Is Modern Medicine Killing You?

By Michael Edmonds 03/10/2012


Tonight at 8 pm on TV1 is the start of a new series called “Is Modern Medicine Killing You?” I was thinking of posting about it after the programme had started but didn’t want any of my readers (all both of you) to possibly miss it.

I must admit I am a little apprehensive about the title and the very brief ads that I have seen so far. With such a provocative title it could be a fascinating expose’ of some of the less that ethical behaviours of various pharmaceutical companies around drugs such as Vioxx, or it could be an attempt to promote various “alternative” medicine treatments using anecdote and fear mongering about evidence based medicines.

I guess by 8.30 pm tonight we will know.


0 Responses to “Is Modern Medicine Killing You?”

  • “In the half-century between 1950–52 and 2000–02, life expectancy at birth increased from 71.3 to 81.1 years for females, and from 67.2 to 76.3 years for males. Around a decade later, this has increased to 82.8 years for females and 79.1 years for males.”

    Source: http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/population/mythbusters/males-life-expectancy-lower.aspx

    That is, for the 60 years from around 1950 to around 2010, average male life expectancy rose by 11.9 years and for females by 11.5 years. If that isn’t due to modern medicine – antibiotics, blood pressure meds, cholesterol reducing meds, etc, I’d like to hear a better explantion.

  • Possum,

    Good point, and if we take it back around 100 years the difference between life expectancy then and today is about 20 years (no penicillin and other antibiotics meant infectious diseases would take many lives.

  • Thanks for the link, Kevin. It has been a while since I have seen such an example of a biased and manipulative “documentary” with an undertone of conspiracy theory. While psychiatric medicine certainly has made mistakes and the drug industry has made some seriously unethical choices that does not mean there aren’t valid uses for psychiatric drugs.

  • The programme last night was nothing more than an infomerical. There is no medical speciality called integrative medicine and the doctor was trying to claim her unproven, non scientific remedies as credible. Modern medicine is founded on evidence based research which requires double blind randomised controlled trials. Doctors are not “anti” comlementary health. If something stands up to scientific scrutiny it becomes main stream.How NZ on Air funding could be given to such a woeful dross is beyond me. Shame on you TVNZ

  • Health Sceptic
    While I’m sure that the programme will certainly do Dr Pitsilis’s practice a lot of good, I didn’t think it was as bad as you make out.
    While most treatments are evidence based, there are still some that are based on dated or tenuous evidence which the medicial professional are working towards identifying and weeding out. Also while many drugs are tested using double blind randomised trials it is becoming more evident that some of these trials are being carryed out or reported in less than scientific ways (I’m currently reading Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre which I will blog about when I get done reading it).

    Some of her suggestions were very sensible – observing the facial tension of the patient with headaches and then sending him to a specialist to examine the possibility of muscular tightness causing the headaches. Also the consideration of dietary and other habits is a perfectly valid line of inquiry.

    And I suspect that while there are some doctors who embrace complementary medicine to a level of gullibility there are also some who resist new but unlikely treatments which are evidence based.

    I thought the acupuncture material was a bit pseudoscientific, so not impressed with that but I’ll reserve my full judgement on the show until I watch a bit more.

  • Maybe I was being too harsh but I object strongly to conflation where one bit of credible information is then falsely linked to something else to make it seem plausible. Dr Pitsilis is using her medical qualification to endorse dubious remedies and wrapping that up as scientific because she is a doctor. Absolutely fine if she says “there is no evidence behind this but some people I’ve treated have responded well” but to say it’s scientific which is what the TVNZ byline stated is wrong. In the bigger picture all the health professionals both complementary and mainstream need to give patients honest advice about evidence which isn’t well done. Dr P is actually worse than a snake oil peddlar because she’s wilfully conflating which in my opinion is unethical.

  • Hmmm, Health Sceptic, that is a good point. Mixing genuine medicine with bunkum would be a cunning way to give it some legitimacy. And the TV format does allow treatments to be mentioned without much time given to whether they have evidence to back them up.
    I wil certainly be paying attention to what future episodes show. And if homeopathy, reikki or colour therapy turn up, the gloves are off 🙂

  • yep, sanitation, decent sewage, sealed roads, warm houses, and the like have made no difference to longevity.

  • I recorded this programme, just watched it tonight and found it very interesting. If it gets some people looking at their lifestyle and diet before expecting a pill to cure all their ills, then fantastic. Yes, there certainly is a place for some medicines, some are lifesavers BUT in this day and age, more people than not expect a pill will make up for eating food with poor nutrition (processed foods). The only problem is that the drug companies can’t make as much money if people start eating better. Any programme that can get people looking outside the square – long may it continue.

