Who will protect your favourite natural health products?

Endangered Species

by Joseph Roberts

First they came for the Butcher Broom and I did not speak out – because I did not use Butcher Broom.

Then they came for the Horse Chestnut and I did not speak out – because I did not use Horse Chestnut.

Then they came for the Nattokinase and I did not speak out – because I did not use Nattokinase.

Then they came for the Gotu Kola and I did not speak out – because I did not use Gotu Kola.

Then they came for the Citronella and I did not speak out – because I did not use Citronella.

Then they came for my favourite Natural Health Product that I did use – and there was no one left to speak out for the safe natural products that have kept me healthy all these years.

So speak up now. On page three of this issue of Common Ground, you can take action. Send in the letter, postage-free, to your MP and add your personal note. Ask at your local Health Food Store or go on-line to learn more about the thousands of Natural Health Products (so called NHPs) that have been discouraged, eliminated or watered down. Your access to traditional natural health products that are safe and which have helped people for hundreds of years is being limited.

Now, Big Pharma’s lobbyists have wormed their way into the health products industry’s trade associations for their own agenda. They have deceived the well-intended into believing that Health Canada’s Natural Health Protectorate will help protect our thriving grassroots health industry. Well, so far, the small grassroots producers have not been helped although many NHPs and their Canadian companies have been “helped” out of business! Why are they doing this? Because big pharmaceutical interests want it all.

The more successful our natural health food industry became, the more Big Pharma got interested. They do not want safe, affordable natural health products competing with their expensive, patented, profitable drugs. They are doing what they have always done: go for the money, take out and take over their competition. It’s not about whether the traditional natural product is healthy, but whether it contains an ingredient Pharma can isolate and control for their profit. It’s time to act and protect natural health products.

Apologies to Pastor Martin Niemöller (original version follows):

First they came for the communists and I did not speak out – because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the socialists and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionis

Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.

The statement above was published in the book, They Thought They Were Free, by Milton Mayer (1955), based on interviews conducted in Germany years earlier. The quotation inspired civil rights activists and educators around the world. Some research traces the text to several speeches given by Niemöller in 1946.

“There were no minutes or copy of what I said, and it may be that I formulated it differently,” Niemöller recounted. Though the exact wording may vary, the basic message hits home.

Jazz musician, Charles Mingus, used a variation on the poem introducing his composition Don’t Let It Happen Here.

Take action

Letter to MP

Tell your MP to protect our Natural Health Products

Health Canada ignored Parliamentary Committee recommendations
In 2004, Health Canada ignored Parliament’s multi-year process that taxpayers funded. Instead of giving NHPs their own unique
third category, HC placed NHPs as a subclass of “Drugs” and applied standards that they knew thousands of non-patentable NHPs could not meet. They also forced countless authentic Natural Health Products to reformulate, yielding less effective products, while issuing Natural Product Numbers (NPNs) to hundreds of pharmacy items such as nicotine patches, Ex-Lax and TUMS.

»Click here to download PDF of letter to your MP.

The slow burn

Fire Earth

fire as fable and fortune

by Geoff Olson

• Fire has a way of getting people’s attention. Some years back, during a period of change in my life, I made arrangements to stay at a friend’s cabin in the interior. Driving up the Coquihalla Highway, we were surprised to see columns of ash in the distance, rising into the sky. We hadn’t intentionally planned to travel toward one of the greatest wildfires in provincial history, but we carried on anyway, like moths to a flame.

Our destination was a cabin perched on a cliffside in Westbank. On arrival at this idyllic spot, I pulled a text from a bookshelf for bathroom reading. I opened Joseph Campbell’s The Masks of God: Oriental Mythology to a random spot and my eyes fell on this passage:

“All things, O priests,” said the Buddha in his famous Fire Sermon, “are on fire. And what, O priests, are all these things which are on fire? The eye, O priests, is on fire; forms are on fire; eye-consciousness is on fire; impressions received by the eye are on fire; and whatever sensation, pleasant, unpleasant, or indifferent, originates in dependence on impressions received by the eye, that also is on fire.”

It’s all going up in smoke, according to Buddha: “The tongue is on fire; tastes are on fire; …the body is on fire; things tangible are on fire; …the mind is on fire; ideas are on fire; …mind-consciousness is on fire; impressions received by the mind are on fire.”

I dropped the book in my lap and thought, with the scent of smoke hanging in the air, “that’s interesting.”

As twilight fell, my host and I had ringside seats overlooking Kelowna and the inferno building at the town’s outskirts. Dust scattered the remaining sunlight, turning the sky a technicolour purple. Pyroclastic clouds boiled thousands of feet into the air and if that weren’t enough, lightning bolts flashed vertically from cloud to cloud in a scene worthy of some fifties’ biblical blockbuster.

That night, I could make out flames in the distance, but it seemed as if my eyes were playing tricks on me. Given the height of the buildings in the foreground, the flames must have been up to 60 feet in height. That couldn’t be right, I thought. I later heard a similar estimate from firefighters who had never fought a blaze of this scale before.

The two of us were witnessing something sublime: literally, a “terrible beauty” expressing nature’s primal force. We were momentarily safe at our vantage point, but Kelowna residents, evacuated from their homes to local school gymnasiums, were terrified of losing everything. Some did. Luckily, the winds died down and the day-long inferno failed to spread into the town centre.


Wikipedia defines fire as “the rapid oxidation of a material in the exothermic chemical process of combustion, releasing heat, light and various reaction products.” All you need is heat, fuel and oxygen and there’s no shortage of that on planet Earth, which is perpetually on the edge of conflagration. Oxygen, a highly reactive gas, constitutes 21 percent of the atmosphere. If the concentration were even slightly higher, a global firestorm would result. (The probability of a forest fire being ignited increases by as much as 70 percent for every one percent increase in the percentage of atmospheric oxygen, notes Michael Denton in Nature’s Destiny.) In fact, a number of the scientists working on the atomic bomb at the top-secret Manhattan Project were seriously concerned that the first nuclear detonation at Alamogordo, New Mexico would set the entire atmosphere ablaze. Fortunately for humanity, their fears didn’t pan out, but there was no way they or their colleagues could have known for sure until they lit the nuclear match.

