No Cheap Remedies: A Guiding Principle of Modern Health Care

I blogged earlier that a guiding principle of our health care system is first, let them get sick. Show no interest in prevention or environmental causes, thus ensuring that people will get sick and become desperate for remedies, which you (health care provider) can charge lots of money for. An example of the disinterest in prevention is that schools of public health, which do considerable prevention research, get a tiny fraction (1%?) of the money spent on medical schools, which never do prevention research. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — and the government and other powerful players invest exactly the opposite of what this common-sense wisdom implies. You know the term war profiteering. Modern heath care is sick profiteering.

It is profiteering, not ignorance, because another guiding principle of modern health care is no cheap remedies. Along with zero interest in prevention, there is zero interest in cheap remedies, such as dietary ones. Doctors usually prescribe drugs or surgery. Both are expensive. Surely doctors are intelligent, but this principle makes them look stupid: They ignore or dismiss cheap remedies, no matter what. At Boing Boing I wrote about two examples. Sarah suffered from frequent migraines. Her doctors wanted to try one drug after another and do expensive tests. No matter how useless the tests and drugs — Sarah tried 30 drugs — her doctors acted unaware of other possibilities, such as looking for environmental triggers. Reid Kimball, who had Crohn’s Disease, found a diet that worked. He told a UCSF doctor how well it worked. I don’t think you can manage Crohn’s with diet, said the doctor. As if he hadn’t understood what Reid had said.

My self-experimentation is a reaction to this state of affairs. It is a way to test cheap remedies. I started self-experimentation about sleep (I woke up too early) because I knew a doctor would simply prescribe a drug. I didn’t want to take a drug for the rest of my life. You cannot easily do self-experimentation on prevention (e.g., compare how many colds you get with Regimen A versus Regimen B) but, no surprise, there is great overlap between cheap remedies and prevention. I found various cheap safe ways to sleep better — and I stopped getting colds. Not only does omega-3 make my brain work better, it prevents gum disease. I eat butter to make my brain work better, and I suspect it prevents heart attacks. What’s that? Someone told you butter is evil? That’s another consequence of our deeply messed-up health care system: When the people at the center of the system, the ones with the most power and prestige, promote twisted self-serving ideas (e.g., Harvard psychiatry professor Joseph Biederman and his advocacy of giving powerful drugs to six-year-olds), these ideas spread outward to everyone else, who believe and repeat them. I was no different.  When my self-experimentation starting reaching conclusions utterly different than what I’d been told (e.g., I found that breakfast is bad and sugar can cause weight loss, I was stunned. I’d heard a thousand times that breakfast is good and sugar is fattening.

Gatekeeper syndrome.

21 Responses to “No Cheap Remedies: A Guiding Principle of Modern Health Care”

  1. dearieme Says:

    I don’t know whether breakfast is bad, but I suspect that large glasses of fruit juice at breakfast time might not be a good idea for everyone.

    Anyway, can “breakfast is bad” possibly be right for everyone, and irrespective of what they eat for breakfast?

  2. jpb Says:

    Very good post, Seth! I wrote a guest post for KevinMD on the problems with the pharmceutical industry. I did a lot of research and wrote a serious piece which outlined the abuses of the industry and ways to make it better. Kevin declined to publish it without giving any reason. I think that the medical industry as a whole does not want to make any changes that will cause anyone to earn less money. They certainly do not want a healthy population!

  3. Alex Chernavsky Says:

    @jpb — why not post your essay here (or post a link to it, if it’s long)?

  4. Seth Roberts Says:

    “Can ‘breakfast is bad’ possibly be right for everyone?” Yes. Assuming that everyone has 24-hour access to food. The phenomenon I uncovered (anticipatory awakening) is merely an example in humans of something that has been found in a wide range of other mammals — for example, rats. Rats become more active at the time of day food is available. The phenomenon occurs with protein, fat, and carbohydrate sources of calories. If you eat a breakfast with no calories, you can avoid the problem I uncovered. I drink calorie-free tea early in the morning.

  5. Ashish Says:

    I don’t think the guiding principle you mention need be absolute. As an advocate of barefoot (less to buy) running, I’m trying to identify groups with a financial incentive in prevention – they do exist.

    Those who sell drugs and devices, or provide healthcare, generally don’t benefit from providing prevention. Long-term insurers, on the other hand, do.

    Kaiser has many “cradle-to-grave” clients, so benefits from cost-effective prevention. I’m in contact with them. The US military does as well – they don’t want their soldiers to get injured on duty, and they provide lifetime health care, so are on the hook to pay for long-term health issues. I’m meeting them as well.

    Who else?

  6. Tom Says:

    The ultimate expression of this may be converting common nutrients into patentable forms:

    Lead to Gold: Transforming Nutritional Supplements into Medications

  7. Seth Roberts Says:

    Ashish, yeah, absolutely. The practical implication of what I am saying is simple: Empower those who benefit from prevention and cheap remedies. Which is everyone outside the current system, plus a few groups inside it, such as insurers.

  8. Seth Roberts Says:

    I agree with Alex. Post it here or post a link to it.

  9. TomGinTX Says:

    Seth, can you explain further about breakfast being bad for evryone? I eat breakfast regularly, but I do not wake up early.

  10. LemmusLemmus Says:

    What TomGinTX said.

  11. Seth Roberts Says:

    You eat breakfast and don’t wake up early? If you stop eating breakfast (or delay it by three hours) you might wake up more rested. (The effect of eating breakfast takes about a week to go away.) Again, research about anticipatory activity — the diversity of animals in which it’s been observed — implies that what I found is true for everyone. There are thousands of examples where something like this (observed in a wide range of animals and a few humans) has turned out to be true for all humans. I don’t know of a single exception. Another way to think about it is to consider the correlation between the DNA of one human and the DNA of another human. Very very high.

  12. Digby Says:

    I have reservations about your breakfast ideas, and serious problems with sugar as we get it the majority of diets–yours excepted. I was just rereading an Upton Sinclair article from the 1920s, he was also a famous self-experimenter, and his comments about the medical professionals as mainly interested in keeping their profession from financial loss due to simple, low- or no-cost remedies mirrors your own. So little had changed.

  13. jpb Says:

    1. I would be happy to send my article if I had an email address. Where do I find it on your site?
    2. Not so sure about the breakfast being bad for all. I think it has something to do with what you eat and how long after awakening.

  14. Seth Roberts Says:

    Digby, could you provide a link or reference to the article by Sinclair that you mention?

  15. Seth Roberts Says:

    jpb, could you post your article as a comment? or as several comments? To contact me see “Contact Seth” on the right side of this blog.

  16. Seth Roberts Says:

    jpb, you can simply post your article as one or more comments. You can find my email address under Contact.

  17. TomGinTX Says:

    Seth, I will give no-breakfast a try eventually. I just started eating food while pinching my nose shut. I want to see how that works before experimenting with something else.

  18. jpb Says:

    I needed to do some more editing but will send this evening.

  19. Paul Sherrard Says:

    Re the “breakfast is bad” thing: I eat breakfast, but don’t wake up too early. Is there another reason to stop eating breakfast?

  20. Seth Roberts Says:

    “Is there another reason to stop eating breakfast?” Yes, you might wake up feeling more rested.

  21. Mike Ellwood Says:

    FWIW, the “no breakfast” approach would contradict Dr Jack Kruse’s idea of a “Leptin Fix”, part of which involves eating a breakfast including at least 50 grammes of protein within half an hour of waking.

    Of course, not everyone has a leptin issue that needs fixing.