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Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, October 1, 2014


Opinion by Ralph Campbell, MD

(OMNS Oct 1, 2014) The meaning of the word "fear" has changed over time and with the influence of common use appropriate for the culture of the time. In King George's era, the word referred more to awe or respect due to God or another person, more like that shown to a father who exercises the concept of "tough love." Before abstract thinking kicks in, a child is more likely to respond more quickly and positively to a father's command that could prevent an accident than words of loving praise. Some fears are beneficial.

And then there is the evening news. It may be designed for a "mature" (old) audience, but it is easy to spot the fear factor. We see broadcasts intertwining of fear, worry, anxiety and depression. Notice how deep furrows develop in the news commentator's brow (worry lines) as he presents descriptions of horrible happenings. It seems that the public's desires are being fulfilled with a sort of negativity that provides a good scare, much like going on an extreme roller coaster ride and calling it fun. News producers seem aware of this and will attempt to leave us with a brief, cheery "good news" item at the end of the broadcast.

Commercial interruptions punctuate the newscast with pharmaceutical ads. Drug advertising relies heavily on promoting fear. In spite of presenting dire side-effects, the fear motivation is that "You surely must fear what will happen to you if you don't take this medicine." No matter which drug, and quiet background narration telling you of side-effects can include "even an occasional fatality," the background picture is one of active joy with family members (including the family dog) in order to reassure that life is good when taking that medicine.

Fear leads to worry. Listen to the sales pitch for a drug. It uses a lot of coulds, mights, or evens. The disease might happen; the drug might kill you. Yes, the possible big one: death. As far as drug side effect risk goes, "death" is usually preceded by the word, "rarely." But the disease is presented as inevitable if you don't take that drug now. Never mind that most of what we worry about never comes to fruition. Just creating worry completes the sales pitch objective. Chronic worry leads to anxiety. Chronic anxiety leads to depression. Big-time fear sets off the "fight or flight" syndrome, a cascade of adaptive reactions that raise physiological havoc if sustained. If we actually fought or fled, and utilized the hormone release in the way it was intended, the toll on our health would be much less than just continuing to shake in our boots while we watch TV. But in this culture we are programmed to continue this damaging fear. The message is that it is smart to worry.

The best antidote for fear is honest education. We should not accept the contents of an advertisement without examining the facts. But transparency, by design, is lacking, making it difficult to get at the concealed truth. Drugs are approved by the FDA, but what do most people know of the process? An advertising sales pitch usually concludes with, "Ask your doctor about so and so," implying that the doctor is probably programmed to prescribe that drug. An honest appraisal that allows answers to the patient's questions is needed.

We all need to be discerning but we do not benefit from fear. Remember Alfred E. Newman, the guy depicted as too dumb to worry? I'll bet his blood pressure was better than average.

(Octogenarian pediatrician Ralph Campbell, MD, is an avid and active orchard farmer in rural Montana.)

To Learn More:

Pharmaceutical Drug Marketing to Our Children: Bordering on Criminal

Confessions of a Frustrated Pharmacist

Pharmaceutical Advertising Biases Journals against Vitamin Supplements

Rigged Trials: Drug Studies Favor the Manufacturer

Way Too Many Prescriptions

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Editorial Review Board:

Ian Brighthope, M.D. (Australia)
Ralph K. Campbell, M.D. (USA)
Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D. (USA)
Damien Downing, M.D. (United Kingdom)
Michael Ellis, M.D. (Australia)
Martin P. Gallagher, M.D., D.C. (USA)
Michael Gonzalez, D.Sc., Ph.D. (Puerto Rico)
William B. Grant, Ph.D. (USA)
Michael Janson, M.D. (USA)
Robert E. Jenkins, D.C. (USA)
Bo H. Jonsson, M.D., Ph.D. (Sweden)
Peter H. Lauda, M.D. (Austria)
Thomas Levy, M.D., J.D. (USA)
Stuart Lindsey, Pharm.D. (USA)
Jorge R. Miranda-Massari, Pharm.D. (Puerto Rico)
Karin Munsterhjelm-Ahumada, M.D. (Finland)
Erik Paterson, M.D. (Canada)
W. Todd Penberthy, Ph.D. (USA)
Gert E. Schuitemaker, Ph.D. (Netherlands)
Robert G. Smith, Ph.D. (USA)
Jagan Nathan Vamanan, M.D. (India)
Atsuo Yanagisawa, M.D., Ph.D. (Japan)

Andrew W. Saul, Ph.D. (USA), Editor and contact person. Email: This is a comments-only address; OMNS is unable to respond to individual reader emails. However, readers are encouraged to write in with their viewpoints. Reader comments become the property of OMNS and may or may not be used for publication.

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