Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Monday, April 17, 2006

How Advertising And Big Pharma Money Shape Your Perception Of Illness: Selling Sickness And The Art Of Disease Mongering

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"Disease mongering exploits the deepest atavistic fears of suffering and death. It is in the interests of pharmaceutical companies to extend the range of the abnormal so that the market for treatments is proportionately enlarged."

Iona Heath, General Practitioner at the Caversham Practice in London

Photo credit: Michael Osterrieder

Prevention is conspicuously absent from today's public health scene. The use of nutrition and other natural means of preventing and curing illness is actively, if covertly, discouraged by most health authorities across the world. It is strictly forbidden to inform the public about preventive and curative properties of any product not registered as a pharmaceutical drug, creating the illusion that foods and nutrition are ineffective in prevention and healing. But more importantly even - normal, everyday behavior is increasingly medicalized, actually creating new diseases that 'must be treated'.

Some of the diseases that are actively promoted to justify drug treatment include, according to a recent article in The Guardian, erectile dysfunction, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), female sexual dysfunction (FSD), bipolar disorder and restless legs syndrome.

In his article. The Latest Mania: Selling Bipolar Disorder, David Healy, writing in PLoS Medicine - a peer reviewed, open access journal of the Public Library of Science - analyzes how, by change of definitions, bipolar disorder has been made into a 'common disease'. The problem is that the cure - 'mood stabilizing' drugs - has not been tested in any meaningful way in a long term setting. The side effects of the medications which are often as serious as death by suicide, change the equation for the much enlarged group of potential patients. Those side effects become a real problem, often more serious than the condition was to begin with.

"Disease mongering turns healthy people into patients, wastes precious resources, and causes iatrogenic harm. Like the marketing strategies that drive it, disease mongering poses a global challenge to those interested in public health, demanding in turn a global response," write Ray Moynihan and David Henry, guest editors at PLoS Medicine, in their article outlining the problem for the April 2006 issue of the journal. "In our view, disease mongering is the selling of sickness that widens the boundaries of illness and grows the markets for those who sell and deliver treatments."

First Disease Mongering Conference...

Photo credit: Anonymous

Vera Hassner Sharav of the Alliance for Human Research Protection - AHRP - informs that "an Inaugural Conference on Disease-Mongering, April, 11 to 13, is being hosted by the Newcastle Institute of Public Health and School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Newcastle, Australia. The conference program is available from

Sharav adds that an important issue was not included in the conference discussions:

"Big Pharma money and advertising not only influence the perception of illness, the demand for drugs, and the practice of medicine, but government budgets, including health service and oversight agencies have become dependent on Big Pharma money.

An out of the box analysis opened our eyes to a fundamental conflict of interest that has never been discussed. Public health policies are not merely influenced by Big Pharma; they are formulated so as to increase industry’s profits because GOVERNMENT BUDGETS are tied to this industry’s profits." (more...)

While national health services in most developed countries where modern medicine is practiced are all but breaking down under the load of rapidly rising costs, these same services are doing anything possible to facilitate the growth of the pharmaceutical industry. Medicine is largely operated as a business and it is only natural that the maximization of profits would be one of its primary aims. Often profit conflicts with what we see as the aim of medicine - prevention and real healing.

Three broad steps to overcome the predicament

1 - Personal responsibility: First of all, people should be made aware that their health is their own to take care of, and they should be given the tools to do so. This includes information about biochemical facts, health and nutrition, early recognition of signs of disease and prompt preventive intervention with nutrition, including supplements and other non-toxic natural means. We need an operating manual for good health.

2 - Medical pluralism: When disease has developed, the method of treatment should be decided in agreement between medical professional and patient and the choices should include all known methods, regardless of 'general acceptance'. We must strive to overcome the de-facto monopoly of pharma-centered western medicine in treating disease. Once we choose medical pluralism, the most successful treatments will become the most popular.

3 - Real understanding: Research should not be restricted to finding the next new blockbuster drug but should instead lead to understanding biochemical pathways and the human body's own mechanisms of protection and real healing. The aim would be to allow medicine, with simple interventions, to help human bodies heal themselves while abstaining from damaging interventions that merely suppress symptoms.

Certainly, these are far reaching changes, but the direction is clear: We must choose between pampering an already immensely profitable industry and achieving our goals for public health. In today's world, the two are clearly incompatible.

Further reading and links on Disease Mongering:
Disease Mongering: Corporations Create New 'Illnesses'

Sepp Hasslberger -
Reference: Health Supreme [ Read more ]
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posted by Robin Good on Monday, April 17 2006, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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