Memo to Political Leaders: When You Think Job Creation, Think Natural Health (If You Don't, Other Countries Will)


iStock_000003066815XSmallNatural health is a tremendous growth industry. Over the next few decades, it will generate millions of jobs. Europe will get few. Asia many. What about the US?

Europe will get very few of the these new jobs because the regulatory climate is so bad. As you know, supplements are gradually being shut down, much to the delight of drug companies. The few supplements available already cost as much as four times what they cost in the US. European doctors cannot even tell you about an “unapproved” supplement in the privacy of their offices without risking jail. It’s too bad on so many levels. Europe is mindlessly kicking out what seems likely to be one of the greatest growth industries of this new century.

Asia is an entirely different case. There, regulators are friendly, mindful of thriving, thousand-year-old herbal medicine traditions, and eager to capture new natural health markets. US specialists in natural medicine are invited to Asia as speakers; some are invited to become visiting professors at leading Chinese and other universities. Even some of the most profitable conventional medicine is migrating to Asia. “Medical tourism,” in which US citizens fly to Asia for operations, is booming, and offers recuperation at leading spas and five-star hotels.

In the past, it has been taken for granted that the best medicine—and lots of job opportunities—would be found in the US. But this is no longer clear. As Death by Medicine by Gary Null et al. documents, conventional medicine is now the leading cause of death in the US. Conventional medicine does create more and more new medical jobs each year. But these are not durable jobs. They are part of a conventional medical industry bubble, not a real growth industry.

What is the difference between an industry bubble and a real growth industry, the kind that produces millions of real and enduring jobs? Here is how you can tell: In an industry bubble, both prices and employment rise, until finally the prices become so high that everything collapses. This is what recently happened in US housing and is still happening in conventional US healthcare.

In a real growth industry, by contrast, productivity booms and prices steadily decline as sales increase. Price declines mean that more and more people can afford the product, and in the process, millions of real, not phony, jobs are created. Conventional medicine in the US defines a classic industry bubble, while natural health defines a classic growth industry.

Of course the American Medical Association (AMA), the medical equipment manufacturers, the hospitals, the insurance companies, the drug companies—all the “medical players” whom President Obama recently invited to the White House—don’t like the threat of natural health. They are pulling out all the stops to quash it by influencing and controlling Washington. If they succeed, the US, like Europe, will become a medical backwater, and miss out completely on all the millions of real jobs to be created in natural health.

Conventional medicine has good reason to worry. Consider the drug industry. It is not replenishing its supply of newly patented drugs. Its huge monopolistic profits could collapse.

And consider this math: US drug sales today are about $300 billion. Supplement sales are only about $25 billion, less than a tenth. But if drug sales stagnate, and supplements only grow at a little over 7% a year, supplements sales could pass drug sales in only 30 years.

Supplement sales could easily grow at a much faster rate, say 15%, in which case supplements would overtake drugs in only 20 years. If sales increased at 25% (entirely possible if FDA supplement information censorship ended), supplements could overtake drugs in 12 years.

Imagine if this happened. Drug companies could no longer control medicine through the millions spent on lobbying, the flow of campaign contributions, the consulting fees for medical experts, and the lavish contributions to universities and medical societies in return for support and access to patents.

Drug companies are smart. In addition to trying to quash supplements, they also buy supplement companies. They try to launch new supplement blockbusters (look at Proctor and Gamble’s probiotic Align®, designed to tap the irritable bowel syndrome market). But what really scares the drug companies is that no supplement product will ever generate huge monopoly profits like a drug. Even if drug companies completely captured the burgeoning supplement market, their profits would still collapse.

Of course, it is not just supplements that compete with drugs. So do so-called “functional foods”—foods such as cherries that we may eat for a specific health benefit, and health foods that we eat to stay healthy in general. We all need to remember that studies show diet alone can reduce heart disease and cancer by 90%. No drugs will do that.

Sales of functional foods in the US supposedly reached $29 billion in the US in 2007, but this includes dubious items such as “lite” beer and low-salt soups. Whatever the figures for genuine functional foods are, it is clear that sales are booming. It is also clear that the FDA’s mindless banning of even valid health claims hurts the industry and hurts consumers even more.

Sales of organic food, a category related to functional foods, increased by 5% in 2009 over the prior year, even in a recession, and now represent just under 4% of all food and beverage sales according to the Organic Trade Association. Other sources indicate that over two-thirds of Americans buy organic occasionally, and core buyers are about 18% as of 2007.

