An Interview with
Dr Vernon Coleman
This interview is a
composite, consisting of frequently asked questions, and is based on interviews
conducted on behalf of magazines in different parts of the world. This interview
concentrates on Vernon Coleman's work as a medical author.
you a medically qualified doctor? What provoked your scepticism about the
A: I am a qualified doctor and registered to practice
- though I have not done so for many years. Doctors are necessary and do much
good. But my scepticism is, I fear, based on sound scientific basis and my
criticisms largely concern the way the medical establishment is organised and
the way doctors have allowed themselves to be influenced by commercial forces. I
have researched what doctors do with a critical eye and I have proved that too
often doctors do more harm than good. In many countries doctors are now one of
the three main causes of illness and death (along with cancer and circulatory
disease). One in six patients in hospital is there because he or she has been
made ill by doctors. Four out of ten patients who receive drug treatment suffer
from serious or even life-threatening side effects.It is perhaps hardly
surprising that when doctors go on strike, patient morbidity and mortality
levels invariably fall. What an indictment.
Q: Do you take medicines
if you are ill - if not how do you make yourself well if you fall
A:I will take medicines if I need them and believe that the
advantages outweigh the disadvantages. But most problems can be dealt with
Q: Do you think that doctors are influenced too much
by the pharmaceutical industry?
A:I have been a strong critic of the
relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and the medical profession
since 1976 when I published my first book The Medicine Men in which I
described the way that the industry influences and controls the medical
profession. It is easy to blame the drug industry (and many of their practices
do seem to me to be grotesquely unethical) but I do think that the medical
profession should take more of the blame. The drug companies are doing what they
are in business to do - make money. It should be up to doctors to be more
critical. I don't feel that much has changed over the last thirty years (since I
first started writing books on this subject) and the drug companies still have
an enormous control over doctors and what they believe. The industry still has
enormous influence over all aspects of medical education, and doctors are
trained to believe that the only answer to medical problems is, very often, some
form of pharmaceutical intervention. That is wrong and it is dangerous.
Q: Surely, medicines must sometimes be used to cure
A: Definitely. I am certainly not opposed to the use of
medicines but I am opposed to their overuse and abuse. For example, the
overprescribing of antibiotics has led to enormous problems - including the
development of superbugs. I have been warning about this problem for decades and
forecast the emergence of superbugs some decades ago. The overuse of
tranquillisers led to the biggest addiction problem of the 20th century. And
often doctors don't really know what they are prescribing or why. For example,
doctors sometimes prescribe antibiotics for viral infections (a pointless
exercise) and while some doctors give out prescriptions of antibiotics for ten
days others give five or even three day courses for the same symptoms. Ignorance
and illogicality cause many problems. In the area of painkillers doctors are
often too free to use pills when in many instances other methods would be safer
and more effective. For example, TENS machines are very effective for combating
pain but many doctors don't know about them. The drug industry and the medical
establishment have conspired to keep them secret.
Q:More and more
people are now turning to traditional, complementary or alternative medicine. Do
you believe that more doctors are now convinced of the usefulness of these types
A: Sadly, doctors are, as a group, still reluctant to accept
that alternative medicine can offer patients a great deal. And too often doctors
do an additional weekend course in, say, acupuncture, and then believe that they
are holistic practitioners. Holistic medicine means treating the patients with
whatever is best for him or her and this is only rarely seen. Sadly, some
alternative therapists are so opposed to orthodox medicine that they too fail
their patients. In an ideal world the patient would be treated with whatever
therapies work best - and with whatever combination of therapies are most
effective. It is a tragedy that this is so rare.
Q:Are doctors who
prescribe alternative treatments behaving responsibly?
As long as they have studied the treatments they recommend. For example, a good
doctor should always consider referring patients with back or joint trouble to
an osteopath or chiropractor rather than just to a surgeon. I strongly believe
in holistic medicine; by which I mean that doctors should prescribe whatever
might help a patient get well again. In the absence of holistic practitioners
(and there are very few) patients should aspire to be holistic patients.
Q:How can the patient learn the balance between orthodox and
A:By learning. Read books. Every patient needs to
be their own doctor - able to take a real part in the diagnosing and treatment
Q:Do you suspect that doctors ever have any a personal
interest in recommending medicines from specific companies?
