By Dr. Mercola
According to a recent article in The New York Times, growing distrust in the medical profession poses a threat to public health and safety.1 “Trust is crucial in the relationship between patients and health care providers, but it’s been on the decline in recent decades,” Dr. Dhruv Khullar, a physician at New York Presbyterian Hospital and a researcher at Weill Cornell Department of Healthcare Policy and Research writes, noting that:
“Mistrust in the medical profession — particularly during emergencies like epidemics — can have deadly consequences. In 1966, more than three-fourths of Americans had great confidence in medical leaders; today, only 34 percent do.
Compared with people in other developed countries, Americans are considerably less likely to trust doctors, and only a quarter express confidence in the health system. During some recent disease outbreaks, less than one-third of Americans said they trusted public health officials to share complete and accurate information. Only 14 percent trust the federal government to do what’s right most of the time.”
Trust Requires Trustworthiness
Trust in the conventional medical paradigm has declined for a good reason. As noted by Khullar, “Waning trust in the health system is partly a result of the sometimes well-founded public perception that its key players pursue profits at the expense of patients.” Indeed, how is anyone expected to trust a system as riddled with corporate profit bias as what we currently have?
Doctors, while well-intentioned, have by and large become untrustworthy for the simple fact that they stopped thinking for themselves and fell into a corporate for-profit scheme that depends on chronic illness. Few are those who buck the system, do their own research rather than getting their information from pharmaceutical reps, and focus on patient education about preventive strategies that don’t involve costly drugs or surgical interventions.
A healthy whole food diet, exercise, proper breathing and movement, sensible sun exposure and grounding — these are all simple foundational aspects of good health that cost very little or nothing. Yet they’re rarely if ever considered when it comes time to address illness. The article also rightfully notes that transparency is a key feature that inspires trust, and honest transparency has become increasingly difficult to come by.
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As just one example, the list of medical professionals, nutritional professionals and academics who pose as independent experts sharing their well-educated stances with the public — when in fact they are paid shills for one corporation or another — has grown longer with each passing year. Hiding conflicts of interest has become the norm, it seems, and honest disclosure of possible conflicts of interest is a cornerstone of the kind of transparency needed to build trust.
Following are a few blaring examples showcasing why distrust in the medical system is actually warranted, and could be viewed as a sign of sanity prevailing over orchestrated attempts to undermine public health and well-being.
CDC and Coca-Cola — Still ‘Partners in Health’
In 2015, it was revealed that a Coca-Cola front group called the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN) was founded to cast doubts on claims that soda consumption is a major if not primary cause of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and related health problems. The network, funded with millions from Coca-Cola that were never publicly disclosed, pushed the already debunked theory that to maintain a healthy weight, all you need is more exercise.
After that public relations nightmare, Coca-Cola vowed to be more transparent about its funding of scientists and health partnerships, but as noted in a recent report by Russ Greene,2 the company has not changed its ways.
While Coca-Cola claims to publish “all relevant funding of well-being related research, partnerships and health professionals and scientific experts” every six months, when comparing the company’s data with annual reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention (CDC) and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), Greene discovered major discrepancies.
As it turns out, Coca-Cola failed to report some of its largest payments to the CDC. “Coca-Cola donated to the [CDC’s] Foundation in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, according to the Foundation’s annual fiscal reports. And yet a search for ‘Centers for Disease Control’ in Coca-Cola’s website yields no results since 2012,” Greene writes.
He also notes that these payments seem to be at odds with statements made by former CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden, who last year stated he’d been “winding down Coke-funded programs” during his tenure, and had “basically canceled” the CDC’s Coca-Cola run anti-obesity campaign, saying he couldn’t justify having “Coca-Cola run an obesity campaign that had an exclusive focus on physical activity.”
Conflict of Interest Policy Forbids CDC Foundation From Partnering With Soda Giant
Frieden also claimed he’d encouraged the company to provide nonexercise-related donations, but that nothing had come of it, with the exception of a $20,000 donation for a program linked to fighting the Ebola virus. “Frieden’s claims … are not consistent with the fact that Coca-Cola donated to the CDC Foundation during every single year of his tenure except 2014,” Greene writes, “And Coca-Cola’s ‘transparency’ archive is hiding at least four separate payments to the CDC Foundation. So, both parties are acting as if they’re ashamed of their partnership. And yet it persists.”
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Perhaps most importantly, the CDC Foundation’s acceptance of funding from Coca-Cola is at odds with its own conflict of interest policy, which does not permit “Partnership with an organization that represents any product that exacerbates morbidity or mortality when used as directed (mission compatibility).” Anyone who has read even a fraction of the research on sugar and sweetened beverages in recent years would agree that Coca-Cola does not qualify as a CDC “mission compatible” health partner.
