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The Basics of Big Pharma Research And Natural Therapies
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The Basics of Big Pharma Research And Natural Therapies


Nurse Gail Ingram starts the conversation about pharmaceutical companies and alternative treatments in her article, “The Basics of Big Pharma And Natural Therapies.”

Why do most natural remedies lack research to back up their health claims?  When I ask this question to wellness practitioners and enthusiasts, they often blame “Big Pharma.”  This answer has little merit, and since most people don’t understand Big Pharma, the false blame is accepted as truth.  Please allow me to clear this up.

Here’s how Big Pharma works.  It’s simple, really.

  • If the preliminary research on a natural remedy is inconsistent, Big Pharma isn’t going to continue researching it.
  • If the preliminary research on a natural remedy doesn’t show that it has the potential to treat an ailment better than something that already exists, Big Pharma has no interest.

For example, Big Pharma isn’t going to pour money into oil-pulling research when toothpaste and mouthwash are well established as effective anti-cavity agents.  Those two things, along with a toothbrush and modern dentistry, do a stellar job.  Along the same lines, Big Pharma will not pay for research to be conducted on aromatherapy to relieve migraines when we already have Exedrin and Imitrex.

Folks might assume that Big Pharma is responsible for producing most of the research in the U.S and people may blame Big Pharma for the lack of data on natural remedies.  This blame is misdirected.  Universities, non-pharmacological corporations, and independent researchers also conduct studies.  Technically, anyone can write a research proposal, apply for a grant, get approval from an independent institutional review board, recruit participants, get a number crunching system, and publish the results.  This would be reasonable for educated wellness enthusiasts to do but they either prefer not to or their efforts don’t meet the requirements for peer-reviewed publication.  More likely, research is being conducted but the results show that the natural products don’t work.

  • If the preliminary research on a natural remedy is compelling, Big Pharma will jump on it.  Fast.

There have been many promising natural remedies identified and pharmaceutical companies take early action.  This is one reason we have plant-based cancer therapies in use today.  They are called mitotic inhibitors and are used in the treatment of breast and lung cancer, myelomas, lymphoma, and leukemia.  This is contrary to what conspiracy theorists would have you believe about the suppression of research regarding natural therapies.

Conspiracy theorists argue that Big Pharma and the FDA work together to halt research and ban natural products in the U.S.  I recently wrote an article about a controversial “natural treatment” for cancer called Vitamin B-17 (also known as laetrile or amygdalin).  I was criticized in a comment for taking money from Big Pharma to write it.  That is just silly.

If B-17 actually worked, Big Pharma would have continued the research, acquired the patents, and jacked up the price to be competitive with existing chemotherapies.  In the 1970s, because of a potentially fatal side effect (cyanide poisoning), Vitamin B-17 was banned in the U.S.  But if Vitamin B-17 actually worked, or showed any kind of promise in other countries where it is available, believe me, a drug company would have been on top of it by now.



  • I imagine this is why fecal transplants for C. Diff aren’t taking off. A resident told me last week that a prescription for oral Vanco costs a patient without insurance $1000. Last time I checked, not many ways to market stool.

    I’m interested to see where this one goes, though……seems like the ultimate natural remedy.

    • Gail Ingram BSN RN Gail Ingram BSN RN says:

      Thanks for your comment, Amanda. You bring up several points.

      For those who don’t know, Vancomycin (an antibiotic) is given to patients before a fecal transplant. The recommended dose is 500mg twice a day for 7 days. The cost (cash, no insurance) is between $1024 (at CVS) to $1576 (at Kmart). So, Big Pharma benefits from the fecal transplant procedure in this way.

      The fecal transplant in recurrent c-diff patients is successful (93% with colonoscopic administration). However, how many people have c-diff problems? In 2011, 500,000 cases were reported and 29,000 people died from complications. 10-25% of patients who take metronidazole or vancomycin have recurrent episodes of c-diff. That’s around 50,000 to 125,000 people out of 318.9 million Americans. With a relatively small target market, I don’t know what kind of priority this is for businesses in the market of harvesting, testing (expensive!), packaging, and marketing human stool.

      On another note, T-cell gene therapy has been in clinical human trials for some time and used in the treatment of cancer and many other diseases. It shows a great deal of promise.

      Glad you took the time to read and comment on the post.

  • Whew! Love it!

    However, I’d interject a big IF after the sentence “…Vancomycin (an antibiotic) is given to patients before a fecal transplant.”

    As in, IF the patient’s MD offers fecal transplant as an option. All of mine just go home with Vanco, its bill, and a pretty high chance at seeing me again. :/

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