Health News: Archive #14 – Natural Health

Reporters Fired For Telling The Truth

About RGBH Milk Hormone

Two veteran news reporters for Fox TV in Tampa, Florida have been fired for refusing to water down an investigative report on Monsanto’s controversial milk hormone, rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone). Monsanto’s rBGH is a genetically-engineered hormone sold to dairy farmers, who inject it into their cows every two weeks to increase milk production. In recent years, evidence has accumulated indicating that rBGH may promote cancer in humans who drink milk from rBGH-treated cows. It is the link between rBGH and cancer that Fox TV tried hardest to remove from the story.

In the fall of 1996, award-winning reporters Steve Wilson and Jane Akre were hired by WTVT in Tampa to produce a series on rBGH in Florida milk. After more than a year’s work on the rBGH series, and three days before the series was scheduled to air starting February 24, 1997, Fox TV executives received the first of two letters from lawyers representing Monsanto saying that Monsanto would suffer "enormous damage" if the series ran. WTVT had been advertising the series aggressively, but canceled it at the last moment. Monsanto’s second letter warned of "dire consequences" for Fox if the series aired as it stood. (How Monsanto knew what the series contained remains a mystery.) According to documents filed in Florida’s Circuit Court (13th Circuit), Fox lawyers then tried to water down the series, offering to pay the two reporters if they would leave the station and keep mum about what Fox had done to their work. The reporters refused Fox’s offer, and on April 2, 1998, filed their own lawsuit against WTVT.

Steve Wilson has 26 years’ experience as a working journalist and has won four Emmy awards for his investigative reporting. His wife, Jane Akre, has been a reporter and news anchor for 20 years, and has won a prestigious Associated Press award for investigative reporting.

The Wilson/Akre lawsuit charges that WTVT violated its license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by demanding that the reporters include known falsehoods in their rBGH series. The reporters also charge that WTVT violated Florida’s "whistle blower" law. Many of the legal documents in the lawsuit—including Monsanto’s threatening letters—have been posted on the world wide web at for all to see.

No one will be surprised to learn that powerful corporations can intimidate TV stations into re-writing the news, but this case offers an unusually detailed glimpse of specific intimidation tactics and their effects inside a news organization. It is not pretty.

It has been well-documented by Monsanto and by others that rBGH-treated cows undergo several changes: their lives are shortened, they are more likely to develop mastitis, an infection of the udder (which then requires use of antibiotics, which end up in the milk along with increased pus), and they produce milk containing elevated levels of another hormone called IGF-1. It is IGF-1 that is associated with increased likelihood of human cancers.[1] (See REHW #381, #382, #383, #384, #483, but especially #454.)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved rBGH for use in cows in 1993, but the approval process was controversial because former Monsanto employees went to work for the FDA, oversaw the approval process, then went back to work for Monsanto. (See REHW #381.)

Monsanto is notorious for marketing dangerous products while falsely claiming safety. The entire planet is now contaminated with hormone-disrupting, cancer-causing PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), thanks to Monsanto’s poor judgment and refusal to be guided by early scientific evidence indicating harm. (See REHW #327, #328.) The 2,4,5-T in Agent Orange—the herbicide that has brought so much grief to tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans—is another example of Monsanto’s poor judgment and failure to heed scientific evidence to prevent harm. Critics says rBGH is just one more example of Monsanto’s monumentally poor judgment. When Wilson and Akre asked Monsanto officials to respond to these allegations of past poor judgment, Monsanto had no comment.

The Wilson/Akre rBGH series (a script of which is available on the web site makes the following points:

** rBGH was never properly tested before FDA allowed it on the market. A standard cancer test of a new human drug requires two years of testing with several hundred rats. But rBGH was tested for only 90 days on 30 rats. This short-term rat study was submitted to FDA but was never published. FDA has refused to allow anyone outside FDA to review the raw data from this study, saying it would "irreparably harm" Monsanto.[2] Therefore the linchpin study of cancer and rBGH has never been subjected to open scientific peer review.

** Some Florida dairy herds grew sick shortly after starting rBGH treatment. One farmer, Charles Knight—who lost 75% of his herd—says on camera that Monsanto and Monsanto-funded researchers at University of Florida withheld from him the information that other dairy herds were suffering similar problems. He says Monsanto and the university researchers told him only that he must be doing something wrong.

** The law required Monsanto to notify the FDA if they received complaints by dairy farmers such as Charles Knight. But four months after Knight complained to Monsanto, FDA had heard nothing from Monsanto. Monsanto’s explanation? Despite a series of visits to Knight’s farm, and many phone conversations, Monsanto officials say it took them four months to figure out that Knight was complaining about rBGH.

