Ginger Root for Migraines

Ginger Root for Migraines.jpeg

Many successful herbal treatments start like this: Some doctor learns that some plant has been used in some ancient medical tradition, like ginger for headaches. Well, the physician has patients with headaches and so tries advising one with migraines to give it a try since it's just some safe, common spice. At the first sign of a migraine coming on, the patient mixed a quarter teaspoon of powdered ginger in some water, drank it down, and poof! Within a half-hour, the migraine went away. It worked every time for them with no side effects. That's what's called a case report.

In my video, Ginger for Migraines, I show the remarkable case report, but case reports are really just glorified anecdotes. Case reports have played an important role in the history of medicine, though. AIDS was first discovered as a series of case reports. Some young guy walks into a clinic in Los Angeles with a bad case of thrush, and the rest is history. Reports of an unusual side effect of a failed chest pain drug led to the billion-dollar blockbuster, Viagra. Case reports may represent the weakest level of evidence, but they are often the first line of evidence, where everything starts. The ginger and migraine report isn't helpful in itself, but it can inspire researchers to put the treatment to the test.

The problem is, who's going to fund it? The market for migraine drugs is worth billions of dollars. A quarter teaspoon of powdered ginger costs about a penny. Who would fund a study pitting ginger versus the leading migraine drug?

No one... that is, until now. A double-blinded, randomized, controlled, clinical trial compared the efficacy of ginger to sumatriptan, also known as Imitrex, one of the top-selling billion-dollar drugs in the world in the treatment of migraine headaches. Researchers tried using only one-eighth of a teaspoon of powdered ginger versus a good dose of the drug.

They both worked just as well and just as fast.

Most patients started out in moderate or severe pain but, after taking the ginger or the drug, ended up in mild pain or completely pain-free. The same proportion of migraine sufferers reported satisfaction with the results either way. As far as I'm concerned, ginger won--not only because it's a few billion dollars cheaper than the drug, but because there were significantly fewer side effects in the ginger group. People taking sumatriptan reported dizziness, a sedative effect, vertigo, and heartburn. The only thing reported for ginger was an upset tummy in about 1 out of 25 people. (As a note of caution, taking a whole tablespoon of ginger powder at one time on an empty stomach could irritate anyone's stomach.)

An eighth of a teaspoon of ginger is not only up to 3000-times cheaper than the drug, but you're also less likely to end up as a case report yourself of someone who had a heart attack or died after taking the drug--tragedies that have occurred due to sumatriptan.

These are my favorite kinds of posts to do because I can offer something that is immediately practical, cheap, safe, and effective to reduce suffering. If this kind of information helps you or someone you love, I hope you'll consider making a tax-deductible donation to support the nonprofit organization that runs NutritionFacts.org. We have a growing staff and server costs to cover, and any help you could give would be much appreciated (and there are perks!).

For more on ginger root:

Avoiding aspartame (Aspartame and the Brain) and using lavender may also help (Lavender for Migraine Headaches). If you have cluster headaches, ask your physician about capsaicin (Hot Sauce in the Nose for Cluster Headaches?).

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank

Original Link

Ginger Root for Migraines

Ginger Root for Migraines.jpeg

Many successful herbal treatments start like this: Some doctor learns that some plant has been used in some ancient medical tradition, like ginger for headaches. Well, the physician has patients with headaches and so tries advising one with migraines to give it a try since it's just some safe, common spice. At the first sign of a migraine coming on, the patient mixed a quarter teaspoon of powdered ginger in some water, drank it down, and poof! Within a half-hour, the migraine went away. It worked every time for them with no side effects. That's what's called a case report.

In my video, Ginger for Migraines, I show the remarkable case report, but case reports are really just glorified anecdotes. Case reports have played an important role in the history of medicine, though. AIDS was first discovered as a series of case reports. Some young guy walks into a clinic in Los Angeles with a bad case of thrush, and the rest is history. Reports of an unusual side effect of a failed chest pain drug led to the billion-dollar blockbuster, Viagra. Case reports may represent the weakest level of evidence, but they are often the first line of evidence, where everything starts. The ginger and migraine report isn't helpful in itself, but it can inspire researchers to put the treatment to the test.

The problem is, who's going to fund it? The market for migraine drugs is worth billions of dollars. A quarter teaspoon of powdered ginger costs about a penny. Who would fund a study pitting ginger versus the leading migraine drug?

No one... that is, until now. A double-blinded, randomized, controlled, clinical trial compared the efficacy of ginger to sumatriptan, also known as Imitrex, one of the top-selling billion-dollar drugs in the world in the treatment of migraine headaches. Researchers tried using only one-eighth of a teaspoon of powdered ginger versus a good dose of the drug.

They both worked just as well and just as fast.

Most patients started out in moderate or severe pain but, after taking the ginger or the drug, ended up in mild pain or completely pain-free. The same proportion of migraine sufferers reported satisfaction with the results either way. As far as I'm concerned, ginger won--not only because it's a few billion dollars cheaper than the drug, but because there were significantly fewer side effects in the ginger group. People taking sumatriptan reported dizziness, a sedative effect, vertigo, and heartburn. The only thing reported for ginger was an upset tummy in about 1 out of 25 people. (As a note of caution, taking a whole tablespoon of ginger powder at one time on an empty stomach could irritate anyone's stomach.)

