Vaccines = bad, vitamin supplements = good

17 Apr

A fascinating mini-storm has been quietly bubbling away in the UK over the last couple of months concerning the vitamin and mineral supplement industry. It has a tie in to autism these days as one of the features of the more extreme forms of biomed is an increase – sometime to megadose levels – of vitamin and mineral supplements.

Here’s a video from BBC News yesterday. And if you can’t get the video, here’s the online report.

A review of 67 studies found “no convincing evidence” that antioxidant supplements cut the risk of dying.

Scientists at Copenhagen University said vitamins A and E could interfere with the body’s natural defences.

“Even more, beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E seem to increase mortality,” according to the review by the respected Cochrane Collaboration.

The report reported a neutral finding for Vitamin C but it already established that mega-doses of Vitamin C:

….can cause nausea, diarrhea, kidney stones and inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis).

These vitamins and minerals are routinely recommended by extreme biomed practitioners for autistic children. There is no scientific evidence of any kind that they do anything to alleviate any autistic symptoms.

I blogged yesterday about a paper called ‘Trusting blindly can be the biggest risk of all’: organised resistance to childhood vaccination in the UK which whilst fascinating in its own right, makes mention of attitudes towards vaccines as risks ‘of the unknown’.

The Vaccine Critical groups rely heavily on a discourse of unknowns in order to challenge and undermine the rationality of vaccination. For example, a majority of the groups make the argument that we do not know the effects of vaccination because of insufficient safety trials, both pre- and post-licence.

And yet, these same groups are more than happy to ply themselves and their children with supplements that have also had little to no safety trials.

There is a huge cognitive dissonance at work here that is worth a sociological study in its own right. Why is it OK to administer some things with no trials and not others? Another idea that anti-vaccine groups tend to espouse is the idea that because ‘we’re all different’ we need to tailor what we’re given to us individually.

We’ve got to actually make sure that what we’re giving is right for the individual child. The Department of Health are not good at determining whether a child shouldn’t have something. They treat them all as exactly the same (JABS).

And yet, once again, we seem to have non-individualised plans (such as the so called Yasko diet, or the GFCF diet or the recommendation to take huge doses of mineral supplements) when it comes to biomed. Why is it OK for one set of treatments and not others?

I think there is more going on here than the authors of the ‘Trusting blindly…’ paper realise. I genuinely believe that for some people it really is a pathological hatred of vaccines . There is no rhyme or reason for it but I’m sure it is there.

17 Responses to “Vaccines = bad, vitamin supplements = good”

  1. dkmnow April 17, 2008 at 11:49 #

    I’d call it a pathological hatred of whatever they can rationalize hating at any given moment — just the same old crude, pedestrian “transference,” in psychoanalytic terms, of old pent-up aggression. “Burn him for his bad verses!” as it were.

    Without reading all the material (as is my wont), a few thoughts spring to mind:

    First, as any decent nutritionist will tell you, vitamin supplements are, at best, a very poor stopgap measure for holding off the consequences of poor nutrition. But that’s just icing on the cake.

    Now, it’s an open secret that the manufacture and delivery of vaccines is only marginally profitable, if at all. Among other things, this was made all too evident by the flu vaccine shortage in the US a few years ago, and Big Pharma’s blase reaction to the public freakout over it.

    But the not-so-open secret is that ninety percent of the profits from the manufacture of all those supplements and chelating agents the antivaxers are so fond of go straight back to that same Big Pharma juggernaut they say they hate so much. And that business (supplements) is vastly more profitable than vaccinations … hint, hint …

    Interesting to note how little Big Pharma has had to say about all the vaccine hysteria, yes? Could it be that they’re far too busy, “laughing all the way to the bank,” as it were? If vaccine-hating were undermining their profits, wouldn’t they be fighting back with a vengeance, rather than quietly fanning the flames?

    Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a sneak-peek at Cliff Shoemaker’s investment portfolio! Or David Kirby’s, or any cross-section of the DAN! doctors …

    “Manufactured crisis,” anyone? In any case, if there truly is a genuine conspiracy in all this (which I doubt), it’s pretty obvious that the credulous antivaxers are the ones who are easily the farthest from uncovering it. Oh, they’ve been exploited all right — are being exploited — just not in the way they’ve been led to believe. Sorry, folks, but the real exploitation has “only just begun.”

    Still, even as convoluted as all this is, no bona fide conspiracy is required for any of it to happen. This is all perfectly characteristic of the natural evolution of a corrupted market run amuck. Any real conspiring is, at worst, peripheral to the actual causes.

  2. Jon April 17, 2008 at 14:13 #

    Interesting post – there’s also some interesting coverage of the story, and some industry responses to it, in a Guardian article on the topic.

