Monday, March 30, 2015

Big Pharma loves me . . . or does it?

As a starry eyed newlywed in San Francisco some thirty-three years ago, I bypassed the butter at the supermarket and brought home a tub of semi soft margarine. It was low-cholesterol, made with non-hydrogenated oils, and I felt like a health-conscious, savvy shopper.

My husband Robin was less impressed: "What on earth did you buy that for? I'm not eating that toxic … “(he used a brief, emphatic word unfit for publication). “You’d be better off with butter.”

Now, the annoying thing about Robin is that, at least in matters medical, he’s always right. Watching TV medical dramas, he beats the doc to a diagnosis every time. This shouldn't really surprise me given the impressive list of his medical credentials, but it’s still annoying.

In The Case Of The Soft Margarine, I rose to the defense of my purchase: I knew—I had read in a magazine—that hydrogenated fats were bad for you, oils were good. Therefore soft margarine was infinitely preferable to its hard cousin, stick margarine, or worse yet, butter. Research had proven it—scientific research.

The very mention of "research" brought on a whole stream of brief emphatic words; apparently this was something of a sore point with my husband. I soon found out why.

Robin had spent two years at one of the nation’s top medical schools, researching the causes of high cholesterol. He found that the liver manufactures approximately 80% of the cholesterol found in the blood; only the remaining 20% is dietary. So, assuming an impossibly rigorous diet with zero cholesterol, the greatest possible reduction would be a measly twenty percent. Moreover, it seemed that the liver would simply crank up its production to make up the dietary shortfall. He asked the obvious question, one nobody else seemed to be asking: what causes the liver to over-produce cholesterol, and how can it be regulated?

Following their doctors’ advice, millions of Americans take statins to lower their cholesterol. They endure unpleasant side effects in the hope of avoiding heart attacks, strokes, and premature death.  Robin’s research held out the promise of a non-toxic, low-cost way to help the liver regulate itself. The impact would be felt globally—statins are the most widely prescribed drug in the world. He typed up his proposal, got the approval of the head of department, sent it to the National Institutes of Health, and waited. 

The verdict came back: “Approved but not funded.” He tweaked the proposal a little to make it even more elegant and resubmitted it. Same result.

His head of department told him why it would never be funded: the good folk at the National Institutes of Health were not about to sanction any research that would hurt their friends in the drug industry. And if Robin’s hunch was correct, and a few dollars worth of thyroid hormone each month would regulate cholesterol production and make statins irrelevant, it would bankrupt the drug companies who are making billions of dollars per year from the sale of statins. That’s right, billions. From statins alone. Now, if there’s one thing the drug companies know how to do, it’s make a profit: in 2005, the thirty-three major drug companies made more money than the rest of the Fortune 500 combined. With stakes like these, small wonder the NIH only funds “research” that safeguards Big Pharma’s bottom line.

It’s amazing how many congressmen a few billion dollars can buy.

Hmm, I thought, if money is more important than saving patients from heart attacks and strokes, what about vaccines? Might the same principle apply? I set about some research of my own, No Funding Required.

What I discovered will be the subject of another blog.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Can Two Great Danes Fill an Empty Nest?

The great exodus occurs, the children leave home. Whether you call it an empty nest or a successful launching pad, the result is the same: a silent house. Not so for me! By a great accident of serendipity, my two Great Danes seized the opportunity to fill the silence: they began to speak.

While seated at my computer the other morning I became aware that I was being watched, and that intently. Glancing over at the dog bed I saw Percy stretched out, sound asleep and snoring like a drunken sailor. Next to my chair stood Froby with an agonized expression on his face.

Let me tell you about Froby. We found him, age 7 months, at the animal shelter; he had been rescued from a life of at best neglect, at worst downright abuse. He looked like a walking skeleton and was virtually wild. Taming him was a labor of love that stretched into months, and is still very much a work in progress three years later. Froby has no idea how terrifyingly vast he is, and is scared stiff of everything from a rabbit to an open door. His body language more closely resembles a deer than a dog.

Thinking that a second dog might help to calm his many neuroses, we agreed to take on Percy (short for Persephone), also 7 months, who had ridden down from Bakersfield in the back of a pickup truck when her owners discovered that it takes a tidy sum to feed a Great Dane. Rather like a canine Marilyn Monroe, Percy makes up for what she lacks in moral fiber by looking irresistible. I like to imagine her arrival in Ojai wearing Marilyn’s trademark headscarf and sunglasses. She would have looked so cool!

Percy relies heavily on her looks. Unfortunately for her, Froby has a highly developed sense of justice that is not to be swayed by her beauty. So when Percy took over the whole L.L. Bean Extra-Large dog bed, what could Froby do but appeal to higher authority, to wit, me. "Mum," he said (he gets his English accent from me), "Mum, Percy's in my bed." Then, seeing that I made no move to eject her, he raised the volume and tried again. "I said, MUM!” (this time he barked my name), “Percy's in my bed and she's taking up all her side AND all of mine and It’s Not Fair"!

Percy stopped snoring. One eye opened a slit and promptly closed. Without uttering a sound, she said clearly, “I’m not listening,” and resumed her slumbers.

I contemplated the odds of moving either of them. Froby tips the scales at around 130 pounds, Percy at 120 or so. If they don’t want to move, there is nothing I can do to make them. Happily, I managed to persuade Percy to bend her knees enough to make room for Froby.

You might think that, once they’d proved that there was plenty of room for two, the sharing problem would be at an end. Nothing could be further from the truth! In this the dog bed acts very much like the backseat of the car, where a misplaced elbow or hip can cause a monstrous dispute.
Today, however, all is quiet; Percy nabbed the bed, leaving Froby the ancient wicker loveseat. The only sounds are the dogs’ heavy breathing and the ticking of the grandfather clock.

It sounds suspiciously like the silence of an empty nest.

I wonder if the shelter knows of another Great Dane in need of adoption—preferably a nice talkative one. 

Percy takes up the whole bed,

but she can also look tiny.

Froby relegated to the love-seat

We'll share, as long as I don't have to touch him.