If you look beyond drugs and supplements, the numbers are equally interesting. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the US government’s Institute of Medicine, says that 38% of US consumers bought natural health services in 2007, the latest year for which data is available. Consumers paid $34 billion out of their own pockets for these services.

But when you look within this figure, only $12 billion was spent for natural health practitioner visits, and $3 billion for homeopathy, much of the rest being spent for things that most of us would class as supplements. Since total medical costs in the US run at $2.2 trillion for 2007, $12 billion for natural health practitioner visits seems really a pittance.

This is not, however, the whole story. Here’s a shocker: Newsweek reported in December 2002 that “Americans make more visits to holistic health care providers (some 600 million a year) than to MDs, and spend more money out-of-pocket to do so….” These figures are old and highly debatable—it all depends what you put in and leave out. But they make a clear point. If natural health services were reimbursed like conventional services, the latter might well collapse.

We also know that visits to conventional doctors have declined further since 2002, especially during the recent recession. Does the decline of conventional doctor visits and the increase in alternative practitioner visits worry the AMA? It seems to, since the AMA works so hard to control state medical licensing boards—which constantly threaten to pull the licenses of even the most distinguished natural health MDs and DOs.

Sometimes it seems that conventional medicine is just blind. Consider hyperbaric oxygen (HBOT) treatments. This is pressurized oxygen delivered to the patient in special tanks. Many hospitals have such tanks, and the FDA has approved their use for carbon monoxide poisoning and even flesh-eating infections, but they are rarely used even for the latter.

HBOT should also be used for stroke, Lyme Disease, major viral infections, MS, heart disease, sinusitis, head injuries, and many other problems, but isn’t. Even wounded Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans with their numerous head trauma injuries are rarely given this treatment. What treatment is emphasized instead? Drugs—most ineffective, most highly toxic, and all approved by the FDA. Meanwhile, which countries have taken the lead on the manufacture and use of HBOT tanks? Russia and China. Certainly not the US.

Do Americans really want to cede medical leadership and the related employment opportunities to Asia? If not, we need to make an urgent course correction.

Also Featured in the August 17, 2010 Newsletter:
News Briefs

  • Tonie Mullen

    Hello, Thanks for the article. I am in total agreement with this article. I myself have left my tranditional MD and drugs for an alternative medicine MD which prescribes supplements. I have seen progress immediately, where with my traditional MD, they still don’t know what’s wrong with me. Thanks again. Tonie

  • While those who are part of the holistic health industry are well aware of the benefits of holistic medicine, those who have a financial stake in the drug industry have no desire to relinquish their financial stability by admitting these benefits. It is sad that the desire to be better off financially than our fellow man has initiated a health system of suppressing information that is beneficial to the health of the human species. It is clear that as long as there is money involved that some people will forgo the truth in favor of what will benefit them financially. It may seem unrealistic to do away with money, but this seems to be the one way that virtually all corruption could be stopped. If mankind on earth is going to have a future it begins with the elimination of money. We have come to a point in our evolution where we are able take care of every persons needs on the planet if we so choose. The question remaining is; What will we choose?

  • Cathy Norgard

    I hope you will read this in total. The drug company monopoly is causing us to be a sick nation. The answer is not for drug companies to take over natural treatments certainly. They are doing a terrible job and can’t be trusted.

  • Seth Snapp

    Please consider natural health as a solution.

  • MaryAnn Teel

    What can we do to keep the FDA and AMA from controlling the Natural Health industry?

  • Mary F Marcina, RPP

    People inevitably will migrate tohealth modalities that produce health. Natural health practice is the focus of the future, bringing prosperity to the countries who allow it.

  • I hereby would like for USA not to be left behind on this very important issue, we need to br #1.
    That way we could be more aware of purity and effective, well made products, I use them, I care.

  • Suzanne

    Great article. Most of our reps won’t listen but I’m sure Ron Paul will.

  • Piper Martin

    AT LAST: the difference between an industry bubble and a real growth industry. AND: Conventional medicine in the US defines a classic industry bubble, while natural health defines a classic growth industry. FINAL QUOTES: Sometimes it seems that conventional medicine is just blind. … Do Americans really want to cede medical leadership and the related employment opportunities to Asia? If not, we need to make an urgent course correction.

  • Piper Martin

    EXPLAINS the difference between an industry bubble and a real growth industry. PLUS: “Conventional medicine in the US defines a classic industry bubble, while natural health defines a classic growth industry.” MORE QUOTES: “Sometimes it seems that conventional medicine is just blind.” “Do Americans really want to cede medical leadership and the related employment opportunities to Asia? If not, we need to make an urgent course correction.” I know I want natural health for myself and natural health JOBS for my country.

