White Coat Underground

We already know about the Huffington Post’s war on science and its shameless publication of snake oil ads disguised as journalism. Now, Mark Hyman, an evangelist for the cult known as “functional medicine”, is giving even more bad flu advice (and shilling for his books).

He begins his blathering, misleading sales pitch with this bit of mendacious drivel:

The main question my patients have been asking is whether they should get vaccinated against H1N1 or against the regular flu.

This is not a simple yes or no answer. The guiding principle of functional medicine is personalized care, not the one-size-fits-all belief that everyone should have the same treatment. This applies equally to vaccines. There is risk and benefit to every medical treatment or procedure.

He is of course implying that real medicine does have a one-size-fits-all philosophy, which is of course incorrect.  There are many factors that go into advising someone whether or not to get a flu shot. First, are they in a recommended high-risk group?  Second, are there any contraindications to a flu shot?  And that’s about it really.  After that, the patient has to decide.  As I think about it, it’s not that hard.  There is no secret information out there, no special tests, no “personalized” magic other than that.  Anyway, what follows is much more disturbing.  There are “the facts as he sees them”, to which I will respond with the well-known adage that you are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.  But this stuff is dangerous enough to require a more detailed response.

The current strain of H1N1 is a generally mild strain of the flu. It sounds scarier, but, so far, fewer people have actually died from it than from the traditional flu. It may mutate but it hasn’t yet. Pushing widespread vaccination on low-risk populations exposes them to unnecessary risks.

No.  No no no!  Who are these “low risk populations” to whom he is referring?  And I thought it was about individuals, not populations.  Make up your mind, Mark.  What he has left out is that there are far more confirmed deaths than usual, and in a different population than seasonal flu. While seasonal flu generally kills the old and ill, H1N1 has a preference for the young and health.  The very people who normally have little to fear from flu are at the highest risk of illness, hospitalization, and death.  This may be due in part to having a particularly robust immune system whose vigorous reaction to influenza infection can kill.

If the H1N1 mutates, the current vaccine may not be effective against it.

Um, yes.  Of course.  So what?  Currently, the swine flu vaccine is a perfect match.  We can be absolutely certain that antigenic drift will occur over time rendering the vaccine ineffective.  But that time is not now.  

The studies on the H1N1 vaccine have been limited in the rush to market.

This old saw has been long-since debunked: there is no difference between the swine flu vaccine and every flu vaccine we’ve given for the last several decades, except for the particular antigen used. 

The 1976 swine flu vaccine was linked to a serious neurological disease  called Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome, which causes severe (but usually temporary) paralysis.

First, it is unclear whether or not the 1976 vaccine caused GBS—it may have, but it’s unclear.  The flu that year was not nearly the threat this year’s flu is.  Even if GBS were a possible consequence of the vaccine (and there has been no clear connection between GBS and flu shots over the last 30-odd years) the risk of dying of the flu is higher than the risk of getting GBS (for a comprehensive discussion, see Steve Novella’s piece).

The government has agreed to protect vaccine manufacturers from any lawsuits due to side effects of the vaccine, otherwise pharmaceutical companies would not make it.

Yes, as they do for all vaccines, or else we would never have any due to frivolous lawsuits from the antivaccine movement.  That’s why we have a “no-fault” compensation fund that is very liberal about handing out money to people who claim to be injured  by vaccines.  

The other two bullet points contain or two truths.  The first lists the high-risk groups that are supposed to be vaccinated, but fails to mention the other groups that are next in line.  The next cries out, “OH NOES! TEH MURKERY!!!”  It’s not even worth re-debunking the myth of thimerosal causing disease.

But the next part is particularly wrong:

For these reasons, I only recommend vaccination for high-risk individuals. But whether you get vaccinated or not, it is critical to support your  immune system  through natural means to help prevent the flu. Here are 7 simple steps you can take to do that.

