(OMNS, Nov 16, 2015) It would be novel indeed to see a news media report entitled "Life- Saving Vitamins." That's a headline about vitamins that would be true for once.
Instead, I see folks on TV speaking about those drugs they so desperately "need" while they plead with drug companies to just make them more affordable. "It's tough when it comes to medical stuff costing so much because you can't say no to medication," says one patient who seeks an expensive drug to help lower his high cholesterol .
“[It's] a kind of blackmail: if you want drug companies to keep turning out life-saving drugs, you will gratefully pay whatever they charge.”
- Marcia Angell, MD
Take comfort, consumer. NBC is on it. On Wednesday, November 4th, 2015, they presented a news bit ominously entitled "Your Money or Your Life." NBC asked Leonard Schleifer, MD, CEO of Regeneron: "Why do the same medications cost so much more here than in other countries?" After all, NBC pointed out that drugs cost twice as much in the United States then they do in Canada, the United Kingdom, or Australia. And they noted that Regeneron's new drug Praluent is particularly costly.
Dr. Schleifer justified the price tag on his company's expensive new drug because of the high cost of the product's development. "Do we want cheap drugs now, and no drugs in the future?" he asks. "Or more expensive drugs now, and a constant stream of drugs?" 
This pharmaceutical CEO would have us enjoy an endless stream of expensive drugs. Of course he would. For many people who take cholesterol-lowering drugs every day, a constant supply is exactly what they end up paying for.
The pharmaceutical industry is "primarily a marketing machine to sell drugs of dubious benefit," says Marcia Angell, MD, a senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School and former editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine . In her book bestselling book, The Truth About the Drug Companies , she says that the supposedly high cost of research and development has very little to do with how high they price their products. Basically, drug companies charge what they think they can get. And while you will hear it claimed otherwise, far more is spent on marketing than on research and development. She even points out that "news" about drugs is just another way to promote drugs. "Contrary to the industry's public relations," says Dr. Angell, "you don't get what you pay for."
"New drug" does not automatically mean "improved," "better," or "safe." It means that at least in a couple of trials, it beat a placebo. "Clearly drug companies are more concerned with profits than with patients," says Andrew W. Saul, PhD. 
Praluent costs $40 a day . That's $14,600 a year. NBC reported that this is significantly more costly than it should be. They referred to a watchdog study that suggested a more reasonable price would be $2,200 to $7,700 a year, or just $6 to $21 a day. Golly, thanks so much, NBC! That's much more reasonable.
Believe it or not, there is an even cheaper, more effective option to reduce "bad" LDL cholesterol, and we've known about it for over 60 years .
Back in the 1950s, William Parsons, MD, and colleagues reported that niacin lowers bad cholesterol, increases good cholesterol, and lowers triglycerides, among other benefits, such as living longer . Abram Hoffer, MD, who pioneered the use of niacin to cure schizophrenia, says Dr. Parsons provides the evidence that niacin is the "only practical, effective, safe, and cost effective method for restoring lipid levels to normal." 
"Niacin should probably be the first-line medication for people who want to lower their cholesterol levels," say Drs. Hilary Roberts and Steve Hickey, authors of The Vitamin Cure for Heart Disease. Additionally, the health advantages of niacin extend well beyond its ability to reduce cholesterol. "[N]iacin inhibits inflammation and protects the delicate linings of the arteries," say Dr. Roberts and Dr. Hickey, and "helps maintain the arterial wall and prevents atherosclerosis" .
"A vitamin can act as a drug, but a drug can never act as a vitamin."
- Andrew W. Saul, PhD
The dose is the key. "[T]he data on patients with problem cholesterol/LDL levels still support 3,000-5,000 milligrams of immediate-release niacin as the best clinically-proven approach to maintaining a healthy lipid profile," says researcher professor and niacin expert W. Todd Penberthy, PhD. And, despite what you may have heard, niacin is "far safer than the safest drug." 
The cost of a bottle of regular, flush niacin comes in under eight bucks. Taking six to ten 500 mg niacin tablets per day ($0.03 a tablet) would cost $0.19 to $0.30. The yearly investment to take the best cholesterol lowering substance out there, would be $70 to $110. That's 20 to 100 times cheaper than statins. That's up to 200 times cheaper than Praluent. And niacin is safer then all of them.
"We've all been carefully taught that drugs cure illness, not vitamins," says Dr. Saul. "The system is remarkably well-entrenched."  Instead of being hailed as the safe, effective, affordable, life-saving vitamin it is, niacin is bashed in the media, and dangerous drugs are practically revered: Is the only fault we can find with them is that they cost too much?
We can do better. We can say no to medication. We can do something about high cholesterol, and it doesn't have to cost a pile. We don't have to buy into or believe what we see on TV. And until a headline reads "Life-Saving Vitamins," I sure won't.
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