Just for the record, I am not anti-drug. But when we view drugs as magic bullets, we can easily shoot ourselves in the foot. A recent medical study—funded by pharmaceutical company Amgen—is a perfect example.
The study tested the effects of a drug called Enbrel (entanercept) on subjects with metabolic syndrome. Folks with this syndrome tend to be overweight and the excess fat they carry around their waists produces inflammatory chemicals that increase their risk of heart disease. Enbrel is a potent anti-inflammatory drug that is approved for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis—an incurable condition that often brings crippling pain and disability.
Enbrel is a very costly drug that carries serious risks, including increased occurrence of tuberculosis and other infections, congestive heart failure, and lymphoma. For those suffering from RA, those risks might be well justified. But to use Enbrel to reduce inflammation in those who simply need to lose weight is pure insanity.
The Enbrel study (which was published in the April 25 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine) found that Enbrel was effective in reducing the levels of C-reactive protein and other markers of inflammation in patients with metabolic syndrome. Although Enbrel is not currently approved for the treatment of metabolic syndrome, doctors always have the option of using medications “off label.” In response to this research, some physicians might begin prescribing Enbrel for their over-weight patients. I hope they don’t.
The safest (not to mention cheapest) way for people with metabolic syndrome to reduce their risk of death is to lose weight. Less fat leads to less inflammation, which leads to a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease and other complications. As they say, it’s not rocket science. But apparently, the drug companies are betting on the fact that people would rather take a pill than adopt a healthier lifestyle—even if that pill is costly and has potentially deadly side effects. Some might argue that the costs and risks of metabolic syndrome are greater than the costs and risks of this medication. But that makes it sound as if there are no better options.
Studies show that a diet emphasizing anti-inflammatory foods rapidly reduces inflammation as well as improves insulin response, triglycerides, cholesterol, blood pressure, and all the other risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome. What’s more, an anti-inflammatory diet can also reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, depression, cancer, and osteoporosis. It can even make your skin look more youthful. Talk about a win-win!
There are clearly cases where drugs mean the difference between life and death—or between a life of pain and disability and a life worth living. This is not one of them.