Recently, I listened to an illuminating podcast in which board-certified cardiologist Bret Scher and nephrologist (kidney specialist) Jason Fung discussed the very real and very detrimental ties that exist among top pharmaceutical companies (commonly known as “Big Pharma”), medical doctors, and researchers. (Click here to listen to the podcast yourself. The entire episode is interesting, but their discussion of the unethical connections begins at minute 49:43.)
You may have heard Dr. Jason Fung’s name connected to the ever-growing research on intermittent fasting and type 2 diabetes; currently, he is recognized as “The King of Fasting.” Aside from this important research, Dr. Fung has also positioned himself as a whistleblower in the medical community because he shamelessly speaks out against Big Pharma’s connections to doctors and research. I strongly recommend that you read this article of his (or this one!) before you willingly accept any prescription from your doctor or buy in to published medical research findings.
If you’d prefer to read my bullet-pointed takeaways, here they are:
- While laws and codes of ethics exist for restricting gifts to almost everybody–policemen, journalists, and judges–doctors may legally accept hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars from pharmaceutical companies.
- As long as doctors disclose any conflict of interest, these payments are perfectly acceptable.
- Research has proven that gifts from pharmaceuticals influence doctors’ prescribing behaviors, but doctors deny that their behavior is influenced.
- Big Pharma literally pays doctors off, but it is never explicitly called a “pay off.” Instead, conflicts of interest are disguised as “research grants,” “education grants,” “consulting fees,” “speaker fees,” and “free meals.”
- This is essentially how it works for physicians: Big Pharma pays physicians thousands of dollars, physicians prescribe tons of drugs, Big Pharma makes more money, Big Pharma pays physicians even more money. The same pay offs exist for medical researchers. Sometimes their research is paid for by Big Pharma, other times it is paid for by food conglomerates, and frequently the funding is a mix of both. For example, Coca-Cola has funded research that argues sugar is a health food; further, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo sponsor 95 national health organizations.
- Doctors are not at fault; Dr. Fung used to accept money from Big Pharma before he realized the implications these payments had on his practice. Bottom line: The rules need to change.
Knowing all of this, what can we do?
- Before accepting any prescription drug from your doctor, inquire about his or her ties to Big Pharma.
- Also, engage your physician in a discussion about alternatives to pharmaceuticals, like diet modification. If you’re diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or heart disease, for example, overwhelming research suggests that dietary changes may improve–or even cure!– your ailment even better than any prescription could. If your doctor is unwilling or unable to discuss possibilities outside of prescription drugs, find a new doctor.
- When reading any new “health improvement” headline, maintain skepticism. Consider this headline from a Nutrition and Diabetes journal released July 4, 2016: “Pasta is not fattening, quite the opposite.” Before you sprint to bring a pot of pasta to a boil, notice the funder of the research: Barilla. Yep, that’s right! One of the top pasta companies in the world funded research proving that pasta is healthy. Imagine that!
- Ultimately, consider yourself the CEO of your health; don’t let any one doctor or research finding sway you.
As always, I welcome your comments! Do you have an idea for a future post? Feel free to share!
In each blog post, I aim to bring you food for thought (pun intended. Note: my day job is teaching English), but don’t take my word for it! Click on and read all of the links above to become your own expert on this topic; knowledge is power. The more you know and understand the “why” behind each biohack, the easier it will be to stick to it and realize you can’t live without it!