Friday, April 24, 2015

Dr. Oz, His Dinosaur Critics, and the Future of American Medicine

Oh, the hypocrisy. How sad and telling that Dr. Jack Fisher, a retired UC San Diego surgeon, would cite the first principle of bioethics, primum, non nocere (first, do no harm) in his arrogant and wrong-minded rant against his fellow surgeon, Mehmet Oz, better known to TV viewers simply as Dr. Oz. Fisher's smackdown was in a story this week in the UT-SanDiego newspaper about the growing controversy surrounding the popular TV host and physician. 

Although I am treated at UCSD and have some very caring and smart doctors, I've never met Jack Fisher. I can only assume that he is a kind and well-meaning man. But when it comes to matters of 21st-century healthcare, and giving patients in 2015 what they really want, Fisher is a dinosaur still roaming the earth.  

In an earlier version of the UT-SanDiego piece on Thursday, which was updated and substantially changed, Fisher admitted that he has virtually no knowledge of nutrition. He essentially dismissed natural supplements as having any legitimacy, and said he just watches his caloric intake and has a bike for exercise. Really, Jack? That's all you got for us in terms of how nutrition and exercise can help us and heal us? 

Fisher is one of a group of self-righteous, anachronistic physicians who are viciously attacking Oz when they should instead be looking in the mirror. He is clearly an avowed follower of The Grumpy Old-School American Doctor's Handbook, which says on Page One: "If it doesn't come from a pharmaceutical company, it has no merit and will probably kill you." 

This preposterously limited and cynical vision of healing, which is so 20th century, is sadly still preached in medical schools and doctors' offices. Most physicians, bless their hearts, have simply never been exposed to any other modes of thinking. They really can't be fully blamed. 
Med schools rely on pharma support, obviously, and vice versa. It's a deeply symbiotic relationship that often works for us, but can also work against us. 

Good drug companies doing heroic work

Let me say first for the record that while pharma-produced drugs are only one of many things that can help and heal us, they have of course saved and improved millions of lives, including mine. I am not anti-medicine or anti-pharma. On the contrary, I am very sympathetic with drug companies that are trying to do the right thing. 

And many of them are, against great odds. It is obscenely expensive and time-consuming to get a drug from the lab to your neighborhood pharmacy. It can cost as much as $1 billion and take a decade or even much longer. 

There are several drug and biotech companies that have new, less toxic and very exciting treatments for lymphoma, for example, either in the pipeline or recently approved. Some are working far below the radar. They include stellar companies such as Angelica Therapeutics, Genelux, Cellular Biomedicine Group, Spectrum, Innovent, and Casi Pharmaceutucals

Dr. Oz supports forward-thinking drug companies like these, as well. But as he points out regularly and rightly, patients want more than just the drug option. They want more choices. That isn't asking too much, is it? Thanks to an increasing patient demand, doctors in the new millennium are thankfully beginning to get the message. They're beginning to recognize the profound limitations in the American medical establishment. But it's a process. It won't happen overnight.

Patients want change. They've grown weary that what goes on in our doctor's office is still largely dictated by the Food and Drug Administration, which spends much of its time denouncing and destroying anything and everything it views as competition to the pharmaceutical industry. 

Stem Cell Therapy

That includes stem cell therapy, which has seen many remarkable breakthroughs in just the last few years. Traditional pharmaceutical companies are seriously threatened by stem cell therapy. As I have reported here, there have been many breakthroughs recently in the study of adult (non-embryonic) stem cells -- for cancer, repairing the heart and even the brain, and much more. 

But the national media has all but ignored them. Most news outlets still seem to prefer perpetuating the tired and false notion that all adult stem cell researchers are con men and all patients who enroll in adult stem cell clinical trials are fools. It's simply not the case. Not any more. 

Patients have a right to know this, but they are not hearing it from most of their doctors. And the media is not covering it adequately. Gee, could that be because traditional pharma spends literally billions in advertising?

Patients are also embracing natural supplements, which are a big reason why I'm alive today after being diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin's lymphoma cancer 18 years ago and told I would be "lucky to live three years." I've survived three bouts with this freaking disease and am now in my fourth battle, with small lymph nodes in my abdomen that thankfully are not growing at present. This cancer is stubborn, but I'm more so.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am also very gratefully alive because of prescription drug treatments. I am deeply appreciative of the scientists and executives at these drug companies for making these treatments available to me and to others. 

And I have many very kind and intelligent doctors at UCSD, including a few that are even open to supplements and non-traditional treatments. 

