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. Continue reading “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? Continue reading “Despite the meme on Facebook, bananas do not cure cancer”

Science-based vaccine search engine

I have updated this website with a new science-based vaccine search engine powered by Google™. It basically searches about 200 websites that are science oriented (usually providing peer-reviewed articles, or links to those articles) and focused on vaccines. You can find it by clicking on the menu bar, and going to Vaccine FAQ’s.

Science-based vaccine search engine.

By the way. Vaccines Save Lives.

 

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.  Continue reading “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. Continue reading “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. Continue reading “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.   Continue reading “Checking for pseudoscience in real science news (updated)”

The anti-vaccination movement and resistance to allergen-immunotherapy

Doesn’t cause autism.

Sometimes, there are consequences to a pseudoscience movement that goes far beyond the immediate goals of that movement.  I have written many times about the anti-vaccination lunacy, but almost always it’s about the immediate consequences of not vaccinating children (and sometimes adults):  infection and the consequences of that disease, up to and including death.  Then I realized that it’s possible that anyone who buys into the anti-vaccination foolishness may also reject other injectables, such as contrast agents used in imaging. Continue reading “The anti-vaccination movement and resistance to allergen-immunotherapy”