The Vioxx fiasco and the safe alternatives

The average person following the news over the last month or so might have been shocked to find that the popular arthritis drug Vioxx was recalled for causing strokes and heart attacks only a few years after being introduced with great fanfare as the “safe” anti-inflammatory drug.

The truth is that patented drugs are expensive to develop and even more expensive to get through the approval process; yet they remain loose cannons because their safety cannot be truly guaranteed. In many cases, there’s not even a need for them.

For example, in a recent double-blind study, the supplement SAMe was found to be as effective as the drug Celebrex to control arthritis pain (BMC Musculoskelet Disord, 2004 Feb. 26; 5 (1): 6). Celebrex is closely related to Vioxx and, in all likelihood, it is probably only a matter of time before it is shown to cause the same deadly side effects.

In this study, patients were given either 600 mg of SAMe twice a day or 200 mg of the drug Celebrex once daily. After one month, those receiving SAMe reported only marginal improvements in pain, but by the end of the second month the pain was controlled equally well in both groups. Researchers concluded that SAMe has a “slower onset of action but the two treatments are equally efficacious.”

In comparison with Vioxx, SAMe comes with side benefits, not side effects. Other research has shown it to be as effective as antidepressants in fighting depression (for a review of the literature see Curr Psychiatry Rep 2003 Dec; 5 (6): 460-6) and promoting detoxification of environmental chemicals (for example see Minerva Gastroenterol Dietol 1992 Jul-Sep; 38 (3): 145-51).

If you run to the health food store to buy a bottle of SAMe, you will find that it is expensive and realize that taking 1,200 mg of it every day might put a dent in your budget. However, the cost of SAMe is low in relation to Vioxx – especially if we consider the heart disease it caused.

If you can’t afford the SAMe, or simply prefer a holistic approach rather than relying on a single product, arthritis can often be controlled very well through diet change (yes, you’ll have to avoid sugar) and inexpensive supplements like fish oil, enzymes, and herbal extracts that include the common Indian spice tumeric.

My question is: who needed Vioxx in the first place?

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