Big Pharma, Bad Science

In June, the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most respected medical journals, made a startling announcement. The editors declared that they were dropping their policy stipulating that authors of review articles of medical studies could not have financial ties to drug companies whose medicines were being analyzed.  Read More…


The Great Health Grab

‘I think there’s some mistake,’ I said, pushing the pack of pills back across the counter.

‘Nope. It’s the same drug, just a different name,’ replied the pharmacist with a patient smile.

It was high summer, the peak of the hay fever season and I expect she’d been dealing with quite a few quizzical customers. I picked up the pack again. Loratidine it read, instead of the expected Claritin – and, as I soon discovered, it worked just as well. What I didn’t know then was that a battle royale had broken out to delay loratidine (the generic drug) from reaching the market in any form apart from the branded version that I, and millions of other allergy-sufferers, knew by name. Read More….

Big Pharma and profit priorities

One of the things I’ve observed while doing public speaking, being a part of business councils and interacting with a lot of well-connected people in society, is that many people work with the pharmaceutical company known as Merck. Merck seems to be everywhere, with drug reps, consultants, marketing people, email marketing people, scientists, lobbyists and so on. It seems impossible to go anywhere in society without running into somebody who works for Merck.At the same time, I’ve never met a person who worked for Merck who wasn’t a really interesting and capable person. Every person I’ve met has been intelligent and appeared to be honest. So you may wonder: If Merck is made up of lots of ethical, professional people, how is it that Merck could ultimately be an organization that so aggressively markets products that inarguably cause widespread harm to patients? How can this contradiction exist?

Ethics don’t trickle up  Read More …..

Breast cancer chemo raises heart risks

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) — New research shows the adage “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” doesn’t apply in treating breast cancer.

A study published in the October 9 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology has found certain treatments that cured breast cancer made women more susceptible to heart disease.

“We always felt the benefit of savings lives outweighed the risks and were just part of the accepted cost,” says Pamela S. Douglas, M.D., chief of cardiology at Duke University and co-author of the JACC paper. But with the success of treatment and growing survivor numbers, Douglas and her colleagues are urging doctors to take the long view when deciding on a woman’s breast cancer treatment. First treat the cancer, but don’t forget about cardiovascular health down the road.

The spike in heart disease risk comes from a variety of sources. Chest radiation, lack of exercise during treatments and stress are all part of the heart-hurting connection. But according to Douglas, the greatest damage comes from a breast cancer treatment mainstay –chemotherapy. Specifically, researchers are looking at chemotherapy medicines called anthracyclines. These compounds are used to treat a variety of cancers, including leukemia, lymphomas, uterine, ovarian and breast cancer. They are also known to harbor a well-known risk: They weaken some women’s hearts.

“There are other drugs that are less harmful, and we know a little bit about how to lower the doses” says Douglas, but it’s too soon to start completely overhauling breast cancer therapy, she says. Instead, doctors and organizations including the National Breast Cancer Coalition are calling for more research into cancer treatments to see whether other drugs might yield the same result without the added long-term risk.

Douglas also stresses that it is important to look at all the factors surrounding a woman’s condition, as patients are “taking hits from multiple places.” While the cancer therapy might be one source of added cardiovascular risk, diet, weight and family history also play a major role.


Her advice to patients who learn they have breast cancer, “First get cured!” But she adds: “Take seriously the consequences that dieting and regular exercise can have for your health while taking something that is not necessarily heart healthy.”

Her words offer a stark reminder that treatment for cancer is still a careful balancing act of medicine working together with lifestyle.

Spray Cleaners Linked to 1 in 7 Cases of Adult Asthma

Using cleaning sprays and air fresheners while doing housework may account for up to one in seven cases of asthma in adults, a study has found.

Just spraying a cleaner once a week can trigger an attack, according to the research. The more often the sprays are used, the higher the risk.

“Frequent use of household cleaning sprays may be an important risk factor for adult asthma,” said Jan-Paul Zock, of the Municipal Institute of Medical Research in Barcelona, Spain. “The relative risk rates of developing adult asthma in relation to exposure to cleaning products could account for as much as 15 percent, or one in seven, of adult asthma cases.”

Click here for the full story in the Times Online.

Furniture sprays, glass-cleaners and air freshener sprays were associated with the highest risk of a person developing asthma after doing the housework. No link was identified between the onset of asthma and the use of cleaning products that were not sprayed.

Cleaning sprays have previously been found to be associated with an increased incidence of asthma among people who clean for a living but this is thought to be the first time the link has been made to routine household use.