An eighth of a teaspoon of ginger is not only up to 3000-times cheaper than the drug, but you're also less likely to end up as a case report yourself of someone who had a heart attack or died after taking the drug--tragedies that have occurred due to sumatriptan.

These are my favorite kinds of posts to do because I can offer something that is immediately practical, cheap, safe, and effective to reduce suffering. If this kind of information helps you or someone you love, I hope you'll consider making a tax-deductible donation to support the nonprofit organization that runs NutritionFacts.org. We have a growing staff and server costs to cover, and any help you could give would be much appreciated (and there are perks!).

For more on ginger root:

Avoiding aspartame (Aspartame and the Brain) and using lavender may also help (Lavender for Migraine Headaches). If you have cluster headaches, ask your physician about capsaicin (Hot Sauce in the Nose for Cluster Headaches?).

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank

Original Link

What Happened to the Rice Diet?

What Happened to the Rice Diet?.jpeg

During his career at Duke, Dr. Walter Kempner treated more than 18,000 patients with his rice diet. The diet was originally designed as a treatment for kidney failure and out-of-control high blood pressure at a time when these diagnoses were essentially a death sentence. Patients who would have died in all other hospitals had a reasonable chance for survival if they came under Kempner's care.

The results were so dramatic that many experienced physicians suspected him of falsifying data, because he was essentially reversing terminal diseases with rice and fruit, diseases understood to be incurable by the best of modern medicine at the time. Intensive investigations into his clinic vindicated his work, however, which other researchers were then able to replicate and validate.

Kempner was criticized for his lack of controls, meaning that when patients came to him he didn't randomly allocate half to his rice treatment and put the other half on conventional therapy. Kempner argued that the patients each acted as their own controls. For example, one patient, after the medical profession threw everything they had at him, still had blood pressure as high as 220 over 160. A normal blood pressure is considered to be around 120 over 80--which is where Kempner's rice diet took him. Had the patient not been given the rice diet, his pressures might have been even lower, though: zero over zero, because he'd likely be dead. The "control group" in Kempner's day had a survival expectancy estimated at 6 months. To randomize patients to conventional care would be to randomize them to their deaths.

We can also compare those who stuck to the diet to those who didn't. In one study, of those who started the rice diet but then stopped it within a year, 80% died. For those who made it a year but then gave up the diet, instead of an 80% chance of dying, they had about a 50% chance, a flip of the coin. Of those that stuck with the program, 90% lived to tell the tale.

Beginning in the late 1950's, drugs became available that effectively reduced blood pressure and hypertension, leading to a decreased demand for the rice diet. What conclusions can we draw from this all-but-forgotten therapy for hypertension? Not only was it the first effective therapy for high blood pressure, it may be equal to or more effective than our current multi-drug treatments. See Drugs & the Demise of the Rice Diet.

This causes one to speculate on the current practice of placing patients on one drug, then another, and perhaps a third until the blood pressure is controlled, with lip-service advocacy of a moderate reduction in dietary sodium, fat, and protein intake. At the same time, the impressive effectiveness of the rice-fruit diet, which is able to quickly stop the leakage from our arteries, lower increased intracranial pressure, reduce heart size, reverse the ECG changes, reverse heart failure, reduce weight, and markedly improve diabetes, is ignored.

Should we return to the Kempner protocol of starting with the most effective therapy, saving drugs for patients who fail to respond or who are unable or unwilling to restrict their diet? Today many people follow a plant-based diet as a choice, which is similar to what Kempner was often able to transition people to. After their high blood pressure was cured by the rice diet, patients were often able to gradually transition to a less strenuous dietary regime without adding medications and with no return of the elevated blood pressure.

If the Kempner sequence of a strictest of strict plant-based diets to a saner plant-based type diet offers the quickest and best approach to effective therapy, why isn't it still in greater use? The powerful role of the pharmaceutical industry in steering medical care away from dietary treatment to medications should be noted. Who profits from dietary treatment? Who provides the support for investigation and the funds for clinical trials? There is more to overcome than just the patient's reluctance to change their diet.

What Kempner wrote to a patient in 1954 is as true now as it was 60 years ago:

"[D]rugs can be very useful if properly employed and used in conjunction with intensive dietary treatment. However, the real difficulty is that Hypertensive Vascular Disease with all its possible complications--heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, blindness--is still treated very casually, a striking contrast to the attitude toward cancer. Since patients, physicians, and the chemical industry prefer the taking, prescribing, and selling of drugs to a treatment inconvenient to patient and physician and of no benefit to the pharmaceutical industry, the mortality figures for these diseases are still rather appalling."

Despite hundreds of drugs on the market now, high blood pressure remains the #1 cause of death and disability in the world, killing off 9 million people a year. A whole food plant-based diet treats the underlying cause. As Dr. Kempner explained to a patient, "If you should find a heap of manure on your living room floor, I do not recommend that you go buy some Air-Wick [an air freshener] and perfume. I recommend that you get a bucket and shovel and a strong scrubbing brush. Then, when your living room floor is clean again, why, you may certainly apply some Air-Wick if you wish."

