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.

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.