most likely be due to having the wallet emptied.
Metabolism is the set of processes, (chemical reactions), genetically programmed into all living things to convert food into energy and burn it up or store is as fat. The sum total these chemical reactions is exothermic – it produces heat – and it also produces wastes. In mammals, including humans, these waste products consist of carbon dioxide (excreted via the lungs), urea and water (both excreted via the kidneys), and numerous other compounds produced in various quantities principally in the liver.
If these substances accumulate in the body they become toxic and cause illness. For example the liver disease hepatitis can result in the accumulation of bilirubin - a substances that is normally excreted via the liver in bile. Kidney disease can result in accumulation of urea.
If any of these substances accumulates to toxic levels no amount of mumbo jumbo or magic substances or exercise programs, processes or pseudo-psychology based interventions will do any good at all. They may even make the condition worse if only by delaying proper medical management. All of these conditions do have recognised medical practices to deal with them.
And how-ever the living beings that inhabit our earth were designed, and their genetic programs worked out, a very good job was done. The non-diseased or traumatised or poisoned mammal’s – including humans - built in, tried and tested toxin elimination processes do an excellent job. You do not need to undergo a “Liver detox” or “colon cleanse (presumably an enema)” or “lung cleanse”etc . Just do the simple things like exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet i.e. including protein, fat, carbohydrate and fibre – all in moderation. Don’t overdo the alcohol or the fatty, sugary stuff. But don't deny the kids or yourself of an occasional treat. But if you do develop an illness get off to your doctor.
But I have to say that I do not think these modern-day exorcisms will cause any serious illness if not taken to extremes. And there is always the placebo effect to consider. You might feel better after the treatment than you did before – placebo effect.