Crap “health” products

This morning in the news we read that Professor Campbell from the Diabetes Centre at St Vincents Hospital in Sydney is seeking to have Woolworths remove weight loss products from it’s shelves. All I can say is good luck.

Although we live in the 21 st century and have seen fantastic breakthroughs in medicine and health we are steadily going backwards in healthcare. A few years ago the sales of alternative and complimentary healthcare products exceeded traditional medicines in Australia and the situation hasn’t been getting better.

This whole health product area comes under the TGA and their mixed licensing and registration system. For an article describing the present situation see this article from the SMH.

Taking a sample from it we have:

“For prescription medicines to be registered with the administration, convincing evidence – replicated in peer-reviewed, large-scale, double-blind, controlled clinical trials, and published in respected journals – is demanded. But when it comes to complementary medicines, manufacturers and distributors merely have to prove their product is reasonably harmless, is made according to specifications, and does not claim to treat, prevent or cure serious diseases, disorders and conditions.

To remain on the list, manufacturers have only to pay the annual fee and assure the administration they have evidence to support their claims, and are willing to make that evidence available on request.

And that evidence need not be scientific. Either oral or documented “traditional” evidence – that a particular plant or mineral has been used for three or more generations for specific health-related or medicinal purposes – is enough to satisfy the administration’s requirements.”

The difference can be found on the front of the product, an “R” number means the product has proven efficacy as stated in the start of that quotation, an “L” means that proof can just be hearsay or “traditional” proof as per the description at the end. I once met with the health spokesperson for a major political party, they didn’t know this. This really isn’t rocket science and everyone should know this as their good health depends on it.

The TGA used to be controlled and funded by the government but not any more. The pharma companies now do that, clever bit of outsourcing that, a bit like letting convicted frauds audit their own tax returns. As such we now have a plethora of products that simply don’t work being widely available. This in conjunction with our falling science literacy rates means booming sales for the pharma companies in the complementary or altmed healthcare field. The amount of what can only be considered as expensive crap available in pharmacies is astounding and they to are meant to be educated people. Even homoeopathy, which doesn’t work any better than a placebo when tested in double blind trials is freely available. And they are not cheap products. Even health insurers allow claims for naturopathy and related products.

If something can be proven to work then all well and good but as a society why do we tolerate such bogus products? Is it as simple as the feeling of doing something rather than nothing for a medical conditional, either actual of perceived, gives us a feeling of control over our lives? Is it that our standard of living is spoiling us and we simply want a quick fix to a difficult problem such as obesity rather than the challenging and hard work of solving the problem effectively and for the long term? Perhaps as a society we are now so rich that wasting a bit of money here of there doesn’t even rate? Obviously the suppliers will never care about efficacy as they are happy to line their pockets with record earnings and profits.

It’s all rather gloomy but here’s a suggestion. Every time you go to buy a product with an “L” on the cover flip a coin. If it comes up tails go buy the product and feel happy, hoping for some sort of placebo effect. However if it comes up heads then donate that money to an organisation supplying real drugs that really work to third world countries. Such as Médecins Sans Frontières. You might be happy thinking those extra vitamins will do some good or that homoeopathic elixir will cure your whatever however I’d suggest to you that properly tested drugs and nutrients that actually work will do more good in defeating disease and malnutrition in the third world than any benefit you gain from local dodgy healthcare. Overall, the world will be a better place.

Quoting from  Professor Lesley Campbell: “It’s so much better for people not to dabble in things merely for profit … when it has … not been tested and it doesn’t work”.


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