I didn’t get the Fire Sermon at first; it seemed to me like a piece of eastern wisdom lost in translation. I understand it better now. In mythological terms, fire has been a perennial motif for transformation, of turning one thing into something else while radiating light in the process. In Buddha’s Fire Sermon, human existence is bundled with “the fire of hatred, with the fire of infatuation; with birth, old age, death, sorrow, lamentation, misery, grief, and despair.” (I would add joy, laughter and pleasure to the list of inflammable items).

Where would our mythmakers, storytellers, singer-songwriters and poets be without fire? You could interpret Robert Frost’s twentieth century poem, Fire and Ice, as a New England plug-in to eastern software: “Some say the world will end in fire/Some say in ice/From what I’ve tasted of desire/I hold with those who favour fire…”

Beyond that, you and I are burning all the time, literally. Combustion is the prime mover of our biochemistry, in a process of carbohydrate catabolism called Krebs cycle. It’s one of the major processes that keeps us mammals moving, thinking and feeling – a slow burn that’s cousin to the oxidation that slowly yellows the pages of acid-treated books. We are literally combusting – changing irreversibly from moment to moment – from the very things that keep us attached to the wheel of existence.


In his essay “Is Life Worth Living?” American philosopher William James noted that life swings between two poles: positive and negative, pleasure and pain, good and bad. The effort to live according to the pleasure principle alone, undisturbed or unperturbed by life’s changing fortunes, negates the very polarity that gives life depth.

“It is, indeed, a remarkable fact that sufferings and hardships do not, as a rule, abate the love of life; they seem, on the contrary, usually to give it a keener zest. The sovereign source of melancholy is repletion. Need and struggle are what excite and inspire us; our hour of triumph is what brings the void. Not the Jews of the captivity, but those of the days of Solomon’s glory are those from whom the pessimistic utterances in our Bible come,” James wrote.

At one end of the spectrum, our trend-conscious culture embraces calmness and non-attachment as a lifestyle option. Urban hipsters outfitted with yoga mats and water bottles seek to find the stillness within that will free them – if only momentarily – from the constant buzz of mental distraction and restlessness.

At the other end of the spectrum, we pay lip service to Neil Young’s romantic rock n’ roll dictum that “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” We are mournful but not mystified when one of our culture heroes does the Promethean thing and smacks into the ground after flying too close to the sun… like Hunter S. Thompson, Heath Ledger, John Belushi, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, David Foster Wallace, Ann Sexton, Amy Winehouse, et al.

In his 1957 beat novel, On the Road, Jack Kerouac famously heralded “the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…”

By the mid-sixties, Kerouac was a shambolic figure with little left to say; an alcoholic living with his mother and third wife. He died at 47 of internal haemorrhaging, brought on by a lifetime of heavy drinking. As a sometimes Buddhist, the beat author may well have come across the Tibetan notion that even heavenly pleasures have a hellish aspect. This notion is supported by contemporary brain research on addiction. For example, the pyrotechnic kick of crystal methamphetamine is said to be to 24 times more pleasurable than sexual contact. The flip side of the receptor-site rush is the dopamine drought of meth withdrawal, which sometimes results in criminal acts of incredible violence and depravity. There are some bonfires best left unlit.

The other pole has dangers of its own. Some of us cling so desperately to safe, risk-free conditions we never really experience life in its full tragicomedy. There’s no danger of getting burned; there isn’t much chance of more than a flicker, either.

Last spring, a friend living out east called with some bad news. He had inoperable cancer, but was adamant he would beat it. My friend, in his late fifties – I’ll call him Simon – believed in the power of the mind to alter reality down to the cellular level. I knew the odds against fourth-stage lung cancer were slim to none, but I wasn’t about to share my thoughts; that would have been callous. We talked about alternative therapies to supplement any hospital treatments and I offered to send some meditation/relaxation CDs his way, which he appreciated greatly.

We were more casual friends than anything else so I never got a fix on the fine details of Simon’s life. But I always enjoyed our conversations, which we renewed once or twice a year when he was in town. We met back in the nineties, when he commissioned me to do a T-shirt design. A sensitive man with a good sense of humour, he had an impressive talent for high-end web design. From what I know, Simon only nailed down a handful of high-paying clients for his services. He wasn’t great at self-promotion – a common character trait of creative people – and felt ambivalent about working for big corporations.

Simon had been single for most of the time I had known him and had only recently began a long-distance relationship with a woman in the States. He never seemed to be one for an excessive lifestyle, although I remember he once mentioned moving away from LA because of the drug scene in the entertainment industry. He told amusing stories about some of the Hollywood stars he met and he talked about other stars – specifically, the Pleiades, supposedly the interstellar source of accurate information from a channeller he met.

We talked several times on the phone after his diagnosis, but kept in touch mostly by email. After a month-long lapse, I sent him a message early in August requesting his phone number, which I had misplaced. There was no response. A short time later, I went looking online for his number and discovered a funeral service in his town for a man of his name and age, just two days after my last message. I had that melancholy, uncanny feeling that someone I knew had disappeared from the scene like a coin in a magician’s hand.

In his last conversation with me, Simon described his diagnosis of cancer a “gift.” He wasn’t talking clichéd affirmations about turning lemons into lemonade; he meant it literally, he insisted. He had at last found peace with his family and lived with his parents in his final months. His illness had become an opportunity for Simon to complete some unfinished work. William James’ words, about the unsuspected benefits of suffering and hardship, sprang to my mind.


