Immune to reality

I’m off to the west coast (of Michigan) for a few days, and if I don’t blog, I shall die…or something. So I have a few posts from my old blog to share with you.


BPSDB
Sure, we all have our biases about food and health. I think chicken soup is great when you’re sick—but not because of any proven biologic benefit. It just tastes and feels good, which is about the best you can expect in treating a cold.

But food claims are becoming more and more fanciful. There is a lot we do and don’t know about nutrition. Many of these fanciful claims seem to be centered on “immunity”. This is a word beloved of cult medicine. Cultists like to speak of various things “boosting immunity”, “enhancing immunity”, etc.

They have no idea what they are talking about…

Immunology was my favorite subject in medical school. The immune system is incredibly complex and fascinating. People tend to think about it as fighting off disease, but it’s activities are far more intricate. Immune responses can fight disease, or can kill you. It is so complex, that the terms “overactive” and “underactive” are essentially meaningless. Someone can have an auto-immune illness like multiple sclerosis, in which the immune system destroys certain parts of the nervous system, and at the same time be more susceptible to certain diseases. There is no “volume” switch, as such.

Much of this is because immunity has both specific and non-specific responses available to it. The immune system can recognize the antigens on a Staphylococcus bacterium causing a skin infection, and send troops in to kill it. Or, you can develop an inappropriate and overwhelming immune response known as “sepsis” and die.

Cultists tend to have a reductionist approach to their sales pitch. Something either “enhances” or “calms” the immune system, whatever that means.

Actually, one of my favorite statements comes from our buddy Gary Null’s website.

There are two things about the immune system which everyone has had instilled upon them and which we all now accept. Firstly, your immune system is directly related to your genitals which are completely separate to the rest of your body, as witnessed by the birth of genitourinary clinics attached to every hospital. It has also been given to us as a fact that you can tell what state your immune system is in by counting the number of T-cells that you have in any given millilitre of blood and monitoring them closely.

The whole “genital” thing just kills me. I actually did a spit-take with my coffee. The article actually goes on and on in a non-sensical fashion for a while. But maybe this immune thing is just some fringe idea.

No such luck. Just open a magazine or newspaper, and adds abound for “immune boosters”. But the cultists have a special role here—they supply the pseudoscience behind the adds. For example uber-crank Joe Mercola has a shocking article that combines a fundamental misunderstanding about both the immune system and vaccines.

Vaccines, all vaccines, are immune suppressing; that is they depress our immune functions. The chemicals in the vaccines depress our immune system; the virus present depresses immune function, and the foreign DNA/RNA from animal tissues depresses immunity. Toraldo, et al found that the chemotaxis and metabolic function of PMNs (polymorphonuclear neutrophils) was significantly reduced after vaccinations were given and did not return to normal for months. Other indicators of immune system depression included reduced lymphocyte viability, neutrophil hyper-segmentation, and a reduced white cell count. All vaccines are immune depressing to some extent and that is the trade-off we are risking. The medical thought is that we trade a small immune depression for an immunity to one disease. Now let me repeat, we are trading a total immune system depression (our only defense against all known disease – including millions of pathogens) for a temporary immunity against one disease, usually an innocuous childhood disease. Therefore, the trade is not at all fair. Mullins puts it this way, “Are we trading mumps and measles for cancer and AIDS.”

Wow. Pure. Unmitigated. Bullshit. This shows a complete lack of understanding about what immunity is, and contains anti-vaccine nuttery to boot. Let me show you a little bit more.

Vaccines suppress our immunity merely buy over-taxing our immune system with foreign material, heavy metals, pathogens and viruses. The heavy metals slow down our immune system, while the viruses set up shop to grow and divide. It is like being chained and handcuffed before swimming.

I thought he said vaccines suppressed the immune system. There is no science behind any of these assertions.

Vaccines clog our lymphatic system and lymph nodes with large protein molecules which have not been adequately broken down by our digestive processes, since vaccines by pass digestion with injections. This is why vaccines are linked to allergies, because they contain large proteins which as circulating immune complexes (CICs) or “klinkers” which cause our body to become allergic.

Really, this guy has never read an immunology text book. Our immune system is not some series of “tubes” that can “clog.”

Vaccines deplete our body of vital immune-enhancing nutrients, like vitamin C, A and zinc, which are needed for a strong immune system. It is nutrients like these that primes our immune system, feeds the white blood cells and macrophages and allows them to function optimally.

And it’s back to the nutition/immunity woo. None of these statements has any basis in science.

So what? What’s the harm?

The harm is that because he is a “Dr.” and uses big words, people will believe him. They will avoid real health measures, such as vaccines. Just to ramp up the scare tactics, he actually links vaccines to AIDS.

This is probably the worst article I’ve seen from Mercola’s website. It’s downright dangerous.

But his view is the extreme. “Mainstream” folks are selling nutritional advice for “immunity” everywhere. None of it has any scientific evidence. None of the merchants even knows an immune system from a tie rod.

There’s nothing wrong with eating right. It can help prevent and treat diabetes and hypertension. Usually, fewer calories is the key. There are proven diets, such as DASH, and nutritionists are a key member of a diabetes treatment team. Unless they are selling something.

Comments

  1. #1 stavros
    September 27, 2008

    Vaccines, all vaccines, are immune suppressing; that is they depress our immune functions. The chemicals in the vaccines depress our immune system; the virus present depresses immune function, and the foreign DNA/RNA from animal tissues depresses immunity.