** Monsanto claims on camera that every truckload of milk is tested for excessive antibiotics—but Florida dairy officials and scientists on camera say this is simply not true.

** Monsanto says on camera that Canada’s ban on rBGH has nothing to do with human health concerns—but Canadian government officials speaking on camera say just the opposite.

** Canadian government officials, speaking on camera, say they believe Monsanto tried to bribe them with offers of $1 to $2 million to gain approval for rBGH in Canada. Monsanto officials say the Canadians misunderstood their offer of "research" funds.

** Monsanto officials claim on camera that "the milk has not changed" because of rBGH treatment of cows. As noted earlier, there is abundant evidence—some of it from Monsanto’s own studies—that this is definitely not true.

** On camera, a Monsanto official claims that Monsanto has not opposed dairy co-ops labeling their milk as "rBGH-free." But this is definitely not true. Monsanto brought two lawsuits against dairies that labeled their milk "rBGH-free." Faced with the Monsanto legal juggernaut, the dairies folded and Monsanto then sent letters around to other dairy organizations announcing the outcome of the two lawsuits—in all likelihood, for purposes of intimidation. (Conveniently, the FDA regulations that discourage labeling of milk as "rBGH-free" were written by Michael Taylor, an attorney who worked for Monsanto both before and after his tenure as an FDA official. See REHW #381.)

At the web site, you will find the version of the Wilson/Akre rBGH series as it was re-written by Fox’s attorneys. It has been laundered and perfumed. Most importantly, nearly all of the references to cancer have been removed from the script. Instead of cancer we now have "human health effects"—whatever those may be.

The Wilson/Akre lawsuit comes at an especially good time to publicize the relationship between rBGH and human cancer because new evidence has come to light.

When a cow is injected with rBGH, its milk production is stimulated, but not directly. The presence of rBGH in the cow’s blood stimulates production of another hormone, called Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1, or IGF-1 for short. It is IGF-1 that stimulates milk production.

IGF-1 is a naturally-occurring hormone-protein in both cows and humans.[3] The IGF-1 in cows is chemically identical to the IGF-1 in humans.[4] The use of rBGH increases the levels of IGF-1 in the cow’s milk, though the amount of the increase is disputed. Furthermore, IGF-1 in milk is not destroyed by pasteurization. Because IGF-1 is active in humans—causing cells to divide—any increase in IGF-1 in milk raises obvious questions: will it cause inappropriate cell division and growth, leading to growth of tumors?

The Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association formally expressed concern about IGF-1 related to rBGH in 1991, saying, "Further studies will be required to determine whether ingestion of higher than normal concentrations of bovine insulin-like growth factor [IGF-1] is safe for children, adolescents, and adults."[5]

Monsanto’s public position since 1994 has been that IGF-1 is not elevated in the milk from rBGH-treated cows—despite its own studies to the contrary. For example, writing in the British journal, LANCET, in 1994, Monsanto researchers said "…IGF-1 concentration in milk of rBST-treated cows is unchanged," and "…there is no evidence that hormonal content of milk from rBST-treated cows is in any way different from cows not so treated."[6] [Monsanto calls rBGH rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin), thus avoiding use of the word ‘hormone.’] However, in a published letter, the British researcher T. B. Mepham reminded Monsanto that in its 1993 application to the British government for permission to sell rBGH in England, Monsanto itself reported that "the IGF-1 level went up substantially [about five times as much]."[7] The U.S. FDA acknowledges that IGF-1 is elevated in milk from rBGH-treated cows.[4] Other proponents of rBGH acknowledge that it at least doubles the amount of IGF-1 hormone in the milk.[8] The earliest report in the literature found that IGF-1 was elevated in the milk of rBGH-treated cows by a factor of 3.6.[9]

Does IGF-1 promote cancer? In January of this year a Harvard study of 15,000 white men published in SCIENCE reported that those with elevated—but still normal—levels of IGF-1 in their blood are 4 times as likely as average men to get prostate cancer.[1] The SCIENCE report ends saying, "Finally, our results raise concern that administration of GH [growth hormone] or IGF-1 over long periods, as proposed for elderly men to delay the effects of aging, may increase risk of prostate cancer." By analogy, Monsanto’s current efforts to increase the IGF-1 levels in America’s milk supply raise the question: if little boys drink milk from rBGH-treated cows over long periods, will the elevated levels of IGF-1 increase their prostate cancer rates? This is not a question that should be answered by a wholesale experiment on the American people—but that is precisely what Monsanto is currently doing. It is difficult to put a happy face on this, try as Fox might.