The results of the study were published by the American Thoracic Society in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

The international study involved 3,503 people ages 20 to 44 in 10 European countries who used cleaning and air freshener sprays. Their details first were logged, on average, nine years before they were interviewed by the study team.

Of the subjects, 6 percent had developed asthma symptoms and the study claims there is a link between the disease and use of sprays in the home at least once a week.

Analysis revealed that using the sprays at this rate, as 42 percent of the study group did, increased the risk of asthma symptoms by 30 to 50 percent.

U.S. to review claims that lipsticks contain lead

lip0stickWASHINGTON: The United States will review an advocacy group’s findings that lipstick sold under brand names including L’Oréal and Cover Girl contained potentially dangerous levels of lead.

Twenty of 33 brand-name lipsticks had detectable levels of lead in the tests, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. The Food and Drug Administration has collected lipstick samples for testing to follow up on the group’s results, although the agency has not found dangers previously, said an FDA spokeswoman, Stephanie Kwisnek.

The levels of lead found by the cosmetics group in the lipsticks – ranging from 0.03 part per million to 0.65 part per million – have the potential to increase risks of health hazards, said Joel Schwartz, a professor of environmental epidemiology at Harvard University, who was not involved in the study. Long-term exposure to lead can result in higher blood pressure, kidney damage and loss of mental function.

U.S. sales of lipstick totaled $2 billion in 2006, with 270 million individual containers sold, according to Kline & Co., a consulting and research firm in Little Falls, New Jersey. The products were made by companies including L’Oréal, based in Paris, and Procter & Gamble, of Cincinnati.

The organization that did the study, a coalition that includes environmental groups, women’s organizations and public health advocates, said the FDA should provide more oversight of cosmetics.

The FDA “will need to confirm the factual basis of these reports independently in order to determine what action, if any, may be needed to protect public health,” Kwisnek said.

The FDA has not set maximum levels for lead in lipsticks, and the trade group that represents manufacturers said the amounts found were not enough to pose a danger.

“These levels, considering the products and how they’re consumed, really don’t present a concern,” said John Bailey, executive vice president for science at the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, a Washington group whose members include L’Oréal, which makes Maybelline, and P&G, which makes the Cover Girl brand.

One-third of the lipsticks tested exceeded the FDA’s 0.1 part per million limit for lead in candy, the group said in the study, released Thursday.

Products with more than 0.1 part per million of lead included L’Oréal’s Colour Riche True Red, Cover Girl’s Incredifull Lipcolor Maximum Red and Maybelline’s Moisture Extreme Cocoa Plum.

The campaign called on cosmetics companies to test their products for lead and to require suppliers to guarantee that raw materials are lead-free. ....

garlicResearchers have cracked the mystery of why eating garlic can help keep the heart healthy. The key is allicin, which is broken down into the foul-smelling sulphur compounds which taint breath. These compounds react with red blood cells and produce hydrogen sulphide which relaxes the blood vessels, and keeps blood flowing easily. The University of Alabama at Birmingham research appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

However, UK experts warned taking garlic supplements could lead to side effects. Hydrogen sulphide generates a smell of rotten eggs and is used to make stink bombs. But at low concentrations it plays a vital role in helping cells to communicate with each other.

And within the blood vessels it stimulates the cells that form the lining to relax, causing the vessels to dilate. This, in turn, reduces blood pressure, allowing the blood to carry more oxygen to essential organs, and reducing pressure on the heart. The Alabama team bathed rat blood vessels in a bath containing juice from crushed garlic.

Striking results

This produced striking results – with tension within the vessels reduced by 72%. The researchers also found that red blood cells exposed to minute amounts of juice extracted from supermarket garlic immediately began emitting hydrogen sulphide. Further experiments showed that the chemical reaction took place mainly on the surface of the blood cells. The researchers suggest that hydrogen sulphide production in red blood cells could be used to standardise dietary garlic supplements.

Lead researcher Dr David Kraus said: “Our results suggest garlic in the diet is a very good thing. “Certainly in areas where garlic consumption is high, such as the Mediterranean and the Far East, there is a low incidence of cardiovascular disease.” Judy O’Sullivan, a cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This interesting study suggests that garlic may provide some heart health benefits.

“However, there remains insufficient evidence to support the notion of eating garlic as medicine in order to reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease. “Having garlic as part of a varied diet is a matter of personal choice. “It is important to note that large amounts in supplement form may interact with blood thinning drugs and could increase the risk of bleeding.” ..….