As the great physician Maimonides said about 800 years ago, any illness that can be treated by diet alone should be treated by no other means.

For background on this amazing story, see Kempner Rice Diet: Whipping Us Into Shape. He would be proud that there is a whole medical specialty now: Lifestyle Medicine: Treating the Causes of Disease.

This reminds me of the role statin cholesterol-lowering drugs have played in seducing people into the magic bullet approach, but as with all magic it appears to mostly be misdirection:

Check out a couple of my recent overview videos for more on this topic: How Not to Die from Heart Disease and Taking Personal Responsibility for Your Health.

In this day and age, What Diet Should Physician's Recommend?

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank / Flickr. Image has been modified.

Original Link

What Happened to the Rice Diet?

What Happened to the Rice Diet?.jpeg

During his career at Duke, Dr. Walter Kempner treated more than 18,000 patients with his rice diet. The diet was originally designed as a treatment for kidney failure and out-of-control high blood pressure at a time when these diagnoses were essentially a death sentence. Patients who would have died in all other hospitals had a reasonable chance for survival if they came under Kempner's care.

The results were so dramatic that many experienced physicians suspected him of falsifying data, because he was essentially reversing terminal diseases with rice and fruit, diseases understood to be incurable by the best of modern medicine at the time. Intensive investigations into his clinic vindicated his work, however, which other researchers were then able to replicate and validate.

Kempner was criticized for his lack of controls, meaning that when patients came to him he didn't randomly allocate half to his rice treatment and put the other half on conventional therapy. Kempner argued that the patients each acted as their own controls. For example, one patient, after the medical profession threw everything they had at him, still had blood pressure as high as 220 over 160. A normal blood pressure is considered to be around 120 over 80--which is where Kempner's rice diet took him. Had the patient not been given the rice diet, his pressures might have been even lower, though: zero over zero, because he'd likely be dead. The "control group" in Kempner's day had a survival expectancy estimated at 6 months. To randomize patients to conventional care would be to randomize them to their deaths.

We can also compare those who stuck to the diet to those who didn't. In one study, of those who started the rice diet but then stopped it within a year, 80% died. For those who made it a year but then gave up the diet, instead of an 80% chance of dying, they had about a 50% chance, a flip of the coin. Of those that stuck with the program, 90% lived to tell the tale.

Beginning in the late 1950's, drugs became available that effectively reduced blood pressure and hypertension, leading to a decreased demand for the rice diet. What conclusions can we draw from this all-but-forgotten therapy for hypertension? Not only was it the first effective therapy for high blood pressure, it may be equal to or more effective than our current multi-drug treatments. See Drugs & the Demise of the Rice Diet.

This causes one to speculate on the current practice of placing patients on one drug, then another, and perhaps a third until the blood pressure is controlled, with lip-service advocacy of a moderate reduction in dietary sodium, fat, and protein intake. At the same time, the impressive effectiveness of the rice-fruit diet, which is able to quickly stop the leakage from our arteries, lower increased intracranial pressure, reduce heart size, reverse the ECG changes, reverse heart failure, reduce weight, and markedly improve diabetes, is ignored.

Should we return to the Kempner protocol of starting with the most effective therapy, saving drugs for patients who fail to respond or who are unable or unwilling to restrict their diet? Today many people follow a plant-based diet as a choice, which is similar to what Kempner was often able to transition people to. After their high blood pressure was cured by the rice diet, patients were often able to gradually transition to a less strenuous dietary regime without adding medications and with no return of the elevated blood pressure.

If the Kempner sequence of a strictest of strict plant-based diets to a saner plant-based type diet offers the quickest and best approach to effective therapy, why isn't it still in greater use? The powerful role of the pharmaceutical industry in steering medical care away from dietary treatment to medications should be noted. Who profits from dietary treatment? Who provides the support for investigation and the funds for clinical trials? There is more to overcome than just the patient's reluctance to change their diet.

What Kempner wrote to a patient in 1954 is as true now as it was 60 years ago:

"[D]rugs can be very useful if properly employed and used in conjunction with intensive dietary treatment. However, the real difficulty is that Hypertensive Vascular Disease with all its possible complications--heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, blindness--is still treated very casually, a striking contrast to the attitude toward cancer. Since patients, physicians, and the chemical industry prefer the taking, prescribing, and selling of drugs to a treatment inconvenient to patient and physician and of no benefit to the pharmaceutical industry, the mortality figures for these diseases are still rather appalling."

Despite hundreds of drugs on the market now, high blood pressure remains the #1 cause of death and disability in the world, killing off 9 million people a year. A whole food plant-based diet treats the underlying cause. As Dr. Kempner explained to a patient, "If you should find a heap of manure on your living room floor, I do not recommend that you go buy some Air-Wick [an air freshener] and perfume. I recommend that you get a bucket and shovel and a strong scrubbing brush. Then, when your living room floor is clean again, why, you may certainly apply some Air-Wick if you wish."