The Wilson/Akre story is one of talented, hard-working journalists trying to tell an important public health story, exposing lies and corruption by Monsanto, by the FDA, and now by Fox, too. If nothing else, perhaps the courage of Steve Wilson and Jane Akre will awaken many more of us to the potential dangers of Monsanto’s latest experiment on America’s children.

Source:Rachel’s Environment & Health Weekly, 4/14/98


More Deadly Superbugs On The Way Disease Experts Say

New drug-resistant "superbugs", bacteria that defy all known antibiotics, are virtually certain to pop up soon unless doctors and hospitals crack down on procedures, health experts said Tuesday. Careless use of antibiotics and slipshod hygiene were almost certainly responsible for the rise of bacteria that resist the last-defense drugs—methicillin and vancomycin—they told a news briefing sponsored by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. "We’ve seen dramatic increases…in the past decade," Dr. William Jarvis, acting director of the hospital infections program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, told the briefing. "Some infections are virtually untreatable." Bacteria that resist penicillin are old hat, but when an infection does not respond to something as strong as vancomycin, doctors get scared. Vancomycin-resistant enterococci, which cause intestinal infections, are fairly common and three cases of vancomycin-resistant staphylococcus have been reported.

This is unsettling as staphylococcus, known generally as staph, is the number one cause of infection in the United States. It can cause anything ranging from a pimple to deadly septic shock, when the bloodstream becomes infected. "I think vancomycin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (VRSA) is going to become more widespread," said Dr. Richard Duma, director of infectious diseases at the Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Florida. "We were all shocked" when the first case of VRSA in people was reported in Japan in July of last year, Jarvis said. Two more cases followed in the United States within weeks. Luckily, they all responded to a cocktail of older drugs including ampicillin. "We may not be so fortunate in the future," Jarvis said.

"Bacteria are very smart—they learn to develop resistance," he added. All of the patients had been very ill, had developed methicillin-resistant staph infections, and been given vancomycin over a period of weeks. Such misuse and overuse of antibiotics virtually guaranteed the emergence of resistant bacteria, Jarvis said.

Vancomycin should be used only sparingly he added. "It’s one of our precious miracles." The appearance of bacteria resistant to first methicillin and then vancomycin scared the drug companies into action after years of complacency in which no new antibiotics had been developed. But it would be years before anything as strong and and wide-acting as vancomycin was on the market, Jarvis said. Dr William Scheckler, an epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin and member of a national panel on the spread of infections in hospitals, said hospitals did not always do enough to prevent their spread.

Doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers had to be urged to wash their hands before and after visiting each patient—a basic rule that many forget—and all employees should be vaccinated against flu and other diseases. Scheckler said each hospital should have access to epidemiologists—experts who monitor the spread of disease across populations. This was becoming more important, as minor diseases were being treated at home, with hospitals reserved for the sickest people.

"The patients in hospitals are older and sicker and we are doing more things to them than we used to," Scheckler said. Duma said drug-resistant superbugs were not the only frightening thing waiting to surprise the American people. He predicted more exotic diseases, such as the mysterious Ebola virus which has killed several hundred people in Africa, would arrive in the United States via an infected airline passenger. "I think it’s going to happen sooner or later and it’s going to scare the dickens out of everybody," he said.

Source: Reuters, Washington, by Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent


Breakthrough May End Need of Antibiotics For Superbugs

A new approach to fighting toxic bacteria could mean an end to the problem of drug-resistant "superbugs," California researchers said Thursday. They found a single protein that controls production of all the poisons that make staphylococcus bacteria dangerous and also found two ways to stop the protein’s action.

Naomi Balaban and colleagues at the University of California, Davis, said they hoped their new approach, which uses either a vaccine or a protein molecule, would provide an alternative to antibiotics.

"It’s all by peaceful terms for the bacteria, so maybe it won’t resist it as much," Balaban, an infectious-disease specialist, said in a telephone interview. Staphylococcus aureus—staph for short—is the most common cause of infection in the United States. It causes infections ranging from harmless pimples to toxic shock syndrome.

Staph is usually easy to treat with antibiotics, but drug-resistant forms have evolved. Most frightening is a strain that resists vancomycin, the powerful antibiotic seen as the last line of defense against bacteria. Only three cases have been reported, but experts predict there will be more.

