Poppin’ Pills Ain’t Curin’ Ills (Part 3): Placebo Domingo And The Statins

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DrugsIn Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, Robert Gosstray –  Midlifexpress’s resident shaman/pharmacist – expressed his disquiet about our society’s over-zealous and increasing reliance on prescribing potent drugs for every conceivable ailment.  In Part 3, he continues his expose.

I should say here that I have the greatest respect for many in our medical system. There are brilliant and concerned diagnostic doctors and skillful surgeons, but in general the system cranks and groans under enormous pressure, with many short-comings.

Doctors in general practice have little time to assess patients as individuals and usually know nothing of their lives, genetics or problems.

Fear Of Litigation

The fear of litigation explains why doctors are generally conservative and orthodox. Medical orthodoxy requires them to conform to all the latest drug treatments, pathology tests and a rigid scientific analysis of symptoms. There is little instinctive and skilled diagnosis, with constant referrals to specialists who know a hell of a lot about their very narrow fields, and nothing about the individual patient and holistic medicine.

All modern drug treatment is based on statistics and probability (and the profit motive). People vary widely in their responses to drugs, and this depends on age, genetics and naturally occurring and individualistic physiology (liver enzymes and the immune system are unique to each individual).  For instance, people can be divided into ‘fast metabolisers’ and ‘ slow metabolisers’, which is inherent and has a marked effect on drug absorption, distribution, break-down and excretion.

Another example is the effect of codeine. In most people, codeine is converted to morphine (which accounts for its analgesic effect and why some people become hooked on Panadeine Fort, Nurofen Plus etc.). In about 10% of people, the codeine remains unchanged and is thus less effective and sometimes quite disorientating.

The Placebo Effect

The Placebo Domingo Wonder Drug

The varying metabolic responses to drug treatment are well known, but by unwritten consent (Noam Chomsky calls this “manufacturing consent”), they are ignored or treated as an “inconvenient truth”. Another big (and embarrassing ) factor in drug treatment is the placebo effect. This really rankles with the medical industry as all drugs have to be tested against placebo before they can be released.

The placebo statistics for effectiveness are always high (sometimes higher than the actual drug) and are simply ignored or down-played. The placebo will also induce just as many side –effects as the tested drug, but sometimes less. I have often thought of marketing a new “wonder drug” , calling it Placebo Domingo, pushing it on to A Current Affair or Today Tonight and having confidence that it will measure up in effectiveness and not have any serious side-effects.

This placebo effect extends to cases of surgery where it can be quite embarrassing when ‘pretend’ surgery is just as effective as the real thing.

Overuse of Statin Class Drugs

Other worrying trends include the over-use of the statin class drugs for lowering cholesterol.

Higher than normal cholesterol levels have long been suggested as a risk factor in cardiovascular events. I have no doubt this is true, but that is all it is – a statistical risk factor, and again a natural physiological system is drastically altered.

Medical orthodoxy has decreed that everyone should lower their levels, which I find absurd. As always, individuals vary widely as to their natural levels since cholesterol is a natural, liver-produced compound essential as a building block for many hormones. Each person would have unique requirements and unique levels, depending on age, sex and genetics, but this is never considered. Instead, statins are routinely prescribed for just about everyone, with the latest propaganda (from drug company scientists) now recommending that they be given as a preventative against cardiovascular disease and cancer, even if the patient’s cholesterol levels are low.

What is continuously played down or ignored completely are the sometimes serious side-effects of statins. These include mental confusion, insomnia and, more seriously, muscle pain, which can be relatively mild (myopathy) or severe to fatal (rhabdomyolysis – or muscle ‘melt-down’).

Most people taking statins can tolerate the liver enzyme- destroying action of the drug but any hint of muscle pain or soreness should be a clear signal to stop.


Author: Robert Gosstray
Robert Gosstray is a retired pharmacist and the resident health writer for Midlifexpress. He is the author of The Pharmacist's Secrets: Drugs, lies and money.

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