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Ask Oz and Roizen: High Insulin Prices and Sunscreen Damage to Coral Reefs

Ask Oz and Roizen: High Insulin Prices and Sunscreen Damage to Coral Reefs

Our experts weigh in on these important health topics.

Q: Is there any way for me to bring down the cost of my insulin? It’s really gotten out of control and I’m on a fixed income. —Jenny F., Tampa, FL

A: The short answer is, maybe. From 2002 to 2013, the cost of insulin in the US tripled, and a lot of the blame rests with middle-level distributors, not just Big Pharma.

There are patient assist programs (PAPs) from insulin-producing pharmaceutical companies like Lilly and Novo Nordisk that are worthwhile, but you have to take the initiative and not everyone qualifies. You can access these from each company’s website.

Also, check out the Partnership for Patient Assistance, which “helps patients without prescription drug coverage get the medicines they need for free or nearly free.” You can apply to hundreds of private and public assistance programs at once. And the Center for Primary Care and Prevention at Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island offers a very helpful database of PPAs.

The American Diabetes Association can also help, as can JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) and others.

You might also outsource your insulin: Prices for insulin are lower in other countries such as Canada, but if you order from them, they may not have the formulation you require. Check with your doctor.

See about changing insulins: Ask your doc if you can use a synthetic human insulin like Humulin R and Novolin 70/30. Although 85 percent of US prescriptions are for analog insulins like Lantus, Novolog or Humalog, these are often 10 or more times more expensive than the synthetic human insulins.

Clearly our model for prescription drug pricing needs to change. Spiraling drug prices—and it’s not just insulin—and spiraling pharma profits cannot be sustained. According to the federal General Accounting Office, “pharmaceutical and biotechnology sales revenue increased from $534 billion to $775 billion between 2006 and 2015. Additionally, 67 percent of drug companies increased their annual profit margins during the same period—with margins up to 20 percent for some companies in certain years.” 

So be aware of all the resources that are available and find out what others taking insulin are doing. Where there’s a will there’s (usually) a way, but you do need to take the initiative.

Q: I hear sunscreens damage coral reefs. Are we supposed to not go into the ocean if we apply sunscreen at the beach? Or should we just skip sunscreen altogether? —Karl D., Houston, TX

A: Any time you go to the beach or spend any time outside (remember you can get a bad burn on the slopes!), you should apply sunscreen that contains micronized zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. You want to avoid sunscreens with octocrylene and ozybenzone. The Environmental Working Group also advises against 4MBC, butylparaben and octinoxate. (Octocrylene shows up in hair products and cosmetics too.)

Hawaii’s ban on those chemical sunscreens takes effect in 2021 and, most recently, Key West has instituted a ban too. The small Pacific island of Palau banned all those chemicals (and more) in sunscreens under their Responsible Tourism Education Act of 2018 and will fine people $1,000 per violation starting in 2020.

What’s the issue? Over time, those chemicals build up on coral (remember these are living animals) and disrupt the mitochondria in their cells. Those are the little engines in every cell that power respiration and energy production. Abnormal fatty acid metabolism is another type of mitochondrial dysfunction; it’s related specifically to octocrylene—and scientists now believe the effects of octocrylene on coral have been vastly underestimated.

Remember, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are not harmful to coral and, BTW, they’re what we’ve always recommended. Titanium dioxide turns gray if you sweat, so we really recommend micronized zinc oxide. They offer the most effective protection for your skin. So, whenever you’re outside, get in the habit of using an eco-friendly sunscreen (minimum 35 SPF).

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