Balaban said her approach avoided the whole problem. Writing in the journal Science, she said she found a way to stop the staph bacteria from producing the toxins that make it dangerous. "Unlike antibiotics, it does not kill the bacteria, so there is no pressure on the bacteria to mutate," she said. There is no real need to kill the bacteria, she said. "The bacteria doesn’t necessarily cause disease because it enters the body but because of the toxins it produces," she said. She believes the toxins are meant to enhance the bacteria’s survival.

Fighting each separate toxin would be unwieldy and time-consuming. So Balaban looked for a protein that controls all toxin production, and she found it. "There is one protein that activates the cascade of events and activates many toxins, so all you have to deal with is the one protein," she said.

Balaban named the protein RAP, for RNAIII activating protein.

Using mice, she found a way to generate antibodies to the protein. Antibodies are the molecules that the body’s immune system uses to flag invaders for killer cells to destroy. A second protein, called RAP-inhibiting peptide, is produced by staph bacteria when they are not in a disease-causing stage and can block RAP’s effects.

"So antibodies to this protein, which I call RAP, block it, and a peptide that I call RIP competes with RAP," she said. Injected into mice, the RAP antibody prevented cellulitis, a skin infection, more than 70 percent of the time, she said. In mice that did develop infection, the lesions were smaller than in those that did not get the RAP antibodies. Mice who got injections of staph along with the second protein, RIP, were much less likely to develop infections. Balaban said RIP could be developed as a coating to put on catheters, a notorious cause of staph infections, or tampons, which can cause toxic shock syndrome. Milk pumping machines represent another possible application, as staph infections from the milkers cause a common udder infection known as mastitis. Besides preventing the evolution of drug-resistant staph, there is a second advantage to the new approach, Balaban said. Antibiotics can kill off the useful bacteria in the body, such as those that help digestion. The result can be yeast infections. Treating an infection without killing bacteria would maintain the healthy balance of micro-organisms in the body. Balaban said she was testing her idea further but thought it could be applied to other bacteria that cause infections, such as streptococci and enterococci.

Source: Reuters, 4/16/98, Washington, by Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent


Drug Reactions Major Cause of U.S. Hospital Death

Adverse drug reactions appear to be a major cause of death among hospital patients in the United States, a new study reported on Tuesday.

Researchers at the University of Toronto, who examined 39 studies, estimated that an average of 106,000 deaths at U.S. hospitals in 1994 were due to bad reactions to drugs. "Serious adverse drug reactions are frequent … more so than generally recognized," the researchers said. "Fatal adverse drug reactions appear to be between the fourth and sixth leading cause of death." Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, followed by cancer and stroke. Other major causes are accidents, pulmonary disease.

The report estimated the number of deaths in 1994 from adverse reactions at between 137,000 and 76,000 with 106,000 the mean. If the higher end is correct, drug reactions would be the fourth leading cause of death behind heart disease (743,460), cancer (529,904) and stroke (150,108), the study said. If the low end is accurate drug reactions would be the sixth leading cause of death, behind the top three plus pulmonary disease (101,077) and accidents (90,523).

The report, published in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association, included patients admitted to hospitals with adverse drug reactions and those whose reactions occurred after they were admitted. The study excluded errors in administration, noncompliance with instructions and drug abuse. The researchers said their results suggest an "important clinical issue," but they recommended cautious interpretation. An accompanying editorial by David Bates of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital also urged careful analysis. Bates said "combining the results of small, heterogeneous studies does not necessarily bring one closer to truth."

Nevertheless, he added, "these data are important, and even if the true incidence of adverse drug reactions is somewhat lower than that reported … it is still high, and much higher than generally recognized."

Jeff Stier, associate director of the New York-based American Council on Science and Health, said in an interview that drugs also save countless lives, a fact that may be obscured when analyzing adverse reactions.

Source: Reuters, 4/14/98, Chicago


Ritalin ‘Cocaine Properties’ May Lead To Later Drug Abuse

A medicine regularly taken by millions of hyperactive children has similar properties to cocaine and could encourage drug abuse in later life, New Scientist magazine said Thursday.

Methylphenidate, better known as Ritalin, is the leading treatment for a neurological condition known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which prevents children from concentrating on a task for more than a few seconds.

New Scientist said growing concerns over the long-time effects of the drug, a stimulant that works by making the neurotransmitter dopamine more available in the brain, have put it on the agenda for the U.S. National Institutes of Health conference on ADHD, scheduled for November.