As the great physician Maimonides said about 800 years ago, any illness that can be treated by diet alone should be treated by no other means.

For background on this amazing story, see Kempner Rice Diet: Whipping Us Into Shape. He would be proud that there is a whole medical specialty now: Lifestyle Medicine: Treating the Causes of Disease.

This reminds me of the role statin cholesterol-lowering drugs have played in seducing people into the magic bullet approach, but as with all magic it appears to mostly be misdirection:

Check out a couple of my recent overview videos for more on this topic: How Not to Die from Heart Disease and Taking Personal Responsibility for Your Health.

In this day and age, What Diet Should Physician's Recommend?

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Sally Plank / Flickr. Image has been modified.

Original Link

White Meat May Be as Cholesterol-Raising as Red

White Meat May Be as Cholesterol-Raising as Red.jpeg

In light of recommendations for heart healthy eating from national professional organizations encouraging Americans to limit their intake of meat, the beef industry commissioned and co-wrote a review of randomized controlled trials comparing the effects of beef versus chicken and fish on cholesterol levels published over the last 60 years. They found that the impact of beef consumption on the cholesterol profile of humans is similar to that of fish and/or poultry--meaning that switching from red meat to white meat likely wouldn't make any difference. And that's really no surprise, given how fat we've genetically manipulated chickens to be these days, up to ten times more fat than they had a century ago (see Does Eating Obesity Cause Obesity?).

There are a number of cuts of beef that have less cholesterol-raising saturated fat than chicken (see BOLD Indeed: Beef Lowers Cholesterol?), so it's not so surprising that white meat was found to be no better than red, but the beef industry researchers conclusion was that "therefore you can eat beef as part of a balanced diet to manage your cholesterol."

Think of the Coke versus Pepsi analogy. Coke has less sugar than Pepsi: 15 spoonfuls of sugar per bottle instead of 16. If studies on blood sugar found no difference between drinking Coke versus Pepsi, you wouldn't conclude that "Pepsi may be considered when recommending diets for the management of blood sugars," you'd say they're both equally as bad so we should ideally consume neither.

That's a standard drug industry trick. You don't compare your fancy new drug to the best out there, but to some miserable drug to make yours look better. Note they didn't compare beef to plant proteins, like in this study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. As I started reading it, though, I was surprised that they found no benefit of switching to a plant protein diet either. What were they eating? You can see the comparison in Switching from Beef to Chicken & Fish May Not Lower Cholesterol.

For breakfast, the plant group got a kidney bean and tomato casserole and a salad, instead of a burger. And for dinner, instead of another burger, the plant protein group just got some boring vegetables. So why was the cholesterol of the plant group as bad as the animal group? They had the plant protein group eating three tablespoons of beef tallow every day--three tablespoons of straight beef fat!

This was part of a series of studies that tried to figure out what was so cholesterol-raising about meat--was it the animal protein or was it the animal fat? So, researchers created fake meat products made to have the same amount of saturated fat and cholesterol by adding extracted animal fats and cholesterol. Who could they get to make such strange concoctions? The Ralston Purina dog food company.

But what's crazy is that even when keeping the saturated animal fat and cholesterol the same (by adding meat fats to the veggie burgers and making the plant group swallow cholesterol pills to equal it out), sometimes they still saw a cholesterol lowering advantage in the plant protein group.

If you switch people from meat to tofu, their cholesterol goes down, but what if you switch them from meat to tofu plus lard? Then their cholesterol may stay the same, though tofu and lard may indeed actually be better than meat, since it may result in less oxidized cholesterol. More on the role of oxidized cholesterol can be found in my videos Does Cholesterol Size Matter? and Arterial Acne.

Just swapping plant protein for animal protein may have advantages, but if you really want to maximize the power of diet to lower cholesterol, you may have to move entirely toward plants. The standard dietary advice to cut down on fatty meat, dairy, and eggs may lower cholesterol 5-10%, but flexitarian or vegetarian diets may drop our levels 10 to 15%, vegan diets 15 to 25%, and healthier vegan diets can cut up to 35%, as seen in this study out of Canada showing a whopping 61 point drop in LDL cholesterol within a matter of weeks.


You thought chicken was a low-fat food? It used to be a century ago, but not anymore. It may even be one of the reasons we're getting fatter as well: Chicken Big: Poultry and Obesity and Infectobesity: Adenovirus 36 and Childhood Obesity.

Isn't protein just protein? How does our body know if it's coming from a plant or an animal? How could it have different effects on cardiovascular risk? See Protein and Heart Disease, another reason why Plant Protein [is] Preferable.

Lowering cholesterol in your blood is as simple as reducing one's intake of three things: Trans Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol: Tolerable Upper Intake of Zero.

What about those news stories on the "vindication" of saturated fat? See the sneaky science in The Saturated Fat Studies: Buttering Up the Public and The Saturated Fat Studies: Set Up to Fail.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: CDC/Debora Cartagena via Freestockphotos.biz. This image has been modified.

