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Some Analysis of Recent Counterintuitive Health Articles

December 31, 2009
Organic Consumers Association
by Honor Schauland

Here's a headline that drew me up short last week, from the Canadian National Post: Health Canada Proposes Putting Anti-Cancer Drug into French Fries, Potato Chips

Wow, really? What's going on here? Well, apparently cooking foods at high temperatures (particularly deep frying) produces acrylamide, a compound that has been connected to cancer in animals and possibly people. So Health Canada's answer to this is to put anti-cancer drugs in fried foods.

No discussion of what health effects could be caused by ingesting low doses of cancer drugs over the long term, although the National Post does interview one doctor, a Doctor Mucci, who seems just as nonplussed as I am about the topic, though they don't give her much room to say so. Her one comment is limited to advising that the "downstream effects" of adding anticancer chemicals to food should be carefully studied.

In the meantime, manufacturers of the anti-cancer drug in question are ecstatic. Ok, the article doesn't actually use the word "ecstatic," it just says "Manufacturers 'fully support' the move," but you can see why it's easy to interpret that in a slightly exaggerated fashion. I'm reading between the lines here, but I'd be willing to bet that "Manufacturers are quivering with joy. They cannot believe that their influence over Health Canada has paid off so well!"

And apparently Health Canada is taking comments for 75 days and could implement the idea within 6-8 months. Haha. No really, I'm not joking. Read the article.

Another recent story that I'm still puzzling over is an article on preventive healthcare by the Los Angeles Times that warns that preventive medicine can be costly.

This one is weird. I think the reason why I am so taken aback by it is that I am used to thinking of preventive healthcare as easy things that I can do to keep myself healthy, like eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. When I think I'm getting a cold, I eat a raw clove of garlic and drink a bunch of tea. I don't think that these things cost me a whole lot extra, and if they do, they certainly make up for it in terms of quality of life (though my coworkers certainly give me a wide berth on garlic days. But that's ok.).

The article, on the other hand, is talking about preventive medicine, which means doctors and the pharmaceutical industry.

For example, prescribing cholesterol-busting drugs such as statins is very costly, because not all of the people taking them would go on to have expensive health problems without the medications. In a 2007 paper, Russell estimated that the cost of cholesterol medication ranged from $85,000 to $924,000 per healthy person per year, depending on the population targeted.


Translation: pharmaceutical drugs are expensive, and there are a lot of people taking them that don't need them. Why is that?




In fact, the majority of preventive interventions, according to the Tufts report, do cost society as a whole more money than treatment would - costs that range from tens of dollars per healthy year gained to $1 million or more.


More translation: medical preventive interventions are part of the problem in our broken medical system, not part of the solution. What sounds like a simple common sense approach to medicine, that of the prevention of disease before it happens, has been co-opted by for-profit pharmaceutical companies selling "preventive drugs" that cost just as much as having the disease they prevent!

I guess I have to commend the LA Times for reporting on this, although it would be nice if they would connect the dots for us a little more. What we really need is a whole new healthcare system, one where medicine does not equal more drugs.