Life Extension Magazine August 2006
Death by Medicine
By Gary Null, PhD; Carolyn Dean MD, ND; Martin Feldman, MD; Debora Rasio, MD; and Dorothy Smith, PhD
Something is wrong when regulatory agencies pretend that vitamins and nutritional supplements are dangerous, yet ignore published statistics showing that government-sanctioned medicine is the real hazard.
Until recently, Life Extension could cite only isolated statistics to make its case about the dangers of conventional medicine. No one had ever analyzed and compiled all of the published literature dealing with injuries and deaths caused by government-protected medicine.
A group of researchers meticulously reviewed the statistical evidence and their findings are absolutely shocking.1-4 These researchers have authored the following article titled “Death by Medicine” that presents compelling evidence that today’s health care system frequently causes more harm than good.
This fully referenced report shows the number of people having in-hospital, adverse reactions to prescribed drugs to be 2.2 million annually. The number of unnecessary antibiotics prescribed for viral infections is 20 million per year. The number of unnecessary medical and surgical procedures performed is 7.5 million per year. The number of people exposed to unnecessary hospitalization is 8.9 million per year.
The most stunning statistic, however, is that the total number of deaths caused by conventional medicine is nearly 800,000 per year. It is now evident that the American medical system is the leading cause of death and injury in the US. By contrast, the number of deaths attributable to heart disease in 2001 was 699,697, while the number of deaths attributable to cancer was 553,251.5
Life Extension has decided to publish this article in its entirety to call attention to the failure of the American medical system. By exposing these gruesome statistics in painstaking detail, we provide a basis for competent and compassionate medical professionals to recognize the inadequacies of today’s system and at least attempt to institute meaningful reforms.
Natural medicine is under siege, as pharmaceutical company lobbyists urge lawmakers to deprive Americans of the benefits of dietary supplements and bioidentical hormones. Drug-company front groups have launched slanderous media campaigns to discredit the value of healthy lifestyles. The FDA continues to interfere with those who offer natural products that compete with prescription drugs.
These attacks against natural medicine obscure a lethal problem that until now was buried in thousands of pages of scientific text. In response to these baseless challenges to natural medicine, the Nutrition Institute of America commissioned an independent review of the quality of “government-approved” medicine. The startling findings from this meticulous study indicate that conventional medicine is the leading cause of death in the United States.
The Nutrition Institute of America is a nonprofit organization that has sponsored independent research for the past 30 years. To support its bold claim that conventional medicine is America’s number-one killer, the Institute mandated that every “count” in this “indictment” of US medicine be validated by published, peer-reviewed scientific studies.
What you are about to read is a stunning compilation of facts that documents that those who seek to abolish consumer access to natural therapies are misleading the public. Nearly 800,000 Americans die each year at the hands of government-sanctioned medicine, while the FDA and other government agencies pretend to protect the public by harassing those who offer safe alternatives.
A definitive review of medical peer-reviewed journals and government health statistics shows that American medicine frequently causes more harm than good.
Each year approximately 2.2 million US hospital patients experience adverse drug reactions (ADRs) to prescribed medications.6 In 1995, Dr. Richard Besser of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated the number of unnecessary antibiotics prescribed annually for viral infections to be 20 million; in 2003, Dr. Besser spoke in terms of tens of millions of unnecessary antibiotics prescribed annually.7,8 Approximately 7.5 million unnecessary medical and surgical procedures are performed annually in the US,9,10 while approximately 8.9 million Americans are hospitalized unnecessarily.1-4
As shown in Table 1, the estimated total number of iatrogenic deaths—that is, deaths induced inadvertently by a physician or surgeon or by medical treatment or diagnostic procedures—in the US annually is 783,936. It is evident that the American medical system is itself the leading cause of death and injury in the US. By comparison, approximately 699,697 Americans died of heart disease in 2001, while 553,251 died of cancer.5
Using Dr. Lucian L. Leape’s 1997 medical and drug error rate of 3 million24 multiplied by the 14% fatality rate he used in 199425 produces an annual death rate of 420,000 for drug errors and medical errors combined. Using this number instead of Lazarou’s 106,000 drug errors and the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) estimated 98,000 annual medical errors would add another 216,000 deaths, for a total of 999,936 deaths annually, as shown in Table 2.
The enumeration of unnecessary medical events is very important in our analysis. Any invasive, unnecessary medical procedure must be considered as part of the larger iatrogenic picture. Unfortunately, cause and effect go unmonitored. The figures on unnecessary events represent people who are thrust into a dangerous health care system. Each of these 16.4 million lives is being affected in ways that could have fatal consequences. Simply entering a hospital could result in the following:
These statistics represent a one-year time span. Working with the most conservative figures from our statistics, we project the following 10-year death rates.
Our estimated 10-year total of 7.8 million iatrogenic deaths is more than all the casualties from all the wars fought by the US throughout its entire history.
Our projected figures for unnecessary medical events occurring over a 10-year period also are dramatic.
These figures show that an estimated 164 million people—more than half of the total US population—receive unneeded medical treatment over the course of a decade.
Never before have complete statistics on the multiple causes of iatrogenesis been combined in one article. Medical science amasses tens of thousands of papers annually, each representing a tiny fragment of the whole picture. To look at only one piece and try to understand the benefits and risks is like standing an inch away from an elephant and trying to describe everything about it. You have to step back to see the big picture, as we have done here. Each specialty, each division of medicine keeps its own records and data on morbidity and mortality. We have now completed the painstaking work of reviewing thousands of studies and putting pieces of the puzzle together.
Is American Medicine Working?
US health care spending reached $1.6 trillion in 2003, representing 14% of the nation’s gross national product.26 Considering this enormous expenditure, we should have the best medicine in the world. We should be preventing and reversing disease, and doing minimal harm. Careful and objective review, however, shows we are doing the opposite. Because of the extraordinarily narrow, technologically driven context in which contemporary medicine examines the human condition, we are completely missing the larger picture.
Medicine is not taking into consideration the following critically important aspects of a healthy human organism:
Instead of minimizing these disease-causing factors, we cause more illness through medical technology, diagnostic testing, overuse of medical and surgical procedures, and overuse of pharmaceutical drugs. The huge disservice of this therapeutic strategy is the result of little effort or money being spent on preventing disease.