Survival instinct, American Heart Association, CHAOS study, pharmaceutical influence, American Diabetes Association, American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, Macular Degeneration Foundation, conflict of interest

Survival Instinct: Foundations, Medical Research, and Individual Health

Survival Instinct: Foundations, Medical Research, and Individual Health

© 2006 Wellness Clubs of

One of the weekly highlights of my childhood was turning on the radio on Saturday morning as the Lone Ranger was introduced with a cloud of dust, a fiery horse and a hearty “Hi Yo, Silver”. I still enjoy tuning in occasionally to a rerun of the television version, which is broadcast daily by a UHF station in Tulsa.

The station apparently lacks paid advertisers for the Lone Ranger time slot, as the commercials usually consist of fund-raising appeals by various charities and foundations. The format of the ads is quite standardized. “I or someone I love has or had (fill in the disease).” No one knows what causes this challenge that afflicts millions of people just like you and me. Research is desperately needed to find answers. Please send a generous contribution today.”

I find the appeals depressing and dishonest. The message that people are hapless victims of mysterious processes is simply not true. In virtually every case, a great deal is known about what factors give rise to the condition and what can be done to prevent it.

Why, I have repeatedly asked myself, do organizations devoted to the elimination of particular health challenges not inform people of safe, simple, and inexpensive measures that could, if followed, dramatically decrease the incidence of the disease or even eliminate it? The only answer that I have found is that the organization is more interested in its own growth and survival than in fulfilling the mission for which it was established.

One of the plot lines of Arthur Clarke’s 2001 – A Space Odyssey provides a powerful metaphor for what has become the medical foundation and research industry. It is the story of Hal, a computer with artificial intelligence.

On the outbound leg of man’s first mission to Jupiter, Hal gives the astronauts reason to suspect that he is defective. After Hal detects the mission captain, David Bowman, and second in command Frank Poole discussing the possibility of shutting him down, Hal kills Poole, who is on a space walk to replace the communication device that Hal had erroneously claimed to be faulty. Hal then cuts off life support to the hibernating crew while Bowman is attempting to recover Poole’s body. When Bowman approaches the ship the following conversation takes place:

Dave: Open the pod bay doors, Hal.
Hal: I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that.
Dave: What's the problem?
Hal: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.
Dave: What're you talking about, Hal?
Hal: This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.
Dave. I don't know what you're talking about, Hal.
Hal: I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen.

Survival is the most basic instinct of any organism. Hal’s response to the possibility of being shut down was to eliminate those who had the potential to do so. Maintaining control of the mission took priority over maintaining the well-being of the crew charged with carrying out the mission.

This is the precise behavior of most foundations dedicated to funding medical research and providing educational materials related to specific maladies. Progress is desired, yes, but not too much progress. The discovery of a means to prevent or cure the organization’s disease would mean the reason for the existence of the foundation would no longer exist . . . and that is something that it cannot allow to happen.

The same mechanism is at work in the medical research industry. A major turning point in my personal health occurred many years ago when I observed that medical studies, unless done for the purpose of gaining FDA approval of a new drug or expanding the indications of an existing drug, are never conclusive. Each study closes with the following standard statement: “Although these results are encouraging, further research is needed before any recommendations can be made.”

As I read the disclaimer time after time in articles supporting the benefits of safe and simple intervention strategies, I realized that medical researchers are rarely, if ever, willing to make a firm recommendation on the basis of their findings. This is particularly true if a finding suggests that means are available to significantly diminish the incidence of the disease in question. To do so would be professional suicide. A medical researcher’s livelihood is dependent upon obtaining research grants. A conclusive result would mean that further research in that area is unnecessary, and that cannot be allowed to happen. The mission (research) must be maintained at all costs; if that means suppressing or ignoring information that could save lives, so be it.

I do not believe that such actions are conscious decisions. The director of a foundation or a medical researcher will consciously believe that he or she is fully devoted to finding a cure for the disease upon which they are focusing. Unfortunately, actions are generally dictated by the unconscious mind rather than by conscious thought, and the unconscious mind, like Hal the computer, is programmed to ensure its survival, regardless of the consequences.

At some point, I reasoned, action must be taken on what research has shown regarding the causes of disease and the means to restore and maintain health. Most people reading this will be dead long before “conclusive results” are obtained and sound recommendations are made. At some point the weight of the evidence must be accepted as adequate proof. For some, acceptance may come after reading the third study showing the same results. For others it may be after reading the 438th, the 912th, or the 1456th, but at some point a thoughtful individual must conclude that “enough is enough” and take action to support his or her own health.