A: There is
much evidence showing that doctors can be `bought' with free meals, television
sets and other gifts. Their prescribing habits can be influenced by drug company
representatives and although this isn't now quite as big a problem as it was, it
is still a problem.
Q:Surely researchers wouldn't have the funds to
study new drugs to cure diseases if they were not paid by the drug
A:We need a pharmaceutical industry. It would be good if the
industry was more honest but I think we should blame doctors for that. Doctors
should keep drug companies more honest by being more critical. And doctors
should be more independent and should realise that drugs are only part of what
they can do for patients. Unfortunately, there is evidence to show that drug
companies influence the medical establishment and the medical way of thinking
with the result that patients lose out. It is also important to remember that
much drug company research goes into developing what are called `me too' drugs -
where the company involved simply wants to produce another drug to take
advantage of an existing market. And it is for this reason that there are a
hundred different painkillers - all doing much the same thing - for doctors to
choose from. Too much choice can sometimes be bad because it causes confusion
and mistakes. Incidentally, the overall influence of the drug companies on our
health has been dramatically over-emphasised. The main influences on our health
come from food, water, living and working conditions and so on. The figures show
that mortality rates have not improved much in the last century. Infant
mortality rates have fallen a great deal because of better housing, better water
and so on and these improvements have affected overall life expectancy figures.
But drug companies (and doctors) like to pretend that we are all living longer
because of drugs. This simply isn't true.
Q:Are you opposed to the
use of anti-depressants? Do you think that depression is a disease created by
the drug industry?
A: When my campaign against the over-prescribing of
tranquillisers led directly to a fall in the number of prescriptions, I forecast
that drug companies would start pushing anti-depressants much harder. This is
exactly what they did. Anti-depressants now often prescribed for people who are
unhappy or who have lifestyle problems. The over-prescribing of these drugs in
unsuitable circumstances causes many additional problems.
other diseases do you think are also `created' by the medical
A: It is frequently claimed that asthma is much commoner than
it was. But in fact these days doctors diagnose asthma after a child wheezes
just once. And then the patient may be put on drugs for life. Few doctors take
the time to look for causes. Many chemicals in the home (for example, soap
powder) can cause wheezing. Remove the cause and the problem disappears. And
many doctors prescribe anti-hypertensive drugs for patients whose problems
could, perhaps, be resolved if they simply ate less fat, lost weight and took
Q:Do you think that governments connive with the drug
A:Yes, very much so. Governments are frightened of annoying
drug companies because of their power and the money they bring into a country.
To give a simple example: when they campaigned for victory in 1997, the British
Labour party promised to investigate the usefulness of animal experiments. many
animal lovers voted for the Labour Party because of this. After the election,
and under the influence of the drug companies, the Labour Government lost all
interest in stopping vivisection and did everything they could to make sure that
the drug companies could do as many experiments as they liked. (Even though when
tests on animals show that a drug is dangerous the drug is still used for humans
on the grounds that animals are so different to people that bad results can be
ignored. Even the most fervent enthusiasts for vivisection admit that they don't
know which results they get are useful and which are not. if you don't know
which tests are of any use they are all useless.
government agencies which exist to protect patients and discipline doctors and
A:I used to have more faith than I do now. I'm not sure
whether I have become more suspicious or they have changed. Generally I don't
have faith in any organisations which exist to protect patients. The problem is
that there is too much movement between drug companies and these organisations.
Scientists move from one to the other. And in many countries doctors and
scientists work for drug companies and the advisory organisations.
Q:How could hospitals become better places for patients?
ancient Egyptians had hospitals with music, flowers etc. Modern hospitals are
stressful, bug ridden, bureaucratic and unfriendly. The patient is too often
regarded as an inconvenience. Everyone working in hospital should remember that
the most important person there is the patient. At least half of all
administrators should be sacked and the money spent on more nurses and on taking
better care of patients. Caring is an essential part of curing.
Q:What about accusations of doctors receiving money to research new
drugs and then not publicising bad or inconvenient results?
A:I have for
many years protested publicly about the way that drug companies will suppress
inconvenient results. The drug companies should be severely punished for this.
Q:What is the main problem with medicines - the side effects they
produce or their poor efficacy?
A:Drugs are often not as effective as
drug companies say they are. But the big problem is side effects. I don't
believe there is a single drug in the world which doesn't have side effects. If
a patient takes a drug to save his life then side effects don't matter too much.