    DKM- I’d largely agree that “vitamin supplements are, at best, a very poor stopgap measure for holding off the consequences of poor nutrition”. However, there are a few situations where this isn’t the case – for example, folic acid supplements are recommended (alongside a healthy diet) for pregnant women, to reduce the risks of birth defects.

  3. Maya M April 17, 2008 at 14:38 #

    I remember what a doctor once said: “Vitamins cannot cure anything other than hypovitaminosis, period”.
    I think it may be good to give vitamin supplement to an autistic child if he likes too few foods. Of course, only in the recommended dose, and not to “treat his autism” but to ameliorate his bad nutrition habits.
    Perhaps manufacturers of such supplements should write on the package with big red letters, “Do not exceed the recommended dose!”

  4. Joseph April 17, 2008 at 15:08 #

    I think there are wider implications to this. There is a lot of food that is “fortified” with vitamins, that we all eat. Autistic kids, in particular, can be fuzzy eaters, and it’s probably not uncommon that they get a lot of their nutrition from things like Pediasure, etc.

  5. ebohlman April 17, 2008 at 16:03 #

    There is a huge cognitive dissonance at work here that is worth a sociological study in its own right. Why is it OK to administer some things with no trials and not others?

    It’s because alt-med types ask a different fundamental question than sci-med types. To a sci-med type, the fundamental question is “what evidence do you accept?” To an alt-med type, the fundamental question is “what persons do you believe in?” These parents will rail about the “unknowns” of vaccines while simultaneously allowing quacks to “experiment” on their kids simply because they feel a warm, human connection with the quacks, a connection they don’t feel with “big pharma” or “conventional medicine.” And the reason they feel that connection is that the quacks have good sales skills.

    In their book The Unreality Industry, Ian Mitroff and Warren Bennis talked about the role of a “guarantor” in a worldview. Basically a guarantor is that feature of a system that people rely on to determine whether or not a statement is true. For an awful lot of people, and particular for most alt-med types, the prime guarantor is the emotional affinity they feel toward the person making the statement. For example, George W. Bush has been able to get away with making all sorts of statements that no other US President would be able to get away with, simply because so many Americans regard him as a “regular guy” you could “have a beer with.” Most of the 30% of Americans who still approve of his performance aren’t hard-core conservative ideologues (the best measure of that would be Cheney’s approval rating); they’re people who’ve got a gut feeling that he’s a Good Guy.

    Remember: it’s the sizzle, not the steak, that sells.

  6. mayfly April 17, 2008 at 17:45 #

    One really cannot compare vaccinations with biomedical treatments. Vaccinations are a prophylactic based on the physiology of the virus it is used to combat. There are different vaccinations for different viruses. There are not different vaccines for different people.

    Biomedical interventions are based on the physiology of an individual. The person cannot produce in sufficient quantities a hormone or an enzyme, a person’s gut is hyperporous, the person has an unhealthy gut flora, the person suffers from oxidative stress, the person is incapable of ridding himself of heavy metals

    There are legitimate biomedical treatments such as insulin for diabetics. The prescription of which is based on glucose tolerance tests. The results are well understood. Treatment may vary based on severity. Doctors recommend dietary changes first for borderline diabetics.

    The problem with the biomedical world of autism is not that it is biomedical, but that it is not evidence-based. Sure there are tests, but does assaying blood for food antigens tell us anything other than what a person has been eating. Is there anybody in which “leaky gut” has not been found by a Dan doctor. I believe Prometheus wrote about a test which supposedly detects certain bacteria and a eucaryote, yeast, and pondered how such a tests was rife with false positives. Besides the dubious methodologies, there are the laboratories which use reference ranges based on one standard deviation from mean instead of the customary two. Then there are things for which I don’t think there is even a pretense of a legitimate test, but are anecdotal in basis.

    The result of the above is a protocol which may differ at the margins, but for the most part is same. The philosophy: it is better to provide ten ineffective treatments along with one which is efficacious, rather than do nothing. The problem :the treatments have not been subjected to proper scrutiny; i.e double-blind switch over trials, no one knows which of the treatments if any works.

  7. Schwartz April 18, 2008 at 04:09 #


    Another good example of measurement and application is Thyroid treatments, although these are often more similar to alternate medicine treatments, since individual hormone levels vary a lot, and one ends up doing a lot of experimentation with doses. The burning away of the Thyroid gland is also a very hit and miss excercise despite being a prevalent therapy.

    Although there is much to agree with in your post, there is an implied assumption about vaccines or drugs which doesn’t hold in a lot of cases.