  • Wake up! Our bodies cannot tolerate the pharmaceutical drugs. I was recently told to take Aleve
    for arthritis in my knee. When I refused, the doctor prescribed Glucosamine/Chondroitin by PharmaAssure, a pharmaceutical copy of the natural thing. It did not work. I was in a lot of pain so
    I sent for Joint Advantage Gold from Dr. David Williams. Now my knee is totally healed. If I had been taking Aleve, I would have to take it every 4 hrs to numb the pain and it would not have healed my knee. Instead it would have hurt my liver.

  • Bonnie Breckenridge

    Yes, the medical establishment is terrified of alternative practitioners! And insurance companies seem to be in league with them. I happen to be practitioner of energeitc healing. I once worked on a woman with whiplash, and in 15 minutes she felt so much better sho was able to take off her neck brace. However, she refused to tell her physical therapist about this because she was afraid she would then lose her alloted payments for the more “traditional” treatment. I threw up my hands! This is one of the reasons why the established medical practices can get away with pooh-poohing alternative modalites. Happily, there are some rays of light into the darkness, with Dr. Oz (not the one on Oprah!) at Columbia Presbetyrian Medical Center, experimenting with having eregy practitioners working pre, post and even in the operating room.

  • “For the first time in the history of the world, every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals from the moment of conception until death.” _ Rachel Carson ( Why did we know that back in the 60’s and succeeding generations either ignored or chose ignorance?)

  • Wake up we need jobs and the green jobs are going to China and Europe because of the infighting in our political system we are Americans lets act like that and do what is best for our country not the party line.

  • Michael Graham

    Nobody has said it better. Hats off to the writer. But also recognize this: the writer is responding to a historic moment. We all share in that moment and we can all do our bit to affect the progression from here to the future.

    That future is in doubt. We might be on the way to being a baroque country, with tons of ornamentation capturing everybody’s attention while the big corporations go to Washington to demolish the structure…..

    • Lydia Freund

      Write to your representatives. I do! I write to Tom Vilsak, and I cc Pres. Obama. I wrote to the FDA about gmo salmon and got a reply from DHHS Animal Biotech Group. THEY WANT TO HEAR FROM US, THE CITIZENS WHO VOTE AND WHO BUY PRODUCTS. We need to do our part as citizens of an aspiring democracy and WRITE TO OUR REPS.

  • Good article. If only we can get out of the grip of the FDA, AMA and big Pharma.

  • Yes, let’s do embrace natural and ancient remedies and holistic approaches to health and healing. But let’s not pretend Western medicine isn’t on to something BIG with its pesky Scientific Method and evidence-based practice. Call it Conventional if you want. I call it Modern. Sometimes it pretends it knows more than it knows, and like Freedom it requires our constant struggle, yet it’s one of the marvels of our age. And it should include more alternative thinking for sure.

    BTW you’ll get better care at any rural community hospital in America than you will at any big city medical center in Europe or Asia.

    As for hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the US leads the world, business is brisk, and growth is steady and strong. Thank goodness we have a medical establishment and government regulation to make sure we don’t jump willy-nilly into treatments for which there is no assurance of safety and efficacy. These are pretty low bars for entry. On my site, HyperbaricLink, you’ll find us championing FDA approval of HBOT indications like traumatic brain injury and stroke, where we find the evidence especially compelling. Where the evidence is scant or merely interesting, we urge investigators to do the clinical trials and publish the findings or shut up.

  • Kelli C.

    Very informative article. I wish the FDA would come to an end along with Big Pharma. They are simply out for the money.

    And your article inspires hope in me that maybe the whole conventional medicine industry will come to an end in a few years since it is a industry bubble.

    • Bobby Davis

      can someone tell me why won,t medicare help pay for hbot or constraint movement therapy for stroke survivors.Bobby

  • CDavis

    Should be a no-brainer with the skyrocketing health-care costs threatening to tank our economy; investigating and providing lower cost alternatives in this land that claims it champions freedom could very well save the national ecomomy as well as health and lives.
    Unfortunately, some have given up innovation and common sense to pursue greed and being miserly to the detriment of all.
    Currently we have millions sliding into poverty while the top Corporations and 1 to 5 percent of this population are raking in all time high profits.
    The income gap is becoming the income Grand Canyon.
    When the financial well runs dry – we all will turn to whatever AFFORDABLE alternatives we can – legal or not.