Human beings are remarkably fragile creatures. We can physically survive in only a very narrow range of temperature and atmospheric pressure, in a thin skein of the Earth’s biosphere. Our chemically congenial bodies react with all sorts of toxic and nontoxic compounds, making us open to a vast range of molecular entanglements, both good and bad.

On top of that, we are 75 percent water, making us highly vulnerable to physical impacts. We’re in regular danger of damaging ourselves in so many different ways so it’s remarkable most of us get to an advanced age without looking like the limbless Black Knight in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. (Even though we have the specific gravity of Jell-O, there are still plenty of drivers who drive under the influence of mobile devices, as if auditioning for Darwin Awards.)

We are an unspecialized species equipped with only our wits to survive. In many places on Spaceship Earth, a naked human being has about as much chance of survival overnight as a mole rat in the Large Hadron Collider. (That’s one reason why so many cheered “Fearless” Felix Baumgartner’s recent world record for skydiving from the edge of space. Considering what could have happened to the adventurer on the way down – a death-metal lyric sheet of bodily horrors – you can only applaud the sangfroid of someone who challenged the planet’s most extreme environment and won.)

We sometimes look to nature for examples of an inner harmony that often eludes us. But even here, we find no prior model for calm existence. Even in complex ecosystems, we rarely find true equilibrium, but rather what ecologists call “dynamic disequilibrium.” Populations of animals regularly overbreed and crash, with the effects rippling throughout the food chain. Nature is certainly not all tooth and claw – there are myriad examples of cooperation across and between species – but life is perpetually balanced between creation and destruction and it can’t be otherwise. It’s the boundary between order and disorder where complexity flourishes, scientists tell us. It’s the fragility and finiteness of life that allow embodied beings to exist in the first place. Like fire, it’s about transformation; always has been, and always will be. As Aldous Huxley once observed, “The only completely consistent people are the dead.”


I recently ran into someone who knew Simon – let’s call him Allen – and told him the bad news. We talked for a bit about his struggle, and I mentioned how Simon thought he could lick his diagnosis. “We are so in denial of death in this culture,” Allen said, shaking his head. New-agers and non-believers seem to be in agreement in this regard: aging is something unnatural and wrong, a biological flaw we can cheat through medicine or focused intention – or, at the very least, disguise through makeup, surgical alteration and Internet avatars. And if we live long enough, consciousness-preserving salvation from a technological “singularity” a few decades down the road.

The Tibetan monks beloved by Lululemon-wearing westerners don’t buy such sophisticated self-deception, Allen observed. The spiritual practice known as Chöd occasionally involves meditation in cemeteries at night, as a reminder of the constant nearness of death.

Although Simon was fooling himself about his own chances – I could certainly see myself doing the same, given the circumstances – when he talked about how cancer was a “gift” that brought him closer to his family, his voice seemed touched by grace. He was too young to go and his wick was just about done, but there was a late-stage burst of incandescence.

Life is a tough business. We’re all on fire and on borrowed time, at least in our current, transient forms. I can’t see how this knowledge can do anything more than encourage compassion for all beings, ourselves included. We are all in this together – “this” being a colourful conflagration that has continued for billions of years, with forms shedding forms in a ceaseless burning and yearning that sometimes ignites into a blaze of light.


image © Logray

TUsing less energy – The real alternative

by Jeff Rubin

Electric car

• How many once-in-a-century accidents have to happen before we recognize they’ve become the norm and not the exception? And if we accept them as the norm, what does that say about our relentless quest for more energy? We can’t continue to increase our energy consumption exponentially without expecting to pay ever-greater costs. Even as our attempts become more desperate, it’s easy to understand why we keep trying. When we stop finding new sources of energy, our economies stop growing.

Growth is the Holy Grail of modern societies. It’s the common denominator underlying nearly every action taken by corporations and governments. Whether it’s the sales manager at your local electronics store, the developer of a new housing project or a finance minister trying to close a huge budget deficit, each one prays at the altar of growth. Economic expansion comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be spotted in the building cranes above your city’s skyline, in the bustle of shoppers at the mall on a busy Saturday and in the freshly turned sod of a new subdivision. All of this activity feeds into Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the total measure of what a country’s economy produces each year.

Of course, growth also comes with a lot of costs. Without growth, we could stop building new highways for the burgeoning number of new vehicles that hit the road every year. We wouldn’t have to build more nuclear energy facilities or coal-fired power plants to meet our expanding electricity needs. We could stop our cities from sprawling into the countryside to make room for new suburbanites. And we could cut back on the amount of greenhouse gases we emit into the atmosphere.

For the economics profession, the notion of a world without growth is pure science fiction. While most economists now acknowledge that expensive energy curtails GDP, the majority also believe that technological innovations will allow us to leap over the hurdles presented by resource scarcity.

Historians take a different view. The decline of the Roman Empire has captured the world’s imagination for centuries, as have the collapse of Mayan society and the disappearance of people from Easter Island. Indeed, history is the story of the rise and fall of civilizations large and small. The exact reasons for social collapse are rarely known, but many theories cite resource scarcity as a contributing factor. Whether [or not] constraints on resources, such as food and water, is the driving reason behind societal failures will remain lost in the mists of time, but one thing is indisputable: civilizations that once flourished have eventually floundered. But most economists these days seem to have short memories. Viewed from the limited perspective of the post-war era, resource constraints and a scarcity of fossil fuels in particular appear to them to be no match for human ingenuity, which keeps finding ways to supply the world with more energy. However, rising resource prices are telling us that technological advancements are now coming up short.

We could hardly pick a worse time for higher energy costs to start squeezing the growth out of the global economy. The modern world counts on economic growth to support population expansion as well as satisfy the desire for higher incomes and all the extra things money can buy. Since the last recession, the need for GDP growth has become even more urgent. Economic growth will provide the financial wherewithal that allows governments to service the debts accumulated during that downturn. Right now, though, the global economy is discovering that chasing growth is a catch-22. Our countries need GDP growth to repay the debt acquired during the last oil price-induced recession, but achieving that growth will bring back the same high prices that killed growth in the first place.

