Looking at the headlines, you would think
the entire supplement industry was going south. Headlines about recent
research makes it sound like
echinacea, saw palmetto, vitamins E and D, calcium, St. John's
Wort, and now glucosamine and chondroitin lack the medicinal efficacy
that numerous studies and millions of consumers and clinicians previously
found they provided.
In reality, a considerable amount of good science shows that natural
remedies can be highly effective—often as effective or more so
much safer and less expensive than pharmaceutical drugs. "However, the
big money that drug companies charge for medications and pay for marketing
controls the way study results are presented to the public," observes
board certified internist Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of the bestselling From
Fatigued to Fantastic! (Avery Penguin Putnam) and
the recent Pain Free
1-2-3 (McGraw-Hill, Feb 2006).
"Following the publication of the recent study on glucosamine and chondroitin
in the New England Journal of Medicine (Feb. 23, 2006;354:795-808), news headlines
screamed, 'Natural Therapies Ineffective,'" says Dr. Teitelbaum. "But
the study actually revealed something quite different. First, natural remedies
were far more effective than Celebrex for moderate-to-severe arthritis. Secondly,
for mild arthritis, the difference between placebo, Celebrex, and the natural
remedies was minimal." According to Teitelbaum, the data showed (with price-tags
omitted) the following breakdown:
For moderate to severe arthritis
A-Placebo 54% improved at no cost per patient over one year
B-GS/Chondroitin (Natural) 79% improved at a cost of $160/patient over one
C-Celebrex 69% improved at a cost of $1092/patient over one year
For mild arthritis
A-Placebo 62% improved at no cost per patient over one year
B-Chondroitin 66.5% improved at a cost of $160/patient over one year
C-Celebrex/COX2 70% improved at a cost of $1092/patient over one year
"More accurate headlines would read: 'Placebo almost as effective
as Celebrex and natural remedies—Natural remedies best for severe arthritis,'
nearly 700% more costly than natural remedies,'" explains Dr. Teitelbaum.
If pharmaceuticals and natural remedies were almost equally effective, why
not use the meds? "Two reasons come to mind," says Teitelbaum: "First,
we are bankrupting the medical system because doctors are trained to use the
most expensive medications—and don't forget that the drug companies
underwrite most of our conferences. Second, deaths from medications are astronomical.
Motrin family medications – non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – prescribed
for arthritis unnecessarily kill over 16,500 Americans yearly, and Celebrex
and Vioxx harm many more."
"If you actually look at the scientific data, natural remedies are a safe
and inexpensive godsend for the public," Dr. Teitelbaum concludes. "As
the old saying goes, caveat emptor—let the buyer beware! If you don't
scrutinize the study results yourself, the truth is likely to be colored by spin.
In the glucosamine study, 11 of the authors were on the payroll of the companies
that make pain medications. And natural remedies are the competition."