Friday, August 28, 2015

His cure is much worse than the disease

kw: book reviews, purported nonfiction, medicine, thumbs down

From the book's title, it was clear that it was anti-doctor. I just wasn't prepared for just how much it was anti-doctor, anti-medicine, anti-just about anything except, of course, the products of his business. The Great American Health Hoax: The Surprising Truth About How Modern Medicine Keeps You Sick is by Raymond Francis, and as it turns out, he is the president of Beyond Health International. The book is a moderately subtle advertisement for the company's products. By the way, I compared his online catalog with other highly reputable brands. His cost four times as much as anyone else's that I could find. Caveat emptor!

There is a proverb I heard a few times when I was young, "The devil will tell you the truth seven times to get you to believe one lie." That seems to be the strategy here. I suppose I ought give Mr. Francis the benefit of the doubt in most cases; perhaps he really believes what he has written. But I'd like to examine three items where I find such a supposition to be rather incredible. All are found in the book's 11th Chapter, "Death by Medicine".

First, concerning Ebola, and infectious disease in general. Ebola is a miserable illness, caused by a virus, that causes bleeding from many bodily tissues. If the body's immune response does not subdue the virus soon enough, the range of "leaky" tissues increases until the patient bleeds out from just about everywhere and dies of blood loss. With intensive interventions, developed by doctors using a combination of intuition and trial-and-error, some patients' lives can be saved. With no treatment, depending on the strain of virus, 50% to 90% of those who get it die from it.

Beginning the chapter's section on infectious disease, (based on earlier attacks against antibiotics and vaccines), we read, "If antibiotics and vaccinations are inappropriate, how then do we deal with infectious disease? The answer is simple: keep your immunity strong. The "bug" is not the problem." Throughout the book, the author has made dozens of recommendations for supporting health and a healthy immune system. Most of them are pretty standard fare, some are more wacky, but all sooner or later circle back to this: we need appropriate nutritional supplementation. He scarcely mentions the products; he is more clever than that. But he so frequently writes of "pure ingredients" and suchlike that it is clear, nobody but he has truly "pure" products. Then he has this to say of Ebola in particular on page 263:
The existing literature indicates that vitamin C, in sufficient quantities, has never failed to cure any virus infection…What appears to be happening to Ebola patients is that the body mounts an excessive immune response to the infection, producing a flood of inflammatory chemicals that massively damage every tissue in the body, causing the blood vessels to leak. These inflammatory chemicals use up vitamin C and cause the need for vitamin C to go sky high…this deficiency causes acute scurvy…"
Ebola may seem like an exaggerated case of scurvy, but it is not. The "existing literature" statement is totally false. See this post in ScienceBlogs for a full debunking of the very small number of published pieces that make such claims. Most were by a doctor who claimed to cure polio with vitamin C. The post also debunks the notion that vitamin C has any measurable effect on Ebola. Every point of Mr. Francis's discussion is false. Period.

Second, let's back up to what he says about antibiotics. He calls antibiotics "one of the greatest medical blunders of history." He doesn't even bother to try to explain away the millions upon millions of lives saved and diseases cured by antibiotics. He just ignores them. He makes much of the well known facts that antibiotics are being overused and misused, which has resulted in great problems with antibiotic resistance and with the destruction of gut bacteria. The sad history of antibiotic misuse provides plenty of fodder for the "seven truths". The string of lies that follow include, "…there is no need for antibiotics at all", "Immune-enhancing nutrients [a list follows] will take care of most infections", and, "The right amount of vitamin C will stop almost any infection." Boy, I wish the things he claims were true! Sure would be nice!! But they are false. He closes with a recommendation for the Rife machine. Do you remember Dr. Andrew Weil? He is a great proponent of alternative treatments…but not this one. See his discussion of the machine here; it was quackery in 1932 and it is quackery today.

Here is my own take on antibiotics, because I lived through much of their history. The two main problems are resistance developed by bacteria and the collateral damage, which is the slaughter of many of the bacteria in your gut. Both are a problem mainly with oral antibiotics. Antibiotic pills were developed to make administration easier, not needing a hypodermic injection. When I was a child, if we had an infection we got a penicillin shot. My brothers and I all hated the needle. But there was no other way to administer penicillin, although penicillin powder was pretty good for sprinkling on an open wound (but painful!). Oral antibiotics became a focus because parents didn't like screaming children or children who couldn't be dragged to the doctor's office. Sure, that's over-simplified, but it explains a lot. When an antibiotic is injected, and intravenous injection is the most effective (and most painful) way, little of the drug is excreted so it doesn't get into the sewer and induce resistance on whatever bacteria encounter the sewage. Actually, no matter how you take an antibiotic, you can reduce resistance problems by storing and incinerating all the wastes your body produces during the time you take it, and for 3-4 days thereafter. Smelly, though. But IV antibiotics will not kill your gut flora. This isn't a total solution, but points the way to some useful steps in the right direction.