Original Link

White Meat May Be as Cholesterol-Raising as Red

White Meat May Be as Cholesterol-Raising as Red.jpeg

In light of recommendations for heart healthy eating from national professional organizations encouraging Americans to limit their intake of meat, the beef industry commissioned and co-wrote a review of randomized controlled trials comparing the effects of beef versus chicken and fish on cholesterol levels published over the last 60 years. They found that the impact of beef consumption on the cholesterol profile of humans is similar to that of fish and/or poultry--meaning that switching from red meat to white meat likely wouldn't make any difference. And that's really no surprise, given how fat we've genetically manipulated chickens to be these days, up to ten times more fat than they had a century ago (see Does Eating Obesity Cause Obesity?).

There are a number of cuts of beef that have less cholesterol-raising saturated fat than chicken (see BOLD Indeed: Beef Lowers Cholesterol?), so it's not so surprising that white meat was found to be no better than red, but the beef industry researchers conclusion was that "therefore you can eat beef as part of a balanced diet to manage your cholesterol."

Think of the Coke versus Pepsi analogy. Coke has less sugar than Pepsi: 15 spoonfuls of sugar per bottle instead of 16. If studies on blood sugar found no difference between drinking Coke versus Pepsi, you wouldn't conclude that "Pepsi may be considered when recommending diets for the management of blood sugars," you'd say they're both equally as bad so we should ideally consume neither.

That's a standard drug industry trick. You don't compare your fancy new drug to the best out there, but to some miserable drug to make yours look better. Note they didn't compare beef to plant proteins, like in this study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. As I started reading it, though, I was surprised that they found no benefit of switching to a plant protein diet either. What were they eating? You can see the comparison in Switching from Beef to Chicken & Fish May Not Lower Cholesterol.

For breakfast, the plant group got a kidney bean and tomato casserole and a salad, instead of a burger. And for dinner, instead of another burger, the plant protein group just got some boring vegetables. So why was the cholesterol of the plant group as bad as the animal group? They had the plant protein group eating three tablespoons of beef tallow every day--three tablespoons of straight beef fat!

This was part of a series of studies that tried to figure out what was so cholesterol-raising about meat--was it the animal protein or was it the animal fat? So, researchers created fake meat products made to have the same amount of saturated fat and cholesterol by adding extracted animal fats and cholesterol. Who could they get to make such strange concoctions? The Ralston Purina dog food company.

But what's crazy is that even when keeping the saturated animal fat and cholesterol the same (by adding meat fats to the veggie burgers and making the plant group swallow cholesterol pills to equal it out), sometimes they still saw a cholesterol lowering advantage in the plant protein group.

If you switch people from meat to tofu, their cholesterol goes down, but what if you switch them from meat to tofu plus lard? Then their cholesterol may stay the same, though tofu and lard may indeed actually be better than meat, since it may result in less oxidized cholesterol. More on the role of oxidized cholesterol can be found in my videos Does Cholesterol Size Matter? and Arterial Acne.

Just swapping plant protein for animal protein may have advantages, but if you really want to maximize the power of diet to lower cholesterol, you may have to move entirely toward plants. The standard dietary advice to cut down on fatty meat, dairy, and eggs may lower cholesterol 5-10%, but flexitarian or vegetarian diets may drop our levels 10 to 15%, vegan diets 15 to 25%, and healthier vegan diets can cut up to 35%, as seen in this study out of Canada showing a whopping 61 point drop in LDL cholesterol within a matter of weeks.


You thought chicken was a low-fat food? It used to be a century ago, but not anymore. It may even be one of the reasons we're getting fatter as well: Chicken Big: Poultry and Obesity and Infectobesity: Adenovirus 36 and Childhood Obesity.

Isn't protein just protein? How does our body know if it's coming from a plant or an animal? How could it have different effects on cardiovascular risk? See Protein and Heart Disease, another reason why Plant Protein [is] Preferable.

Lowering cholesterol in your blood is as simple as reducing one's intake of three things: Trans Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol: Tolerable Upper Intake of Zero.

What about those news stories on the "vindication" of saturated fat? See the sneaky science in The Saturated Fat Studies: Buttering Up the Public and The Saturated Fat Studies: Set Up to Fail.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: CDC/Debora Cartagena via Freestockphotos.biz. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Are Sugar Pills Better than Antidepressant Drugs?

Do Antidepressant Drugs Really Work.jpg

We've learned that exercise compares favorably to antidepressant medications as a first-line treatment for mild to moderate depression (in my video Exercise vs. Drugs for Depression). But how much is that really saying? How effective are antidepressant drugs in the first place?

A recent meta-analysis sparked huge scientific and public controversy by stating that the placebo effect can explain the apparent clinical benefits of antidepressants. But aren't there thousands of clinical trials providing compelling evidence for antidepressant effectiveness? If a meta-analysis compiles together all the best published research, how could it say they don't work much better than sugar pills?

The key word is "published."

What if a drug company decided only to publish studies that showed a positive effect, but quietly shelved and concealed any studies showing the drug didn't work? If you didn't know any better, you'd look at the published medical literature and think "Wow, this drug is great." And what if all the drug companies did that? To find out if this was the case, researchers applied to the FDA under the Freedom of Information Act to get access to the published and unpublished studies submitted by pharmaceutical companies, and what they found was shocking.

