03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Healthy Lifestyles Neglected In Favor Of Pharmaceuticals

The headline screamed from the New York Times front page: 'Medicines to Deter Some Cancers Not Taken.' A statement designed to intrigue the reader, the article tells the tale of the ignored pharmaceuticals that can prevent cancer in men and women. Apparently, study after study has shown us that diet and lifestyle choices have little or no impact on your cancer risk, but pharmaceuticals, which are met with indifference by the general public hold the keys to winning the war on cancer. If pharmaceutical companies and their researchers are to be believed, prescription drugs have been the answer to our prayers all along. It's us, silly people who prefer to maintain vital robust health by eating healthy food and exercising regularly rather then relying on the Holy Grail of drugs as they market them to us.

The very credible Gina Kolata, science reporter for the Times since 1987 makes the case that Americans would rather take unproven and risky supplements than take tried and true pharmaceuticals. But who can blame us? Even if all of the evidence presented is accurate (technically the case, but studies like The China Study are ignored and omitted from the discussion here), is it any wonder that people are wary of the effects of pharmaceuticals? With side effects worse than any horror scenario dreamed up by Stephen King (even in small percentages of people) make taking drugs a terrifying option.

With all we know about nutrition's impact on health, to remotely hint that eating a healthy diet and exercising has little if any impact on reducing our risk of disease is irresponsible at best. It's hard enough as it is to encourage Americans to take responsibility for their health by adopting healthy habits. By printing a clearly biased article on the front page, the Times has hammered another nail in the coffin of the country's collective health. To imply that cancer is simply a drug-deficient disease and all we need to stem the tide is more drugs is beyond preposterous.

Many people in the natural health field are outraged by this article, as am I. But to call Ms. Kolata inaccurate would be wrong. Misguided, yes, but technically not inaccurate. Her article is about the drugs that the pharmaceutical industry says can deter cancer...and that they can prove it. I have heard fellow health experts call her reporting inaccurate and misleading. Maybe. My outrage stems from her implication that only drugs can save us from the ravages of cancer and that people, in their ignorance eschew them in favor of natural, unproven methods of maintaining their health.

I was surprised to see Ms Kolata use The Nurses Study as an important reference point. The problem with the study, long refuted (which is what makes her reference to it so surprising) is that it showed no connection between fat intake and breast cancer because it didn't differentiate between animal fat and plant-sourced fat. It has since long been established that a reduced consumption of animal fat lowers the risk of breast cancer. Enormous amounts of data support and prove this, but these studies, like The China Study by T. Colin Campbell was omitted from this piece. And while this article is about the effects of pharmacology on cancer prevention, it's irresponsible to omit the proven impact of a healthy lifestyle on cancer risk.

This article seems to point to the idea that people would fare much better in their fight to prevent cancer by taking drugs with side effects, while ignoring the important and significant work of medical experts like Dr Dean Ornish (, T. Colin Campell and Dr Neal Barnard, all of whom have shown irrefutably that people thrive and reduce their risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke by adopting a plant-based diet. Inaddition, their work has shown that altering one's lifestyle and diet creates an ability to actually reverse disease in the body. Reverse! And yet, the pharmaceutical industry and its experts would have us believe that the results of studies are 'soft' and inconclusive and that the best way for us to stem the tide of cancer is to load up on drugs. Forget the fact that we may need a different drug for each and every cancer, so in order to maintain a low risk of disease, you would possibly have to take an arsenal of drugs to ensure your health. Wow!

In a country that supports the most expensive healthcare system in the world and hardly the healthiest population, the medical establishment and pharmaceutical industry are betting their lives (and wallets) on us swallowing more pills and handing over our destinies and health to them and their drugs. While brilliant at intervention and emergency care, our healthcare system has a long way to go before it can claim to promote health.

Unfortunately, greed, special interests and profit motivation controls much of what is released as study results. These same interests misinform the public and encourage a dependence on a system that grows in expense, inaccessibility and is the fourth on the list of causes of death in this country.

While Ms. Kolata is not inaccurate in her reporting as to the alleged efficacy (as stated by the studies done and the pharmaceutical companies behind the drugs) of the drugs recommended to help reduce the risk of prostate and breast cancer, and while she is not inaccurate in stating that people are hesitant to take them, to imply that the real way to win the war on cancer is with more drugs and to ignore the impact of healthy living and eating on those same risks is beyond my comprehension.

Articles like this contribute to America's inability to embrace healthy living. Americans find it challenging
to change their lives and habits to create health. They find it challenging and frustrating because the information changes seemingly daily. One day, we're told to eat well and exercise to maintain health. And then we see stories like this promoting the use of pharmaceuticals over sensible eating and exercising regularly to maintain health.

How can we expect people to live healthy, productive lives if the message they receive from credible sources like the New York Times tout drugs and tell them that all of their efforts (proven methods) to maintain their health are futile?