OK, now to #3. Vaccines. The first thing I did after reading the book's introduction—which is full of red flags to any medically literate person—was check the index for "Vaccine". An extended quote from page 256 is warranted here:
Another of conventional medicine's historic fiascos [sic]is vaccination. Vaccines are ineffective and dangerous. Unlike other drugs, which undergo basic testing prior to approval and recommendation, vaccines do not have to be proven safe or effective before hitting the market. While there is no scientific evidence that immunizations prevent disease, there is plenty of evidence that they are not safe. No vaccine has ever been scientifically proven in double-blind, placebo-controlled studies to be effective; the existing evidence indicates that they are only marginally effective or not effective at all.
That paragraph contains five sentences. Each is false. In order:

  1. A fiasco? A very few vaccines were later found to be ineffective or to cause problems. Most are clearly effective, and they are the most effective public health tool we have to reduce the number of cases of the most deadly infectious diseases.
  2. Ineffective and dangerous? See prior statement. Also, let's see, how many children do you know who have had measles? Even one? I had it, as did my brothers, and every one of my schoolmates. Luckily, we were all of European extraction, and had immune systems that could deal with measles before we died an Ebola-like death! When Europeans first went to Hawaii, there soon followed a measles epidemic that killed most who caught it. The vaccine was introduced in 1963. In 1960, 380 Americans died of measles, among more than 400,000 who caught the disease. In 2007, there were only 43 cases of measles, and no deaths. Cases have been rising more recently, due to the efforts of anti-Vaxxers (including Mr. Francis, no doubt).
  3. Untested before marketing? Not true. This isn't just a lie, it is a huge lie. Maybe he's talking about some other country, in which the government doesn't mandate three-phase testing of all medications. It is dietary supplements that are untested and don't have to prove their effectiveness. Like his company's products.
  4. He repeats the "ineffective and unsafe" charges more vehemently. He is even more wrong. Some vaccines that were found over time to be unsafe to small numbers of patients have been withdrawn. But they had earlier passed safety and efficacy tests mandated by the US government. Some medicines need extra time in their tests, it is true, but predicting which ones isn't yet feasible.
  5. He pulls out all the stops with scientific language intended to muddle your mind. Here is a true statement: Every vaccine on the market has been subject to double-blind, placebo-controlled studies and has proven its effectiveness. The yearly "flu" shots have a measured effectiveness, so they can tell you that, for example, the vaccine being produced right now, for use during the fall of 2015 and winter of 2016, is about 65% effective at preventing infection by the strains of virus that are even now moving out of the tropics into North America; and for those who still get influenza, the case will nearly always be milder in a vaccinated person than one who is not vaccinated.

I went to a private school for grades 1-3. We lived in Salt Lake City, Utah at the time. During exactly those years, Dr. Jonas Salk conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of his Polio vaccines (there are 3 of them). I was one of his 50,000 experimental subjects. My name was in the newspaper in 1955 (the names filled a few pages), in the article announcing the spectacular success of the vaccine. If this vaccine were ineffective, there'd be hundreds of thousands of "iron lung" machines in use today in America.

The anti-vaccine drumbeat really rankles me. Do you really think the disease is safer than the medicine? People scream about some of the vaccines using a mercury chemical as a preservative. The amount of mercury in a vaccine shot is tiny. Do you know the earliest somewhat effective remedy for syphilis? Metallic mercury, about 2cc, injected right into your hip through a large needle (it won't go through a small one). But fewer and fewer vaccines continue to use mercury compounds; better preservatives have been developed. That's how science works. You develop something that works most of the time, but causes a few people some problems. So you keep on developing, to reduce both the numbers who don't get help, and the numbers who have problems. Neither of these numbers will ever reach zero. But it sure beats having the disease!

The diseases I had as a kid: measles, mumps, chicken pox.

The diseases my mother had as a kid: those plus scarlet fever and Rubella (it was called German Measles at the time).

Diseases I avoided because of vaccination: Whooping cough (pertussis), diphtheria, tetanus (which killed the brother of Henry David Thoreau among many others of that era). I could add Polio, but I'd actually had that in my first year, when it is rather mild; the older you are when you get polio, the more severe it is. This wasn't known in 1952 when I became a "polio lab rat". More recently, I have had the shingles vaccine, which is about 2/3 effective I am told. My mother had shingles. I'd risk a great many side effects to avoid that! I've also had the Pneumovax injection; the viruses it combats used to be called "the old man's friend", because immobile patients in nursing homes were its typical victims. And, since age 67, I've begun getting a yearly flu shot. It's a whole lot better than even ten years ago.

In this case I say, "Don't buy this book." I'm glad I read a library copy. Don't read it. I did already so you don't have to. The guy has products to sell, that are very similar to other products but cost much, much more. He is either a cynical, manipulating charlatan, or is bamboozled himself.

No comments: