Tag Archives: Big Phama lies

Agnus Castus: Holland & Barrett an ethical company?

I had a disturbing insight into the tactics of the big herbal suppliers when a homeopath called Maeve, who used to work at Holland & Barrett, commented on my blog recently (see the comments under ‘About’ for the full conversation). In our correspondence I asked her if the sales staff were informed about the massive reduction in dosage of Agnus Castus tablets forced onto the herbal industry by 2011 legislation – see this post and this one for more on the impact of these changes.

Maeve replied:

“I can honestly say that they [Holland & Barrett] never sent through a training update or any info on the new doses, there was never any explanation, this has most likely left staff floundering, forcing them to tell customers that they are equivalent to the same levels as the whole herb.”

This is shocking. If the change in dosage was minimal then you might forgive H&B for not informing the sales staff, but the dosage was reduced from the equivalent standardised extract of 20mg to 4mg (1/5 of the original dose). If your GP prescribed you a drug at a dosage five times lower than you had used before (and your health was damaged as result), this would constitute gross negligence. But it appears Holland & Barrett, Healthspan, Boots and so on can do this to a herbal remedy with no explanation to the customer nor a legal imperative to provide one.

Taking Agnus Castus at the correct dosage is vital for my continued well-being. Prior to taking it I was prescribed morphine for period pains and routinely missed 2 to 3 days a month of work. I was depressed and desperate and even contemplated a total hysterectomy at the age of 35 (which, without taking a hormone replacement, would have brought on early menopause and the risks to bone density as well as an assault on my sexuality and identity). Thankfully, I have reached 43 with my ovaries and womb intact and take nothing stronger than ibuprofen for period pain.

As it is Agnus Castus is not on the list of prescribable drugs for PMT despite being recommended by Dr Nick Panay, Consultant Obstetrician and trustee for NAPS (see this post for more on guidelines to GP’s). This means many women are being prescribed antidepressants with their long list of side effects (e.g. loss of libido), when trials for Agnus Castus reveal it is at least as effective if not more so (with none of the side effects). On top of this inability to prescribe the herb, Agnus Castus is rendered ineffective by draconian and frankly bizarre licensing decisions by the European Medicines Agency – see this document for the responses to consultation prior to licensing.  Even if women do their research and buy Agnus Castus on the UK high street, they will believe it be a con when they find their symptoms do not improve (RCT’s reveal that 20mg is the optimal dose – see this study). Because of the prohibitive costs of obtaining a product licence for Agnus Castus (£100,000 approx), retailers have opted for the cheaper Traditional Herbal Registration option (£10,000 approx), restricting dosage to no more than 4mg per tablet with the corresponding advice to take 1-2 tablets a day with a warning not to exceed the stated dose. I am not one to buy into conspiracy theories, but you only have to read this post on ‘Sarafem’ (Prozac in disguise) to realise big pharmaceutical companies will do anything to ensure their drugs are sold as widely as possible, including eliminating the competition.

As Maeve comments:

“This erosion of choice will have a serious impact for the next generation. The goal of all this is to create a complementary health free world, free of herbalists and homeopaths and all natural practitioners to be ruled and dominated by the Pharmaceutical drug lords. Sounds like fantasy- it is happening now. In the next 10-20 years, we’ll either need to learn the old ways and grow our own herbs or forget they existed entirely.”

With recent news about doctors in the US receiving ‘perks’ from drug companies in ‘return’ for prescribing a particular drug, the world Maeve predicts doesn’t seem that far-fetched. She is right, it is happening now. We are already forgetting remedies our grandparents routinely used and believe everything can be solved by a pill, from acne and addiction to schizophrenia and weight loss.

Take statins and cure dying!

Of course it is not just Big Pharma that is corrupt, it is capitalism itself. Profits for the few at the expense of the majority is bound to result in the blurring of ethics, or, as this satirised advert makes plain, absence of ethics altogether. Holland & Barrett are no worse than the majority of high street chains that ‘claim’ to put their customers first and as Maeve points out not everyone at H&B is corrupt (just the ones at the top it seems).

“I joined H&B hoping they were an ethical company. I left a year later deeply disillusioned and disappointed. I know there to be a lot of good people in H&B but there is a constant tug of war going on and unfortunately, the sales force is stronger than the integrity force. H&B are not investors in people. Having said that. It is still possible to find good products in an H&B along with lovely, knowledgeable staff if you know what you’re looking for.”

In my quest to make women aware of the incredible benefits of Agnus Castus I have been confronted with the selfish, self-interested nature of capitalism. Curing a distressing condition is only worthwhile if it makes a lot of money for a niche few. The dystopian future of Atwood’s trilogy (Oryx & Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam) where pharmaceutical corporations manufacture diseases in order to sell drugs to cure them, seems less like speculative fiction and more an inevitable reality.

So what can us little people do? (I am only 5ft 2 so this is a literal statement for me 🙂  We can keep sharing knowledge of herbs and vitamins, passing this information onto the next generation so it is not lost and we are not beholden to big Pharma to ‘solve’ all our health problems (when nature has already provided us with solutions). We can seek out like minded others and support campaigns such as this one or write to our MEP’s  – see this post for template – but don’t expect a reply. We can do our own research on the web; I find this blog gives a refreshing perspective on modern medicine, although I don’t always agree with every view it espouses, it has certainly made me question in whose interests am I being ‘sold’ a particular cure. I also find medical journalist Jerome Burne’s blog an insightful and at times shocking read. We can also, where our climate is favourable, grow our own herbs and learn how to harness their properties. There are many books and internet guides out there to help you achieve this.

“Herb users are going to have to learn the old and safe ways of using safe, medicinal herbs if they don’t want to be a captive consumer audience 🙂 ” Maeve

I, for one, will keep blogging about it and plan to grow my very own Agnus Castus bush. Join me. Please. Let’s start a backyard revolution!

Agnus Castus, Prozac and Sarafem: Corporate deception by any other name would be called bare-faced lying

Watching that advert, you would think that Eli Lilly had discovered a brand new drug to treat the more distressing symptoms of PMT.

You would be wrong. SARAFEM is in fact PROZAC (fluoxetine hydrochloride), renamed and repackaged to appeal to a new market of users in the US – women suffering from PMT (also repackaged as Pre-Menstrual Dysmorphic Disorder , which gives it a status as an illness and therefore can be targeted by drug companies).

“To return to the history of PMDD, some feminist professionals, including the APA’s Committee on Women and the National Coalition for Women’s Mental Health, objected to the inclusion of such a syndrome under any label. From their point of view, menstruation is a normal bodily function, and any psychological changes associated with this function should be seen as normal as well. Classifying PMS or PMDD as a mental disorder stigmatizes women, and may have other undesirable social consequences by laying additional foundations for disability claims and the insanity defense.” Click here for source.

 All Eli Lilly did was run a trial on PROZAC with women suffering from PMT. Based on this trial, where they found 60% of women reported a reduction in some symptoms, they were able to gain FDA approval for SARAFEM (Prozac put inside pink and lilac capsules).

The fact that trials on Agnus Castus (with minimal if no side effects) reports an 80% reduction in most symptoms of PMT is neither here nor there. Herbal stockists do not have the marketing budgets available to them that profit hungry Pharma companies do. And of course since 2011, in Europe at least, the dosage of Agnus Castus is restricted to 4mg per tablet, rendering them ineffective if taken as directed on the bottle.

20mg is needed to gain relief, supported by a number of trials, all of which were rejected by the European Medicines Agency – and you have to ask yourself why?  Look up Schellenberg 2001 and 2011 for trials – or see previous blog posts on agnus castus.

But why did Eli Lilly do this? Funnily enough in 2000 the patent on PROZAC was coming to an end. FDA approval of SARAFEM specifically for the treatment of PMDD, meant the patent could be extended until 2007. Eli Lilly also sold the rights to Sarafem for £187 million to NI drug company Galen in 2002, they also made profits in excess of £300 million in the first year of Sarafem’s launch in 2001.

Galen Holdings Plc, Northern Ireland’s largest drugmaker, will pay $295 million for Eli Lilly & Co.’s Sarafem, a treatment for a severe form of premenstrual syndrome…  Although cheap copycat versions of Prozac are available, Sarafem is protected from generics until 2007, King said in an interview. Sarafem is prescribed by gynecologists, who are less likely to use generic Prozac instead, analysts said. “Generic erosion, which is illegal, is thought to be modest, and underlying prescriptions are growing,” Merrill Lynch analyst James Culverwell said in a note to clients. “Sarafem fits well with Galen, as over half of Sarafem prescriptions are made by obstetrician-gynecologists, where Galen has a specialist sales force.” click here for source.

Now all Eli Lilly had to do was to convince women that firstly they were suffering from PMDD and secondly that the only cure was SARAFEM. It didn’t really matter if doctors knew the truth or not because if a patient asked for SARAFEM, doctors (in the US) could not prescribe a cheaper generic fluoxetine tablet because only SARAFEM had been specifically trialled on women with PMT. No other SSRI (the class of antidepressants prozac belongs to) had been tested specifically for PMT and therefore could not be substituted for the expensive patented SARAFEM – which don’t forget it is actually PROZAC which is actually FLUOXETINE HYDROCHLORIDE.

Drug trials (RCT’s) were supposed to be used to test out new drugs, in order to make sure they were safe and did not have dangerous side effects. Instead their use is corrupted, with pharma companies not compelled (by law or conscience) to release the results of trials conducted, meaning they can cherry pick the ones that support their commercial aims. 

The fact that the link between PMT and depression and depression and Serotonin levels is little understood should also be of no surprise. The theory goes that depression is a result of low levels of the neurotransmitter SEROTONIN, which is how messages pass between neurons (in the brain). Of course, it could equally be that feeling depressed results in low levels of SEROTONIN. It could also be the case that SEROTONIN levels in the depressed are no lower than those not reporting depression. In the case of PMT, there is the added fiction (presented as fact) that fluctuating hormone levels impact on the levels of SEROTONIN in the brain in the second part of the cycle.

None of this theory is proven and in fact the role of neurotransmitters in bodily functions, feelings and emotions is turning out to be an extremely complex picture of interrelated dependence, with neurotransmitters having a variety of roles based on where they are in the body and whether they are excitatory or inhibitory.

 “Sarafem® is an FDA-approved prescription treatment that relieves both the mood and physical symptoms of PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder). Many physicians believe that Sarafem helps to correct the imbalance of serotonin that could contribute to PMDD.”  Click here for source.

Note the official information above states that ‘many physicians BELIEVE that Sarafem helps…’  Even Eli Lilly daren’t claim to know there is a link between hormones, serotonin and PMT – and yet they are prepared to give out a drug to many, many women with distressing side effects, such as loss of libido and suicidal thoughts.

So there we have it. And it is not just PMT sufferers that has become a target group for money hungry pharma company boards. We have a proliferation of behaviours now classified as mental illnesses. Childhood tantrums are now called ‘Conduct disorders’. Concentration problems are labelled ‘Attention Deficit Disorder’ and if the child is also very active and doesn’t need much sleep, we can add an ‘H’ for Hyperactivity. Being shy, is called ‘Social Phobia’ and worrying about the state of a world run by capitalist corporations who serve the top 1% is called ‘Generalised Anxiety Disorder’.

And for each of these ‘disorders’ there is a corresponding drug, which messes with a delicate system we actually know very little about. And don’t get me started on halitosis, a completely made up condition to sell mouthwash. And ‘panty liners’!!! WTF! Women have secretions, they are normal, that is what knickers are for!

It is time we women said enough! We been having periods long before big pharma companies decided they were an illness.

PMT is not an illness, but some side effects of menstruation (like irritability and cramps) can make life very difficult for some women. This is no different to how it was for women hundreds of years ago. The difference was those women didn’t have pharmaceutical companies convincing them they were ill and suffering PMDD and needed this particular drug to cure them.

Instead they listened to each other and tried out remedies handed down over the generations until they found something that worked for them.

The answer to our ills doesn’t necessarily reside in a bottle of pills, but in talking to each other and not believing everything we are sold.

For more on psychiatric labels and the drug industry, James Davies has written a book called ‘Cracked: why the psychiatry is doing more harm than good’. Published by Icon 2013. 

Why is psychiatry such big business? Why are so many psychiatric drugs prescribed – 47 million antidepressant prescriptions in the UK alone last year – and why, without solid scientific justification, has the number of mental disorders risen from 106 in 1952 to 374 today? The everyday sufferings and setbacks of life are now ‘medicalised’ into illnesses that require treatment – usually with highly profitable drugs. Psychological therapist James Davies uses his insider knowledge to illustrate for a general readership how psychiatry has put riches and medical status above patients’ well-being. 

 Do you have any further examples of drugs that have been re-branded as a cure for something else? Have you tried Prozac for PMT and did it work for you? What side-effects did you have if any?