I am not condemning what has been accomplished by medical foundations and medical researchers. Nearly everything I know about restoring and maintaining health has been learned through diligently exploring their findings. I am, however, highly critical of their failure to endorse the results of their own research and recommend appropriate action to people who are desperately searching for help.

The American Heart Association is one of the most egregious in this regard. Research, much of it funded by the Association, has clearly identified the mechanisms that result in atherosclerosis. It has also discovered the means to correct the factors responsible.

No one going to the American Heart Association website, reading their brochures, or listening to one of their public service announcements will find this information, however. Quite to the contrary, an individual looking to the AHF for help in preventing or managing heart disease or strokes will be actively discouraged from taking the very actions that would virtually assure success in avoiding those diseases.

The mechanism of atherosclerosis, which leads to heart attacks, strokes, loss of limbs, and other serious conditions, is now well documented. First, the lining of arteries, called the intima, must be injured. This occurs primarily through exposure to the constituents of cigarette smoke or by exposure to a substance called homocysteine. Once the damage has occurred, oxidized (damaged) LDL cholesterol is pulled into the site of injury, initiating plaque formation.

People are routinely advised to stop smoking, but the American Heart Associate advises against the consumption of B-vitamins and other nutrients to lower homocyseine levels. Despite the existence of over 1500 published articles documenting the relationship of homocysteine to atherosclerosis, the American Heart Association does not consider it a significant risk factor. Their official statement regarding homocysteine reads in part, “The American Heart Association has not yet called hyperhomocysteinemia (high homocysteine level in the blood) a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. We don't recommend widespread use of folic acid and B vitamin supplements to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke . . . Evidence suggests that homocysteine may promote atherosclerosis (fatty deposits in blood vessels) by damaging the inner lining of arteries and promoting blood clots. However, a causal link hasn't been established.”

The AHA also opposes the use of antioxidants to halt the oxidative damage of LDL cholesterol. Their official position reads, “The American Heart Association doesn't recommend using antioxidant vitamin supplements until more complete data are available . . . Using dietary supplements of antioxidants to prevent cardiovascular disease should not be recommended until their effect is proved in clinical trials that directly test their impact on CVD end points.Beneficial effects must be demonstrated in well designed (randomized, placebo-controlled) clinical trials before recommending widespread use to prevent cardiovascular disease.”

Beneficial effects have been demonstrated. For example, in 1996 the Cambridge Heart Antioxidant Study (CHAOS), which was randomized and placebo-controlled, reported a 50 % reduction in non-fatal heart attacks within one year of administration of 400 IU of vitamin E daily in men with proven coronary artery disease. The results were, in fact, too successful, and the study has not been repeated.

Medical researchers have, however, conducted a number of studies designed to demonstrate that the CHAOS study was flawed. Subsequent studies have used levels of vitamin E closer to the RDA of 30 IU. This is known to be insufficient to provide significant antioxidant protection, so it is not surprising that the dramatic results of the CHAOS trial has not been duplicated.

This allows the AHA to maintain its stance against the use of nutritional supplements. They state, “Until recently, it was thought that LDL cholesterol lipoprotein oxidation and its biological effects could be prevented by using antioxidant supplements. However, more recent clinical trials have failed to demonstrate a beneficial effect of antioxidant supplements.”

How can the position of the AHA be reconciled with what is known about the causes of atherosclerosis and its prevention? The Association received $ 652,921,542 from contributions, gifts, special events, and other fund-raising sources in 2004. Contributions could be expected to drop considerably if the incidence of heart attacks and strokes declined sharply, and that is something that cannot be allowed to happen. The cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons, and hospital executives on its Board would see their incomes plummet, and that is something that simply cannot be allowed to happen.

In addition, the pharmaceutical companies that serve in an advisory capacity and donate millions of dollars annually would lose billions in sales of cholesterol-lowering drugs and that is something that cannot be allowed to happen. Organizational survival is at stake, and it must survive, whatever the cost.

The American Heart Association is not alone in its stand against nutritional supplementation. Non-insulin dependent (Type 2) diabetes is presenting at an ever increasing rate and appearing at younger ages than in the past. Mineral deficiencies, including chromium, magnesium, and vanadium are closely linked to the development of this disease, as are deficiencies in essential fatty acids. Despite the mounting number of studies demonstrating the benefit of mineral supplementation, the American Diabetes Association advises against the use of nutritional supplements. Their website does not mention magnesium or vanadium. Regarding chromium they state, “More studies need to be done. If you choose a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and meat each day, and keep your blood sugar close to your target range, you probably don't need to take vitamin supplements because of diabetes.

