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Half the pharmacists surveyed by Alberta researchers said they had seen evidence of dangerous interactions between natural health products and prescription drugs, a “startling” result that suggests… ????? – Tom Blackwell, National Post, Natural remedies ‘potentially harmful’, Published: Monday, July 23, 2007

Take a guess at how this sentence ends?  In fact, you pick the ending that you think is the most logical conclusion to this sentence.

1.      …that doctors and pharmacists should learn what their patients are consuming before prescribing pharmaceuticals.

2.      …that dangerous side effects from pharmaceuticals are becoming more and more common and physicians, pharmacists and consumers need to become better informed about the drugs prescribed as well as their potentially harmful interactions with natural remedies.

3.      …that natural remedies cause many more harmful side effects than once thought.

Are you surprised to know that the article’s author, Tom Blackwell, ended this sentence with selection number three? I know I was stunned. How on earth he made the leap from dangerous interactions – (interactions being the operative word here) to natural remedies cause many more harmful side effects than once thought is either sloppy journalism or deliberate misinformation.  Sorry Tom, that’s how I see it.  The article goes on to say that “the study backs up Health Canada’s concern that adverse events involving natural-health products, like pharmaceutical drugs, are “seriously under-reported,” said Paul Duchesne, a department spokesman.”

Don’t get me wrong, I am not questioning the results of the study. It is entirely likely that pharmacists reported that they had seen dangerous interactions between pharmaceuticals and natural products. This is not new information. There are I believe adverse reactions between pharmaceuticals and foods as well as between pharmaceuticals and beverages.  What I do take issue with is the conclusion drawn from this data – that “The majority of Canadians use NHPs (Natural Health Products) and our data confirm that this use may carry unrecognized risk.”  Please, please be precise.  It is common knowledge that most natural products like foods, when used as recommended, carry very little risk. All natural products are required to have full disclosure of the ingredients and the recommended dosage.  In fact, we all know that if there is a villain, it is pharmaceuticals not natural health products. Pharmaceuticals produce adverse and increasingly fatal side effects all by themselves. They need no help at all from natural health products. 

Could it be possible that adverse reactions to natural health products are seriously under reported because they are seriously “not happening”?  How many people do you know who have had a serious adverse reaction to a natural health product?  Health Canada produces a quarterly Adverse Reaction Newsletter directed at health professionals in order to alert them to potential problems with certain pharmaceuticals, natural health products and medical devices. In the most current issue, July 2007, out of 26 products listed only one is characterized as an herbal with the suspect ingredient not actually being an herb but a drug which requires a prescription.

Why do I even care about this? More about that next time.

Relevant Links:

National Post article

Health Canada

Other interesting links:

Audio file from CBC radio on the politics and strategies of ‘spin’

More on ‘spin’

Public relations analysis

Yet more on spin

The future of the newspaper industry

The politics and PR of cervical cancer

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