When a study comes out in support of an herb, mainstream medicine loves to cry foul. The sample was too small, they say. Or the study wasn’t long enough. Or – their favorite – the study was simply biased.
Of course pro-drug studies are just as small. Or just as short. But bias? That can be tough to pinpoint. Just thinking an herb might work may be enough for a claim of bias.
Well, it’s time to put the shoe on the other foot. But, in this case, you may be in real danger. Because drug industry bias may have you taking a medicine that doesn’t really work. Or may have dangerous side effects.
Here’s the story…
Drug Studies: You Get What You Pay For
Back in 2003, scientists searched two large study databases. They went through more than 20 years of studies in Embase and over 30 years in the Medline database, run by Uncle Sam.
Three scientists settled on 30 studies to review. They looked at how many of the studies were favorable and who sponsored those studies.
On average, studies paid for by the drug industry were four times more likely to be favorable than studies not sponsored by drug companies. Their conclusion?
“Systematic bias favours products which are made by the company funding the research.”
This was no fly-by-night study, either. It was published in the prestigious British Medical Journal.
In 2008, a University of York study also looked at bias in drug trials. This study looked at reviews of research that looked for evidence of bias. (Sort of a study of studies)
This time, the researchers combed through 10 medical study databases. They included 6 large reviews in their study…
- Two reviews found studies funded by drug companies stated risks as lower than studies funded from outside the industry.
- In four reviews they found drugs were more likely to be deemed “safe” in industry-funded studies. Even when the risk of harmful effects was high.
The researchers found Big Pharma’s studies usually reported the results correctly… but were far more likely to “spin” results to look favorable.
Over the years, review after review has found similar results.
Don’t Be Fooled By Big Pharma’s Smoke and Mirrors
Most magicians are honest. They’ll tell you right out that real magic doesn’t exist. Not Big Pharma, though. They want you to swallow their smoke and mirrors act… because that’s how they make a lot of their money.
One of their cleverest tricks is the “disappearing study.”
You may have thought every study is considered when evaluating a new drug for use. That’s not true. The drug industry often decides not to publish studies. In essence, they cherry-pick the studies they use to back their applications.
In 2016, a team from the United Kingdom reviewed 15 medical databases for comparisons of results of published vs. unpublished studies.
They found 46% of published studies noted adverse events linked to the trial in question. But 95% of unpublished studies noted adverse events. In other words, favorable results see the light of day far more often than bad results.
“There is strong evidence that much of the information on adverse events remains unpublished,” the authors wrote, “and that the number and range of adverse events is higher in unpublished than in published versions of the same study.”
Wait. Run that by me again. There may be two different versions of the same study? And the published version is more likely to be favorable?
How’s that for smoke and mirrors?
More Big Pharma Tricks to Pull the Wool Over Your Eyes
In 2017, scientists at the University of Sydney revealed even more of the drug industry’s tricks.
Industry-funded studies, they found, may skew results by…
- Designing the study to be favorable
- Framing questions to lead to positive answers
- Using questionable data analysis
- Reporting results selectively
- Spinning results for a positive result.
In this analysis, industry-sponsored studies were 34% more likely to show positive results.
“We need bias assessments tools for drug studies,” said senior author Prof. Lisa Bero, “that take funding source into account.” Because, “Currently, we have no validated way to detect or evaluate these subtle but systematic biases.”
So Big Pharma influences the results of studies. Quite possibly studies involved in drugs you take. What can you do?
Become Your Own Advocate
Your #1 defense is to ask questions. Why this drug? Are their safer alternatives? What are the risks? If this irritates your doctor, maybe you need a new doctor.
Read the patient information sheet that’s required for every prescription drug. Yes, it’s long. But better a long read than a short life. (Keep in mind Consumer’s Union found violations of FDA rules in 4 out of 5 inserts they reviewed in 2011.)
Search online for the generic drug name plus the word “risk.” Also for the generic drug name plus the words “adverse events.” Pay attention to the results from trusted sources, such as PubMed or well-known media resources.
You can’t protect yourself from all of Big Pharma’s deceptions. But – with a little effort – you can defend against some of the worst. Just being aware of the problem is a big step forward.
About the Author: Jason Kennedy is a celebrated investigative health writer and the author of The X-Factor Revolution and Beyond the Blue Zone. With over 10 years of experience working with today’s leading alternative and anti-aging doctors, Jason shares his insider status and access to the latest breakthroughs with thousands of readers from around world.
Lexchin, J., et al, “Pharmaceutical industry sponsorship and research outcome and quality: systematic review,” BMJ. 2003; 326.
Golder, S. and Loke, Y.K., “Is there evidence for biased reporting of published adverse effects data in pharmaceutical industry-funded studies?” Br J Clin Pharmacol. Dec 2008; 66(6): 767–773.
Golder, S., et al, “Reporting of Adverse Events in Published and Unpublished Studies of Health Care Interventions: A Systematic Review,” PLoS Med. Sep 2016; 13(9): e1002127.
“Industry funding biases drug trial studies in favor of sponsors’ products,” University of Sydney. Feb 21, 2017.
“Can You Read this Drug Label?” ConsumerReports.org. Jun 2011.
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