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Fighting for Natural Health

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The passion in Stefan Doll's voice, during our hour-long telephone interview, is especially evident when he talks about his St John's wort oil, winner of two alive awards for excellence.

The passion in Stefan Doll’s voice, during our hour-long telephone interview, is especially evident when he talks about his St John’s wort oil, winner of two alive Awards for excellence. Doll, a natural health advocate and campaigner for more than thirty years, relates how his oil extract consists of manually harvested mature golden flowers. “This isn’t just my product,” he enthuses, “it’s my life’s work.”

Doll’s voice exudes pride as he details the ages-old process in which the flowers are submersed in virgin olive oil and cold-pressed from freshly picked organic olives. The mixture is sealed in glass jars and then basks for weeks in the summer warmth. Doll recounts that people have safely used St John’s wort for hundreds of years and for a wide variety of purposes, including the treatment of wounds and burns.

The tone of his voice becomes serious as we discuss the mainstream media outlets and their narrow focus that St John’s wort is ineffective in dealing with serious depression. “And now,” he says, “St John’s wort is being drilled into the ground because of all of the negative media coverage. No one ever said the herb was good for treating heavy depression."

Although there is major disagreement about the results of recent studies, the negative press, Doll feels, has tarred all St John’s wort products, including his oil, with the same brush. Particularly galling to Doll is the fact that his oil contains hyperforin (an extract of the flowers) and not hypercerin, the ingredient that research studies, the pharmacy industry, and media have been targeting.

A consequence of hysterical and often inaccurate reporting is that producers of many natural health products are seeing declining sales. This not only affects their business enterprises, Doll notes, but also impacts the efforts of these producers, whom he says, “are trying to introduce good things onto our planet.”

The American Botanical Council confirms Doll’s observations and reports that 2002 herb sales in the US fell 13.9 per cent from the previous year, extending the downward trend to its fourth consecutive year. Seven of the ten top-selling herbal supplements saw retail and unit sales decrease. Kava kava, a plant used for hundreds of years, saw sales drop almost 53 per cent due to the claims that high doses of the product could lead to liver toxicity. Several governments, including Australia, Canada, England, France, and Germany quickly reacted to the media reports and banned the product. Health Canada, in August 2002, issued a stop-sale and recall of all kava kava products based on four cases of liver toxicity in Canada, seventy cases worldwide, and three deaths in Germany.

Doll maintains the agency’s response is typical of government knee-jerk reaction towards natural health products and that standards and penalties foisted upon the herbal industry aren’t necessarily applied to the pharmaceutical industry. “What about the thousands of people who die from the side-effects of pharmaceutical drugs?” he implores. “Why aren’t these products banned?”

Dr Matthias Rath, a renowned natural medicine crusader echoes many of the sentiments held by Doll. On Rath’s Web site, it is reported that, “The known deadly side-effects of prescription drugs are the fourth leading cause of death in the industrialized world, surpassed only by the number of deaths from heart attacks, cancer, and strokes (Journal of the American Medical Association, April 15, 1998).” The journal reported that the numbers were estimated to be 106,000 people per year in the US alone.

For many countries, Doll says, the problem is that large pharmaceutical companies have undue influence on government agencies and officials who are in charge of deciding the classification of health products. Dr Michele Brill-Edwards, one-time head of Canada’s Health Protection Branch (HPB) until her resignation in 1996, concurs with Doll’s assessment and notes that, “The lifelong ‘beds of clover’ offered by pharmaceuticals to government officials for multi-million-dollar favours is a lot more enticing than serving the public good.” The result of government inability to resist the overtures and pressure from the pharmaceutical industry results in inconsistencies in classification of both pharmaceutical and natural health products. As Brill-Edwards states, “Misregulation puts emphasis on cayenne pepper in capsules when the real emerging hazards are food and drugs produced by biotechnology and genetic engineering, hazards we can barely begin to assess.”

Doll charges that many large pharmaceutical companies are in fact a pharma-cartel possessing the influence and wealth to force their will upon not only media and governments but also the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the organization established in 1962 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The Codex Alimentarius Commission is comprised of 165 countries that meet to develop an international food code. What is particularly upsetting to critics of Codex Alimentarius is the fact that the pharmaceutical industry has tremendous clout within the organization and its representatives are helping to shape worldwide policy on natural food products and supplements.

Dr Rath, a confidante and co-worker to the late Dr. Linus Pauling, a two-time Nobel Laureate, has been a vociferous opponent to the Codex Alimentarius and the pharmaceutical industry for years. One of the main reasons why the pharma-cartel is so intent on quashing natural medicine, his site reports, is because, “Vitamins and other effective natural health therapies that optimize cellular metabolism threaten the pharmaceutical ‘business with disease’ because they target the cellular cause of today’s most common diseases&and these natural substances are not patentable. … While the promotion and expansion of diseases increase the market of the pharmaceutical investment industry - prevention and root cause treatment of diseases decrease long-term profitability; therefore, they are avoided or even obstructed by this industry.”

Critics of Codex state that the commission is under tremendous pressure from lobbyists of the multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry to invoke regulations that benefit their industry and interests and control the less expensive and burgeoning natural herb industry. Brill-Edwards maintains, “It is evident that natural products are an emerging market globally. The sudden implementation of rigorous regulation to this previously minimally regulated area has the effect of disrupting the ability of smaller producers to cope. This leaves the market more accessible to larger pharmaceutical firms for whom regulatory paper hurdles are routine.”

Doll insists that he is, “not going to take this lying down. The herbal medicine industry isn’t the same industry as the pharmaceutical industry and it’s ludicrous to apply pharmaceutical standards to homeopathic products.”

Stefan Doll concludes our interview by stating that people must fight the injustices against herbal and naturopathic producers, suppliers, and consumers who are all being held ransom by “the focused nastiness, greed, and power of the pharmaceutical industry” by writing to their member of parliament and lobbying wherever possible.

Does St.John's Wort Work?

You’d almost think that there was a conspiracy to discourage people from taking St. John’s wort. But the newspaper headlines have failed to tell the full story

The Journal of the American Medical Association in 2003 published a study in which researchers found that the placebo was more effective than St. John’s wort in relieving severe depression. But news reports soft-peddled the fact that the placebo was also more effective than the antidepressant drug Zoloft. Bottom line: Other studies show that both the drug and herb work, suggesting a major design flaw in the study.

An earlier JAMA study, funded by the maker of Zoloft, also reported that St. John’s wort was useless in the treatment of severe depression. Buried in the article, the researchers noted that the herb benefit some severely depressed patients. Bottom line: The study showed a clear bias against St. John’s wort.

Nearly all of the research on St. John’s wort shows it to be effective in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. It is not usually effective in the treatment of severe depression, however.

Source: Jack Challem, 2002.

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