According to the published literature, the results of nearly all the trials of antidepressants were positive, meaning they worked. In contrast, FDA analysis of the trial data showed only roughly half of the trials had positive results. In other words, about half the studies showed the drugs didn't work. Thus, when published and unpublished data are combined, they fail to show a clinically significant advantage for antidepressant medication over a sugar pill. Not publishing negative results undermines evidence-based medicine and puts millions of patients at risk for using ineffective or unsafe drugs, and this was the case with these antidepressant drugs.

These revelations hit first in 2008. Prozac, Serzone, Paxil and Effexor worked, but so did sugar pills, and the difference between the drug and placebo was small. That was 2008. Where were we by 2014? Analyses of the published data and the unpublished data that were hidden by drug companies reveals that most (if not all) of the benefits of antidepressants are due to the placebo effect. And what's even worse, Freedom of Information Act documents show the FDA knew about it but made an explicit decision to keep this information from the public and from prescribing physicians.

How could drug companies get away with this?

The pharmaceutical industry is considered the most profitable and politically influential industry in the United States, and mental illness can be thought of as the drug industry's golden goose: incurable, common, long term and involving multiple medications. Antidepressant medications are prescribed to 8.7 percent of the U.S. population. It's a multi-billion dollar market.

To summarize, there is a strong therapeutic response to antidepressant medication; it's just that the response to placebo is almost as strong. Indeed, antidepressants offer substantial benefits to millions of people suffering from depression, and to cast them as ineffective is inaccurate. Just because they may not work better than fake pills doesn't mean they don't work. It's like homeopathy--just because it doesn't work better than the sugar pills, doesn't mean that homeopathy doesn't work. The placebo effect is real and powerful.

In one psychopharmacology journal, a psychiatrist funded by the Prozac company defends the drugs stating, "A key issue is disregarded by the naysaying critics. If the patient is benefiting from antidepressant treatment does it matter whether this is being achieved via drug or placebo effects?"

Of course it matters!

Among the side effects of antidepressants are: sexual dysfunction in up to three quarters of people, long-term weight gain, insomnia, nausea and diarrhea. About one in five show withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit. And perhaps more tragically, the drugs may make people more likely to become depressed in the future. Let me say that again: People are more likely to become depressed after treatment by antidepressants than after treatment by other means - including placebo.

So if doctors are willing to give patients placebo-equivalent treatments, maybe it'd be better for them to just lie to patients and give them actual sugar pills. Yes, that involves deception, but isn't that preferable than deception with a side of side effects? See more on this in my video Do Antidepressant Drugs Really Work?

If different treatments are equally effective, then choice should be based on risk and harm, and of all of the available treatments, antidepressant drugs may be among the riskiest and most harmful. If they are to be used at all, it should be as a last resort, when depression is extremely severe and all other treatment alternatives have been tried and failed.

Antidepressants may not work better than placebo for mild and moderate depression, but for very severe depression, the drugs do beat out sugar pills. But that's just a small fraction of the people taking these drugs. That means that the vast majority of depressed patients--as many as nine out of ten--are being prescribed medications that have negligible benefits to them.

Too many doctors quickly decide upon a depression diagnosis without necessarily listening to what the patient has to say and end up putting them on antidepressants without considering alternatives. And fortunately, there are effective alternatives. Physical exercise, for example can have lasting effects, and if that turns out to also be a placebo effect, it is at least a placebo with an enviable list of side effects. Whereas side effects of antidepressants include things like sexual dysfunction and insomnia, side effects of exercise include enhanced libido, better sleep, decreased body fat, improved muscle tone and a longer life.


There are other ways meta-analyses can be misleading. See The Saturated Fat Studies: Buttering Up the Public and The Saturated Fat Studies: Set Up to Fail.

More on the ethical challenges facing doctors and whether or not to prescribe sugar pills in The Lie That Heals: Should Doctors Give Placebos?

I've used the Freedom of Information Act myself to get access to behind the scenes industry shenanigans. See, for example, what I found out about the egg industry in Who Says Eggs Aren't Healthy or Safe? and Eggs and Cholesterol: Patently False and Misleading Claims.

This isn't the only case of the medical profession overselling the benefits of drugs. See How Smoking in 1956 is Like Eating in 2016, The Actual Benefit of Diet vs. Drugs and Why Prevention is Worth a Ton of Cure (though if you're worried about your mood they might make you even more depressed!)

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: GraphicStock. This image has been modified.

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Are Sugar Pills Better than Antidepressant Drugs?

Do Antidepressant Drugs Really Work.jpg

We've learned that exercise compares favorably to antidepressant medications as a first-line treatment for mild to moderate depression (in my video Exercise vs. Drugs for Depression). But how much is that really saying? How effective are antidepressant drugs in the first place?

A recent meta-analysis sparked huge scientific and public controversy by stating that the placebo effect can explain the apparent clinical benefits of antidepressants. But aren't there thousands of clinical trials providing compelling evidence for antidepressant effectiveness? If a meta-analysis compiles together all the best published research, how could it say they don't work much better than sugar pills?

