If you believe that the human body is a wondrous and miraculous example of hundreds of thousands of years of refinement through evolution, your view is precisely opposite that of Pharma. Pharma views the human body like a rickety old machine, constantly prone to breakdown and constantly in need of shoring up with synthetic chemicals foreign to evolution (i.e., pharmaceuticals).
Pharma does not seem to believe that the human body has any ability to heal on its own, or that nutrition is important, or that the human body is part of the natural world. Pharma views drug side effects as an anomaly and as a surprise rather than as a predictable consequence of the introduction of synthetic chemicals (pharmaceuticals) into complex and highly refined biological systems.
If you are disgusted with the long lists of food additives in so many of the products in grocery stores, you will likely be equally disillusioned in a drug store. Products on drug store shelves represent an even higher level of artificiality in comparison to the highly processed foods that fill the shelves in the modern supermarket. I was always uneasy as a pharmacist because I preferred the model of health represented by a farmer’s market rather than the model represented by a drug store.
Many of the drugs in the pharmacy are essential. Some are even life-saving. But Pharma has parlayed the success of superstar drugs like insulin and antibiotics into a three-ring circus where there’s a quick-fix pill for every ill.
The Word “Natural” Is Conspicuously Absent from Pharma’s Lexicon:
There is one word that is conspicuously absent from advertisements for prescription drugs on television. That word is “natural.” With very few exceptions, pharmaceuticals are highly synthetic substances created in a laboratory and never before seen during the long course of human evolution. You never hear drug companies use the word “natural” or “holistic” because hardly anything they do would fit that description. It is all mechanistic and reductionist, based on controlling delicate biological processes in complex biological systems by utilizing synthetic chemicals.
Why Reject Reductionism?
Reductionism is a belief system that states that human health can be understood and modified at the molecular and cellular levels while ignoring the whole person. Ernst Mayr counters that the whole is much more than the sum of its parts. (Ernst Mayr, This is Biology: The Science of the Living World, Belknap Press; Reprint edition, September 15, 1998, p. xvi)
“…the claim that every attribute of complex living systems can be explained through the study of the lowest components (molecules, genes or whatever) struck me as absurd. Living organisms form a hierarchy of ever more complex systems, from molecules, cells and tissues through whole organisms, populations and species. In each higher system, characteristics emerge that could not have been predicted from a knowledge of the components.”
Regrettably, in my opinion, pharmacists have largely accepted and internalized the pharmaceutical industry’s description of the determinants of human health. Thus pharmacists are complicit in the dissemination of a mechanistic and reductionist model of human health—based on attacking human biology with synthetic chemicals—that is beneficial to Pharma’s narrative.
Blockers, Antagonists and Inhibitors:
Pharma has been wildly successful in promoting the view that health depends on the prescribing of alpha blockers, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, angiotensin receptor blockers, H2 antagonists, proton pump inhibitors, HMGCoA reductase inhibitors, etc. Pharma believes that the human body cannot thrive without constant governance and control by pharmaceuticals prescribed and dispensed by professionals in white coats.
From the Perspective of Mother Nature, Pharmaceuticals Are Foreign Substances:
Pharma seems to have a bizarre belief that as long as these highly synthetic substances are used for benevolent purposes (to treat disease), Mother Nature will give them a pass. In fact, Mother Nature probably sees pharmaceuticals as foreign to evolution. That is why almost every drug in the pharmacy comes with a long list of potential side effects. In contrast, whole foods at a farmer’s market are not accompanied by leaflets describing precautions, warnings, contraindications and adverse effects. I view the long lists of potential drug side effects as an indication that the human body is rebelling against the dictatorship of these foreign substances known as pharmaceuticals, just as occupied populations rebel against dictatorship by a powerful oppressor.
Pharma Is at War with Human Biology:
The Physicians’ Desk Reference divides drugs into a large number of categories according to their use. By far, the biggest categories are those with the prefix “anti.” That includes anti-inflammatories, anti-histamines, anti-depressants, anti-hypertensives, anti-nauseants, anti-obesity, anti-psychotics, anti-hyperlipidemics (lipid lowering), anti-spasmodics, anti-acid (antacid), anti-pyretics (fever reducers), anti-pruretics (anti-itch), anti-neoplastics (anti-cancer), anti-arrhythmics, anti-coagulants, anti-anxiety, and antibiotics.
Thus Pharma’s bible, The Physicians’ Desk Reference, primarily consists of agents that are at war with the complex biological systems in the human body. So it’s not surprising that concepts of power and war dominate modern medicine with terminology like defeat cancer, destroy cancerous cells, War Against Cancer, fight depression, control blood pressure, etc.
