Big Pharma is a wizard at “pharmaceuticalizing” Americans, as well as the rest of the world. But it is worst in the U.S., given phenomena that include direct-to-consumer drug advertising and the exceptionally high price of drugs, at least double or multiples of what those outside the U.S. pay. Anyone watching morning news will attest to the overwhelming dominance Big Pharma now has over TV ads, as well as network news content. (Yes: Big Pharma now controls what you see and hear on Big Media.) Bad news pointing a finger at Big Pharma is extremely unusual—why would network TV bite the hand that feeds it?
Irritable bowel syndrome, IBS, is an illustrative example. IBS has been diagnosed in 35 million Americans with an equal number undiagnosed but just enduring symptoms in silence, a total of something like 70 million people or one in five Americans. It wasn’t that long ago when IBS was considered a purely psychiatric disease, a condition believed to afflict neurotic people preoccupied with bowel movements whose lack of emotional control resulted in diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, and bloating, treated with antidepressant and sedative medications. IBS then graduated to status as a “functional” disease, i.e., a condition that was indeed associated with inconvenient health issues such as urgent bowel movements and diarrhea but was not associated with “hard” consequences such as colitis, bleeding, or colon cancer.
Knowledge marches on. We now know that IBS is not just a consequence of obsessive-compulsivity and is not without long-term consequences. The evidence is becoming clear: IBS is, at least 50% of the time, a manifestation of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, SIBO, a very real condition with real long-term implications.
SIBO means that unhealthy microorganisms originating in the colon have managed to ascend up into the ileum, jejunum, duodenum, and stomach, increasing intestinal permeability, yielding unhealthy inflammatory effects, increased blood levels of lipopolysaccharide (the breakdown product of unhealthy microorganisms), and other body-wide health consequences.
The pharmaceutical industry, dispensing products that reduce symptoms while not addressing the cause, have developed billion dollar “solutions” to IBS over the years, such as:
- Anti-spasmodic drugs—These are drugs that reduce the cramping and discomfort of IBS.
- Anti-diarrhea drugs—These are drugs meant to reduce the inconvenience and embarrassment of urgent bowel movements and diarrhea that can plague IBS sufferers.
- New drugs to reduce colonic motility and water—These are the new drugs advertised on TV and elsewhere costing hundreds to thousands of dollars per month that have modest effects on reducing the bowel urgency of IBS but associated with awful side-effects that include pancreatitis (that can result in irreversible type 1 diabetes and impaired digestive capacity for a lifetime) and colon ischemia that necessitates partial or total colon removal and creation of an ileostomy.
Of course, most mainstream physicians, being little more than instruments of Big Pharma, the medical device industry, and hospitals, offer these pharmaceutical solutions to their IBS patients anxious for answers to their condition, exposing them to largely ineffective drugs and potentially life-altering side-effects . . . while never addressing the cause. Not addressing the cause carries long-term consequences as SIBO has, over the past few years, been demonstrated to lead to the pain and disability of fibromyalgia, increased potential for autoimmune diseases, the sleep disruption of restless leg syndrome, diverticular disease, and increased risk for colon cancer. Preliminary evidence is expanding the list of potential consequences to Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, even Alzheimer’s dementia. No, IBS is not just a matter of neurotic obsession with bowel movements, but a real health condition with very real long-term health consequences.
This new insight—that IBS may really be a manifestation of a 30-foot long proliferation of unhealthy bacterial species—means that reducing and pushing back down the unhealthy bacterial species that have ascended can reverse the phenomena and symptoms of IBS. The problem is, of course, that Big Pharma has not yet conceived of a big payoff for managing SIBO. So no sexy sales representatives show up in medical offices with promises of lunch, weekends in Orlando, or other perks to doctors to prescribe their products. It means that, should you ask your primary care physician whether SIBO could underlie the bowel urgency and discomfort of your IBS, he/she will likely be perplexed or dismissive. Or worse, he/she refers you to a gastroenterologist who inevitably advises an upper endoscopy and colonoscopy, who then declares “Good news: You don’t have a stomach ulcer or colon cancer.” You ask “What about my question about SIBO?” to which the gastroenterologist replies “No, you’re fine”or “Go back to your primary care physician.” The better-informed gastroenterologist might prescribe an antibiotic but with no advice on how you developed this infection, how you can increase the likelihood of a successful response, nor how to reduce potential for recurrences that are common.
In other words, if Big Pharma didn’t instruct your doctor on how to deal with a health issue, he/she will likely be completely in the dark about it, even if it means a future of rheumatoid arthritis or colon cancer.
Bottom line: Recognize that many, if not most, people diagnosed with IBS really have SIBO and that addressing SIBO is crucial for maintaining or restoring long-term health. If the answers don’t come from your doctor, then look to the Undoctored program for better solutions, including herbal antibiotic regimens to eradicate, strategies to increase likelihood of eradication, and efforts to help prevent recurrence.