Finding the energy to fuel our economies is no longer enough; we need that energy to be affordable. That’s why the oil industry is going to such lengths to tap the world’s resources. That’s why we’re changing dictatorial regimes in Libya, propping up an absolutist monarchy in Saudi Arabia, digging up pristine forests in northern Alberta and drilling beneath the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean.

In the United States, the Obama administration, which fined BP billions for the Macondo fiasco, is issuing permits for deepwater exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. I guess the White House is betting other offshore drillers will have better luck contending with the ultrahigh pressures at the bottom of the ocean. On the other side of the world, China is building new nuclear plants in coastal areas that are prone to the same magnitude of earthquake that caused the Fukushima disaster. Beijing is undoubtedly hoping for a luckier roll of the dice when the next seismic event occurs.

The choice currently being made by most politicians to simply to cross their fingers and hope for the best is hardly a sound way to deal with mounting energy costs. And in any event, the solution to higher energy prices won’t come from finding larger oil reserves or building more nuclear plants. Nor will it come from a technological breakthrough in renewable energy. We aren’t going to suddenly discover that solar panels or wind turbines hold a magic key that will power our economies. Instead, the solution to higher energy costs is quite simple: learn to use less energy. That doesn’t mean returning to the Stone Age. People in some countries, such as Denmark, live quite happily while also using a lot less energy.

The sooner more nations learn how to curb energy demand, the better it will be for everyone. In a world of energy scarcity, consuming more fuel comes at someone else’s expense. One country’s gain is another’s loss. It’s a pending reality that will affect how much oil everyone gets to burn from now on. And if you live in North America or western Europe, you can expect your fuel allotment to be much more modest than it’s been for the last few decades.

Over time, our economies will become greener and more efficient. That’s the hope, anyway. In the last forty years, we’ve made massive gains in fuel efficiency in places such as North America, Western Europe and Japan. But at the same time, economic growth and a rising global population have meant that our total energy consumption has become greater than ever before. And now emerging economic giants such as China and India are looking to claim a larger share of global energy supply. Hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indians are moving from rural lives, where they consumed sparse amounts of fuel, to energy-intensive urban lifestyles. As these folks fill up the gas tanks of their brand new cars and flip on light switches in their new apartments, how will the world keep pace with the fresh demand for energy?

One day, we may come up with a fuel alternative that will allow our energy consumption to increase by leaps and bounds. Renewable energy certainly has room to become a larger part of our power mix and thanks to technological advances, that’s exactly what’s happening right now.

Excerpted from The End of Growth by Jeff Rubin, copyright 2012 Jeffrey Rubin Enterprises Inc. Published by Random House Canada. Reproduced by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.

Vancouver November 9: Talk and booksigning at UBC Robson Square Theatre, 7PM. Tickets $15 at Banyen Books/door, 604-732-7912. Victoria November 8: Jeff co-presents with David Suzuki, 7:30-9:30PM, Alix Goolden Hal, 907 Pandora Street, Victoria, 250-595-4232.

photo © Dariusz Kopestynski

The power of cooperation

Macaw pair

by Wendy Holm


Walking to the barn in the chill morning air, you make a mental note to check the woodpile. Are there enough logs to get you through the winter? It takes two to keep a fire going, more to set the hearth ablaze.

Even a fire is built on co-operation.

Neo-conservative gurus would have you believe that co-operation is a soft, woolly concept. That it is greed that drives the economy. Without greed, they say, no one would take risks. The role of government is to safeguard the greedy risk-taker from his bad decisions (bankruptcy protection) and make it easy for him to join with others (joint venture arrangements; publicly traded shares) to forage for money like pigs for truffles, offloading risk to investors.

Today, trade agreements have little to do with trade (barriers are already quite low) and all to do with allowing the pigs their truffles.

With details buried in secretive multilateral negotiations (shared with corporate partners but not with citizens), conditions are imposed and domestic laws overridden that would never pass muster in the normal legislative process.

The Trans Pacific Partnership is a good example: in addition to threatening our domestic supply management system, it will strengthen copyright and drug patent protection (raising the cost of health care) and override domestic laws concerning the environment, workplace safety and investment.

The expectation is that greed – the puppet master guiding the invisible hand of the market – will create jobs and investment.

But what if they’re wrong? What if capitalism is yesterday’s economic model? What if our true instinctive nature is not greed, but co-operation? What if the interests of the community and the individual can be mutually satisfied?

Sitting in my office on Canada’s wet coast, looking out on the calm, rainy waters of Howe Sound, I watch with fascination as hundreds of small water-birds repeatedly cluster together and then – as if on command, with Rockette-like precision – space themselves out again in long and improbably straight lines. Then swim in unison, keeping the line’s edge crisp, towards the shore.

Sometimes they form one line, other times two. Often the lines move forward with the birds shoulder to shoulder, like a squeegee on a window. At other times, the line moves forward in a snake-like fashion, beak-to-tail-feathers, obedient school children in strict single file. When they re-group en masse in the shallow water, they dive a lot, harvesting the fish they have herded into their tight little circle.

How do they do it? How does it happen like that, so precisely? How can a flock of hundreds of birds share knowledge to such an intimate level that each knows exactly what to do and when to do it in such eloquent coordination? With such flawless co-operation?

And if these little birds can do it, why can’t we?

For the birds, co-operation is a survival strategy: success at fishing means they get to eat. Pretty basic. We were once like that. When our forefathers/mothers settled the West, they relied on neighbours to survive and co-operation became the building block of community.

What if we Canadians, like the little Howe Sound birds, are also born with the “co-operation gene”? What if co-operation is our birth-instinct too? Does the fact that (we believe) we no longer need to co-operate to “survive” mean our instinct and skill for co-operation has atrophied?

Have we all drunk the capitalist Kool-Aid and lost our way? Can we de-toxify? Because we are running out of time.