Coca-Cola Still Hides NIH Payments
Coca-Cola has also neglected to report payments to the FNIH, Greene found. Since the FNIH is a nongovernmental entity, it is not subject to the same policies and regulations as the NIH itself. This, as noted on the FNIH’s website, allows the foundation “to have a unique role” in public and private partnerships. As noted by Greene:3
“The NIH Foundation is essentially a money launderer. It provides corporations that are banned by NIH’s conflict of interest policy from donating directly to NIH with a convenient loophole. For example, Coca-Cola can’t pay the NIH directly, but it can pay the NIH Foundation, which then transfers the money to the NIH … Coca-Cola is listed twice as a donor to the NIH Foundation in 2015. But Coca-Cola’s archives do not list an NIH Foundation payment that year …
[A]t this point, is there any reason to believe that we’ve been allowed to see the full extent of the Coca-Cola partnerships with CDC and NIH? Consider that we have corrected Coca-Cola’s archives multiple times in the past, and they updated their records shortly thereafter.”
Hospitals Serve Sugar-Laden Processed Foods
Another glaring example of how little attention our medical system affords health is the fact that U.S. hospitals and senior care institutions still insist on serving highly processed, sugary foods and “nutritional shakes” like Ensure and Boost.4,5 Fruit juices are another unhealthy staple. Even diabetics are served ample amounts of bread and other refined carbs that will ensure they’ll never be able to keep their blood sugar under control.6
Sugar, especially high fructose corn syrup, is the very last thing a sick person needs while trying to recuperate and recover, and if there ever was a place where healthy eating should be the norm, it would be in our hospitals. Yet hospital meals are chockful of sugars, chemicals and genetically engineered ingredients that do your body no good.
Take Ensure, for example. Of its 36 itemized ingredients, the first six are corn syrup, corn maltodextrin, sugar (sucrose), corn oil, sodium and calcium caseinates, soy protein isolate and artificial flavor.
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This horrendous concoction is typically given as complete meal replacements to people who cannot chew or swallow and need to use a feeding tube. At present, there appears to be just one organic, whole food-based feeding tube formula on the market. It’s called Liquid Hope,7 and was created by Robin Gentry McGee, a health and lifestyle coach and chef, whose father suffered a brain injury that left him in a coma in 2005. Refusing to feed him what she calls “garbage,” she eventually created her own formula.
“I basically created it because I had to. I was trying to save my dad’s life, and to me giving him the high fructose corn syrup sugar water was not an option,” she explained back in 2013.8 Her formula contains over 20 organic whole food ingredients. “Within six weeks the healing was [so] profound that his M.D. called me up and told me it was a miracle,” McGee told a reporter. “But it wasn’t a miracle, it was nutrition.”
Science-Based Medicine Requires Patients to Take Control of Their Health
John Ioannidis is one of the world’s foremost experts on the credibility of medical research. He and his team have repeatedly shown that many of the conclusions biomedical researchers arrive at in their published studies are exaggerated or flat-out wrong. Yet this is the “science-based evidence” doctors use to prescribe drugs or recommend surgery. According to Ioannidis’ findings, as much as 90 percent of the published medical information relied on by doctors is flawed or incorrect.9
He’s not the only one who has reached this conclusion. In fact, the idea that conventional medical treatments are “scientifically proven” and based on solid science is quite the misnomer. According to 2007 data from the British Medical Journal’s “Clinical Evidence” website, of the 2,500 treatments evaluated, only 15 percent were rated as beneficial. A whopping 46 percent had an efficacy rating of “unknown.”10,11
In other words, nearly half of accepted medical treatments used in general practice were not scientifically proven to work or provide benefit for the patient. Granted, that’s a significant improvement over statistics compiled in 1978, when the Office of Technology Assessment concluded only 10 to 20 percent of medical treatments had evidence to support their use.12 Research also shows that many novel medical treatments gain popularity over older standards of care due mostly to clever marketing, not solid science.
An investigation13 by the Mayo Clinic published in 2013 proved this point. To determine the overall effectiveness of medical care, researchers tracked the frequency of medical reversals over the past decade. Not only did they find that reversals are common across all classes of medical practice, but they too confirmed that a significant proportion of medical treatments offer no patient benefit.
The most telling data in the report confirm that many common medical treatments actually do more harm than good. Of the studies that tested an existing standard of care, 40 percent reversed the practice as it was found to be either ineffective or harmful. Only 38 percent of the studies reaffirmed existing standards.
The remaining 22 percent were inconclusive. This means that anywhere between 40 and 78 percent of the medical testing, treatments and procedures you receive are of no benefit to you — or are actually harmful — according to clinical studies.
Scientific Bias and Fraud Are a Growing Problem
In more recent years, the shocking prevalence of scientific bias and outright fraud14 has also garnered attention, as this trend undermines the credibility of the field of science altogether.15 A major weakness is the fact that many studies that fail to find a benefit never see the light of day, and when only positive findings are published, it presents an incredibly skewed view of the facts.
Then there’s the influence of funding, which has repeatedly and consistently been shown to have a dramatic impact on study results. As previously reported in Live Science:16
“One of the most well-known examples of bias involves the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) paroxetine (Paxil), an anti-anxiety medicine. The pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline suppressed results from four trials that not only failed to show treatment effectiveness for off-label use of its SSRI among children and teens, but also showed possible increased risk of suicidal tendencies in this age group.”
