Action Alive: The Great Ulcer Drug Rip-Off

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Action alive: The Great Ulcer Drug Rip-Off

Perhaps the greatest seam ever perpetrated by the pharmaceutical industry upon an unsuspecting and uninformed public involves a small, spiral-shaped bacterium named Helicobacter pylori.

H. pylori was discovered in April 1982 by two Australian physicians, Dr Barry Marshall and Dr Robbin Warren. In 1983 the two doctors proposed that the bacterium is the cause of peptic (duodenal and gastric) ulcers. The discovery was met by deafening silence from the medical community and created great anxiety within the pharmaceutical industry. At the time, highly profitable antacids such as cimetidine (Tagamet) and ranitidine (Zantac) were used to treat about 90 per cent of all ulcer patients and generated a sales income of over $8 billion per year. Cimetidine and ranitidine do not cure ulcers, but merely mask the symptoms.

Nevertheless, courageous medical researchers took up the challenge and it soon became apparent just how widespread and serious the H. pylori threat is. Research has confirmed that over 90 per cent of people with peptic ulcers is infected with the bacterium.

Large-Scale Infection

It is estimated that about three quarters of the world's population suffer from a H. pylori infection. The prevalence is highest among the elderly, the poor, and people living in unhygienic conditions. H. pylori can be transferred from person to person and is often transmitted by parents to their children Il usually slavs with its host for life unless eradicated.

H. pylori has a strong affinity for the lining of the stomach. Recent research has shown that it is the main cause of stomach ulcers; the use of aspirin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs is another important cause. H. pylori infection is involved in indigestion, excess stomach acid, gastritis and stomach cancer. H. pylori has also been implicated in coronary heart disease, hypertension, hives, rosacea and Sjogren's syndrome.

The Chemical Cure

H. pylori infections can be eradicated and the vast majority of ulcers cured by a one-week treatment with antibiotics and antibacterials. Although the chemical "cocktail" required to eradicate H. pylori -- including the drugs tetracycline, metronidazole and bismuth subsalicylate -- is by no means without danger, it does the job. It not only eradicates the bacteria in 90 to 98 per cent et all cases, but also results in a permanent cure for ulcers with a relapse rate of less than five per cent.

As a matter of fact, the treatment works so well that the US National Institute of Health (NIH) in 1994 issued an advisory to all American physicians to discontinue the prescription of cimetidine, omeprazole and ranitidine for their ulcer patients. Instead, the physicians were advised to treat them with the appropriate regimen of antibiotics, antibacterials and bismuth compounds to eradicate the H. pylori and permanently cure the ulcers.

It would appear that both the medical community and the pharmaceutical industry largely ignored the advice by the NIH to the painful and costly detriment of their patients. A 1995 survey by an Australian physician showed that less than one per cent of 38,000 war veterans with stomach ulcers were receiving the NIH-recommended treatment for their condition.

Drug Company Deals Ignore Public

The pharmaceutical industry reacted vigorously to the threat posed by the NIH advice to their $8 billion a year antacid market by making a swift deal with the US Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to allow their anti-ulcer drugs to be sold without a prescription. With this master stroke the drug companies freed medical doctors from the ethical burden of prescribing ineffective, costly drugs while at the same time maintaining or perhaps even expanding their market among the broad segment of the population who had never heard of H. pylori, much less the 1994 NIH advice. Not surprisingly, the drug company executive who negotiated the deal with the FDA was later named one of the 25 most successful business men in a 1995 survey by Business Week.

A Little Honey Helps

There are undoubtedly a great many patients who would rather avoid drugs altogether. For them there is now exciting news from New Zealand. Professor Peter Molan, MBE of the University of Waikato has found that certain strains of Manuka honey are very effective in completely eradicating H. pylori when tested in the laboratory (see page 62).

Honey has long been known to alleviate dyspepsia and diarrhea and is a very effective wound dressing and antibacterial agent. Manuka honey, however, is unique in its ability to completely eradicate H. pylori and this effect is only found in honey from specific geographic areas. Unfortunately, the preliminary trial had to be terminated early, but another trial is in the planning stage.

The bottom line is that ulcer patients need suffer no more, nor spend large sums of money on ineffective antacid drugs for the rest of their lives. An effective, permanent cure is now available; however, you may have to prod your doctor to make sure that you get the full regimen and not just a broad spectrum antibiotic which is ineffective.

ACanadian Health Reform Products Ltd.

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By Hans R. Larsen

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