Already, profits are generated not from creating goods for use by society but through the use of financial instruments such as hedges, derivatives and futures. We have replaced productivity with arbitrage. Capitalists have rid themselves of all the “problematic” aspects of making money – coordinating and managing labour, raw materials and bricks and mortar. All they now need are borderless financial networks, wage and regulatory disparities, currency instability and a betting mentality.

The world financial crisis provides both the impetus and the necessity to take control of our economic institutions, to find ways to reduce global disparities in income, social infrastructure and human rights. To give a decent burial to the theories of Smith, Ricardo and other 18th century economists, who lived in a very different world and whose dry and brittle bones are used by shamans of the Chicago School to conjure up the myths of globalization (“competitiveness,” “jobs”) to justify unfettered flows of capital.

In this United Nations 2012 International Year of Co-operatives, communities around the world are understanding that co-operative principles are not a sea anchor tying us to the past, but a powerful mainsail that, well-set, can stimulate the social capital of communities to build a better world.

NOTE: My graduate work in the co-op masters program at Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax focuses on why good co-ops fail. Often, the culprit is a failure of agency (governance) and a lack of financial transparency. Dairyland is my case study.

Wendy Holm is an award-winning agrologist, columnist and speaker based in Vancouver. www.wendyholm.com

photo © Andrevaladao

Evidence vs. Eminence

DRUG BUST by Alan Cassels

• The people’s briefing note on prescription drugs
Portrait of columnist Alan Cassels

What is “Eminence-based Medicine”? It means relying on the opinion of a medical specialist or other prominent health official when it comes to health matters, rather than relying on a careful assessment of relevant research evidence. You might be asking, “Who am I to question an ‘expert,’ especially a physician, a specialist or a prominent medical researcher who knows so much more than me?” Here are a few recent examples of Eminence-based Medicine in the real world, which hopefully will leave you questioning.

Exhibit A

Recently, an Australian journalist shared with me the thoughts of a very prominent professor of medicine concerning cholesterol-lowering drugs. This national expert is one of the authors of Australia’s lipid guidelines – guidance for doctors on cholesterol-lowering or statin drugs – and he weighed in with his opinion around the benefits and harms of statins.

His answers sounded very authoritative, citing studies and reports that buttressed an unmistakable love of statins. He also cherry-picked his data, selecting and presenting research evidence that supported his love affair, concluding that most people, even people at moderate risk for heart disease, should be taking a statin. Saying that double-blind trials provide incontrovertible proof that statins reduce the risk of heart attacks and are among the “safest class of drug ever developed,” he maintained that more people needed to take these drugs. Risks? He said that the “risks of side effects are less than 0.1%.”

If you prefer evidence to expert testimony, you’d look for the most reliable research studies out there and compile them into an analysis that made sense, using methods that are clear and replicable. Above all, referring to single studies is bad, bad, bad because a single study only represents a small slice of research. If you present a study and I counter with a study that found the opposite, the resulting ping-pong game would leave us both exhausted, but no smarter. Instead of single studies, you need to demand, and depend upon, overviews of all available research in an area, such as a systematic review of the literature. This is the kind of stuff produced by the Cochrane Collaboration (www.cochrane.org) and on statins it tells a very different story.

The Cochrane review says statins for primary prevention – drugs to prevent a person’s first heart attack – might have some benefit but they can’t say for sure. The story is incomplete. Their overview of the best quality research is hampered by the fact that some companies refuse to release the full set of adverse event data. Other research suggests that 0.1% risk of side effects is a gross underestimate in the real world and as many as 20% of patients experience muscle weakening when taking statins. So whom do you trust – the expert claiming these are the safest drugs in the world or the evidence that says we actually don’t have a full picture of the safety of these drugs? As one doctor once told me, “In God We Trust, all others must show data.” To which I say, Amen.

Exhibit B: flu drugs

BC launched a very aggressive anti-flu policy this fall, with health care workers being forced to get the flu shot or wear a mask. The rationale is that anyone caring for patients shouldn’t also be passing on viruses to them and making them sick. Fair enough. But does the evidence support mandatory flu shots for healthcare workers? Does the vaccine even work to prevent the spread of the virus?

BC Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall thinks so and so do some of his colleagues, including Dr. Paul Van Buynder, Chief Medical Office of Fraser Health. A researcher friend of mine asked Dr. Van Buynder for the evidence used to support this new policy. He received a reference list that fits into the ‘shotgun’ category of literature reviews, containing dozens and dozens of references, some relevant studies as well as editorials, commentaries, eminent opinions and other detritus. Hmm. And this is somehow supposed to placate us as a reasonable ‘evidence base?’

When you use a shotgun, you’re likely to hit something – maybe. Included in the province’s ‘evidence’ to support the new policy was a whole range of studies and outcomes, including some deemed “biologically implausible, ” such as vaccinating health workers reduces death by all causes, which is to say the flu shot also prevents death by strangulation, gun shots and zombies.

To counter this, I looked for the sniper rifle and spoke to Dr. Tom Jefferson, a Rome-based researcher who produces flu vaccine reviews for the Cochrane Collaboration. He’s been doing systematic reviews of flu vaccines and flu drugs for over a decade so he has more than a passing interest in the subject. Jefferson’s team examined four large cluster randomized trials and one cohort trial of nearly 20,000 health care workers. The flu vaccine showed “no effect on specific outcomes: laboratory-proven influenza, pneumonia or deaths from pneumonia.”

In other words, the flu policy, while eminently agreeable, is unsupported by evidence that has been systematically collected, critically evaluated and properly synthesized. BC is not the only jurisdiction to adopt a “trust us, we’re experts” pose, but, in my opinion, that response is only fit for underlings, not intelligent, responsible healthcare workers facing the pointy end of a syringe this season.

