Big Pharma's dark magic turns vitamins into gold
Did you know that Big Pharma has mastered the art of dark magic?
Yep. They've figured out how to turn a $7 vitamin into an outrageously expensive "prescription medicine" that you can only get with doctor's order. And it's a profitable hoax, earning hundreds of millions of dollars for the drug giant Abbott Labs. (And better yet, this is not Big Pharma's first stab at black magic. They've done it before...and that "prescription medicine" now rakes in billions of dollars each year.)
I'll explain to you how Abbott pulled off this hoax in a moment, but first let me back up...
Last month's Journal of the American Medical Association ran an ad for a prescription medicine called Niaspan. It's targeted to men and women with coronary artery disease and high cholesterol. According to Niaspan web site, this prescription medicine:
“...works to raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels in people with abnormal cholesterol levels. Medical experts believe that increasing good cholesterol can help carry excess cholesterol out of your body. Niaspan also works to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides.”
Plus, Niaspan can "reduce the risk of another heart attack in people who have high cholesterol and a history of heart attacks." Sounds great if you're someone who takes drugs, right?
Now, here's the thing about Niaspan...
It isn't really a drug.
In fact, it's nothing more than time-released niacin (otherwise known as vitamin B3)! Plus, you can get a month's supply of the stuff (without a doctor's order) from most vitamin shops for under $7.
Without a doubt, you're much better off going that route...because Abbott Labs will charge you a heck of a lot more. I'll tell you exactly how much more a little later. But first, consider this...
Big Pharma pulled a bait and switch before
A few years back, Big Pharma pulled a similar type of bait and switch. You've probably heard of a prescription drug called Lovaza, right? I chuckled when I first heard about it, because it's nothing more than refined fish oil. But it sounds snazzy and you need a doctor's prescription for it...so it must work better than regular fish oil, right?
It doesn't. It contains the same active ingredients you find in fish oil: EPA and DHA.
But Big Pharma managed to fool many, many Americans with this hoax.
In fact, this kind of con is hugely profitable for Big Pharma. Global sales of Lovaza top $1 billion dollars per year. For this reason alone, we will see more and more vitamins magically "repackaged" and sold as drugs.
Big Pharma boosts profits with copycat drugs
In the case of niacin, Abbott Labs saw how well this B vitamin could lower your cholesterol and decided to get in on the action.
They put some execs in a boardroom to rename it. Then, they came up with a slick marketing campaign to confuse the heck out of you.
The ads make Niaspan sound more desirable than regular old vitamin B, with claims that it lowers your cholesterol and your heart attack risk. (You see, drug companies have carte blanche to talk about diseases in their marketing campaigns. Vitamin companies cannot or they risk getting shut down by the FDA. So suddenly, niacin becomes a "prescription medicine" targeted to patients with heart disease.)
So with a flick of the dark magic wand, suddenly you can only get niacin (er, Niaspan) with a doctor's prescription.
Unfortunately, this scheme will snow lots of folks...especially those who think a vitamin can't possibly lower their cholesterol...only a drug can do that! These folks will also buy Niaspan for an outrageous price (I promise I'll get to that in a moment) and Abbott Labs gets to keep the tidy profits.
The real truth about niacin
Niacin is a great vitamin. I've talked about it before. A water-soluble B vitamin, it helps your body convert carbs into fuel. It can also dramatically raise your HDL (good) cholesterol. I'm talking increases of 15 to 35 percent. This alone helps to sweep the bad cholesterol out of your system. Plus, niacin can lower your triglycerides as well.
No wonder Big Pharma became interested in niacin, right?
Now, niacin does have one main side effect. It can cause a "niacin flush" effect, with symptoms of tingling, redness, and itching similar to temporary sunburn. But this only lasts 15 minutes or so. Plus, it tends to go away altogether once the body becomes more accustomed to the higher dosages.
Niaspan gets around this because it contains time-release niacin. This reduces the amount of flushing you experience. But I'd stay away from it. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, time-release niacin may be more toxic to your liver than immediate-release forms.
Just how much does this copycat niacin cost?
After I saw the Niaspan ad, I was curious. I wanted to know how much Abbott charged for the stuff.
So I went to my local Walmart and asked the pharmacist on duty how much a 30- day supply runs. She told me that 30 Niaspan tablets (1,000 mg each) cost a whopping $139.08.
I was so dumbfounded, I asked her to write it down. Who the heck would pay that much when you can get it at the grocery store for under seven bucks?
Well, apparently, a lot of folks.
Copycat niacin is big business. I ran a quick check on drugs.com and found that Niaspan actually ranks among the top 50 best-selling drugs in America. In 2009, it even sold more units than Cialis and Tamiflu.
Well, regular old immediate-release niacin from your grocery store shelf works just as well. Plus, I think about it will be a whole lot easier on your wallet (non-time- release is often even less than $7!).
For anyone with high cholesterol, I'd suggest starting with 100 mg of it three times day. This is not really enough to get the job done, usually, but it can get you used to the flush. Once your tissues get used to that dose, you can increase to 250 or 500 mg three times day, but check with your doc.
Also, if you take prescription niacin now, be sure to talk to your doctor before making the switch.
About the author
Nationally acclaimed as America’s “Nutrition Physician,” Dr. Spreen has been helping people stay healthy and disease-free as a private doctor, published author, and noted researcher.
In addition to his role as a Senior Member of the prestigious Health Sciences Institute Advisory Panel in Baltimore, MD, Dr. Spreen also coaches diving at the international and Olympic levels. NorthStar Nutritionals is proud to have Dr. Spreen as our Chief Research Advisor.
Dr. Spreen also writes the Guide to Good Health.