by Sudha Hamilton
Our Health: Is the TGA helping or hindering our journey to better health?
Is protection, censorship & control the way?
Who will make the necessary investment in nutraceuticals & superfoods to satisfy the regulatory bodies?
I think to begin this topic we need to define what “health,” actually is.
What is health?
“1.The state of being well in body or mind. 2. A person’s mental or physical condition. 3. Soundness, esp. financial or moral.” (Aust Concise Oxford Dictionary)
Health is most often defined negatively as an absence of disease & this is probably closer to the paradigm that encapsulates our modern health system in this country. I think we, as a community need to find a more comprehensive & sophisticated definition of health before we can actually move to a state of overall greater health. A better definition I came across is this one from the nursing dept at a training institute in the United States:
“Health is a unity and harmony within the mind, body and spirit which is unique to each person, and is as defined by that person. The level of wellness or health is, in part, determined by the ability to deal with and defend against stress. Health is on a continuum with movements between a state of optimum well-being and illness which is defined as degrees of disharmony. It is determined by physiological, psychological, socio-cultural, spiritual, and developmental stage variables.”
I particularly like the reference in this definition to the “uniqueness” of each person & the encompassing acceptance of health as a continuum moving between different states at various stages of our lives. The more that we can move to respecting & treating the health of each individual rather than basing our health policy on generalised statistical medicine the greater satisfaction that we all will draw from our health system. Our doctors & health administrators need to stop treating us like cattle or other so called dumb animals, we are not bodies without minds or souls. It is the narrowly defined “universality,” in the laws of science, which has, in my opinion, condemned modern western medicine to always treat the body not the person. Why does an effective treatment always have to be reduced down to what works for everybody or at least a majority of “bodies?” The lowest common denominator will always be precisely that – the lowest. Why can’t we look with more inclusive eyes at the amazing variety of people & their responses to various treatments, be they nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals or so called superfoods?
The increasingly aggressive standpoint of the Australian government’s Therapeutics Goods Administration in challenging health claims made by those in the business of selling these natural substances can be partially understood as a means to protect certain vulnerable sections of the community, those who are sick with terminal & incurable conditions that do not readily respond to those treatments proffered by our doctors & hospitals, & who may be swayed by the testimonials of others who have cured themselves through diet & directly or indirectly through the consumption of a particular natural substance. Therefore, perhaps avoiding treatments recommended by the state in favour of a more natural approach, that may or may not shorten their life expectancy.
This protection for a small minority of people, through strictly enforced censorship based on the premise of science’s lowest common denominator, condemns the rest of the community to ignorance of the health benefits of these substances. Why? Because it is money in our capitalistic economies that drives information, education & research & if these natural health manufacturers & distributors cannot advertise their products then they cannot sell them & the information dries up. It also makes the task of sharing some new healthy discovery a lot harder now & the province of big companies, as it is often too expensive for the smaller player now to enter the commercial arena due to the onerous investment now needed. Do I personally think the majority of Australian business’ involved in selling health supplements genuinely believe that their products contribute to creating better health for those in the community that purchase & use them? In my experience I would say yes. Of course there are also always a small number of business people who exploit demand without a view to the totality of consequences in their pursuit of profits, like the owners of the Pan Pharmaceutical Company who were suspended by the TGA in 2003. However one rotten apple does not make the whole apple industry shonky. We need to be careful that greater regulation does not choke the creativity out of the natural health industry & leave it in the hands of a few with enormous vested interests.
The current lack of definitive western scientific proof for many of the health claims made by many of the people involved in selling things like Goji juice & berries, is due I think to a combination of circumstances. Firstly it is a relative new phenomenon here in the west & there has not really been the time or the money that needs to be invested in these trials but I see signs that is now coming. Secondly, that inertia, has also been fuelled by a general disinterest by the medical/scientific fraternity in testing natural substances when there is far more money to be made in the development of artificial pharmaceuticals that can by copy righted for exclusive income generation. Who funds most tests = pharmaceutical companies. This lack of investment in nutritional science also leads to relatively poor levels of understanding about this field & question marks over whether the right queries are being framed in studies into these substances. Which brings us back to timing & the fact that we are on the threshold of an exciting new era of nutritional understanding & its impact on our quality of life.
Can we empower people to take responsibility for their own health? Does the existing established medical fraternity want people to take back that power? Is it happening anyway in some sort of quiet revolution? All questions that arise when I am faced with this ongoing conundrum about whether a superfood is really that or in fact more snake oil, as many of our health legislators would have us all believe. Lets be blunt, many doctors still think that taking vitamin supplements are a waste of time & money. Self- interest drives much of our world, be it in health or elsewhere, the question is who is driving the TGA? Is it medical experts who have had much of their research funded by pharmaceutical companies? Do we want to end up with a few vitamin giants supplying our supplement market, who are in fact owned by pharmaceutical corporations? Which is pretty much where we are now in this country. Is big business always going to sell us the “good oil?” And where are our passionate modern “shaman” going to put their healing knowledge & energy now? Lots of interesting questions, that we all could be asking our elected representatives in the days ahead. It will be fascinating to see how things continue to unfold & where the power will reside in the ongoing maintenance of our health.