In An Account of the Foxglove and Some of its Medical Uses, published in 1785, Sir William Withering cautioned readers that extracts from the poisonous plant foxglove, also called digitalis, was not a perfect drug.
…Time will fix the real value upon this discovery, and determine whether I have imposed upon myself and others, or contributed to the benefit of science and mankind.
Fast forward 200 years – researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have finally highlighted that caution with the discovery that patients with atrial fibrillation — a rapid and irregular heart rhythm — who are treated with the digitalis-derivative digoxin are more likely to die than similar patients who received different treatments.
Mintu Turakhia, MD, is the study’s lead author and assistant professor of cardiology at Stanford and director of cardiac electrophysiology at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System.
The take-home point is to question whether people should really be on this drug. These data challenge the current guidelines.
Turakhia and his team analyzed records from 122,465 patients (predominantly male) who received a new diagnosis of atrial fibrillation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health-care system between 2003 and 2008.
Doctors prescribed digoxin to 23 percent of the patients, and 70 percent of those patients were still on the drug one year later. Patients treated with digoxin were 1.2 times more likely to die than comparable patients prescribed other therapies.
Patients receiving digoxin were more likely to die regardless of age; use of other drugs such as beta-blockers, amiodarone or warfarin; or the presence of other factors such as kidney disease, heart attack or heart failure.
Pharmaceutical companies lack the incentive to finance studies on a long-accepted, generic drug. Turakhia believes that doctors and patients have trusted digoxin for its historical status. He wanted to investigate because digoxin hasn’t been rigorously tested (not even as much as other FDA-approved drugs).
This is going to be as close to proof positive as we get because we may never have a randomized trial of this drug.
There’s an evidence gap…
Turakhia said many other drugs with better safety results are available to treat atrial fibrillation. Digoxin slows the heart rate but does not correct it to a normal rhythm.
We are not asserting this drug should never be used. However, in light of the many other drugs that can be used to slow down the heart rate in atrial fibrillation, patients and providers need to ask whether digoxin should be the treatment of choice when there are other, safer drugs.
Withering had reason to write a precautionary intro to his book on foxglove (digitalis) – it is after all poisonous to mammals and he recounts the violent and purgative effects of it in some case studies on patients.
Perhaps he should have taken some notes from his German contemporary Samuel Hahnemann, who was removing the toxicity of these plants through the potentization process of homeopathy – a non-patentable process wholly repugnant to Big Pharma. But the modality was in full bloom in the 1800s before being squeezed out by corporate interests and medical boards.
Without going into it too deeply, please see this article about a father who outlived all his cardiologists with homeopathy and a nutrient-dense diet. Did you know that the homeopathic version of digitalis exists today? Digitalis 30c is one such remedy and its use for the heart is mentioned in the article.
Here is an excerpt from the article drawing a comparison:
Dr. A.L. Blackwood in Diseases of the Heart says of homeopathic Digitalis: “It not only relieves the palpitation but also diminishes and arrests the nightly emissions that so frequently accompany it.”Digitalis has a place even in conventional medical settings, but in that arena it is used in gross form. Unfortunately, as with aspirin, when a substance is used in material structure (as opposed to homeopathic dilution) it frequently causes side effects. In fact, the more “effective” a drug is in suppressing symptoms, the more likely it is to cause damaging side effects. In the original, gross form before it is made into a homeopathic remedy, Digitalis is a poisonous plant, the foxglove. Poisonous substances ultimately make the best homeopathic remedies, because when highly diluted and potentized, they become powerful medicines. The drug industry uses the original plant to formulate a synthetic version in the manufacture of the prescription drug called Digoxin. The difference between this synthetic version and the homeopathic is like the difference between aspartame and raw honey.
The above study will be published online Aug. 11 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, and will appear in the Aug. 19 print issue of the journal. One co-author was Dr. Wolfgang Winkelmayer who, notably, is a member of the event adjudication committee for Medtronic, the data safety monitoring board for Medgenics, and the scientific advisory boards of Amgen, Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline, Keryx, Mitsubishi-Tanabe and Rockwell.
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