    PalMD, can you say a bit more about this claim? Or point to a previous article is one exists? This is a favorite claim by anti-vaccine lunatics and on the surface it sounds reasonable. But what is really the case here?

  2. #2 PalMD
    September 27, 2008

    It’s meaningless babble.

    This post near the end explains how vaccines work…feel free to ask more…

  3. #3 minimalist
    September 27, 2008

    Yeah, that bit about genitals made me do a double-take too.

    I skimmed a few of the links you posted before, about Null’s fake degree and such, but I’m still left wondering: is Null just a snake-oil salesman, is he genuinely insane, or is it a little from column A and a little from column B?

    I ask because when someone makes a really batty claim like that — a basic error, one that can be easily checked — and gives it an “everybody knows this!” sort of spin, I have to wonder if it’s actually a really sneaky form of control over their audience: sort of a blend of peer pressure and Jedi Mind Trick.

    Essentially, it would be a way of shutting down any potential questions the victim might have: he/she would think, “oh my, I didn’t know that, I’d better keep my mouth shut or people will think I’m dumb; besides, this guy seems to know what he’s talking about.”

    Creationists do the same thing, like Kent Hovind’s weird way of pronouncing “dinosaur” (sounds something like “dinny-sour”).

  4. #4 The Perky Skeptic
    September 27, 2008

    “Sure, we all have our biases about food and health. I think chicken soup is great when you’re sick—but not because of any proven biologic benefit. It just tastes and feels good, which is about the best you can expect in treating a cold.”

    Just as a fun anecdote– I had a co-worker who was from Korea announce to me that chicken soup was the WORST thing I could eat for my cold! Because co-workers love to make medical recommendations to each other, she went on to claim that chicken weakens the immune system, and what I ought to be eating for my health was FISH STEW, because that’s the folk remedy her dad always gave her when she was sick. Now, this is probably just my upbringing speaking, but I cannot imagine anything I would enjoy less when down with a cold than fish stew!

  5. #5 stavros
    September 27, 2008

    PalMD in your comment you said:

    This post near the end explains how vaccines work…

    Was there supposed to be a link there? Because in this current post I do not see anything related to “how vaccines work”.

    In any case, the initial response to the dead/deactivated vaccine pathogens does not render the immune system becomes vulnerable?

  6. #6 PalMD
    September 27, 2008
  7. #7 Jared
    September 27, 2008

    It’s always disturbing to find out exactly how many people buy into (and buy) this garbage that is passed off as “effective.” Can we not shut down these organizations as being scams?

  8. #8 Dan
    September 27, 2008

    Very glad you posted this. I’m a biochemist and immunologist by trade and for some reason this makes people think that they should talk to me about science and impress me by telling me I should be proud because they are taking 5,000% of their daily allowance of vitamin C. Well by all means, don’t wear clothes to work when it’s 30 degrees because you’re all set! And of course this includes my mother in law, because somehow she is now a medical doctor because she started eating organic food 8 months ago and read a magazine that made her a savant. And don’t get me started about her organic food rants.

    Once again, thanks for informing the misinformed. People like Joe Mercola make me cringe because the average person has no reason to not believe him.

  9. #9 Lee Phillips
    September 29, 2008

    “about Null’s fake degree”:

    It’s not exactly fake, but it’s not exactly real, either. I try to sort it out here:

    http://lee-phillips.org/null/phd.xhtml

  10. #10 Denice Walter
    September 29, 2008

    Null is *such* low-hanging fruit!(Do I mean that figuratively or literally?)Be that as it may,he is expanding his empire(the “Great Leap Backwards” strengthens!).While I haven’t listened much for the past few weeks,he recently 1. signed with a Nasdaq-listed marketing firm ,CelebDirect, paying 65% to them,2. brought out several new books and “documentaries”,3.claimed he employs 85(probably counts himself and cronies 5 times each),4.began involving himself more with intervention in state -level health policy , and 5. began using more Public Radio airtime to promote his NYC health food store, Fla.”health retreats”,other radio”networks” he’s on, and his “charity”, NIA,which assists “victims” of vaccines, people in Africa “misdiagnosed” with AIDS,and support of his anti-vax activity.

  11. #11 Denice Walter
    September 29, 2008

    Null is *such* low-hanging fruit!(Do I mean that figuratively or literally?)Be that as it may,he is expanding his empire(the “Great Leap Backwards” strengthens!).While I haven’t listened much for the past few weeks,he recently 1. signed with a Nasdaq-listed marketing firm ,CelebDirect, paying 65% to them,2. brought out several new books and “documentaries”,3.claimed he employs 85(probably counts himself and cronies 5 times each),4.began involving himself more with intervention in state -level health policy , and 5. began using more Public Radio airtime to promote his NYC health food store, Fla.”health retreats”,other radio”networks” he’s on, and his “charity”, NIA,which assists “victims” of vaccines, people in Africa “misdiagnosed” with AIDS,and support of his anti-vax activity.

  12. #12 Joe
    September 29, 2008

    @Lee Phillips,

    That is an interesting article you wrote about Null’s supposed degree. One can go even further and note that accreditation need not mean much. We discovered that ca. 2001 when a school of astrology was accredited.

    It turns out that many accrediting agencies only ascertain the the “school” has the faculty and facilities it claims to have, and is financially sound. These minimal requirements are intended to assure that a student does not pay tuition in August only to arrive, in September, at an abandoned storefront.

    Professional schools (e.g., law, medicine) have much more rigorous standards. Also, a department within a school (e.g., chemistry) may be approved, or not, based on scrutiny by a national organization.

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