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Immunology

Multiple vaccinations weakens the immune system – a myth

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.

Read More »Multiple vaccinations weakens the immune system – a myth

Infant T cells don’t remember pathogens–causes weaker immunity

active-immunityIf you hang out in various vaccine discussions, you will hear all kinds of odd, unscientific ideas about the immune system of infants. One of the major issues is a substantial oversimplification of the immune system (of adults and infants), mostly thinking it’s one “thing,” ignoring the complex physiology of the immune system which is an almost infinite number of interactions between cells, proteins and factors, organs, blood, fluids, and other physiological systems.

Generally, the popular assumption is that the infant immune system is weak, making those children more prone to viral or bacterial infections. The antivaccine crowd uses this belief to either state that vaccines won’t work or might actually harm the immune system, along with some overstated magical properties of human breast milk to prevent infection.

But according to a new study, led by Dr. Brian Rudd of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Cornell University, published in the Journal of Immunology, the immune system of newborns and infants is actually stronger than an adult’s immune system. Unfortunately, it has a short “memory.”Read More »Infant T cells don’t remember pathogens–causes weaker immunity

Why we vaccinate–saving children’s lives from meningitis

Autopsy specimen of brain infected with Streptococcus pneumoniae meningitis.
Autopsy specimen of brain infected with Streptococcus pneumoniae meningitis.

One of the enduring zombie tropes of the antivaccination cult is that pathogens aren’t dangerous because the disease is not dangerous. Through a complicated, and thoroughly unsupported by evidence, revision of immunology to fit their needs, they think that kids with healthy immune systems don’t require vaccines, because their super immune systems, strengthened with homeopathic water and a handful of vitamins, will never succumb to diseases. In their arrogance, and pseudoscience beliefs, they think their kids have superior immune systems that can only be harmed by vaccines.

Of course, their beliefs are unsupported by anything in science, just putting children at harm. Plus we have evidence of how avoiding key vaccinations do put children at danger.

For a little background, meningitis is a disease caused by the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges. The inflammation is usually caused by an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The disease may develop in response to a number of causes, usually bacteria or viruses, but it can also be caused by physical injury, cancer or certain drugs. While most people with meningitis recover, it can cause serious complications, such as brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disabilities.Read More »Why we vaccinate–saving children’s lives from meningitis

A nerdy explanation of the vaccine immune response

Your immune system. Well, a tiny part of it.
Your immune system. Well, a tiny part of it.

Attempting to explain the immune system in 1000 words or less is impossible. At least I thought it was impossible.

Despite what the anti-science community believes about the immune system, it is way more complicated than some of the simple explanations I’ve read on the internet. It took me around 5000 words just to give my audience a basic review of immunology article, and I still shake my head. 

I had to take several years of immunology courses, just to get my science degrees, and I know I just scratched the surface. The problem is that the immune system is a complex interactive network of organs, blood, cells, proteins, factors, messengers and numerous other biological parts. If you tried to draw lines of interaction between these constituent biological parts, it would look like an airline flight map, with a nearly infinite number of interconnected activity.

That’s why I laugh hysterically whenever someone says “eat more broccoli, it boosts the immune system” because the immune system is so complicated, you could may be able to make one part of it work better, but if all the other parts remain the same, nothing has changed. In fact, the human immune system works pretty well almost all of the time, unless there is some chronic condition that suppresses it.Read More »A nerdy explanation of the vaccine immune response

Despite the meme on Facebook, bananas do not cure cancer

a-ripe-banana-a-day-keeps-cancer-infection-at-bay

This article was published on 29 July 2012, and has had over 70,000 views. This is the number one article I’ve ever written, I enjoyed writing it, but I never thought it would be such a big hit. It basically arose from a meme I saw on Facebook that claimed that bananas with dark spots had anti-cancer compounds in it. And it was all based on a misreading of a published article, a lack of knowledge about tumor necrosis factor, and a complete misunderstanding of human physiology and immunology. And this is my number 1 favorite, and number 1 most popular article for 2013.

