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Sustainable Healthcare: Just How Unsustainable is Orthodox Healthcare?

by Dr Robert Verkerk(more info)

listed in eu directives, originally published in issue 152 - November 2008

Never before have so many drugs been used in an attempt to re-establish health in human beings. And how justified is this approach to healthcare, when it represents such a departure from those methods used by the rest of our mammalian cousins? It also represents a major departure from the use of biologically compatible systems of healthcare with which we have evolved over many hundreds of thousands of years.

To help us consolidate the general picture, we are often reliant on US data, mainly because it is fairly accessible and complete. Americans on average make over 1.1 billions visits to physicians or hospital outpatients departments annually, amounting to an average of around 3.8 visits per person.[1]

About 65% of all patient visits to physicians result in drugs being prescribed.[2] Over 3 billion prescriptions are filled each year,[3] averaging around 10 prescriptions for every person in the USA annually. With an average cost of $54.34 per prescription in 2007,[4] the annual cost of these prescriptions is about US$165 billion, the equivalent of $550 for every American each year.

Adverse drug reactions (ADRs), which increase exponentially in those taking 4 or more different medications,[5] are now the fourth leading cause of death in the USA,[6] putting them in front of pulmonary disease, diabetes, AIDS, pneumonia, accidents, and motor vehicle deaths.[7]

It has been estimated that in the UK, adverse drug reactions cost the country's National Health Service £2 billion (US$3.9 billion) annually.[8] A recent Swedish study has revealed that 3% of Swedes die from adverse drug reactions, making them the seventh most common cause of death in the country.[9]

In the USA, if the estimated 98,000 deaths associated with preventable medical and surgical injuries in hospitals,[10] as well as the estimated 90,000 deaths associated with preventable infections in hospitals[11] are added to the estimated 106,000 deaths from ADRs which follow the non-error prescription of medications,[6] orthodox medicine is unequivocally the third leading cause of death in the USA. The situation appears similar in most other western countries.

Aside from their deleterious effects, a mere 13% of drugs are known to have beneficial effects,[12] while Dr Allen Roses, vice president of genetics for one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, GlaxoSmithKline, admitted in 2003 that: "...the vast majority of drugs - more than 90 per cent - only work in 30 or 50 per cent of the people".[13]

Overall, there is a wealth of evidence to suggest that orthodox or allopathic medicine has had very limited success in dealing with the major disease burdens, namely the chronic diseases that play havoc with the over-50s, being cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and osteoporosis. Additionally, there is a very high price to be paid for western medicine, both in terms of economic cost and the cost of human suffering. Finally, most attempts by mainstream healthcare to avert or reduce the rate of morbidity in our ageing populations have been little more than ancillary in their effect.

Based on an appraisal of cost (human, environmental and financial) and the resultant benefits, the development costs and challenges facing the development of new drugs, as well as the lack of success of drug-based approaches in dealing with chronic diseases, it is very difficult to consider that orthodox medicine might meet any reasonable definition of sustainability.

When will We Wake up from our Drug Stupour?

It is ironic that we, as Europeans, face not only the greatest threat to our continued access to therapeutic natural substances of any people in the world, we also face the greatest threat yet at any time in our history.

We are told by our governments and unelected bureaucrats in the European Commission, that the reason for the raft of highly restrictive European Directives and Regulations is the need to protect public health. However, there is no evidence that existing food supplement use-patterns are creating any significant or lasting harm, and, in fact, the corollary is true – the work of nutritional therapists and clinical nutritionists is particularly strong testimony to the benefits of nutritional approaches to healthcare.

If regulatory initiatives, particularly in Europe, are not altered in the very near future, the maximum daily amounts of vitamins and minerals allowed in food supplements will be lower than those found in a single junk food meal. And this is just one area of proposed, impinging regulation! By example, European citizens are critically short of selenium since the EU stopped importing North American wheat grown in selenium-rich soils. This essential mineral supports numerous vital enzyme functions in the body and helps reduce cancer risk; yet the most influential risk assessment body in Germany (the BfR) wants consumers to be limited on a daily basis to the amount of selenium found in just one-third of a brazil nut!

The ANH is developing new models for sustainable healthcare that are both qualitative and quantitative. We aim to publish this work in peer reviewed journal. We believe this work will go a long way to helping governments to recognise the fallacy behind pharmaceutical-based healthcare and the need to prioritise preventative, sustainable and natural healthcare, that is biologically compatible.


1.    Schappert SM, Burt CW. Ambulatory care visits to physician offices, hospital outpatient departments, and emergency departments: United States, 2001-02. Vital Health Stat 13 (159): 1-66. 2006.
2.    Schappert SM. Ambulatory care visits to physician offices, hospital outpatient departments, and emergency departments: United States,1997. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 13 (143): i-iv, 1-39. 1999.
3.    US Food and Drugs Administration: Last accessed 1 October 2008.
4.    Drugs Information online: Last accessed 1 October 2008.
5.    Jacubeit T, Drisch D, Weber E. Risk factors as reflected by an intensive drug monitoring system. Agents Actions 29: 117-125. 1990.
6.    Lazarou J, Pomeranz B, Corey PN. Incidence of adverse drug reactions in hospitalized patients: A meta-analysis of prospective studies. JAMA 279: 1200-1205. 1998.
7.    FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research: Last accessed 1 October 2008.
8.    Sarah Bosely, The Guardian newspaper, 3 April 2008: Last accessed 1 October 2008.
9.    Wester K, Jönsson AK, Spigset O, Druid H, Hägg S. Incidence of fatal adverse drug reactions: a population based study. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 65(4): 573-9. 2008.
10.    Zhan C, Miller MR. Excess length of stay, charges, and mortality attributable to medical injuries during hospitalization. JAMA 290(14): 1868-74. 2003.
11.    Jarvis WR.  The Lowbury Lecture. The United States approach to strategies in the battle against healthcare-associated infections, 2006. J Hosp Infect. 65 Suppl 2: 3-9. 2007.
12.    BMJ Clinical Evidence: Last accessed 1 October 2008.
13.    The Independent newpaper (UK), 'Glaxo chief: Our drugs do not work on most patients', 8 December 2003: Last accessed 1 October 2008.

Further Information

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About Dr Robert Verkerk

Robert Verkerk PhD Executive & Scientific Director of Alliance for Natural Health, has worked for the last 25 years on sustainability issues in the agricultural, environmental and health fields. He completed his MSc and doctorate at Imperial College London and worked as a post-doctoral research fellow in the field of trophic (feeding) level interactions in agricultural systems. Robert established the Alliance for Natural Health in 2002 to help protect and promote, using the tools of good science and good law, sustainable and natural methods of healthcare which are increasingly threatened by regulatory and pharmaceutical industry pressure. He can be contacted on Tel: 01306 646600; or

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