The key word is "published."

What if a drug company decided only to publish studies that showed a positive effect, but quietly shelved and concealed any studies showing the drug didn't work? If you didn't know any better, you'd look at the published medical literature and think "Wow, this drug is great." And what if all the drug companies did that? To find out if this was the case, researchers applied to the FDA under the Freedom of Information Act to get access to the published and unpublished studies submitted by pharmaceutical companies, and what they found was shocking.

According to the published literature, the results of nearly all the trials of antidepressants were positive, meaning they worked. In contrast, FDA analysis of the trial data showed only roughly half of the trials had positive results. In other words, about half the studies showed the drugs didn't work. Thus, when published and unpublished data are combined, they fail to show a clinically significant advantage for antidepressant medication over a sugar pill. Not publishing negative results undermines evidence-based medicine and puts millions of patients at risk for using ineffective or unsafe drugs, and this was the case with these antidepressant drugs.

These revelations hit first in 2008. Prozac, Serzone, Paxil and Effexor worked, but so did sugar pills, and the difference between the drug and placebo was small. That was 2008. Where were we by 2014? Analyses of the published data and the unpublished data that were hidden by drug companies reveals that most (if not all) of the benefits of antidepressants are due to the placebo effect. And what's even worse, Freedom of Information Act documents show the FDA knew about it but made an explicit decision to keep this information from the public and from prescribing physicians.

How could drug companies get away with this?

The pharmaceutical industry is considered the most profitable and politically influential industry in the United States, and mental illness can be thought of as the drug industry's golden goose: incurable, common, long term and involving multiple medications. Antidepressant medications are prescribed to 8.7 percent of the U.S. population. It's a multi-billion dollar market.

To summarize, there is a strong therapeutic response to antidepressant medication; it's just that the response to placebo is almost as strong. Indeed, antidepressants offer substantial benefits to millions of people suffering from depression, and to cast them as ineffective is inaccurate. Just because they may not work better than fake pills doesn't mean they don't work. It's like homeopathy--just because it doesn't work better than the sugar pills, doesn't mean that homeopathy doesn't work. The placebo effect is real and powerful.

In one psychopharmacology journal, a psychiatrist funded by the Prozac company defends the drugs stating, "A key issue is disregarded by the naysaying critics. If the patient is benefiting from antidepressant treatment does it matter whether this is being achieved via drug or placebo effects?"

Of course it matters!

Among the side effects of antidepressants are: sexual dysfunction in up to three quarters of people, long-term weight gain, insomnia, nausea and diarrhea. About one in five show withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit. And perhaps more tragically, the drugs may make people more likely to become depressed in the future. Let me say that again: People are more likely to become depressed after treatment by antidepressants than after treatment by other means - including placebo.

So if doctors are willing to give patients placebo-equivalent treatments, maybe it'd be better for them to just lie to patients and give them actual sugar pills. Yes, that involves deception, but isn't that preferable than deception with a side of side effects? See more on this in my video Do Antidepressant Drugs Really Work?

If different treatments are equally effective, then choice should be based on risk and harm, and of all of the available treatments, antidepressant drugs may be among the riskiest and most harmful. If they are to be used at all, it should be as a last resort, when depression is extremely severe and all other treatment alternatives have been tried and failed.

Antidepressants may not work better than placebo for mild and moderate depression, but for very severe depression, the drugs do beat out sugar pills. But that's just a small fraction of the people taking these drugs. That means that the vast majority of depressed patients--as many as nine out of ten--are being prescribed medications that have negligible benefits to them.

Too many doctors quickly decide upon a depression diagnosis without necessarily listening to what the patient has to say and end up putting them on antidepressants without considering alternatives. And fortunately, there are effective alternatives. Physical exercise, for example can have lasting effects, and if that turns out to also be a placebo effect, it is at least a placebo with an enviable list of side effects. Whereas side effects of antidepressants include things like sexual dysfunction and insomnia, side effects of exercise include enhanced libido, better sleep, decreased body fat, improved muscle tone and a longer life.


There are other ways meta-analyses can be misleading. See The Saturated Fat Studies: Buttering Up the Public and The Saturated Fat Studies: Set Up to Fail.

More on the ethical challenges facing doctors and whether or not to prescribe sugar pills in The Lie That Heals: Should Doctors Give Placebos?

I've used the Freedom of Information Act myself to get access to behind the scenes industry shenanigans. See, for example, what I found out about the egg industry in Who Says Eggs Aren't Healthy or Safe? and Eggs and Cholesterol: Patently False and Misleading Claims.

This isn't the only case of the medical profession overselling the benefits of drugs. See How Smoking in 1956 is Like Eating in 2016, The Actual Benefit of Diet vs. Drugs and Why Prevention is Worth a Ton of Cure (though if you're worried about your mood they might make you even more depressed!)

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: GraphicStock. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Improving Employee Diets Could Save Companies Millions

Plant-Based Workplace Intervention.jpg

The food, alcohol, and tobacco industries have been blamed for "manufacturing epidemics" of chronic disease, but they're just trying to sell more product like everyone else. And so if that means distorting science, creating front groups, compromising scientists, blocking public health policies... they're just trying to protect their business.