    There have been numerous systematic reviews that have pointed out that both the efficacy and safety trials of vaccines are completely inadequate. Although the CDC and FDA stand up tall and preach EBM, it’s implementation is quite far from pervasive — the examples of failure in vaccines and drugs are very numerous and growing by the day. In many cases EBM is used as a tool (regardless of the flaws of the studies used) to discredit anecdotal evidence — which is discarded out of hand, despite being valuable.

    You also have to remember, that problems are usually discovered after someone notices and decides to futher study patterns in anecdotal evidence.

  8. Ms. Clark April 18, 2008 at 05:54 #

    One of the big draws for alt med is that any old Joe gets to lift him or herself up to the same level as a real doctor who went to school forever and cut up cadavers and studied microbiology and held the hand of someone dying of AIDS or whooping cough or measles.

    Anyone can walk into the “health food store” and prescribe a few bottles of this and that pill, lotion or spray to himself or his child, or even easier click some buttons on a vitamin/RNA-drops selling website- et voila mommy, daddy, grandma is a real doctor with the power to cure…. except a real doctor has some idea of what not to do, which things not to mix, which things must be dealt with via surgery or a prescription drug lest the patient die, and Joe Blow off the street doesn’t know that and consequently sometimes does himself or his child a great deal of harm. The cool thing is that the death of the child or the adult doesn’t blow back onto the seller of herbs and vitamins very often.
    But sometimes you get a peak at the toxic underbelly of the ever so “Green” supplement industry the mercury malicia and the antivaxers LUV and support with big bucks.

    The following is found on the immediately above linked blog entry:
    One of the stories is from a blog called, “Polite Company”. The blogger commented on a story out of Vancouver, BC, about a woman who bought her alternative medicine from a mail-order source.

    Bergeron’s body was discovered by a neighbour on Dec. 27, about a day after she died, said Stanton.
    More than 100 generic pills were found in her home. Some were in clear plastic bags, others were loose — and none of them were labelled.
    Toxicology tests conducted on the pills revealed many of them contained dangerously high levels of heavy metals which had apparently been used as filler.
    “Our toxicologist wasn’t sure what was going on,” said Stanton. “There was strontium and uranium and lead — things in these drugs that shouldn’t have been there. … Some of these [materials], in any quantity, are lethal. You ingest it and you die slowly over time.”
    Stanton said her office has been able to determine, by looking at Bergeron’s computer, that she ordered pills from an Internet site about a month before her death — and that they likely arrived about a week later.
    However, Stanton said investigators are still not sure what Bergeron thought she was taking.
    The actual medicine detected in the three types of pills — an anti-anxiety drug, acetaminophen and a strong sedative — are not consistent with those usually ordered online, like antidepressants or [brand name drug].
    …Marlene Stevens, a friend of Bergeron on Quadra, said she last saw Bergeron at church Christmas Eve.
    “She was ringing bells at the service,” she said. “She looked a little pale. But Marcia didn’t get out in the sun much so I thought she was tired.”
    Stevens said Bergeron suffered from severe arthritis and allergies — but was skeptical of traditional medicine.
    “She wasn’t into pills — she was more into the natural way,” said Stevens. “She went to a homeopath.”
    Bergeron moved to Quadra Island about eight years ago from Ohio and was living alone on a fairly generous pension, said Stevens. “She was a really good person — soft-spoken, very gentle.”

    No telling how many autistic kids have been chelated with a chelator that contains lead or mercury. No telling how many of them have been given marginally manufactured supplements sourced from who knows where? No telling how many who have been given B12 shots will end up with cancer because of the way methyl B12 can methylate tumor suppressor genes.

  9. mayfly April 18, 2008 at 06:01 #

    Schwartz, nothing is perfect. Certainly there are problems with the efficacy of flu vaccines as a decision needs to be made as to which of the eight? basic types to combat each year. Certainly drugs have had to be recalled.

    It seems to me in the world of EBM you have a great body of solid treatments and some problems at the margins. In alternative medicine you have a lot of bunk and some worthy treatment at the margins.

    Your right treatments may first become known based on anecdotes. After proper trials such treatments become part of the world of EBM. However, alternative medical treatments are not so often not dropped when they are proven ineffective.

  10. mayfly April 18, 2008 at 07:33 #

    Joseph are autistic children fussier about their food than NT children? My daughter much prefers the food on my plate to hers. The food is the same. She will also turn her nose up at food one minute and gobble the same food down voraciously.

