New Internationalist

Don’t take Big Pharma at its word

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There’s a piece of information going around the internet which argues that lowering the bar for defining diabetes from a fasting blood glucose level of 126mg/dL to its current 100mg is questionable. It further states that this reduction has made a few more million people ‘diabetic’ by definition and that it was achieved partly thanks to Big Pharma people on the decision-making boards that proclaimed that the 100mg fasting blood sugar level was the new normal – aided by expensive lobbying by the biggest drug companies.

It adds that statins and drugs which are routinely prescribed to lower cholesterol add to diabetic problems.

I’ve been diabetic for 12 years, allegedly brought on by stress after I covered a genocide and mass rape in 2002, and, as a patient, this sort of information is distressing and worrying. We patients don’t know what to believe or where to go for accurate information. I know that if I were in a car accident or had a heart attack I would be rushed to the best allopathic hospital possible. But I also know that I have a great deal of cynicism regarding the verdicts which come faithfully and with unfailing regularity from the all-powerful allopathic Bibles. Don’t eat eggs, they ordered, they’re bad for you. Twenty years later, they have reversed that one – or at least toned it down considerably.

Don’t use coconut oil, they told coconut kingdom Kerala, where the ubiquitous, extremely nutritious, nut was a daily staple, in much the same way that bread and cheese serves the French or potatoes are part of a daily Irish diet. Twenty years later, coconut oil is being hailed as the new wonder-food, prescribed for Hollywood stars to shed their wrinkles with their cholesterol, and all real or imaginary ailments as well. Many Americans are drinking raw cold-pressed virgin coconut oil every morning on the advice of their internet agony aunts and new-age dieticians. C’est la vie, apparently.

I have been sneered at for trying out a lot of home remedies, but I know they work. Ayurveda –which I knew nothing about – had me effortlessly dropping eight kilos in two weeks. When the vaidyan or physician advised me to do the two-week course, I baulked, thinking it was too expensive and not really believing that I had any serious problems. Water retention, he said. You have tiny wrists and ankles. You shouldn’t be so fat. That’s typically Indian, to tell you to your face how terrible you look. I finally capitulated, albeit reluctantly, and his treatment worked, in spite of my disbelief. And a hundred (literally) people ran to him, after seeing the miracle he worked on me, hoping they would be cured of various ailments. Dr Raveendran of Poonthottam is always modest, however. ‘Come, we’ll try to help you,’ he always tells patients. No big claims, no tall stories.

The secret is in knowing which is the best Ayurveda doctor for a particular ailment. There’s one place where they have cured a person going blind when all allopathic eye hospitals had no hope. Another cures a particular skin ailment. You must know whom to go to. There are quacks galore in Kerala, specially set up to give tourists massages. But there are few really bad side effects from Ayurveda. After all, they have been at it for 5,000 years.

My daughter’s blood dysentery was cured in one day by a Bengali homeopathic doctor when she was four years old and I was in a terrified panic. Yet people love to rubbish the entire system of homeopathy. When allopathic practitioners lose a patient, it’s somehow acceptable. Yet the same medical fraternity is quick to dismiss alternative treatments as rubbish.

Anecdotal, they say, as though mere piling up of data, facts and figures by pharmaceutical company-sponsored studies is the beginning and end of truth.

We know this, but we continue to let world health and well-being be governed by big business.

When will we ever learn?

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  1. #1 Graham 14 Feb 17

    I'm sorry, but the evidence that homeopathy works does not exist. Claims that does and it is all a cover up to say otherwise have the same weight as those that say the overwhelming majority of climate change scientists are part some global conspiracy when they say there's a strong anthropomorphic component to climate change.

  2. #2 Jemima Puddleduck 14 Feb 17

    > Yet the same medical fraternity is quick to dismiss alternative treatments as rubbish.

    Actually, you'll see that there has been extensive research into homeopathy and no evidence has been found that shows it works. Cf:

    I'm glad to hear that your daughter got better, but in all probability that had nothing to do with the expensive pretend medicine you bought her.

    I'm no apologist for big pharma, but I find the bogus claims of exploitative alternative medicine quacks deeply troubling and I am surprised that a publication that prides itself on its journalistic integrity would publish pseudo science like this.

    You wouldn't do so for climate denial so why for other forms of delusional antiscience?

  3. #4 Phylis 15 Feb 17

    Please point me to any study in which homeopathy was shown to have any effect that was more significant than a similarly administered placebo. I think you will find there isn't one.

    Advising sick people to seek such sham treatment is disgusting. Shame on New Internationalist for publishing such garbage.

  4. #5 Pat 15 Feb 17

    Well - written article. Thank you, Mari, for speaking the truth of personal experience, plain and simple.

    Thank you, New Internationalist, for publishing this article which challenges the status quo, in an area of life (health) where thinking people are still afraid to.

  5. #6 Charlie 15 Feb 17

    Big pharma is awful, but the fault lies with capitalism not with science.

    We didn't eradicate polio by anecdote or mystical woo, we did it with evidence.

    There is no evidence to suggest that homeopathy is any more effective than a placebo.

    Advising sick people to seek cures from what is at best some water and at worst some very expensive water is wrong, especially for cases when there are well understood, effective cures.

    Giving people false hope of cures is wrong too. And giving your hard earned money to charlatans who peddle water at grossly inflated prices while not wrong is ill-advised.

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

Read more by Mari Marcel Thekaekara

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