As noted above, it may in fact be the the vigorous immune response of young people that kills them when they get the flu.  Thankfully (?) his advice doesn’t actually “support the immune system” anyway.  What f0llows is a list of supplements which he feels will protect you from the flu.  Whether this wording is vague enough to protect Hyman from prosecution is unclear to me—I’m just a doctor.  But as a physician, I can tell you it is pure, unmitigated bullshit which is designed for one purpose: to get you to buy the books and supplements linked to from the article.  It’s just one more example from the Huffington Post of medical journalmercials designed to separate frightened readers from their money.  It’s shameful.

But of course, they have no shame.

Comments

  1. #1 Greg Laden
    November 25, 2009

    Nice takedown.

  2. #2 Calli Arcale
    November 25, 2009

    he guiding principle of functional medicine is personalized care, not the one-size-fits-all belief that everyone should have the same treatment.

    But whether you get vaccinated or not, it is critical to support your immune system through natural means to help prevent the flu. Here are 7 simple steps you can take to do that.

    *headdesk*

    Why I am not at all surprised that someone arguing for “individualized medicine” in fact is really just shilling for everybody to take the same largely-non-evidence-based regime? They clearly recognize the marketing value in accusing mainstream physicians of treating statistics rather than individuals; what’s galling is that they don’t themselves recognize the value in treating individuals *as* individuals. For all their claims of being the ones who care, the ones who recognize the *personhood* of their patients, that recognition seldom seems to go beyond the social level.

  3. #3 red rabbit
    November 25, 2009

    Remarkably, I’ve had a lot more thoughtful questions this year following H1N1, with a lot more parents looking at me and asking for the actual skinny on thimerosal and really listening. It’s been a breath of fresh air.

    I could hug them, it makes me so glad.

  4. #4 Akiko
    November 25, 2009

    I think the folks over at HuffPo think they look progressive and hip if they give air time to these people.

  5. #5 The Blind Watchmaker
    November 26, 2009

    I have to agree with red rabbit. I have had more conversations about vaccination science and strategies versus anti-vax woo recently as a result. I wonder if the tide could be turning. More likely, we have hype-based elevated awareness of vaccines. We will see.

    For more on “Boosting” the immune system, see Mark Crislip’s Quackcast entitled, “Boost Your Immune System and Die”. Good stuff.

  6. #6 Tsu Dho Nimh
    November 26, 2009

    Pushing widespread vaccination on low-risk populations exposes them to unnecessary risks.

    And failing to vaccinate the “low-risk” ones leaves them free to spread the disease to the high-risk ones.

    DUH!

  7. #7 oderb
    November 26, 2009

    Of course you ignore giving him any credit for suggeting the primary steps he recommends for avoiding the flu such as getting plenty of liquids, avoiding junk food sugar, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, lots of spices, and getting plenty of sleep.

    I guess it doesn’t fit into your narrative that he’s a pure quack.

  8. #8 PalMD
    November 26, 2009

    Do you have evidence that those interventions prevent the flu?

  9. #9 Denice Walter
    November 26, 2009

    I actually *own* a copy of his(w/ Mark Liponis,M.D.)book,”Ultra Prevention”(2003)(( my SO bought it for a quarter at a library book sale)), so I can investigate his many…uh,*pearls of wisdom* in detail:( a nearly random selection )”flying exposes you to significant amounts of ionizing radiation….If possible, reduce plane trips”;”If you spend a lot of time in front of a CRT computer screen,invest in a screen protector”;”The truth is that all of us have detoxification problems”;”reduce mercury exposure”including avoiding,among other things,”Silver (amalgam)dental fillings” and “Vaccines containing thimerosal(mercury)””Free your body of inflammation”. I wonder what kind of evidence these suggestions are based upon.Seriously.

  10. #10 Angelina
    November 27, 2009

    Goes to illustrate not all MD’s are created equally.

  11. #11 TechSkeptic
    December 1, 2009

    Sigh,

    Once again the anti-vax canards are printed uncritically. It hilarious that I was listening to Arriana Huffington try to talk about critical thinking in journalism on NPR once. That makes me sad.

    Sometimes, we just gotta do what we gotta do!

    Like taking a pill. We could take a red pill and discover how some autism PR doesnt actually represent the science it is representing or we could take a blue pill and just watch a video of BRISkepticon!

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