But anyone who has the temerity to call himself a healer should embrace all things that can potentially help us heal, not just the very limited triumvirate of medicate, operate and irradiate. Times are changing.

Dr. Oz's poignant response to his critics

Mehmet Oz gets that. He knows that anything less is simply insufficient. “I don’t expect all of my colleagues to understand this marriage between conventional medicine and the broader definition of wellness that the show pursues,” Oz wrote Thursday for in a poignant and pointed response to his critics. “I expect and respect the criticism of colleagues who struggle with my approach and I try to improve the show accordingly.”

Oz continued, "I have spent my entire career searching for ways to lessen the suffering of my patients. The best and safest paths have generally been the traditions of conventional medicine. They are tried and true, well funded, and fast. But there are other routes to healing that offer wisdom as well, so I have been willing to explore alternative routes to healing and share any wisdom that can be gathered."

Oz went on to say that as a surgeon, professor, author and TV host, he believes that "unconventional approaches appear to work in some people’s lives. They are often based on long-standing traditions from different cultures that visualize the healing process in very different ways from our Western traditions."

Pretty hard to argue against that if you are an intelligent, enlightened, open-minded person who is able and willing to think out of the box. Does Oz get it right with this approach every time? No. Can he be a bit overzealous when he champions various nutritional or holistic products? Sure. 

But he is on the right track. Some doctors, like Jack Fisher, think what Oz does is dangerous. They say he should just stop. I hope he doesn't. Our health and the future of American medicine are at stake.

And it's important to know that Oz's traditional medicine credentials are superior to most of his harshest critics. He has a medical degree and an MBA. He studied at Harvard, Penn and Wharton. He has published some 400 scientific articles and papers with his colleagues, and he teaches surgery at Columbia. 

Charlatans in holistic medicine

I know all too well that there are charlatans on the holistic medicine side. But Oz isn't one of them. He is a traditionally and highly trained doctor who is simply trying to give people a broader idea of what can help them feel better and live better than they will likely ever get from their doctor.

The fact that some on the holistic side are crooks and scumbags just puts a little more pressure on patients like you and me to do our homework and separate the good from the bad as best we can. Just like we already do with traditional doctors.

For any doctor to chastise Oz for taking money from companies that he talks about on his show is laughably hypocritical. Can anyone reading this tell me with a straight face that the deep and longstanding financial relationships between doctors/hospitals and drug companies isn't a much greater and more dangerous conflict of interest and threat to our health than Oz talking about natural and generally harmless products on his show? 

It's interesting to learn a a bit more about Oz's physician attackers. As Oz notes, and should note, his doctor enemies include people like Henry Miller, a pro-tobacco industry type who's aggressively fought here in California to block genetically modified  food labeling. That doesn't sound very pro-patient to me. 

Another Oz attacker, he points out, Gilbert Ross, was found guilty of 13 counts of Medicaid fraud and now runs the American Council on Science and Health, which has reportedly gotten funding from big tobacco and agribusiness companies. Another four of the ten doctors who wrote a letter trying to get Oz fired are also doctors with links to this very, shall we say, unhealthy organization.

I believe Oz believes the things he says and that for the most part he is fighting the good fight. Some of the products he talks about do advertise on his show, because they know he is sympathetic to what they are doing. I'm not offended. I suspect there are many things that Oz would not accept on the show.

God Bless the USA and the FDA

Every day on television we are bombarded with commercials touting pharma-produced drugs that have a list of disturbing side effects that is so long it makes us dizzy just listening. I'm glad they are forced to list these side effects. But it's shocking what we are willing to put into our bodies isn't it?

The FDA has OK'd all kinds of drugs that have been used to treat millions of people, even if they are unconscionably toxic and only give the patient a few months extra time, and even if they give the patient a horrible quality of life and a plethora of unthinkable side effects. For what it's worth, chemotherapy almost killed me, literally.

Yet these same drug companies that are making such toxic and ineffective drugs, along with the FDA and too many of our doctors, are so hell-fire concerned about natural supplements that they feel compelled to warn us every day to stay away from them -- even though the overwhelming majority of these supplements are benign or only have very mild side effects.

It is so transparent, folks. Granted, there are great individual doctors and terrific individual drug companies, but the American medical establishment as it exists is not really concerned with searching for and finding anything and everything that can possibly heal us and sharing that information with us. It is about drugs and surgery and dollars.

I support many drug companies in this country and have for years. But I am fed up with anyone or anything that prevents me from finding and using whatever I believe can help me get well. I've done all kinds of so-called alternative medicine treatments for my cancer since I was diagnosed. It is without question one of the reasons I am still alive. 