Modern Medicine Is the Third Leading Cause of Death
Doctors (not to mention drug companies) may bemoan the lack of trust and faith in their offerings, but you certainly cannot claim that it’s an undeserved trend. In 2000, Dr. Barbara Starfield published a study revealing that doctors are in fact the third leading cause of death in the U.S., killing an estimated 225,000 patients annually.17 Her statistics showed that each year:
- 12,000 die from unnecessary surgery
- 7,000 die from medication errors in hospitals
- 20,000 die from other errors in hospitals
- 80,000 die from hospital-acquired infections
- 106,000 die from the negative side effects of drugs taken as prescribed
Unfortunately, few believed it, and no affirmative action was ever taken to address and correct the situation. So, when new data was published in 2016, showing the situation has only gotten worse, I for one was not surprised. The study,18 published in the BMJ, concluded that medical errors now kill an estimated 250,000 Americans each year — an increase of about 25,000 people annually from Starfield’s estimates — and these numbers may still be vastly underestimated as deaths occurring at home or in nursing homes were not included.
Many media outlets, including The Washington Post,19 bore headlines saying medical errors are “now” the leading cause of death, but the truth is, modern medicine has been the third leading cause of death for at least two decades, that we know of. Research20 published in 2013 estimated that preventable hospital errors kill 210,000 Americans each year — a figure that is very close to the latest statistics.
However, when deaths related to diagnostic errors, errors of omission and failure to follow guidelines were included, the number skyrocketed to 440,000 preventable hospital deaths each year. That’s inching ever closer to the death toll from cancer — the second leading cause of death in the U.S. — which is projected to claim just over 609,000 Americans this year.21
Overtesting, Overtreatment and Hospital-Acquired Infections Also Take a Toll
Overtesting and overtreatment are also part of the problem. Instead of dissuading patients from unnecessary or questionable interventions, the system rewards waste and incentivizes disease over health. According to a 2012 report by the Institute of Medicine, an estimated 30 percent of all medical procedures, tests and medications may in fact be unnecessary,22 at a cost of at least $750 billion a year. To learn which tests and interventions may do more harm than good, browse through the Choosing Wisely website.23
Other grim statistics revealing the hazards of modern medicine include rates of hospital-acquired infections. According to CDC statistics,24,25 1 in 25 patients end up with a hospital-acquired infection, and about 75,000 people die from these infections each year.26Medicare patients may be at even greater risk. According to the 2011 Health Grades Hospital Quality in America Study,27 1 in 9 Medicare patients developed a hospital-acquired infection.
Take Control of Your Health
Considering everything mentioned so far, is it any wonder that trust in the medical profession has dwindled to about one-third, or that only 1 in 4 Americans trust the health care system as a whole? Bear in mind, the examples included above are just a sampling. I haven’t even touched on the corruption and conflicts of interest involving the food industry at large, or the fact that junk food purveyors fund and provide much of the educational material for our nutrition professionals.
The take-home message is that you cannot be too careful when it comes to medical and nutritional advice. On the whole, our medical establishment has a long way to go before they will regain their old aura as the ultimate authority on health. In the meantime, remember you are ultimately responsible for your own health, and while it’s certainly wise to listen to health professionals you trust, it cannot hurt to get a second or third opinion.
Seeking input and feedback from alternative health professionals can also provide you with alternatives you may never get from a conventional doctor. More often than not, successfully addressing chronic illness will require a holistic approach that may include both conventional and complementary approaches.
Sources and References
- 1 New York Times January 23, 2018
- 2, 3 The Russels January 10, 2018
- 4 Daily Mail January 25, 2018
- 5 New York Times January 25, 2018
- 6 Twitter, Gary McLeod, Health Canada Diabetic Meal
- 7 Functionalformularies.com, Liquid Hope
- 8 Alternet May 28, 2018
- 9 The Atlantic November 2010
- 10 BMJ 2007; 335: 951
- 11, 12 Huffington Post June 20, 2010
- 13 Mayo Clinic Proceedings August 2013; 88(8): 790-798
- 14, 16 Live Science June 24, 2010
- 15 Psychiatr Danub. 2016 Dec;28 Suppl 2:186-190
- 17 America’s Healthcare System is the Third Leading Cause of Death, Barbara Starfield, M.D. (2000)
- 18 BMJ 2016;353:i2139
- 19 Washington Post May 3, 2016
- 20 Journal of Patient Safety September 2013: 9(3); 122-128
- 21 Cancer.org, Facts and Figures 2018
- 22 The Wall Street Journal September 21, 2012
- 23 Choosingwisely.org
- 24 CDC.gov Health Care Associated Infections
- 25 New England Journal of Medicine 2014;370:1198-208
- 26 Consumer Reports, America’s Antibiotic Crisis
- 27 HealthGrades 2011 Healthcare Consumerism and Hospital Quality in America Report (PDF)