 

Note: this article was rewritten and revised–please read and comment on the updated version of this article.

 

Last year, I wrote an article about how to critically analyze pseudoscience and misinformation to get at the scientific evidence which may help you accept or reject something you might read on the internet, even if it appeared to be accurate. On Facebook, Twitter and many internet sites (including Wikipedia), there is an amazing tendency of individuals to accept what is written as “the truth” without spending the effort to determine if what is written is based on accurate science. Twitter, of course, limits itself to 140 characters, which means you either have to click on a link to get more information, or just accept that the 140 characters are factual. And if you can make a complex scientific argument in 140 characters, I’m impressed.

Facebook is filled with false memes on just about everything from politics to medicine. The anti-vaccination crowd fills Facebook with their amusing and highly inaccurate memes. For more than a year, there have been dozens of  photos of bananas with a few words that some Japanese scientists claim that ripe bananas have high levels of “tumor necrosis factor“, so eat bananas to cure cancer and maintain a healthy immune system. Facebook is famous for these things, little pictures with a few words, no sources of the information, and broad conclusions. Eat bananas. Cure cancer. And people share them with a click of the button and move on to the next cute cat picture. It’s really the lazy person’s way of learning. Although who doesn’t enjoy the cute cat pictures?Read More »Despite the meme on Facebook, bananas do not cure cancer

Multiple immunizations weaken immune system–Myth vs. Science

If you peruse the back alleys of the antivaccination movement, you will find a wide variety of myths that try to convince people that vaccinating children is dangerous. Or if you don’t want to vaccinate your children, the information is easily available. It doesn’t take much effort on google to find websites that provide you with the . Those 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. Read More »Multiple immunizations weaken immune system–Myth vs. Science

Vaccine to block gluten sensitivity in celiac disease

Celiac disease (also known as coeliac disease in British English speaking countries) is an autoimmune disorder that afflicts the small intestine of certain  individuals who are genetically predisposed to it. The disease afflicts between 1 in 1,750 and 1 in 105 people in the United States (or about 200,000 to 3,000,000 people) and usually, but not always, results in chronic diarrhea, low pediatric weight gain, and fatigue. This disease is caused by a reaction to a gluten protein found in wheat, and similar proteins found common grains such as barley and rye

Upon exposure to gluten, the immune system causes an inflammatory reaction of the lining the small intestine. This interferes with the absorption of nutrients. The only known effective treatment is a lifelong gluten-free diet. This disease should not be confused with wheat allergy, which is also caused by a reaction to wheat proteins.Read More »Vaccine to block gluten sensitivity in celiac disease

New research shows vaccine denialists put others at risk

In a recent article published in the American Journal of Public Health, Exposure of California Kindergartners to Students With Personal Belief Exemptions From Mandated School Entry Vaccinations, by Alison Buttenheim, Malia Jones, and Yelena Baras, parents worried about the safety of vaccinations have caused a new problem in the comeback childhood diseases that haven’t been seen in a couple of generations. Buttenheim et al. wrote that a greater number of parents are refusing to get their children vaccinated through legally binding person belief exemptions, and explained that this increases the risk of infection for those with compromised immune systems and those who cannot get vaccinations. Traditionally, these individuals relied upon herd immunity, which describes a form of immunity that occurs when the vaccination of a significant portion of a population (or herd) provides a measure of protection for individuals who have not developed immunity.Read More »New research shows vaccine denialists put others at risk

Checking for pseudoscience in real science news (updated)

One of the larger problems of the internet (OK, there are a lot) is how science is discussed out in the world.  Google any science topic, and you’ll get thousand or millions of hits on any idea in science or medicine. The information is derived from other websites, news reports, rumors, or, to be cynical, from outright fabrication. In the fields of science and medicine, critical thinking is absolutely necessary to understanding it. Because it’s hard work, pseudoscience and anti-science have become quite prevalent lately.  Read More »Checking for pseudoscience in real science news (updated)