Exhibit C

When my book came out last year, the Vancouver Sun asked me if I’d like to publicly debate the PSA test, a blood test used to detect signs of prostate cancer. “Whoopee,” I said. I jumped at the chance to step in the ring with a prominent urologist at UBC over the value of a very controversial test for a disease that although occasionally fatal, mostly isn’t, while the PSA test can make many men incontinent or impotent due to unnecessary treatment. The motto for the PSA test, synthesized by the United States Preventive Services Task Force, (google USPSTF), which uses strong systematic evidence gathering and synthesis is this: “Just Don’t Do It.” That drove the urologists nuts.

I really wanted to hear the urologist stand up and tell me the USPSTF evidence is wrong and we need to keep subjecting men to the PSA test. Two days before the debate, the urologist backed out and I understand why: Eminence-based medicine can look very silly in a public debate. He probably felt I was going to wipe the floor with him, but if you know any urologists who would like to debate the PSA with me, please contact me via www.alancassels.com

A final note

A recent study from US Public Citizen found that, since 1991, there have been 239 legal settlements, totalling $30.2 billion in federal and state penalties levied against US pharmaceutical companies. There’s a real laundry list of crimes, but defrauding the government, hiding drug safety information and hawking drugs for purposes beyond which they are approved are the main ones. Drug companies have pledged to change, signed ‘corporate integrity agreements’ and indicated they want to move on, promising a better future. We can be hopeful, but we also have to be realistic. Paying huge fines for illegal activity is one thing, but will they be still playing the Eminence game? Will they continue to fund their own experts and do research that goes through a selective reporting of ‘the evidence?’ Sadly, that’s probably going to be the case so you must immunize yourself: keep asking questions and questioning answers.

Alan Cassels is the author of Seeking Sickness: Medical Screening and the Misguided Hunt for Disease. Follow him on Twitter @AKECassels or www.alancassels.com

November 17: Alan will give a talk on this subject at TEDx in Victoria: Victoria Conference Centre, 720 Douglas Street. http://tedxvictoria.com

Practical Utopia


Positive solutions in community and spirit

by Chris Philpott

• For most of the world’s great spiritual traditions and the majority of their contemporary interpreters, the issue of material wealth is inextricably bound up with environmental concerns. Their teachings show quite clearly that following a spiritual direction, rather than striving to accumulate unnecessary material wealth, is the path to true happiness and fulfilment.

There is a gulf in resources between the rich and the poor throughout the world. Poverty reflects badly on every member of our planetary community. In my book Green Spirituality (available at Authorhouse.com), I argue that being green is about caring for the environment, social justice and sharing wealth equitably.

What has happened in the developed world is that our values have been corrupted by corporations who hook into our lower nature and condition us into believing we are OK amassing wealth and consuming as much as we like. We have forgotten our ancient spiritual teachings and their wisdom. Just reflect on these wise words about how to deal with poverty in the world.

Christianity: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” – Jesus, Matthew 19:21

Islam: “When you see a person who has been given more than you in money and beauty, then look to those who have been given less.” – Muhammad

Bahá’í: “Equity is most fundamental amongst human virtues.” – Bahá’u’lláh

Buddhism: “To live a pure unselfish life, one must count nothing as one’s own in the midst of abundance.” – Buddha

Now reflect on these stark statistics about world poverty:

1.2 billion of the world’s poorest people are undernourished, underweight and often hungry. Meanwhile the 1.2 billion richest people are overweight, over-fed and in need of exercise. The number of people living in poverty with under a dollar a day has increased by 100 million in the last 10 years. The UN forecasts that another 100 million will be added by 2015. Two in every five people are living on less than $2 a day and this is considered the minimum for meeting basic needs. The resource consumption of an average American citizen is 35 times more than that of an Indian, 140 times more than a Bangladeshi and 250 times more than a citizen of Sub-Saharan Africa. 0.01% of the American population own 50% of the wealth.

What is needed is a radical examination of our values around money from a spiritual perspective. I would argue that true wealth is found in pursuing a spiritual path and engaging in our local communities. In the end, true happiness is found in people and not objects, in spiritual experiences, not status symbols of wealth.

Chris Philpott is a ‘green activist’ and the author of Green Spirituality.

November 7: 7PM As part of his North American tour, Chris Philpott is offering a free talk on ‘green spirituality’ in Vancouver. For more info, email chris@greenspirituality.org

photo © Udra11

Face beauty naturally

Natural Beauty

by Helen E. Day

At about this same time, I also decided to specialize my physiotherapy practice to focus on persistent or chronic pain. Most physiotherapists deal with acute problems such as broken wrists, low back strain, tendonitis, etc., which tend to heal in a set time frame. I could see that with aging baby boomers, pain that did not go away in a set time period was going to become a huge problem. And, indeed, today it is. As I focused on developing techniques to help heal this “tough” pain, I observed an interesting and unexpected phenomenon: As the patient’s affected body part healed, it also appeared younger.

From this exciting observation, a question started to permeate my daytime thinking: “Could it be possible to retain a vibrant and young appearance well into our old age?” This question would not leave me alone and ultimately it produced Beauty Without Injections, a program of empowerment for all men and women. Taking the best from eastern and western techniques and traditions, Beauty Without Injections uses well-known principles, mostly from physiotherapy and acupuncture, and demonstrates them in five simple steps. These steps can leave you looking 10 to 20 years younger and will enhance the wellness of your entire body.

Life is a series of choices. It’s the choices we make that determine how the next part of our life plays out. Sometimes we make good choices, sometimes bad ones. Looking back, I can see how the health and beauty choices I have made over the years have played their part in the road I have travelled. After years of adult acne, I consulted a doctor who recommended dermabrasion. The process, at that time, was to be given a general anaesthetic, have the entire top layer of the facial skin taken off and then exist on a cocktail of painkillers, sleeping pills and tranquilizers for several days. I decided against it. This would have been a bad choice for me as it was very invasive (and later would prove unnecessary).

