Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Medical Industry Bias Shows in Review of Heart Health Herb

A newly published review has gone into great detail and examined dozens of clinical trials of the herb Hawthorn to determine if traditional use of this herb for heart health can be validated. The way that this review was managed, and how others are reacting to it, is a great study in the ongoing debate from medical doctors allied to the pharmaceutical industry.

This new article, a review of existing research, suggests that hawthorn extract “significantly” improves symptoms. That's good news for anyone with heart failure, a common condition that is both debilitating and deadly. Dick Cheney is a well-known example of this heart condition . . . an estimated five million Americans suffer from the same problem, which is often the result of clogged arteries that put stress on the heart by forcing it to work harder.

This review co-author, Dr. Max Pittler, deputy director of complementary medicine at Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, England, tells reporters that he would certainly take hawthorn extract if he had heart issues. According to his report, the hawthorn bush produces one of the most commonly used herbal medicines in the United States. Many believe that hawthorn extract improves heart health, lowers cholesterol and boosts antioxidant levels.

To determine whether hawthorn is actually an effective treatment, Pittler and colleagues searched the medical literature for high-quality studies into the use of the herb in chronic heart failure patients. Their review appears in the current issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research. Systematic reviews like this one draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing medical trials on a topic.

Decisions about the research considered for inclusion in a review include whether or not the trial was double-blinded, or whether it was placebo controlled, and whether or not it was published. The new hawthorn review does NOT include the results of one large study — unpublished to date — that suggested hawthorn has only a limited affect on lifespan.

It is in the way that other doctors treat this other, unpublished study that shows us exactly the problem with certain doctors and their strong allegiance to the pharmaceutical industry. Despite the evidence in this new review that hawthorn "improved" or "improved significantly" various elements of heart failure, some doctors remain unconvinced.

Dr. Gregg Fonarow, director of the Heart Failure Program at the University of California at Los Angeles, said the larger hawthorn study whose results were released last year impressed him more. The study, which was not included in the review because it thus far remains unpublished, found only limited benefit.

Why would a doctor such as Fonarow look at the proof in these 14 analyzed trials and STILL suggest that the one trial that really matters is the unpublished one? Research that goes unpublished has a problem. It usually remains unpublished because it doesn't pass muster for one reason or another. By allying himself with the unpublished data, this doctor is stubbornly refusing to recognize the potential importance of this herbal supplement.

“It’s naturally attractive to think there is something over the counter or naturally occurring that may help improve outcome. Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to identify that so far,” Fonarow was quoted as saying. This new review will provide greater understanding of a valuable herbal supplement to open-minded doctors all over the world. To doctors like this one, nothing will move them from the pharmaceutical world to consider the potential of plants and natural products.


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