    • Aucklandb

      You are quite right – if people learn from this programme that better eating habits (and exercise and sleep) will keep them healthier then that will be a good thing. The concern is that this programme will also make untested, unscientific, or disproven “treatments appear legitimate.
      Drug companies certainly would make less money from diet based products if people ate more sensibly, but this is only a small part of the money they make. Most drugs are used to treat diseases which are not significantly affected by diet.
      Also, I tihnk if everyone ate more healthily it would be the nutriceutical/fad health food providers that would lose out more with their “miracle food.” A healthy diet typically removes the need for nutritional supplements.

  • >yep, sanitation, decent sewage, sealed roads, warm houses, and the like have made no difference to longevity

    OK, that helps explain changes in longevity over the last century; but over the last 20 years median male longevity in NZ has been increasing at 3 months per year – that’s the impact of modern medicines.

  • “yep, sanitation, decent sewage, sealed roads, warm houses, and the like have made no difference to longevity”

    Most of what we describe as modern sanitation/sewage systems were well in place by the beginning of the 20th century.
    Also I’m not quite sure how sealed roads fits into it? I would have thought any advantage in sealed roads would have been largely offset by the increasing speed of motor vehicles.

    A look at the death rates at the end of the 19th century shows a high proportion due to infectious disease. This was particularly evident amongst children. While improvements in sanitation and housing certainly would have had some role in improving life expectancy, modern medicine, certainly has played a major role in extending both our life expectancy and our quality of life e.g. not being flea ridden, going insane due to syphilis, having a good prognosis for pneumonia and septicemia, as well as certain types of cancer.

  • Mourad

    It is generally considered poor form to just cut and paste a section from a scientific journal without actually making the effort to make a point about what you tihnk it means.

    From what I can see you have included the conclusion from one study which, under the conditions described in the paper, indicates that beta blockers did not result in a lower risk of “composite cardiovascular events”.
    This does not preclude the possibility that
    1) different beta blockers, or a different use will have a positive effect
    2) another study will show a positive effect
    3) that beta blockers are not useful for treating other conditions

    If you check out beta blockers on wikipedia, you will see there are a wide range of applications and also different compounds which are beta blockers, not all of which will have been included in the study you mention.

    The information you provided is just a small amount of information on a large group fo compounds for which there will be many other papers. And that is how science works. Conclusions are drawn from all of the different papers studying a particular drug (in this case beta blockers) with each paper adding to the overall picture and decision making around the use of a drug.
    That is not to say that some drug companies don’t sell drugs for which they oversell the benefits – there are certainly some for which the promoted uses need to be, and are being, challenged. But this does not mean that all drugs are overhyped. There are some incredibly brilliant drugs being use to treat many diseases.

  • Michael say that The concern is that this programme will also make untested, unscientific, or disproven “treatments appear legitimate.

    Who is concerned Michael? The pharmaceutical and medical industries and their supporters?

  • Possum said but over the last 20 years median male longevity in NZ has been increasing at 3 months per year – that’s the impact of modern medicines.

    Evidence please. What about the significant decline in road deaths? Sure, some of those might be due to better emergency services but mostly its dew to better car design and better roads.

  • Mourad,
    I would have thought most sensible people would be concerned about “untested, unscientific or disproven” treatments being used on people.

  • Mourad,
    You have asked possum for evidence to support his claim that modern medicines are causing the increase in male longvity. It would therefore be fair and appropriate for you to provide evidence that the “significant decline in road deaths” would have a significant effect on male longevity, seeing you have impled this in your post, would it not?

  • Possum said but over the last 20 years median male longevity in NZ has been increasing at 3 months per year – that’s the impact of modern medicines.
    Evidence please. What about the significant decline in road deaths?

    How many road deaths do we have each year in NZ? In 2011 it was 212 (http://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/road-deaths/toll.html).

    For the year ending December 31 2010 (the most recent figures I found), there were 28,438 deaths registered in New Zealand: 14,223 male and 14,215 female deaths (http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/population/estimates_and_projections/demographic-trends-2011/deaths%20and%20life%20expectancy.aspx).

    Even if all road fatalities involved males only, the decline in road fatalities will not have had a significant impact on male longevity.

  • Where does the reduction in smoking rates fit into the increase in longevity over the past 20-30 years?

    • Good point Chris. Balthough I thought smoking was still I casing in some sectors of society (e.g. young women)

  • >Possum said but over the last 20 years median male longevity in NZ has been increasing at 3 months per year – that’s the impact of modern medicines. Evidence please.

    Stats dept figures show the longevity improvement clearly. I’ll assume you want the evidence the improvement is due to medicines. I have a clear mental picture of a chart I’ve seen showing reduced deaths from various causes – I think the source was Scientific America – but I haven’t found it yet. I’ll keep looking. Until I find it, the article linked below will explain what I’m on about.

    http://www.listener.co.nz/current-affairs/heart-disease-in-new-zealand/

  • Possum, that Listener article is a plug for what naturopaths prescribe. Good lifestyle, exercise and good diet. It’s not evidence that medicine has save lots of lives.

