Pseudo-scientific application of medicine

Posted: Saturday, May 22, 2010 | Posted by Debajyoti Datta |

To start off the blog let me recount some thing I read in the newspaper a few days back. It was T2, the supplement with The Telegraph. An article was published to help inform the public on "How to rev up your immunity to beat the heat". 


Frankly, I have not come across such pseudoscience in a long time. Forgive me for my ignorance but I didn't knew that the immune system can beat the heat. I had the belief that the temperature center of the hypothalamus (remember its a part of our brain) was responsible for keeping us cool. So I thought I was terribly misinformed or may be my memory was failing me. I opened my long neglected Physiology book. It turned out that my belief was correct. The hypothalamus does keep us cool, not the immune system.
Now what can we expect from an article which got its tagline horribly wrong?
Let me enumerate:
  1.  Too much sugar is bad for immunity.
  2.  Large, fatty meals are bad for immunity.
  3.  Vitamin C is an antiviral.
Nothing can be more illogical. Sugar is bad for immunity? Okay, so having sugar and not washing your mouth does cause tooth decay but depressing the immune system? Thats a bit stretching the concept. The more scientific pseudo-scientists might say "Hey, infections are more common in diabetics. Don't you know?". Well what can i say, the article did not mention it was for diabetics, it was for normal people. May be as it decreases the immunity, we can give sugar to patients with rheumatoid arthritis, or what ever other diseases that are caused by over activity of the immune system? It would be a great cure, would not it? Cure arthritis by having sugar. But sadly it does not work.


Large, fatty meals are bad for immunity- for it I had to do a bit of research. Fat is linked to metabolic syndrome, diabetes, coronary artery disease, hypertension, stroke and what not but infection? That was a first. But wait, a study actually found docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosahexaenoic acid (EPA) (these are omega 3 fatty acids) to actually increase the immune response. It is given in Pubmed http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2696230/?tool=pmcentrez. Now I am not suggesting that we should go and eat large, fatty meals. I'm just not sure if it decreases the immunity.


Last but not the least, Vitamin C. I just love the way people talk about its antioxidant properties, how it fights bad free radicals. Well Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 17th edition tells that Vitamin C might slightly decrease the duration and symptoms of viral upper respiratory tract infection. Thats might and slightly. It certainly does not have any preventive properties as suggested in the article.

The icing on the cake is about Vitamin C. "Viruses cannot survive in a Vitamin C- rich environment, making it an incredible antiviral agent". It makes me wonder. If its so, then how come so many people still die of AIDS?



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