But if the drug is being taken for some small problem then it is a tragedy if
the drug kills him.
Q:Which drugs do you think are most wildly
A:Tranquillisers and anti-depressants have ruined many
lives by being over-prescribed. But the over-use of antibiotics is probably
causing the biggest problems with the emergence of many resistant bugs.
Anti-cancer drugs are largely a joke. The world would probably be a better and
safer place without any of them. They are hugely profitable but I suspect they
kill more people than they save.
Q:What about the growing trend for
governments, drug companies and doctors to encourage
A:All three encourage self-medication but for different
reasons. Governments want people to buy their own drugs because it saves the
government money. Drug companies want to sell drugs direct to patients because
the profits are higher. And doctors encourage self-medication because it means
less work for them. Self-medication is fine if patients know what they are
taking and why.
Unfortunately, the information available is often patchy,
unreliable and inadequate. Patients over-use drugs and suffer nasty side-effects
as a result. if a patient taking a drug develops new symptoms then, by Coleman's
Law, the new symptoms are caused by the drug.
Q:Do medicines damage
the human organism's defence mechanisms?
A:I strongly believe that the
human body has sound defences against illness. I first wrote about this in my
book Bodypower in 1983. Over-use of drugs damages these self-defence
mechanisms and makes the individual more vulnerable.
Q:Sum up your
attitude towards prescription drugs.
A:Drugs can save lives. But they can
also kill. We need more doctors who understand the benefits and dangers more
fully and more objectively.
Q:Do you think that medical researchers
ever waste time and money?
A:Drug companies spend too much time and money
looking for me-too drugs, new variations on profitable themes. They are, for
example, constantly looking for new tranquillisers and anti-depressants because
these are profitable. And they are constantly introducing new drugs which are
promoted with great enthusiasm because they fit a marketing niche and then
quietly withdrawn and forgotten a few years later. And remember that drug
companies often create markets for their drugs by creating illnesses - as they
have done so successfully for example with drugs for the menopause.
Q: The incidence of psychological disease is increasing
dramatically. Do you have any idea why?
A:There are huge profits to be
made out of tranquillisers, sleeping tablets and antidepressants. Most of the
patients taking these drugs don't need them and don't benefit from them. The
only people who really benefit are the drug companies. Doctors prescribe these
drugs because handing out prescriptions is quicker and easier than investigating
causes and offering proper advice.
Q:You say that doctors are not
taught well. How should medical students be taught?
A:Students should be
taught true holistic medicine. they should learn to see the patient as a person.
And they should investigate all the causes of an illness (environment, immune
system, stress etc) before offering a solution. Students should be taught that
patients can benefit from a mixture of treatments including, where necessary,
drugs, surgery and alternative medicine.
Q:Do you think that doctors
are slow to accept new ideas?
A:Doctors have been very slow to recognise
the importance of diet in health. There has been evidence for decades showing
that meat causes cancer. If you eat lots of read meat you are more likely to die
of cancer. That's a fact. Doctors don't see this because they rarely read
original research. They just read the leaflets handed out by the drug companies
- which only mention drug therapies. And the medical journals, which make huge
amounts of money from drug company advertising, don't deal with these issues
either. I recently read about a doctor who was prescribing meat for his patients
because he thought it would make them healthier. I reported him to the General
Medical Council on the grounds that he was doing something that was dangerous to
his patients but the GMC wasn't interested, of course. The GMC is far more
concerned with defending the establishment than looking after patients
Q:What damage can medical check-ups cause to patients?
Don't you think that medical check-ups can discover disease in early
A: Check-ups are no more use than a single bank statement. If you
had one bank statement a year it would give you a false view of your financial
health. Medical check-ups produce a lot of false negatives and false positives
and give people a false sense of security. It is much better to tell patients
what problems to look out for - and to tell them of the significant warning
signs that show impending problems.
Q:What damage can occur after
A:Vaccines have caused (and cause) enormous problems. I
have been a critic since the 1970s. They can damage the brain and the body.
Their value is wildly over-emphasised and their danger wildly under-emphasised.
