RE: Take turmeric with a grain of salt

Letter to the Editor of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, posted online 2018-12-15 as a response to the Editorial “Take turmeric with a grain of salt” by Kirsten Patrick and Matthew B. Stanbrook

CMAJ October 29, 2018 190 (43) E1270; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.181358

Wow, I’m impressed! The CMAJ has really gone to town with this topic! The article referred to in this commentary appeared in the 29 Oct 2018 issue, and a synopsis found its way into the Dec 2018 number. The cover of the December issue makes it clear how important a negative finding for curcumin is to the powers that be at CMAJ. In addition to a beautiful full bleed photo of the substance in question, the cover uses very large type to direct the reader to pages 6 and 22 where the commentary and the synopsis appear. And further along are French translations of both.

Methinks this is overkill for a study with a negative finding. The contrast with the treatment given to negative study results for highly profitable compounds promoted by big pharma is striking. Take antidepressants: Y. A. Devries and colleagues (https:// doi.org/10.1017/S0033291718001873) looked at 105 randomized controlled trials of antidepressants in the FDA database; 53 (50%) were considered positive, and 52 negative. All but one (98%) of the positive trials were published, but only 25 (48%) of the negative trials.

If we were to draw similar conclusions for antidepressants as both the curcumin study authors and the commentators did for their substance, we would have heard that, based on not just one, but 52 negative trials, antidepressants are “no better than nothing”! But we don’t get these kinds of commentaries, except from a few brave souls such as Drs Ben Goldacre, Peter Gøtzsche, and David Healy.

If we follow the money, it would make sense that big pharmaceutical companies would want to diss substances that make them no profit. Do they have the power to do so? I believe they have. This essay (https://henry.olders.ca/wordpress/?p=1425) describes some of the forces at play.

Unfortunately, these high-profile reports of negative findings are widely reported in media aimed at both doctors and at lay people. Do a search using the terms “curcumin cmaj news” and you’ll get a flood of results proclaiming “no benefit” for curcumin.

I am very disappointed that the CMAJ has become a party to this trend to trumpet negative findings for treatments and approaches that interfere with big pharma’s profits!

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