There are good prescription drugs out there that help people in all kinds of ways. I happily take a pharma-produced drug every day to prevent blood clots, which almost killed me in 2012 when multiple clots invaded both of my lungs. It works well for me. 

I also am alive today in part because I enrolled against my then-oncologist wishes in a clinical trial for an experimental radio-immunotherapy drug for lymphoma called Bexxar.

That drug saved my life. But it was scrapped last year by GlaxoSmithKline because oncologists were not telling their patients about it and because Glaxo failed to market it effectively. Most cancer doctors did not have the special certification to use that radio-immunotherapy drug, so they just chose not to mention it to their patients, knowing that they would lose them as patients if they did. 

That was all about money, not about the efficacy of the drug or what was best for the patient. And the drug company did not do enough to relay this simple message to the national lymphoma patient community. 

GSK killed the drug, which worked better than any other drug for the most common type of lymphoma, the sixth most common type of cancer in the United States. It is a tragedy that this drug is gone. And oncologists and the drug company are to blame.

Why are so many potential treatments and cures never explored by drug companies and biotechs? It's real simple: You can't get a patent on something found in nature. 

For example, if there are anti-cancer properties in dandelions -- and yes, Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as some US studies suggest there are anti-inflammatory and other healing properties in dandelions -- a drug company won't waste its time researching that or doing clinical trials. No patent? No way.

Many things that we find in nature, even in our front yard, do have medicinal properties. But while many drugs are derived from plants, they have to be tailored in such a way that no one else can get a patent. If it isn't patentable, even a cure for cancer is of no interest to a drug company. It's not a conspiracy, folks, it's just Economics 101. 

Natural supplement companies, too, have no incentive to spend millions on clinical trials. So it doesn't get done, and we are left without knowing nearly what we could and should know about what can heal us.

Defending Monsanto is a deal-breaker, doc'

Meanwhile, back to Dr. Fisher, who also defended genetically modified foods in the UT-SanDiego piece. That is far more irresponsible than Dr. Oz's understandable skepticism about it or Oz's support of any natural supplement. 

Oz has never said that genetically modified food should be banned or condemned. He has simply said that it needs more study and that it needs to be labeled. He's right, of course. And many of the doctors who say he is wrong are making big bucks off of GM foods. 

Naturally, one of Oz's biggest critics is Monsanto, one of the the world's largest purveyors of genetically modified foods and one of the most despicable corporate citizens on the planet. Am I exaggerating? Nope.

Dr. Oz, I tip my hat to you. Any enemy of Monsanto is a friend of mine. Monsanto is responsible for Agent Orange, one of the most toxic herbicides in world history and one that has killed and sickened literally millions of American service men and women and Vietnamese civilians. Monsanto is also the makers of Roundup, the most popular weed killer on earth. It also happens to cause lymphoma cancer.

Corporate dregs like Monsanto are the ones that are organizing and paying for the studies that doctors like Fisher cite when pronouncing that Dr. Oz is a quack and that genetically modified food is completely safe. Monsanto has consistently fought against independent research of its GM crops, and does not provide independent scientists with seeds. 

The company sets very restrictive conditions that greatly limit anything resembling legitimate, objective, independent research. That is untenable. But many of Dr. Oz's critics are just wild about Monsanto.

The future of American medicine 

The future of American medicine is written on the wall, folks. Drug companies aren't going anywhere, nor should they. But the new model will force them to make better, less toxic, less expensive treatments that use the body's immune system to fight disease and do not leave the patient sicker from the drug than from the illness.  

The future of American medicine will look a like like what Dr. Oz is doing every day on his show. This is a highly educated man who has been trained in traditional medicine and taught at America's finest medical schools. He just happens to be a big believer in holistic and alternative ways to heal. 

It's what we now call alternative medicine, but before long it won't be "alternative" at all. Should natural supplements, too, be tested? Of course. It will be part of the new model. 

Dr. Oz is a living preview of what doctors will be like. He knows that the future of American medicine will answer to patient demands for doctors to do what he has already done: Get a clue about the entire machine called the human body and have a much deeper and better understanding of how nutrition, herbs and natural supplements power that machine.

The future of American medicine will not run from the fact that there are so many things beyond patented drugs, surgery and radiation that can help and even heal us. 

It will embrace it. 


  1. Kudos, Jamie. Wonderful report. I concur 100%. There are so many "cures" we have lost knowledge of over the centuries. For the sake of all of us, let's hope that more and more are re-discovered. Hope you are "more well" than you were a few months ago.

    1. Thanks Sue. So true and so well said, as usual.

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