I wrote this article over five years, debunking the claim that bananas prevent cancer, and it remains the most popular article I’ve ever written. It probably gets so much traffic because of the ongoing memes about how bananas will cure every cancer known to man.
Too many individuals see these memes on Twitter and Facebook, then they accept them as scientific facts. They rarely are. That’s why critical thinking is necessary.
But if a meme is going to make an extraordinary claim, like bananas prevent cancer, then that claim ought to be backed by extraordinary evidence. But this wild belief about bananas is not even supported by ordinary evidence. It is supported by zero evidence.
One of the pervasive myths expressed by the anti-vaccine world is that one or all childhood vaccines can be replaced by breastfeeding. Somehow, these people believe that breast milk is such a powerful agent of the immune system that vaccinations are unnecessary. But that’s not based on any science related to human physiology, especially with respect to the immune system.
These beliefs represent a misunderstanding of how our immune system functions, especially regarding the role of passive immunity. Breastfeeding, of course, has a lot of benefits to both the developing baby and the mother. But we shouldn’t endow it with magical qualities, especially with regards to how it operates with the infant’s own immune system.
There are so many annoying issues about the antivaccination cult, that most of us can’t even keep up with it. If only they would provide evidence published in high quality, peer-reviewed journals (yes, a high standard, but if we’re talking about public health, a high standard is required), the fake debate would move into a real scientific discussion. One of their favorite feints against real evidence is to push people, like Tetyana Obukhanych, who appear to have great credentials, but once you dig below the surface, not much is there.
One of the most irritating problems I have with the anti-vaccination movement is their over-reliance on false authorities, where they trumpet the publications or commentary from someone who appears to have all of the credentials to be a part of the discussion on vaccines, but really doesn’t. Here’s the thing – it simply does not matter who the authority is or isn’t, all that matters is the evidence.
For example, Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, two researchers in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of British Columbia, have, for all intents and purposes, sterling credentials in medicine and science. However, they publish nonsense research (usually filled with the weakest of epidemiology trying to show a population-level correlation between vaccines and adverse events) in low ranked scientific journals.
One thing you’ll notice from all science deniers is a tendency to overstate or overuse a fairly solid scientific principle inappropriately. The anti-vaccine crowd takes this to a whole new level. And what we’re going to discuss today is the hygiene hypothesis, which describes how early exposure to microorganisms may assist the immune system to avoid allergic reactions.
Although we’ll discuss the scientific evidence in support of the hypothesis later in this article, anti-vaxxers tend to abuse it. They conflate potentially beneficial organisms, such as the gut biome, with dangerous and deadly pathogens, like measles and polio. The former may be a critical component of the hygiene hypothesis, but the latter is not.
Immune system myths are one of the common claims of the junk medicine crowd, especially the anti-vaccine activists. The pseudoscience of the immune system is pernicious and possibly dangerous.
It’s frustrating that the pseudoscience from the junk medicine crowd claims that this supplement or that food is critical to boosting the immune system – hang out for a day on Facebook, and you’ll probably see way too many memes saying that all you have to do to boost your immune system is eat a blueberry kale smoothie. I still see that dumb banana claim that it cures cancer.
The problem with these immune system myths is that they overlook or ignore a basic physiological fact – the immune system is a complex interconnected network of organs, cells, and molecules that prevent invasion of the body by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pathogens and other antigens every single day.
And no matter how much individuals try to trivialize the complexity of the immune system, it does not make it so. One can claim all day long that downing a few tablets of echinacea will boost the immune system to prevent colds (it doesn’t), it doesn’t make it scientifically accurate. Nor does it create an accurate description of the immune system.
In a lawsuit filed with a court in Israel a young girl and her mother are suing, apparently (since I do not have the lawsuit, I’m reporting based on a news report that included an interview with the girl’s mother) claiming that the girl was negligently administered an HPV vaccine because the family was not warned that it can trigger an autoimmune disease, lupus. Because the evidence does not support the claim that there is a link between the HPV vaccine and lupus, the claim is unfounded, and should be rejected. The Ministry of Health is not required – and should not – warn parents about risks vaccines do not have: that would be misleading those parents.
In Australia, there has been a 50% increase in hospital visits for anaphylaxis from 1998 to 2012, the most severe allergic reaction. Infants and toddlers accounted for much of this increase. Anaphylaxis is the most serious allergic reaction to anything including food.
What stumps a lot of researchers is why the increase? Has our food supply become more allergenic? Some blame the addition of GMOs to our food supply, but that’s nonsense. In fact, some very good research may point us toward new recommendations to prevent child food allergies.
These type of claims ignore one basic physiological fact: the immune system is a complex interconnected network of organs, cells, tissues and biomolecules that prevent invasion of the body by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pathogens every day.
And no matter how much individuals try to trivialize the complexity of the immune system by claiming that downing a few tablets of echinacea will boost the immune system to prevent colds (it doesn’t), it still doesn’t make it a scientific fact.
So let’s take a look at why “immune system boosting” can be considered a pseudoscience. And to discuss pseudoscience, we will have lots of real science.
One of the most ridiculous pseudoscientific claims that I keep hearing from the junk medicine crowd is that this supplement or that food is critical to boosting the immune system – it’s so prevalent that I believe I read it several times a day.
These type of claims ignore one basic physiological fact: the immune system is a complex interconnected network of organs, cells, and molecules that prevents invasion of the body by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pathogens every day. And no matter how much individuals try to trivialize how complicated the immune system is by claiming that downing a few tablets of echinacea will boost the immune system to prevent colds (it doesn’t), it doesn’t make it science.
If you explore the dark and myth filled back alleys of the antivaccination movement, you will find a wide variety of myths that try to convince people that vaccinating children is dangerous. I’ve covered and refuted many of the myths, although the vaccine deniers tend to rely on zombie myths that keep returning over and over again, never quite dying.
These myths range from outrageous, such as it’s a conspiracy of the government to control population (which I find odd, since the government is barely competent enough to build a post office), to scientific sounding, but ultimately pseudoscientific claims. There are a lot of great websites that debunk many of the myths, and they’re easy to find.
One of the most annoying legends of the antivaccination cult is that multiple vaccinations weakens the immune system of the poor baby’s tender physiology. About that immune system? It’s comparatively strong relative to almost every other organ system in the body.