    This week, she has enjoyed, Tex-Mex Lasagna, pork loin with a maple-ginger sauce, a casserole of pork and cranberry jelly, potato and chick pea curry. Green peas with lemon pepper, frozen blueberries, popcorn …

    Perhaps she is different in this way. All the other parents of autistic kids I know have them on various diets. Gaining popularity is something called the specific carbohydrate diet. It’s not their children who restrict their diets to a handful of items, it is their parents.

  11. Ms. Clark April 18, 2008 at 10:34 #

    Mayfly, in my ASD kid’s case it was the kid who restricted the diet. My kid wasn’t as picky as some, but was hard to cook for or otherwise feed.

    The fact that autistics are known to have sensory issues, to me makes it easy to understand how they could be very picky eaters. I know someone who couldn’t eat with his family because the odors coming from the kitchen were overwhelming to him, especially if the family wanted to eat something with a strong smell, they’d have to cook something separate for him, and he’d eat in his room.

    For my kid it wasn’t so much odor or taste as texture, there were a bunch of textures that were no-nos, including meat that needed much chewing, it would gag my kid and I’d be watching the kid choking or retching, so we gave up on several kinds of meat. Jello and whipped cream, for some reason were also out of bounds, as was jelly, but jam was ok. Tofu was out of the question, eggs were also. Cheese was good, pasta was good, pancakes and bread and most fruits were good. Vegetables… not so easy to find, but there were a few that were OK.

    I did a lot of stuff like grating carrots into spaghetti sauce or meatballs to get more vegies into the kid, and adding milk powder or eggs in places where the kid didn’t spot them so easily. And my kids usually had some kind of one a day style multi-vitamin.

  12. Joseph April 18, 2008 at 12:49 #

    My kid is very picky, but he does eat a lot of the foods he likes. I realize most children don’t like vegetables, but in his case it goes way beyond that. The particular foods he dislikes at any given time keep changing.

  13. mayfly April 18, 2008 at 15:14 #

    Ms Clark and Joseph, I realize all our stories are anecdotal, but I wonder if anyone has really looked at the issue.

  14. Schwartz April 19, 2008 at 01:35 #


    I’ve heard that argument in defence of EBM many times, but it’s not really holding true for Western Medicine today. The only time a treatment in Western Medicine stops is when there is evidence of harm NOT lack of efficacy. There are plenty of cases of lack of efficacy and yet the treatments continue. The best examples of discontinued western medical treatments all involve long term evidence of harm, and after a long fight are finally removed from usage (or not in some cases).

    My observation is that the E of the EBM is applied about as injudiciously in western medicine as it is in alt treatments. When you look at studies and reviews that indicate huge problems with study ghost writing, or poor methodologies in promoter funded studies, the vast majority of the “Evidence” in EBM quickly loses its credibility.

    We really shouldn’t be so surprised. What is the primary driver and treatment of Western Medicine today? Pharmaceuticals and profit. A similar case can be made for expensive vitamins (or other supplements) and many alt-practitioners. I’m not saying all doctors or alt-med practitioners are unethical, I’m just pointing out the overriding incentive. It is natural for people to base behaviour on the incentive. Why should we expect otherwise?

    For you to proclaim that the current state of EBM is better than the alt-medicine anecdote today is pretty hard to swallow and certainly isn’t bourne out by the evidence I’ve seen.

  15. Joseph April 19, 2008 at 14:43 #

    That really made no sense, Swartz. In evidence-based medicine there are standards. There are levels of evidence (Level-I, Level-II, Level-III), sometimes also illustrated in the form of a pyramid, with things like in-vitro studies at the bottom, and randomized trials near the top.

    What are the standards of andecdote-based medicine? It bet it’s this:

    – 1 anecdote

    – 10 anecdotes

    – 100 anecdotes

    I realize the EBM system is not perfect. Sometimes authorities will assert something is evidence-based when in reality it’s not (ABA being a good example). But trying to assign equivalence to anecdote-based medicine makes no sense.

  16. Schwartz April 20, 2008 at 02:13 #


    Anecdote can fall under EBM classifications, and therefore I’m not equating it with EBM. In many instances, what is considered andecdote is part of EBM at the lowest level.

    “Level III: Opinions of respected authorities, based on clinical experience, descriptive studies, or reports of expert committees.”


    “Level D: Expert opinion without explicit critical appraisal, or based on physiology, bench research or first principles”

  17. shaun turpin May 2, 2008 at 01:49 #

    Yet more propaganda for the masses, of course there are a lot of snake oil salesmen out there but Big Pharma is the BIGGEST and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this research was paid and carried out by them.
    It won’t matter soon anyway if CODEX and WTO have there evil way by 31st Dec 2009 we won’t have the FREEDOM to choose. Whilst they HARMornise the Vitamin +Herb Industry.

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