by Michael Bauce
originally printed in Macrobiotics Today
When I was just four months old, my life seemed to be coming to an untimely end. I was convulsing, so my Mother and Grandmother rushed me to the hospital. The Doctor said my condition was severe and I was not expected to survive more than an hour. Lifesaving drugs were administered in a last-ditch effort to save me. A priest was called to administer last rites. As you may have guessed, I survived the ordeal. A magic pill (a drug) saved my life.
By the time I was 8, a another magic pill suddenly appeared in my life: One-A-Day vitamin pills. My Mom told me I was to take just one every day to make me strong and healthy. I remember feeling so grateful that someone had thought of this pill. Why bother drinking my milk everyday, if a single pill could do it all?
In our modern culture, magic pills have now become popular for those looking for a quick fix from a wide variety of health conditions or as a preventative effect on problems that may arise in the future. There is a magic pill today for every health problem under the sun. If you can’t sleep, have no appetite, have too much appetite, feeling depressed or overweight, there is a quick easy solution available. Even if you enjoy good health, there is a pill for you. The common assumption of magic pill theory is that by placing a specified substance in your mouth and swallowing it, you will have improved or cured your condition without ever having to change any of the personal dietary or other lifestyle habits which may have led to this condition.
The mass marketing of magic pills today is unprecedented. It dwarfs all other types of advertisement on radio, TV and Internet. Magic Pills can be drugs, superfoods and supplements. There has been a relentless campaign to convince people that these products are the best modern scientific technology has to offer. The underlying message is that your health is a corporate responsibility and you are an innocent bystander. Ironically, almost all of these magic pills have eventually ended up in the Magic Pill Graveyard. As soon as they do, new more expensive ones appear in their place.
The Drug Industry
The cozy relationship that pharmaceutical companies now have with Doctors is unprecedented and has sullied the reputation of both parties. Pharmaceutical companies regularly wine, dine and shower Doctors with lavish gifts and kickbacks. Drug commercials routinely prod patients to ask for their drug by name. Many times, these drugs are marketed as safe and then pulled from the market just a few years after their release and labeled as dangerous. One good example is the heavily advertised drug Vioxx that was widely prescribed until it was reported that it increased the chance of heart-attacks. The Industry responded by developing another drug without that known side effect. Other well known examples include Ritalin, Accutane and Prozac. Clearly, ingesting newly released drugs today can be risky business.
The United States and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world that permit drug companies to advertise directly to consumers.
These carefully crafted commercials are usually accompanied by a most pleasant, reasonable sounding voice, complete with images of sunshine, family and smiles. They entice their audience by describing their product as a miracle breakthrough, never seen before now. How ironic that the same pleasant voice reads off a long list of potential side-effects, including nausea, vomiting, uncontrolled bleeding, loss of cognitive functioning or vision problems, kidney damage, loss of control of bladder and bowel function and even death.
In the Truth About Drug Companies by Marsha Angell, M.D., she exposes what she calls “a major health cover-up” by the drug industry.4
“The combined profits for the ten drug companies in the Fortune 500 ($35.9 billion) were more than the profits for all the other 490 businesses put together ($33.7 billion) [in 2002]. Over the past two decades the pharmaceutical industry has moved very far from its original high purpose of discovering and producing useful new drugs. Now primarily a marketing machine to sell drugs of dubious benefit, this industry uses its wealth and power to co-opt every institution that might stand in its way, including the US Congress, the FDA, academic medical centers, and the medical profession itself.”4
American consumers are now spending roughly $200,000,000,000 per year on prescription drugs (growing 12% per year) according to the online business info provider, ims.5. 70% of Americans regularly take prescription drugs. Despite the billions spent, we continue to suffer with high rates of disease, with no end in sight.
The Supplement Industry
In 2007, Reuters estimated the supplement industry was making $18,000,000,000 a year in sales! Many health-conscious people use supplement their diets to make-up for nutrients they may not be getting in their food. Many others continue to eat a poor diet because they believe pills will provide them with those missing nutrients. This despite the fact that there has not been one single long-term study that has proven the effectiveness of vitamin supplementation in addressing cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes or every day health (although millions have been spent trying). The money continues to flow as we continue our steady health decline.
The latest fad in alternative health is “Superfoods.” Superfoods are foods that somehow possess super powers because they are high in anti-oxidants, omega-3s or phytochemicals. Superfoods are described as goji berries, chia seeds, acai berries, cacao, maca and countless others. Dr. Oz is a well-known proponent of Superfood theory. According to Oz, it’s might be that rare fruit from the highest mountain top in Peru or the sap from a nearly extinct tree that you need. It’s not that these foods are not beneficial in some ways, but focusing on them for health may not have the magical effect you desire.
Wine & Chocolate
We have also witnessed the rapid promotion of extreme foods that we love, specifically wine and dark chocolate, now widely regarded as healthy by many. FoxNews recently proclaimed that “Red wine can cure cancer. The bad news is you’d need to drink 100 glasses a day. (red wine pill” like drinking 100 glasses a day, could cure major diseases.)”1 Conversely, The Guardian concluded that “The notion that a regular little tipple is good for your health, especially from middle age, is debunked by researchers today. Taking up alcohol may help older men cut the risks of heart attack, but increases the threat of premature death from other diseases such as cancer, according to a study which monitored the progress of 7,735 men over 16 years. Research leader Professor Roger Corder said: “The changes that alcohol causes are so modest that you would not in your right mind believe that they could protect you from heart disease.”2
Chocolate has also been described as a cure for everything from cancer, heart-attack, poor vision and cognitive function, damage from stroke, blood clots, etc….3 Although chocolate contains flavanoids that supporters claim to have positive effects, most chocolate companies remove flavanoids during processing because of it’s bitter taste (and add sugars and fats). They routinely keep the flavanoids content off the label. Interesting to note that all whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruit also contain flavanoids.
Many of the health claims today directly result from studies funded conducted and released by the various industries involved. The highly touted study of red wine and it’s positive effect on health was discredited when it’s main researcher was found to have committed more than one hundred acts of fabrication in his work. Despite all of the negative revelations, magic pills continue to be easily marketed to a hungry audience. They can satisfy our cravings for sweets and alcohol while leaving us guilt-free (so they say).
Whole Foods Not A Magic Pill!
Today there is a common understanding among health-conscious people that views whole foods as a magic pill of sorts. Although we make a conscious choice to eat whole grains and vegetables for our health, food doesn’t necessarily heal the body. The body heals itself, if given the proper support and nourishment. This is an important distinction that separates natural healing from magic pill theory. The macrobiotic way of focusing on home cooking using a wide variety of natural foods, cooked in season with regards to balance and season, allows the body to gently and slowly clean house and re-establish it’s natural functioning. It’s quite a magical and beautiful process to experience, without any of the hocus pocus surrounding magic pills.
1 Fox News March 9, 2013, “Red Wine Pill” http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/03/08/could-red-wine-pill-cure-major-diseases/#ixzz2Sd0OAom5
2 Healthy Wine Myth Debunked, James Meikle and Tim Radford http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2001/dec/20/research.medicalscience
4 The Truth About Drug Companies, Marsha Angell, M.D.http://www.wanttoknow.info/truthaboutdrugcompanies