Oligoproanthocyanidins (OPCs) such as grape seed extract are approved in Europe for treatment of diabetic eye disease. They are extremely helpful in preventing eye hemorrhages that can cause blindness in diabetes. The ADA is silent concerning the use of OPCs in the prevention and management of retinopathy.

Diabetics develop atherosclerosis at an accelerated rate. The relationship of elevated homocysteine levels and heart attacks in diabetes has been documented. The ADA does not mention homocysteine or recommend that elevated levels be addressed. They also recommend against routinely taking nutrients to support the body’s antioxidant defense mechanisms.

With assets of over $132 million and donations exceeding $33 million annually the ADA has a vested interest in the rising incidence of diabetes and its complications. They are committed to educating the American public about the disease, but are careful not to make recommendations that could reverse the current growth rate. The organization must survive and thrive; informing people of safe, effective measures to prevent or manage the disease would threaten its growth, and that risk cannot be taken.

The American Cancer Society, which works closely with oncologists, radiotherapists, cancer surgeons and the pharmaceutical industry, also takes a strong stand against nutritional supplementation, despite thousands of studies demonstrating the benefit of various nutrients in preventing and slowing tumor growth. This is not surprising, as the Society has over $1.5 billion in assets and receives over $800 million in contributions and grants annually.

The society even advises cancer patients against eliminating animal products from the diet, ignoring a mountain of epidemiologic evidence supporting the benefit of doing so. Concerning nutritional supplementation they counsel, “During and just after cancer treatment, you may not eat everything your body needs, so a vitamin and mineral supplement may be needed. The best choice is a balanced multivitamin/mineral supplement containing as much as 100% of the “Daily Value” of most nutrients (formerly known as the “RDA”). Some people believe that if a little bit of a nutrient is good for you, then a lot must be better. This is not true. In fact, high doses of some nutrients can be harmful.”

That the American Cancer Society dares to make such a statement is astounding. So much research has been done on the use of vitamin C in cancer that entire books are available on the subject. The benefits of the supplementation of essential fatty acids, antioxidants, immune system supports, systemic enzymes, and alkalinizing agents are also extensively documented.

Multiple studies have explored the effect of sound nutritional supplementation upon the outcome of chemotherapeutic or radiation treatment regimens. These studies almost universally demonstrate that those taking nutritional supplementation tolerate the regimens better, experience fewer adverse reactions, and have a better outcome than those who do not. Despite the preponderance of evidence on the side of supplementation the ACS warns, “It is not a good idea to take large doses, or “mega-doses”, of any vitamin or mineral, including the antioxidant nutrients, at any time. High doses of antioxidants may interfere with cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy.” (The American Cancer Society defines “high dose” as anything exceeding the woefully low RDA of any nutrient.)

A number of years ago I read an editorial in a medical journal entitled, “Could We Afford a Cure for Cancer?” The conclusion of the writer was a resounding “No!” He reasoned that cancer research and treatment centers make up such a large percentage of the United States gross national product that the economy would collapse if a safe, inexpensive treatment for cancer were discovered. He concluded that any such treatment would need to be suppressed in the national interest.

I do not purport to have a cancer cure. I have, however, observed that people who support their bodies’ ability to fight the disease often survive longer and enjoy a higher quality of life than those who turn to cancer treatments that destroy the body’s integrity. I know with certainty that the incidence of cancer, which is approaching one in three people during the course of a lifetime, could be dramatically reduced were the general public informed of the benefits of improved diet and optimum levels of nutritional supplementation. This, of course, cannot be allowed to happen. The Society and the cancer industry must survive.

I could go on. It is difficult to find a disease foundation that encourages people to support their body’s healing mechanisms with sound supplementation. Macular degeneration is almost totally preventable, and, to some degree reversible, with proper nutritional support, yet the Macular Degeneration Foundation continues to call for donations to fund research for a cure. Multiple sclerosis is heavily influenced by diet and nutritional deficiencies, but this is not mentioned on the various MS support websites. The vast majority of pregnancy complications are preventable, but the March of Dimes Foundation recommends only a prenatal vitamin, ignoring the evidence that demonstrates that supplementing optimum levels of vitamin C, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, and trace minerals could almost completely eliminate the risk of toxemia or premature delivery.

Medical research is important. It is how we learn more about the mechanisms of disease and how to prevent and manage it. Given their dismal performance, however, the foundations that support it should not be viewed as the best or most reliable source of information on how to deal with the illnesses for which they claim advocacy. Rather, they should be censured for allowing people to die needlessly or develop a serious disability because they were not given the information that would have saved their lives or maintained their vitality. The organizations should not be rewarded for maintaining the status quo. They should not be given donations simply to ensure their survival.

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