However, at about the same time (in my early thirties), I read about the discovery of “Retin-A” while leafing through a Vogue magazine. I remember seeing a pair of old rats with smooth, young skin, and was very impressed. I went to a dermatologist and have used Retin-A off and on ever since. This was a good choice for me as it is non-invasive, and, over time, it has taken away the marks of the acne.

Next I read (again in a magazine) that the best way to avoid wrinkles was to have surgery before the wrinkles started. So off I went to have the first (and last) surgical procedure on my face. Several weeks after the operation, my father ([an] orthopedic surgeon), took the stitches out, but when I got home, I noticed my lower eyelid had contracted outward, showing the inner white. I went back as an outpatient, my one-year-old daughter at my side. I had to keep her entertained by dangling car keys, while my scar tissue was dealt with under local anaesthetic. It had never occurred to me that surgery might not be 100% effective.

A few years later, still concerned about my appearance, I sought the services of a local esthetician. European-trained, this specialist guaranteed to take years off my looks. I had travelled extensively during my twenties and had always been impressed by how well groomed European women were, especially the French. So in I went and soon I was talking to a beautiful, older Hungarian woman. I was probably convinced to go ahead by her appearance alone. I took the appointment for the next Friday and was told it would only take a few days to recover.

All I remember was sitting in a chair, a sudden blur of pain, the smell of burning flesh and an overwhelming desire to run. A huge fan blowing air on my face was my only solace. When it was finally over, the Hungarian lady walked me to my car and said she would call. I woke up the next day to a face that was crusty white. (I was later to learn I’d been given a chemical peel.) It took two weeks before I could finally return to work, but the results were wonderful. All vestiges of sun damage had gone, however, I couldn’t help wondering what could have happened if she hadn’t been so well trained.

My next foray into the maintenance of my looks was one of those fated occurrences that would seal my fate for the course I was to take for the rest of my career. I read about a chiropractor who was extolling the virtues of acupuncture face lifts. The fact that acupuncture was non-invasive was a major selling point to me. Non-invasive meant no pain, no trauma and no possibility of things going wrong. I saw some very impressive before and after pictures, booked a series of appointments and the results were amazing on me. This was an excellent choice and for the next several years I continued with the acupuncture treatment and maintained a healthy lifestyle – running regularly three to four times a week and eating properly. In 1991, an acupuncture course was offered for the first time in North America at a professional level. Aimed at physiotherapists, doctors and dentists, I qualified to go as a physiotherapist and after graduating, I opened my own practice, occasionally performing facial acupuncture on myself. The results were always the same: I looked younger and felt better. I would notice better circulation, tightened skin and clearer eyes.

I started on a misguided route of looking for other ways to enhance my looks. For two more years, I tried everything short of surgery. I had Botox around my eyes and ignored the voice that told me of the possible complications. I went in regularly to have my lips pumped up with Restylane. (I finally figured out the appeal of the overly filled lips; they represent the engorged labia of the female sexual organs. So the more filled they are, the more you look ready for sexual activity.) Needless to say, I received a lot of interest, but not the kind I wanted.

Coming to my senses with the above realization and also spending far too much money at $400 a pop every two months, I could see how addictive this was to women who wanted to remain young looking and attractive to men. When I finally went in to say I would not be returning, the nurse told me she admired me. “Not many women can stop once they have started,” she said. We all have choices to make about the way we treat our body and face, inside and out. Regular choices can range from invasive surgery to expensive moisturizers. But I now choose to use the five steps of Beauty Without Injections to keep me youthful.

We spend a pittance on our health compared to the millions we spend on beauty enhancement like surgery, cosmetics, lotions, oils, creams and clothing. We need to adjust our perspective on youth, aging and health in general. It’s true that none of us is getting any younger and the powers behind the “beauty marketing machine” won’t let us forget it.

Your face is essentially the same as the rest of your body; if you keep yourself healthy, you will not only feel better and younger, but you will look younger too.

Adapted from Beauty Without Injections © by Helen E. Day, a qualified physiotherapist, trained in acupuncture. The book is available at bookstores and online: www.amazon.com, www.barnesandnoble.com and www.chapters.ca

photo © Andres Rodriguez

My life with a monetary theorist

by Tsiporah Grignon

We never know what we are here to do until we are called to do it. I see this as describing my partner Paul Grignon, the world-renowned, self-directed monetary theorist and my journey with him.

When we got together as hippies, I loved his artwork and his natural exuberance for living. I also knew he had resolved to never be trapped by debt. Leaving the big city of Toronto behind, we were led to the natural beauty of Gabriola Island. Inspired from years of reading Mother Earth News, Paul wanted to start creating his new life by building a house. We bought bare land for a few thousand dollars and lived on it in a shack – our “Third World Period.” Tree planting, construction, art (paintings and commercial jobs) and my part time work at a health food store paid our bills. As the family grew, so did the house.

Our lifestyle was our political statement. Although restricted financially, our lives were rich. We lived by the philosophy of “voluntary simplicity.” Through living according to our means, we were out of debt. The kids got second hand clothes and we used many “previously enjoyed” things, but we insisted on new shoes, socks and underwear.

After 27 years of children living at home, the last one left in September of 2001. Five days later 9/11 happened so the new chapter of our lives as empty nesters coincided with the new world chapter. Like many, I went through the difficult spiritual experience of disillusionment. Idealistic notions of saving the world were shattered. I wept from the depths of my being in the realization that we, as a species, need more than loving ideals to triumph over the big, controlling powers and their military agendas. We need conscious action. Paul and I both see the events of 9/11 as the pivotal turning point of the new millennium.

The first action for me was to read how the world works. Paul fed me information on geo-politics, peak oil and following the money. Although he had always lent his artistic services to many environmental causes, the realization dawned on him that nothing much would change without changing the essential nature of the money system. So he immersed himself in monetary theory. When he talked about it, I confess that at times it was hard to follow because his brain pathways on the subject were well developed and for me it was all new.