The problem is that some vaccines do prevent the spread of diseases. But at high
cost to individuals. Governments don't mind sacrificing individuals for the good
of the community. I don't think doctors should do this. Anyone having a
vaccination should make sure that their doctor signs a document taking
responsibility if things go wrong (if patients did this there would be far fewer
vaccinations.) There has been much research showing the dangers of vaccines. But
some of this research is suppressed because it is inconvenient. I first became
aware of the dangers with the whooping cough vaccine. But I have grave doubts
about all vaccines. My books contain more specific information.
Q:Don't you think vaccines have helped eradicate diseases such as
polio? Isn't this a good argument in favour of vaccination? In poor regions
diseases such as measles are very dangerous. Aren't vaccines a way to prevent
A:If you accept that thousands of individuals will die or
suffer great disabilities for the sake of the community then vaccines probably
have a place. I think the price is too great. Many great claims are made for
vaccines. But the claims are usually overdone. Many diseases were reducing in
numbers long before vaccines were introduced. Better living conditions and
antibiotics - not vaccines- are responsible. If you look at the graphs you will
see that infectious diseases were falling before vaccines were introduced and
that vaccines now kill more people than they save.
Q:The world dreams
of a vaccine against AIDS or cancer. Do you think it's a
A:No, There are much better ways to deal with the problems.
Improving the immune system is the key.
Q:The risk of a hospital
infection is high, but some diseases have to be treated inside hospital. How can
a patient know whether the risk is worth it or not?
A:If their condition
will kill them if they do not go into hospital then going to hospital is
obviously essential. But I would try to keep out of hospital for things which
did not threaten my life.
Q:Does the body have the power to cure
A:Definitely. I have written about this in books such as
Bodypower, Mindpower and Superbody.
Q:Don't you accept
that medical advances are responsible for increases in life
A:No. This is a myth put forward by drug companies and the
medical establishment. Better living conditions are responsible for a reduction
in infant mortality. And it is the reduction in infant mortality which has led
to apparently greater life expectation. People who had survived childhood lived
to their 80's or 90's a century or two ago. There are more old people around
today because populations have grown. and there are problems dealing with them
because there is more chronic illness and because young families no longer have
the time or money to look after their old.
Q:Do you think that the
return of the old-fashioned family doctor could improve
A:Definitely. The real family doctor acts as the patients'
interpreter and agent, helping to guide them through every available form of
diagnosis or treatment, explaining what is going on and providing support.
Sadly, real family doctors are now a rarity. The money is spent on unnecessary
drugs and on administration instead.
Q:You have said that during some
doctors' strikes, the mortality rates decreased. Is that really the
A:Yes. Too many investigations and too much treatment causes many
illnesses. In many instances the body can heal itself without medical help.
Strikes in both America and Israel have led to a fall in mortality rates.
Q:What is the secret of a good doctor?
A:The doctor should
listen, listen and listen. Very often a good doctor can learn more from talking
and listening than from examining. High-tech medicine is all very well, but just
listening is still crucial. And many doctors don't find the time to listen.
Q:Is being a vegetarian a good way to prevent disease?
There is no doubt about this. The scientific evidence is summarised in my book
Food for Thought and on my website.
A:Yes. I am vegetarian because I don't want to eat animals.
But this is not why I recommend that readers follow a vegetarian diet. I believe
that eating meat causes many diseases and that a vegetarian diet is much
healthier. If I believed that meat was essential it would be my responsibility
as an author to tell the truth - though I would still not eat meat myself.
Q:Were you given vaccines as a child?
A:I was given some
vaccines as a child and, fortunately, I was one of the lucky ones: I survived
them. But when I was a child we were given far fewer vaccines than children are
given these days. The risks from most of the diseases for which vaccines are now
given are slight. For example, measles does not kill many children. Vaccines are
given for the economic benefit of the community rather than the health of the
individual. If you approve of that then you can approve of vaccines. I consider
it to be a fascist political attitude rather than a healing, humanitarian
Q:What are your political views? Would you describe
yourself as left or right wing?
A:I am neither left nor right wing
(though readers sometimes assume I am one or the other - and it is not unknown
for me to receive mail on the same day accusing me of being an extremist in both
directions - I have even received mail accusing me of being an establishment
supporter, a concept which would, I feel sure, be a considerable surprise to the
establishment). I am enraged by injustice, inhumanity and oppressive authority
and my concerns are merely to fight for freedom and justice.
Copyright Vernon Coleman 2006