Skip to content
Home » immune system » Page 2

immune system

boosting the immune system

Boosting the immune system – sorting science from myth

This article has been updated and republished to clear up some points, and add another section. The comments for this article are closed, please comment at the new article.

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.

And it isn’t that simple.

Read More »Boosting the immune system – sorting science from myth

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

Sidney Crosby, the NHL, and mumps–separating myth from science

crosby-mumps-2Yesterday, I posted an article about the recent mumps outbreak in the National Hockey League, which has hit 13 players (there’s no official number, it varies depending on the source) including one of top stars of the league, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. A fourteenth player, also on the Pittsburgh team, may also have the virus, depending on the test results that come back for Pittsburgh Penguins winger Beau Bennett, who has been “put in isolation” by the team.

If this outbreak happened in the general American population, it would get some local news, but since there are just a few hundred cases of mumps in the USA in any given year, not many of us would be writing about it. But since it’s happening in a popular sport (technically the fourth most popular sport in the USA, but number 1 in Canada), it gets more focus.

While writing the story about this outbreak yesterday, I ran across a lot of social media myths that vary from truly odd and scary to plain misinformation. I thought it would be useful to quash some of the most annoying bits of misinformation.Read More »Sidney Crosby, the NHL, and mumps–separating myth from science

Mumps vaccine effectiveness and waning immunity

MMR-vaccine-mumpsIn a previous article, from our vaccine legal expert, Dorit Reiss, we learned that there’s a whistleblower lawsuit against Merck regarding the possibility that the company may have engaged in some inappropriate actions in determining the effectiveness of the MMR vaccine (for mumps, measles and rubella), specifically the mumps component of the vaccine. As Reiss stated, despite the suit (and recent ruling which just whether the case could go forward) being a boon to the antivaccination crowd, so far no facts have actually been presented.

In essence, the whistleblowers claim that Merck, the manufacturer of the MMR vaccine, through either direct falsification or poor study design, may have overstated the effectiveness of the mumps component of the vaccine. Merck had been claiming that the vaccine was approximately 95% effective (meaning at least 95% of children given the vaccine were protected against the disease).

So let’s be clear about this so-called whistleblower lawsuit–no evidence has been presented, and that evidence hasn’t been cross-examined. And one more thing–courts do not decide science, it’s not their role. Science is not a debate, it is a cold evaluation of evidence. And in science, the weight of the evidence is both in quality and quantity. Unless you’re a complete anti-science cult member, whatever this court decides, whatever malfeasance was practiced by Merck, whatever the whistleblowers have to say, the scientific evidence tells us that the mumps vaccine component is highly effective and extremely safe.Read More »Mumps vaccine effectiveness and waning immunity

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

Ursula K. LeGuin is Not an Anti-Vaxxer–Or Why the Omela Argument Fails

Guest blog by Stacy Mintzer Herlihy. Ms Herlihy is a New Jersey based writer, mother of two daughters, Champion for Shot@LIfe and the co-author of the book, Your Baby’s Best Shot: Why Vaccines Are Safe and Save Lives.

ursala-k-le-guinUrsula K. LeGuin is one of great voices of contemporary science fiction. I love her so much I once named a cat in her honor. UrseCat was a grouchy but gloriously pretty long hair we adopted from the North Shore Animal League. Much to Ms. LeGuin’s gracious delight, I brought Miss Ursula Cat to meet the writer when she showed up for a reading in midtown Manhattan.

So it was to my utter shock and disbelief, that I opened up a book with a clear anti-vax agenda and found that it was organized around one of her very best stories. The book in question is Vaccine Epidemic: How Corporate Greed, Biased Science, and Coercive Government Threaten Our Human Rights, Our Health, and Our Children by Louise Kuo Habakus, Mary Holland and Kim Mack Rosenberg.

In Ms. LeGuin’s much lauded story, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, we are greeted with a society where all is well but for one particular fact. A single child must be always kept in misery in order for the city to function and for the citizens of the society to be happy. Most citizens learn to cope with fact and accept it. However, some people walk away from the Omelas and from utopia.Read More »Ursula K. LeGuin is Not an Anti-Vaxxer–Or Why the Omela Argument Fails

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

Shocking news–antivaccine chiropractor ignores science

chiropractic-assholeThere are a lot of antivaccination websites and blogs out in the interwebs and blogosphere. To address them all would be a full-time job, and since I have a low-level position in a Big Pharma company polishing gold bars and mopping the floors of the giant vaults of cash, I’m compelled to ignore most of what’s written out there, picking and choosing only the most egregious ones to deconstruct and critique. Most of the antivaccination sites vary between stating lies, passing along lies or myths, or providing a total misinterpretation of real science–it really is not worth my time to critique. Because I’ve got to focus on keeping the Big Pharma cash piles nice and neat.

However, every once in a while, there is a vaccine denying post that far exceeds the stupidity and ignorance of even the worst misinformation about vaccines. In this case, a chiropractor wrote a 5000 word screed about vaccines, which had few, if any, accurate comments about vaccines, immunity, clinical trials, or medicine. Seriously, this article sets the standard of ignorance and anti-science idiocy. Read More »Shocking news–antivaccine chiropractor ignores science

Save children from risks–vaccinate and keep them away from guns

Vaccine deniers are basically clueless about science. They invent stuff about the immune system, while missing how a vaccine induces a long-lasting immune response. They conflate correlation with causality, an important distinction if you’re going to understand epidemiology. They deny… Read More »Save children from risks–vaccinate and keep them away from guns