  • Possum “Stats dept figures show the longevity improvement clearly.” Agree

    Possum ” I’ll assume you want the evidence the improvement is due to medicines. ” Agree

    Possum “I have a clear mental picture of a chart I’ve seen showing reduced deaths from various causes – I think the source was Scientific America – but I haven’t found it yet. I’ll keep looking.” Enough said. I have a clear mental picture of charts I’ve seen showing increased deaths from various causes such as medicine – its called iatrogenic disease and has been published in many journals including JAMA.

    Possum ” Until I find it, the article linked below will explain what I’m on about.” As noted in previous comment this article supports a naturopathic basis of disease management.

  • Mourad,

    Consider the following link http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0922292.html

    Over the past 100 years deaths due to tuberculosis, influenza and pneumonia have dropped.
    The death rates due to tuberculosis and pneumonia/influenza coincide with the introduction of antibiotics to treat it in the 1940’s and1950’s
    The surge in cardiovascular diseases after the 1930’s could be due to increasing life expectancy (the older you get the more time to develop heart disease) and/or due to more sedentary life styles, however the rate drops from the 1970’s onwards, a time when a better understanding of heart disease was leading to new cardiac drugs.
    The column for cancers shows an increase up until the 1990’s, which I would suggest is again due to people living long enough for cancer to occur and also to better diagnoses of cancer.
    Also note that after the 1990’s it starts to decrease. While cancer remains a remarkably challenging disease to treat, there are some types of cancers which are now much more successfully treated than they were 20+ years ago.

    Figures about iatrogenic disease are often bandied aobut by those opposed to conventional medicine and there certainly are some seriously concerning examples of deaths resulting from medical mistakes or errors. However, what never seems to have been asked is if the patient wasn’t being treated in hospital would they have died if they hadn’t have been treated. WIth some medical procedures there can be a risk of death but this is often balanced by a higher risk of not having the treatment and dying sooner.

  • Michael’s link provides no evidence of improved longevity resulting from cardiac drugs. Come on you red-blooded skeptics; back up your claims with evidence. Otherwise you are no better than those you ridicule.

  • I must be missing something because I didn’t see a reference to an 80% decline. I did note a reference to increasing use of sanatoriums, which could have reduced mortality (though perhaps not the rates at which people contracted TB).

    I also saw this: “While wealthy industrialized countries with good public health care systems can be expected to keep TB under control, in much of the developing world a catastrophe awaits. It is crucially important that support be given to research efforts devoted to developing an effective TB vaccine, shortening the amount of time required to ascertain drug sensitivities, improving the diagnosis of TB, and creating new, highly effective anti-TB medications. Without support for such efforts, we run the risk of losing the battle against TB”, which emphasizes the significant role of modern medicine.

    Now – I did provide evidence in my response to your claim that declining road deaths increased male longevity…

  • Mourad,
    I never claimed that that link provided evidence of the effectiveness of cardiac drugs, as I stated it provides a history of cardiac drugs.
    If you do not believe cardiac drugs have reduced mortality due to cardiac diseases then perhaps you should propose an alternative hypothesis of your own?

  • Mourad, What my post should have referred to is the chart in the Listener article, which shows male coronary heart disease deaths dropping from around 600 oer 100,000 in the 1960s-70s down to around 100 per 100,000 in 2010.

    The article seriously overstates the impact so far of healthy living as the reason for the drop in deaths from heart problems that we’ve seen. One hopes in the future that healthy living and not prescribed drugs will have a greater impact.

    With respect to what naturopaths describe you are wide of the mark. Here is what Wikipedia states that Naturopaths do:

    The particular modalities used by an individual naturopath varies with training and scope of practice. The demonstrated efficacy and scientific rationale also varies. These include: Acupuncture, Applied kinesiology,[41] Botanical medicine, Brainwave entrainment, Chelation therapy for atherosclerosis,[42] Colonic enemas,[18] Color therapy,[41] Cranial osteopathy,[39] Hair analysis,[39] Homeopathy,[43] Iridology,[41] Live blood analysis, Nature cure – a range of therapies based upon exposure to natural elements such as sunshine, fresh air, heat, or cold, Nutrition (examples include vegetarian and wholefood diet, fasting, and abstention from alcohol and sugar),[44] Ozone therapy,[12] Physical medicine (includes naturopathic, osseous, and soft tissue manipulative therapy, sports medicine, exercise and hydrotherapy), Psychological counseling (examples include meditation, relaxation, and other methods of stress management[44]), Public health measures and hygiene,[29] Reflexology,[41] Rolfing,[21] and Traditional Chinese medicine. Much of this stuff could only be charitably described as placebos.