A 1995 study by Nora Volkow, director of nuclear medicine at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, found that Ritalin’s properties were very similar to cocaine. Volkow said there was no evidence of a link between Ritalin and cocaine abuse but added 10 to 30 percent of cocaine addicts take it because they have ADHD.

"When we give them Ritalin, the cocaine problem is resolved," she told New Scientist. Another study by Susan Schenk, a psychopharmacologist at Texas A&M University in College Station, and Nadine Lambert, a developmental psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley, followed the progress of 5,000 children with ADHD from adolescence into early adulthood.

In a paper to be published in October, Lambert argues that children on Ritalin are more likely to smoke as adults. Other data presented by Schenk suggested that they are three times more likely to develop a taste for cocaine. Other experts were sceptical. Alan Zametkin, a psychiatrist at the National Institute of Mental Health near Washington D.C., said he believed stimulants actually reduce the risk of drug addiction.

"My theory is that stimulant use allows kids to be more successful and therefore they develop fewer antisocial behaviors," Zametkin told New Scientist. "So it’s less likely they’ll become drug addicts."

Source: Reuters, 4/16/98, London, from New Scientist


Spirituality a Growing Part of Medical School

One third of American medical schools have decided to bring spirituality back into healthcare and many of them require courses on spirituality and health, reported Dr. David Larson at the recent Spirituality and Healing in Medicine symposium, sponsored by Harvard Medical School’s department of continuing education.

The question of spirituality becomes very important when facing serious illness or chronic illness, especially where “there is not much we can do as doctors,” according to Larson, president of the National Institute for Healthcare Research and adjunct professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. He added that, “When people have an illness in the United States, God becomes a very important part of who they are.”

Physicians are not well equipped to deal with patients with terminal illnesses, according to Larson. “There is much less fear of dying and (our skills) can be much more effective when we begin to address and support this, especially in their last year of life,” he said.

The National Institute for Healthcare Research is collaborating with the John Templeton Faith and Medicine Curricular Award Program to help train medical students on how to address the spiritual needs of their patients. Many of the courses include looking at death and dying from different faith traditions.

“What we’ve found is, when we simply show them what to do, how to ask the questions, how to begin to address the issues, there is a lot of receptivity. Many of these medical school courses work with chaplains. That’s been unheard of. (Students) will (go on rounds) with chaplains, and these are the most skilled group in dealing with death and dying,” Larson told Reuters.

The rapid growth of spirituality in the medical school curriculum is demonstrated by one simple statistic: “Three years ago, only three US medical schools taught courses on religion and spiritual issues; there are now nearly 30,” Larson noted.

Source: Reuters, 3/30/98, Houston


A Cure for Addiction?

Heantos – a strange name for something even more surprising – a cure for drug addiction! It is a herbal based treatment, and its Vietnamese advocates say it ends dependency on heroin, opium, and cocaine within five days. This happens without side effects and without creating dependency on another d rug (as happens with the Methadone treatment). If it is really a cure for addiction, the cost per patient , about $70, would be cheap by any standard.

The Vietnamese government is demonstrating confidence in the product by investing $100,000 dollars in a testing program. The United Nations Development Program is investing $400,000; they are describing Heantos as an "interesting idea that deserves encouragement." The actual testing w ill be done under the auspices of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. This is the first time the U.S. and Vietnamese scientists have cooperated on such a venture, a plan that is expected to cost between three and four million dollars and is aimed at securing the approval of our Food and Drug Administration.

Much of the evidence that supports the Vietnamese claims of effectiveness for Heantos is anecdotal; no scientific proof exists. However, since the nee d is so great and the problem is so urgent, some scientists consider the project worth the risk. The exact ingredients remain a secret known only to a very few people. Its inventor, Tran Khoung Dan, believes in traditional medicines and is said to have cured his own addiction by taking the herbal preparation.

The Vietnamese government claims that, since 1991, four thousand heroin, opium, and cocaine addicts have been successfully treated with Heantos. There is an initial treatment for five days, and then within a month another treatment is given to prevent resumption of drug use.

The world can only wait and see. The traffic in drugs is increasing at an alarming rate all over the world. It is worse in some places than others. Colombia is sinking into anarchy, with roving armed bands committing the torture murders of innocent civilians. Russian sources are predicting t hat if present trends continue fully half of the male population there will soon be addicted! Switzerland has legalized. Heantos, an old Greek word meaning plant, has taken on a new meaning for mankind, and that meaning is hope.

Source: Khozen Merchant, "Financial Times", London, Dec. 2, 1997 as reprinted in World Press Review, February, 1998, page 41