When health and business collide

Written by Louise

There are conspiracy theories that try to explain doctors’ reluctance to diagnose, and to properly treat, B12 deficiency. At the heart of these theories is big pharma, the multinational pharmaceutical companies who have governments in their pockets and the power to decide how our illnesses are treated.

OK, so there’s no paper trail that I’m aware of to back up my claim that the pharma giants own governments, but the evidence is all around us.

As a child, I lived a life of constant frustration. My asthma was much worse than it is now, and I was unable to do many of the things my friends enjoyed – like run, go to school every day, not have to remember to carry an inhaler with me everywhere I went. To begin with, I asked when my asthma would get better. When would I be able to do the things normal kids do? I was told there’s no cure for asthma, but I might grow out of it as I got older.

Hang on a minute! No cure? There’s all that research money thrown at studying disease, and the best they can come up with are drugs that control the symptoms and have to be taken for life. They can’t be trying very hard.

And this is the heart of the problem. It isn’t in the interests of the drug companies to cure disease. Why waste money developing a drug that costs $100 and will cure a person’s illness when you can sell that person many thousands of dollars worth of drugs to control a lifetime of symptoms? Business is not about the health of your customers; it’s about the bottom line. And the bottom line is, sick people spend more money on medicine.

And so it is with B12 deficiency.

The tests to diagnose a deficiency in vitamin B12 are not expensive, and yet doctors are more willing to send people for expensive MRI scans than to perform simple blood tests. The treatment for B12 deficiency (usually regular injections of the vitamin) is very cheap, and yet doctors would rather prescribe antidepressants, painkillers, and a range of other drugs to ease the symptoms. It doesn’t make sense until you see the influence of big pharma at work.

Vitamins are food supplements, not drugs, so pharmaceutical companies are not able to patent vitamins (although they have patented some products that contain little other than vitamins, sold them for a much higher price than the vitamins alone, and convinced some doctors to prescribe them). Big pharma doesn’t benefit from a diagnosis of vitamin B12 deficiency.

There is also a lot of misinformation being spread about vitamins, of uncertain source (although I obviously have my suspicions). Some doctors stop patients’ B12 injections because their serum B12 level (the amount of B12 circulating in the blood) is “too high” and very high levels are “dangerous.” This is nonsense. To heal the damage caused by years of B12 deficiency, levels need to be extremely high. It takes a lot of B12 to rebuild a human body. But doctors believe that supplementing to these high levels is dangerous, even though B12 is a water soluble vitamin, and the body will dispose of whatever it doesn’t need in the urine. They must have got these ideas from somewhere, and it isn’t from official government bodies, which generally recommend continuing with high doses until there’s no further improvement in symptoms.

I walked out of my doctor’s surgery with a piece of paper in my hand, and wondered what to do. He had written a list of blood tests on a prescription form and told me to go to the local farmacia (Spanish for pharmacy) to get the tests done. They would send him the results, and I could visit him again to discuss them with him.

The trouble was, I knew he was just humouring me. He knew I wanted blood tests, and he wanted to use the results to “rule out” B12 deficiency. And he could do that because I’d already started taking supplements, so my serum B12 level would be raised – when I had told him that, he had simply shrugged. I would have to pay for the blood tests, and paying for blood tests just so my doctor could prove his – incorrect – point seemed like a waste of my money.

Instead, I headed home, and posted a question in a local FaceBook group. Perhaps there was somewhere I could get the blood tests done completely privately … and have the results given to me instead of my doctor.

About the author


Animal lover, asexual, blogger, cyclist, daughter, dreamer, entrepreneur, expat, optimist, procrastinator, reader, realist, rescuer, runner, sister, writer ... Hate labels? Me too. Just read my blog.

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