In 2002, he came out with the 17-minute story of The Goldsmith’s Tale, his first animation. He knew he wanted to explain it all in greater depth, and four years later, prodded, encouraged and aided by senior money reformers in Canada and the US, he completed and released the 47-minute Money as Debt that has gone around the world.

The movie explains how money is created as debt. The cartoon format makes the information accessible to people who would never pick up a book on economics. When the movie went viral immediately, we realized that people were very hungry for this information.

After 14 years of study and many sleepless nights, Paul developed his own theory of why the current money system is dysfunctional and put it forth in animated diagrams in a second movie in 2009. He has been challenging economists and anyone to refute it ever since. Recently, he was invited to submit his arguments to two peer-reviewed, world-class journals, one economic and one scientific.

From the often effusive fan mail and the copious references and links to his online movie Money as Debt, we know that Paul had created an effective educational tool for the masses. Those involved in the economics aspect of the Tea Party, Ron Paul, Occupy movements and European movements, thanked him. Fortunately, some folks chose to support the filmmaker and we have mailed DVDs to 52 different countries. Paul has made three fully translated versions, and “anonymous volunteers” have translated the first movie into 20 more languages in seven alphabets. It is always special when people write to thank Paul for opening their eyes. They even thank me as his partner.

Life is always much more rewarding when we access our full potential. Paul spent years creating beautiful West Coast seascapes; his art continues to be a right brain meditation for him. However, the Money as Debt movies satisfy a deep yearning to use both parts of his brain to be of service and the world has benefited greatly from his outside-the-box thinking. Most of us spend our lives working for money, even to the point of neglecting our health and meaningful relationships. It is no surprise that we are not taught how money is created in school, for those in control would rather have us quietly working to pay our bills and buy more stuff than to know what their money game really is.

Paul is more than a critic. He is fully engaged in a field of activism known as Money Reform. His movies show us why the current economic system we live under is crumbling. The structure itself is destined to fail because it is only functional with endless exponential growth, something more and more of us are realizing is incompatible on a finite planet. Paul points us in the direction of solutions. In the third movie, he appeals to us to change our root concept of money as a “thing-in-itself.” While it may seem like radical thinking, the transition to this can be observed as already happening.

In his words: “Real money power is the power to create real goods and services of value. Therefore, the real money power comes from the borrowers, not the banks. This is actually a crisis in consciousness. We need to throw off our illusions and realize that we are the money power.”

I believe that the nurturing qualities of women are urgently needed in the creation of alternative currencies. The financial instability of the times can actually help us understand what our true values are.

For more information, visit moneyasdebt.net

Tsiporah Grignon is a mother, grandmother, advocate for local food and sustainable agriculture, event organizer, student of evolutionary astrology, dancer, and like her husband Paul, still a hippy at heart.

A tribute to Ken Capon

Ken Capon

by Alastair Gregor

Photo by Bill Pope

• Ken Capon, humanitarian, musician, captain and friend to all, passed away Sunday, October 14th, 2012 at the age of 70.

I met Ken Capon and his life partner Cherryl Reed in the summer of 1981. I was a skinny teenager painting his parents’ house in Kerrisdale, Vancouver. Ken quickly sized me up and when the time came he hired me to help him paint the Arasheena, their 59’ Ferro-cement sailing yacht, a 50-ton live-aboard ketch. They needed a big live-aboard boat so Ken could play his acoustic bass and Cherryl could work on her jewellery design.

Their chartering business started innocently enough, bringing out friends who would chip in for fuel. In time, the day charters up Indian Arm grew into full sailing excursions cruising Desolation Sound. They brought joy and excitement to everyone who ever stepped foot on the Arasheena. During this period, Ken expressed his commitment to others well-being by volunteering very actively with the Hunger Project.

Ken’s introduction to boating and the islands came earlier, when his parents bought two lots on the north end of Gabriola in 1948. He spent many idyllic summers with his brother John and sister Sue exploring and relishing every nook and cranny of the wild island, learning the way of the sea from their dad Don. It was back in these days that his bond with the sea and rocky Gabriola was born.

In 1997, Cherryl and Ken fulfilled their dream and moved to Gabriola and bought a home nestled amongst the trees on an acre and a half. They operated the Arasheena as a mothership for kayak support and nature tours and Ken built a studio for Cherryl off their house, and a workshop as big as their house to accommodate his love of woodworking.

It was from Ken’s workshop that many a project was born. Ken gave tirelessly and helped everyone who needed it and even if they couldn’t afford to pay he pitched in wherever possible. His love of community and of the island was unwavering and as he drove throughout the island in his old pickup, with the red wooden canopy, everyone would wave; Ken was all heart, good humour and generous spirit.

Ken was one of the pioneers and an ardent supporter of the Gabriola Commons, a grassroots community centre enjoyed by so many today. He lived a very full life in slow motion. He was a voracious gardener and gave food to everyone; his gardening even extended to a group he organized in 2010 called Help the Kelp where he began restoring the kelp beds which once flourished around Gabriola.

Ken’s second love in his life after Cherryl was music, a family tradition he shared with his brother John. Ken encouraged others to take up music and to play for the love of music. He sang with the Island Singers and also played the acoustic bass – both classical and jazz – in many different groups, including the Chamber Players. He was part of the Lloyd Arntzen New Orleans Jazz Band and his playing was at the top of his game.

Cherryl, his beautiful and cherished partner of 34 years, is surrounded by friends, family and community and it is the community’s response to his passing that most honours Ken. People are celebrating the joy of his life, sharing stories as a testament to his character.

The Gabriola Arts Council (GAC) has established “The Ken Capon Community Spirit Award,” a piece of art created by his dear friend, carver Rick Cranston. It will be given annually at Thanksgiving to an islander who embodies Ken’s commitment to community.

As noted in GAC’s October newsletter, “The Gabriola Arts Council couldn’t have asked for a better friend than Ken, who was always there with an open mind, a helping hand and a generous heart.”