Health is very rarely a zero sum equation; it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
There should always be space for skeptics as well as the faithful when it comes to orthodox or 'standardised' treatment. The key is always to inform and respect the opinions of others so long as they come from a care for the patient.
We all read the major new review of statins which was published this week leading to the bold (and bald) pronouncement by the medical establishment that statins are basically wonderful.
Actually it went even further than that, virtually branding opposition to statin use as heretical, accusing opponents of exaggerating side effects and patients who report problems as liars or idiots.
All this seems very presumptuous from what was essentially a review of existing research which, we all know, is very much in the court of the true believers.
In fact it is the reliability and methodology of that very research that led many to question its validity in the first place.
There is no new evidence or data here.
This exercise could be seen as an anointment of the existing majority viewpoint as accepted dogma.
In many cases the people reviewing the research were those involved in conducting the studies in the first place; they were hardly going to reject their own work.
Then there is the question of independence.
The list of sponsors and donors which, quite properly and without any guile or avoidance, the authors have listed in an extensive and particularly lengthy ‘declaration of interests’ leaves the strong possibility of vested interest in a positive outcome for statins.
No-one is accusing the researchers of conscious impropriety but the large pharmaceutical companies, whose own track record on this matter is less than spotless, have their fingerprints all over it.
There is so much money involved and so many reputations on the line that the apparent conflict of interest would make a politician blush.
For me, however, this all pales beside the unedifying spectacle of the researchers trash talking those who have yet to wholly buy in to the miracle of statins.
Remember not so long ago the statin lobby was claiming, with total certainty, that statins caused no side effects whatsoever.
This claim was made in the face of thousands of individual GP and Cardiologist reports that patients have experienced a range of side effects including muscle and joint pain, loss of concentration, memory loss etc.
At the time the Statin lobby were basing their assertion on research that declared there were no side effects because it wasn’t designed to record any, other than death.
This latest, slightly amended claim, now admits to the possibility of side effects but states that the benefits far outweigh any risks.
That’s a reasonable conclusion, one that I could accept if they have the data to support it.
Without any further research to specifically measure side effects the review uses the existing (possibly quite flawed) data to estimate the rate of side effects at two in every hundred users of statins over a five year period.
Well I personally know three out of five people in my own circle of friends and family who take statins have experienced acute discomfort and had to adjust their medication.
Are my acquaintances just terribly unlucky?
GP’s up and down the country are acutely aware of the complaints that patients have made after taking statins; they must look at these latest estimates and shake their heads.
The Lancet, in which the review was published, states quite categorically that statin opponents have been “exaggerating” the harmful side effects and “misleading” the public.
In the press and on TV supporters of widest possible use of the drug have even characterised patients who have complained of side effects as “mistaken”.
They claim that in most cases patients are attributing aches and pains to statins when they are actually caused by something completely different.
This totally contradicts the experience of all medical professionals who find that patients are actually slow to report symptoms and reluctant to admit to problems with medication.
If anything patient psychology would tend to suggest that statin side effects are underreported rather than exaggerated.
I see this need to impugn the motives and standing of the opposition as a heavy-handed attempt to create orthodoxy where none yet exists.
No-one is saying statins are not an effective and welcome addition to the struggle to prevent heart disease and strokes.
No-one is arguing that it doesn’t save thousands of lives (8,000 per year according to the review).
Those of us who are as yet unconvinced of all the claims made on its behalf are simply saying is that it may not be right for every patient.
To carry on prescribing it in its thousands to anyone at minimal risk and making it the go-to treatment in every single case is, in the opinion of many of us, to ignore other solutions which may better suit individual patients.
In the same week that doctors are being urged by their public health bodies to prescribe exercise for patients who clearly need some, it hardly sounds like grounds for heresy now does it?
As the statin debate continues to rumble on, one ancient medical assertion seems to have come back into focus thanks to modern technology.
Hippocrates, the Greek physician who was one of the first to record and document medical treatments nearly two and half millennia ago in Ancient Greece, observed that patients suffered greater pains from ailments during prolonged rains and found greater ease in sunshine.
Medical science has never acknowledged this link though there are thousands of anecdotal stories of arthritis and rheumatism sufferers ‘feeling’ a change in weather through twinges of pain.
Even serviceman carrying wounds from battle have reported “twinges” that indicate rain or bad weather is about to arrive.
At the University of Manchester they have combined GPS, real-time meteorological data and a smart phone app to put this ancient theory to the test.
While on the subject of pain management it is worth noting that there are over 10 million people in the UK who suffer from some form of arthritis, 10,000 of them are children.
This is a condition that can only be managed and controlled.
The pain it causes to sufferers can vary from mild to unbearable and has a very debilitating effect on the patient’s general well-being.
As a direct result over 50% of arthritis sufferers are prone to depression.
Pharmaceutical solutions are only ever partially successful and have a diminishing return over time.
There is a natural gel made from the silica mineral that has reported great success.
It soothes the joints with an anti-inflammatory and then bolsters their chemical constitution with minerals and nutrients that can repair some of the damage.
Finally this week comes a story that reminds us that we shouldn’t count our chickens.
In a world that actively seeks to create the impression of cleanliness and sterility even where we know there are growing microbial threats, you could be forgiven for thinking that food bought from one of the big brand grocers would be free of any danger.
But you would be wrong.
It seems that all the precautions your mother taught you to take when you’re preparing meat apply just as much today as they ever did.
Maybe even more so.
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