Pharma Views Normal Biological Processes as Pathological:
Pharma’s mechanistic and reductionist view of the human body often leads to simplistic solutions in complex biological systems:
Pharma’s war on cardiovascular disease is largely a war on cholesterol. It doesn’t seem to matter to Pharma that cholesterol is essential for the functioning of every cell in the human body or that, for example, cholesterol is essential in the production of hormones.
Pharma seems to view the existence of stomach acid as an error in human evolution. How else can one view the widespread use of proton pump inhibitors (Prilosec, Nexium, Aciphex, Prevacid and Protonix), acid suppressors (Zantac, Pepcid, Axid and Tagamet) and antacids (Rolaids, Tums)? Stomach acid performs many essential functions including the digestion of food and killing noxious organisms in that food.
Pharma seems to view pain as something to be attacked and defeated. Advertisers for OTC pain relievers such as ibuprofen often promote the concept that this drug allows athletes to “power through pain” (participate in sports while injured). In truth, pain is an important signal telling us to stop engaging in the activity that is causing the pain until our body has time to heal on its own schedule. Similarly, back pain should be viewed as our brain telling us to get a firmer mattress, or to sit in chairs with more lumbar support, or to get a job that doesn’t require standing all day on a hard floor, rather than simply attack the pain with analgesics.
Pharma seems to view fever as another error in human evolution. The reality is that mild to moderate fever is often a defense mechanism to fight infection. Mild to moderate fever is in fact protective and should not be routinely treated unless it is more severe, potentially causing brain damage.
Pharma seems to view diarrhea as another error in human evolution. The reality is that diarrhea is a protective mechanism analogous to fever and pain. The purpose of diarrhea is to remove harmful organisms or other noxious substances from our digestive tract. Diarrhea should not be routinely treated with anti-diarrheal products unless it is severe. Replenishment of fluid and electrolytes with products like Pedialyte is more logical than using products that halt diarrhea.
Biological reductionism refers to reducing behaviour to a physical level and explaining it in terms of neurons, neurotransmitters, hormones, brain structure, etc. Pharma’s simplistic understanding of the human body reduces depression to a brain chemical imbalance (primarily serotonin) and ignores the critical role played by one’s life circumstances in the causation of depression.
Pharma blames cancer on a cellular malfunction (or bad genes or aging) and ignores the role of the toxic chemicals that are so ubiquitous in modern societies. Pharma advertisements promote bravery and tenacity when confronted with a cancer diagnosis. Fighting cancer means willingly and passively undergoing treatment with toxic chemotherapeutic agents. From my perspective, fighting cancer should mean fighting against corporations that pollute our environment or that fill modern society with synthetic chemicals foreign to human evolution. Pharma advertisements never tell you that The Merck Manual (17th edition, pp. 2591-2592) essentially states that up to 90% of cancers are preventable:
“Environmental or nutritional factors probably account for up to 90% of human cancers. These factors include smoking; diet; and exposure to sunlight, chemicals, and drugs. Genetic, viral, and radiation factors may cause the rest.”
Pharmacy School Curricula Seem to Have Been Designed to Please Pharma:
In my opinion, the pharmacy school I attended resembled a seminary because students were indoctrinated into a narrow view of health based on molecules, cells, chemistry and pharmacology. There was no reverence for the healing power of nature and the importance of good nutrition. Pharmacy school was all about the utilization of synthetic chemicals that overwhelm and override delicate biological processes at the molecular and cellular levels.
One of the most surprising and disappointing things to me about pharmacy school was the realization that the core of the curriculum is disease rather than health. Pharmacy school presented a purely mechanistic and reductionist view of the human body which taught students that human health can be understood by studying the function of molecules and cells.
From Day 1 in pharmacy school, the human body was portrayed as a mechanical device. There was no reverence for the wondrous and miraculous healing power of nature. This view of the human body is, of course, what Pharma wants but it completely ignores the awesome healing power of nature. In my opinion, the goal of modern medicine is not to augment Mother Nature. The goal of modern medicine is to replace Mother Nature with a technological world view, a quick techno-fix for every health problem.
Prevention vs. Pills:
None of my pharmacy professors dared ask “Wouldn’t it be better to prevent these diseases rather than treat them?” That would have been viewed as blasphemy. The professor would have been viewed as a troublemaker. If a pharmacy student were to declare in class that he/she is more interested in prevention than pills, that student would also have been viewed as a troublemaker and as anti-pharmacy.
A discussion of nutrition would have been viewed by students as oddly out of place in pharmacy school. Pharmacy students learn to see health as a consequence of the manipulation of complex biological processes at the molecular and cellular levels. They learn to be biological technologists, not nutritionists or dietitians. Pharmacy students who believe strongly in disease prevention are likely to be uncomfortable in pharmacy school and during their careers as pharmacists.