“Roxon rejects plea on drugs.”
MS Australia blocks access to lifestyle therapy.
The first headline actually came from the front-page of The Age, 21st June 2011. Have not seen the second one yet, but the first made me wonder why? How come the drug companies are so good at getting widespread coverage, when non-patentable things like therapeutic lifestyle changes are ignored?
Maybe it is because of a perceived lack of evidence. Well, consider this. The published research that evaluated the outcomes for people with MS who attended the Gawler Foundation’s residential program Prof. George Jelinek and I established, demonstrated results that no known drug comes close to matching.
This research re-tested people one year and 2.5 years after attending the program. Over this period, the normal expectancy for people with MS is that their mental health and physical health would both steadily deteriorate. Whether on drug treatment or not, and in the absence of a definitive meta- analysis of the wide number of studies that have examined this question broadly, it seems reasonable to suggest that the average deterioration in physical and mental health over this time frame would be about 5%.
So what did our people show? After one year, the specific MS mental health composite figure (a figure that aggregates a number of relevant psychological assessments) had improved by 13%. Was it all in the mind? How about this? The physical health composite figure actually improved by 15%!
What about at 2.5 years? Better or worse? Did the benefits stick? Well no, they got even better! The mental health composite was now up by 15%, physical health by 17%.
There is no known MS drug that has shown these levels of benefit. In our study, the people did not get worse, they got statistically significantly better! Can you imagine the front-page news that such a break-through drug would produce? So what happened with our research?
Well first, it was quite hard to even get a medical journal to publish it. Then, no front-page news. Not even any page 17 news. We were fortunate that the ABC’s 7.30 Report ran a good story on George and the results; but then no other media took it up.
And MS Australia? Well the Gawler Foundation had arranged with their Blackburn office to recommence presenting the 12 week lifestyle based program that was presented there back in the early days when we first commenced the residential programs. But that was cancelled.
MS Australia to their credit used to hand out copies of George’s book to any newly diagnosed MS patient that asked for it (many of these books were actually paid for by a private benefactor). That service was also stopped.
It would be nice to think there was some sound reason for these two cancellations; but they did cause me to wonder. If a drug was blocked or withdrawn that was as effective as this program, we would have the headlines like at the heading of this blog.
Are the drug companies so good at convincing the public, the health professionals and the media that health solutions are their exclusive domain and the only thing worth taking seriously?
Surely it is obvious that Nicola Roxon rejected the new drugs requested for the PBS because the Government simply cannot afford them. Surely it is obvious that lifestyle related disease is lowering life expectancies generally and fuelling the explosion in chronic degenerative diseases. Surely it is obvious that the treatment of chronic, degenerative, lifestyle related diseases starts with a healthy, therapeutic lifestyle. Surely it is obvious that a lifestyle program is relatively cheap and very cost effective. The MS research demonstrates the potency of such a remedy.
What is missing is widespread support for the uptake of a therapeutic lifestyle – as a treatment. All too often we still hear of people with MS or cancer who are taking their lifestyles seriously being dismissed by their friends. “There, there dear, a little bit of this won’t hurt you”. Rubbish. Do it often enough and it may well incapacitate you if you have MS, or even kill you if you have cancer. How often do we hear of well-meaning, but one has to conclude uninformed doctors dismissing the therapeutic benefits of lifestyle changes?
It is about time families, friends, health professionals and the media gave the therapeutic benefits of lifestyle changes their due recognition and active support.
For the doctors, anyone diagnosed these days with either MS or cancer needs to be counselled at first diagnosis regarding their lifestyle, just as would happen for anyone diagnosed with heart disease or type2 diabetes. I contend that given the evidence, not to do this probably constitutes professional negligence. If there was a drug with the same benefits, and it was not recommended, that would be negligent, so why not with lifestyle intervention?
For the media – for goodness sake, get past the incessant publicity machine of the drug companies and support people in need. A healthy lifestyle offers so much, yet making personal change is not so easy and I suspect many people do not even know how potent it can be. Here the media has the potential to be a driving force in improving recovery rates from major illness, and to preventing them as well.
For friends and family? Recognise the importance of what someone with MS or cancer eats and drinks, whether they exercise or not, the quality of their relationships, the state of their mind, whether they meditate or not, their spiritual views. These things do affect their health, their state of mind, their mobility, even their survival. Making lifestyle changes and sustaining them for life requires good and active support. The best way to do this if you really care about someone, is to share in the changes; to actually make them yourself. Of course to do this has a potentially major side effect, chronic good health for yourself!
Finally, a disclosure of interest statement. I no longer work for the Gawler Foundation or present the MS programs. George does, along with staff from the Foundation. I do continue to actively promote a healthy lifestyle and support people actively working on their health and wellbeing. So my vested interest here is in the health and wellbeing of people with MS and cancer. My concern is that the media and the system are letting them down and we all need to do something more about it. I do recommend anyone with MS or cancer to attend the Gawler Foundation’s programs. In my informed opinion, there are no residential programs anywhere else in the world that have such a body of experience to draw upon, have such a high quality or are as truly comprehensive in their scope. Let your friends and your politicians know.
1. This blog was written initially for George Jelinek's website Overcomingmultiplesclerosis - see below for the link. As it touches on issues that may be of interest to a wide audience, it seemed like a good idea to post it on my blog too.
2. Last weekend's Darwin workshops were well attended by a wide range of people from the local and far reaching communities, including a very keen oncology nurse who flew from Alice Springs to attend. The organiser Alex, had me laughing more than I have for a while when, being a long-term, recovered patient himself, as well as the organiser, he was interviewed on ABC radio. At first I was a little apprehensive when he said he personally offered a guarantee for the weekend. Then he said if people did not feel better when they left compared to when they arrived, he would refund their misery at the door. It still makes me laugh!
3. Bunbury all day Wednesday, then Perth for workshops on the weekend, July 2nd and 3rd - details on the website - click here.
RESEARCH click here
Recovery from MS is possible
Eating for recovery
Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis; George Jelinek
You Can Conquer Cancer; Ian Gawler
The Mind That changes Everything; Ian Gawler
For Prof Jelinek
The Gawler Foundation
For Ian Gawler
The Gawler Foundation
Residential: Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis – healing program for MS
Life and Living - for people with cancer
Non residential - see the website