In a recent Huffington Post, Dr. Rick Positano calls aspirin “perfect” – a “wonder drug” in preventing heart attacks, strokes, even colon cancer. As an integrative health journalist, I wanted to offer a different view.
As Dr. Positano writes, people can “use aspirin if the benefit … outweighs gastrointestinal risks.” Since aspirin is well documented to sometimes lead to internal abdominal bleeding, Dr. Positano advises that “your doctor…must green light …and monitor your body’s acceptance of this wonder drug.”

Uh oh, aspirin’s must be monitored by regular doctor visits. And just how will the doctor monitor?

Well, after discovering signs of internal bleeding, the doctors attending one of my elderly relatives ordered an endoscopy and a colonoscopy, in the end determining (after the fact) that the bleeding resulted from years of aspirin use.

Wisely, the doctors took my relative off aspirin, while an integrative physician recommended a natural product that both thins the blood and heals the gut without causing internal bleeding. Why isn’t this natural product more widely known and available? Because despite decades of successful use and thousands of anecdotal cases, this product would not be deemed “evidence-based standard care” by conventional MDs. Unlike aspirin (produced by an internationally traded company that can pour millions into testing and marketing all of its uses) that natural product has to yet to undergo the particular form of testing devised for toxic synthetic products made by drug companies. Although there are many other forms of testing efficacy (such as outcomes based research) the “gold standard” of what’s been dubbed “evidence based medicine” is reserved for the pharmaceutical model of research.

Applying unnecessary testing criteria to natural substances and soft touch treatments with less risk of harm than more invasive medical products and procedures diminishes the use and availability of such treatments by creating fear and doubt in peoples’ minds. The rising, potentially bankrupting medical costs we face begin with over-rating the high cost synthetic over the natural and human.

Are lower risk treatments really “unscientific,” as often claimed by industry spokespeople? Can those acting from vested interest be considered “scientifically objective?”

The bottom line is that any product or treatment that lessens the need for a pharma industry OTC or prescription product, (like aspirin), or that reduces or eliminates the need for a costly surgery lowers income gained by medical institutions, doctors, and pharmaceutical companies.

Opposition to natural treatments, under the guise of “science,” (or by stirring up needless alarm about one questionable herb while many synthetic drugs are known to produce scores of startling “side effects”) is in many instances economic. Can we assume that doctor always “knows best” or can even be “objective” when his or her health care recommendations are influenced by economic and industry pressures and incentives? 88% of Americans agree that “there are some good ways of treating sickness that medical science does not recognize. (This according to a 2001 survey by the National Science Foundation.)

This is not just about aspirin.

Failure to address potential future health concerns at the wellness stage inevitably leads to their treatment at the acute or terminal stage, when invasive and conventional treatments often serve as the final option. The costs, both human and economic, of health and insurance systems geared to drive us towards final stage acute treatment, are painfully high.

Due to prescription drug advertising, and political lobbying, the public policies and corporate agendas that sustain our current system are not well covered on television or addressed by most politicians. But with health care costs for seniors tripling in the next decade and with visits to integrative practitioners (often paid out of pocket) accessed by two thirds of all Americans, according to a 2001 survey, it’s clear that the majority of people are voting with their feet. They need to be better represented in the discussions about health care reform. Perhaps one of the Presidential candidates will reach out to this sizeable constituency.

The oft-repeated chestnut that the American health care system is “the best in the world” is contradicted by many international surveys in which we typically rank below other developed nations. While critiquing the system is subtly depicted as “unpatriotic,” many Americans, at all economic and social levels, are paying a steep price for the denial about the shortfalls in our system. Events of the last decade have awakened a well-founded skepticism about the beneficence of those entrusted with political leadership. It’s been a painful awakening. With the mounting health care crisis, there may be a parallel reconsideration about the beneficence of conventional approaches and quick fix solutions.

Offering aspirin as a “perfect” panacea for preventing heart disease, stroke or colon cancer may get a patient out of one’s office in ten minutes. But what about looking into the wider causes of the dramatic rise in the ailments Positano cites. Why over the last thirty years have heart disease and colon cancer become more frequent in our population? Does it have anything to do with the quality of our foods, with the exposure to a brew of novel chemicals, or even to medical treatments themselves?

Part of self-care is looking beyond physicians for a quick fix, and seeking the answers to these questions ourselves. The real remedy is demanding that our leaders make changes in health care, food safety, and public policy. If instead, we accept the quick fix, we’ll deserve the health care we get. So before you take that perfect aspirin and expect to feel better in the morning, think about the long-term side-effects of abdicating your health care.

Copyright, 2007, Alison Rose Levy. All rights reserved.

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