So which is it, folks?
Am I a dangerous quack railing against the unassailable truths of medicine? Or a transparent shill for Big Pharma and mainstream doctors?
Recently, we took on two cherished myths about health...
Last Friday, we took on the Cholesterol Myth – the long-held belief that dietary cholesterol causes heart disease. (If you missed it, read it here.) We described the science that shows this isn't true. The real culprit is inflammation.
Earlier this month, we also told you to stop wasting your money on supplements. For most of us, the key is eating a diet filled with fruits and vegetables... not pills. You can read Fight Cancer Naturally here.
Dogma – like those myths – is incredibly comforting to people. Knowing "the truth" helps make sense of the world. So we come to expect a lot of criticism whenever we point out research that contradicts these beliefs. And sure enough, we got plenty of feedback questioning our abilities, agenda, and sanity.
But we persist. Our mission at Retirement Millionaire Daily is to give you the information you need to take control of your health and wealth. And that means laying out the latest research on important health issues – especially when the conclusions point out that we've been doing things wrong.
And we always encourage you to question what you read... even what you read here. Track down the studies we cite. Read the research – even the footnotes. Educate yourself on these topics and decide what steps make the most sense for you.
Today, we publish two examples and dig into the science behind our views on cholesterol and supplements. If you have something you'd like to ask, e-mail us at [email protected] or send us a message on our Facebook page.
Q: A non-boarded, non-practicing ophthalmologist who writes (good) financial newsletters ought to stick to what he knows well – dollars and cents.
We work hard to encourage high-risk patients – post-MI, familial hyperlipidemics, and diabetics – to take medications they're not motivated to take. Inflammation may be the cause, but inflammation causes plaque buildup. Statins are anti-inflammatory, which is part of the reason they work in high-risk patients who don't have hyperlipidemia.
Making broad generalizations makes it hard for us to do our jobs. If you wish to continue writing inflammatory newsletters, at least use some qualifiers. – J.N.
A: Our driving philosophy at Retirement Millionaire Daily is to empower folks to take control of their health and wealth. That means learning more about medical conditions and the available options, and even taking steps to prevent future disease.
But I think you missed the point of our essay.
People need to keep inflammation low by eating right before it becomes a problem. That's the point... Fight the real culprit (inflammation) now before you have a heart attack.
And we didn't write about high-risk folks – those who have already had a heart attack, those with familial hypercholesterolemia (inherited high-cholesterol levels), or diabetics.
So let me address those folks: If you have higher risk factors (like the ones mentioned above), be extra vigilant and consult with your doctor about anti-inflammatory strategies. We've written before in Retirement Millionaire about the importance of getting your cholesterol levels checked and lowered if you have familial hypercholesterolemia precisely because of the cardiovascular dysfunction of that illness.
Nor did our essay mention statins. So here goes... Statins are overprescribed and have dangerous side effects. They can cause cataracts, diabetes, muscle weakness, and memory loss.
We strongly believe in prevention and finding more natural treatments when possible. More important, our job is to give you the information you need to take control of your health. You can cut your inflammation naturally by eating right and exercising, thus helping prevent atherosclerosis and future heart disease. But do your own research and ask your doctor tough questions about the best treatment plan for you.
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Q: Yesterday, I forwarded to you an article from the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) that totally refuted your recent letter on the subject of supplements. You were off by approx. an order of magnitude (23,000 vs 2,300 E.R. visits). This is an obvious instance of establishment media slandering the supplement industry. You as a doctor are part of that establishment. It must really roil your guts to see inexpensive natural treatments that do people more good than the billion-dollar poisons the pharmaceutical industry and its pushers (oops, I mean doctors) dispense to the gullible public.
You should check your facts before making them headline statements in your newsletter. You owe your readers a correction and an apology. –J.S.
A: In my newsletter Retirement Millionaire, I've written against many of the big drug names out there. We think most of them are overprescribed and have too many dangerous side effects. (See my comments above on statins.)
If you want to read the study we cited on supplements, you can access it here. You'll see that the researchers collected data from 63 different emergency rooms. They had people at each hospital go through every file, too, not just ones initially reported as an adverse effect from a supplement.
They used their findings to estimate 23,000 visits per year from supplements. You'll also see that of these visits, most were from two causes: 1) weight-loss supplements, and 2) seniors who had trouble swallowing (most likely because of the size and shape of some of those big pills).
The Alliance for Natural Health report mentions that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only has 2,000 reported adverse events (reports of problems from medication).
That's true, but the problem with using that information is that most events are vastly underreported. From the FDA's own website (emphasis added):
As we rely on voluntary reports for adverse events, the FDA does not receive reports for every adverse event or medication error that occurs with a product. Many factors can influence whether or not an event will be reported, such as the time a product has been marketed and publicity about an event. Therefore, the data cannot be used to calculate the incidence of an adverse event or medication error in the U.S. population.
We also found the most recent report from the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Its numbers include about 3,000 calls per year regarding supplements that end with serious or fatal results. Again, however, this isn't the best number, as it mostly reflects children who get ahold of these supposedly "safe" supplements.
There's one more point we want to get across: Don't believe everything you read.
The New England Journal of Medicine – a leading, peer-reviewed medical journal – published the research paper we cited. Each of the authors had to include disclosures to declare if they've ever received money from any companies that might influence their research. Disclosure is required by the Physician Payments Sunshine Act to provide transparency. The authors of this study weren't paid to skew their numbers.
I wish I could say the Alliance for Natural Health had as much transparency. We found nothing that revealed where it got its funding. The website discusses "grassroots fundraising" and states the group's goal is to lobby for supplements in Washington, D.C. Sounds like a lot of politicking... dare we suggest it might be paid by the supplement industry?
Always, always check your sources.
Finally, I want to say that even though I'm trained as a doctor, I don't follow mainstream medical thought blindly (ask reader J.N.). I believe you can prevent disease by improving your diet and exercise. I recommend yoga, massage, and meditation – all things that aren't standard medical practice. I even cofounded the complementary and alternative medicine program at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1998.
But supplements as a whole are unregulated and can be dangerous. That's not to say all of them are without benefit. I've recommended vitamin D if you live in low-sunlight areas during the winter and vitamin C for cold prevention. It might surprise you to learn I also take a multivitamin once a week.
But I urge you to do what I do and research these issues for yourself. Don't take tons of pills that promise every medical cure-all available. And make sure you check each supplement against your regular medications for any interactions. If you're curious about your own pill regimen, you can use these interaction checkers here or here.