It's not about customer satisfaction, but shareholder satisfaction. How else could we have tobacco companies, for example, "continuing to produce products that kill one in two of their most loyal customers?"

Civil society organizations concerned with public health have earned a reputation for being "anti-industry," but the issue is not industry, but that sector of industry whose products are harmful to public health. We like the broccoli industry. In fact, the corporate world might end up leading the lifestyle medicine revolution.

As shown in my video, Plant-Based Workplace Intervention, the annual cost attributable to obesity alone among full-time employees is estimated at 70 billion dollars, primarily because obese employees are not as productive on the job. Having healthy employees is good for the bottom-line. Every dollar spent on wellness programs may offer a $3 return on investment. And if you track the market performance of companies that strive to nurture a culture of health, they appear to outperform their competition.

That's why companies like GEICO are exploring workplace dietary interventions (see my video, Slimming the Gecko). The remarkable success at GEICO headquarters led to an expansion of the program at corporate offices across the country, with test sites from San Diego to Macon, Georgia. Given that previous workplace studies have found that workers who ate a lot of animal protein had nearly five times the odds of obesity, whereas those that ate mostly plant protein appeared protected, obese and diabetic employees were asked to follow a plant-based diet of whole grains, vegetables, beans, and fruit while avoiding meat, dairy, and eggs. Compliance wasn't great. Fewer than half really got their animal product consumption down, but there were definitely improvements such as significant reductions in saturated fat, an increase in protective nutrients, and even noted weight loss, lower blood cholesterol levers, and better blood sugar control in diabetics.

And this was with no calorie counting, no portion control, and no exercise component. The weight reduction appears to result from feeling fuller earlier, due to higher dietary fiber intake. The difference in weight loss could also be the result of an increase in the thermic effect of food, allowing a small extra edge for weight loss in the vegan group. Those eating plant-based diets tend to burn off more calories in heat.

Eating plants appears to boost metabolism. This may be due to increased insulin sensitivity in cells, allowing cells to metabolize carbohydrates more quickly rather than storing them as body fat. "As a result, vegan diets have been shown to increase postprandial calorie burn by about 16%, up to three hours after consuming a meal."

Imagine how much money companies that self-insure their employees could save! See, for example:

Find out more on some of the potential downsides of corporate influence in videos like

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Ryan McGuire / Pixabay. This image has been modified.

Original Link

Improving Employee Diets Could Save Companies Millions

Plant-Based Workplace Intervention.jpg

The food, alcohol, and tobacco industries have been blamed for "manufacturing epidemics" of chronic disease, but they're just trying to sell more product like everyone else. And so if that means distorting science, creating front groups, compromising scientists, blocking public health policies... they're just trying to protect their business.

It's not about customer satisfaction, but shareholder satisfaction. How else could we have tobacco companies, for example, "continuing to produce products that kill one in two of their most loyal customers?"

Civil society organizations concerned with public health have earned a reputation for being "anti-industry," but the issue is not industry, but that sector of industry whose products are harmful to public health. We like the broccoli industry. In fact, the corporate world might end up leading the lifestyle medicine revolution.

As shown in my video, Plant-Based Workplace Intervention, the annual cost attributable to obesity alone among full-time employees is estimated at 70 billion dollars, primarily because obese employees are not as productive on the job. Having healthy employees is good for the bottom-line. Every dollar spent on wellness programs may offer a $3 return on investment. And if you track the market performance of companies that strive to nurture a culture of health, they appear to outperform their competition.

That's why companies like GEICO are exploring workplace dietary interventions (see my video, Slimming the Gecko). The remarkable success at GEICO headquarters led to an expansion of the program at corporate offices across the country, with test sites from San Diego to Macon, Georgia. Given that previous workplace studies have found that workers who ate a lot of animal protein had nearly five times the odds of obesity, whereas those that ate mostly plant protein appeared protected, obese and diabetic employees were asked to follow a plant-based diet of whole grains, vegetables, beans, and fruit while avoiding meat, dairy, and eggs. Compliance wasn't great. Fewer than half really got their animal product consumption down, but there were definitely improvements such as significant reductions in saturated fat, an increase in protective nutrients, and even noted weight loss, lower blood cholesterol levers, and better blood sugar control in diabetics.

And this was with no calorie counting, no portion control, and no exercise component. The weight reduction appears to result from feeling fuller earlier, due to higher dietary fiber intake. The difference in weight loss could also be the result of an increase in the thermic effect of food, allowing a small extra edge for weight loss in the vegan group. Those eating plant-based diets tend to burn off more calories in heat.

Eating plants appears to boost metabolism. This may be due to increased insulin sensitivity in cells, allowing cells to metabolize carbohydrates more quickly rather than storing them as body fat. "As a result, vegan diets have been shown to increase postprandial calorie burn by about 16%, up to three hours after consuming a meal."

Imagine how much money companies that self-insure their employees could save! See, for example:

Find out more on some of the potential downsides of corporate influence in videos like

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Ryan McGuire / Pixabay. This image has been modified.

Original Link