Archive for category vaccination

 GUTS! Does the GAPS diet cure autism?

The clean eating world is obsessed with guts! Your guts, my guts, your child’s guts…..even your dog’s guts. The recurring theme in clean eating dietary advice and health claims is that an unhealthy gut = disease. If you ‘cleanse’ your gut, either through diet or a course of enemas you will prevent and, more importantly, cure disease. One example of this sort of advice, and the reason I became interested in this particular area of pseudoscience, is the GAPS diet.

I first became aware of the GAPS diet after reading a blog post by ‘The Angry Chef’, where he dismantled some of the nutri-nonsense claims made by Jasmine and Melissa Hemsley (Ayuverdic tongue scrapers, Biodynamic eggs etc. Let’s not even go there today) and mentioned the GAPS diet being behind a lot of their ‘bone broth’ recipes and food philosophy. It piqued my interest so I decided to google it, and to be honest I wish I hadn’t. I went further and further down the ‘gut flora’ rabbit hole and ended up in a pretty scary place full of baseless claims, pseudoscience, anti-vax and bad science.

Text reading "mind the gap" from a train station platform

The GAPS diet

The GAPS diet was invented by Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride after her son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. She took matters into her own hands having decided that conventional treatments weren’t helping. GAPS stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome and follows the premise that a wide variety of health problems (particularly psychological and behavioural) are caused by an imbalance of gut microbes, or ‘gut flora’. Dr McBride claims that an imbalance in your gut will lead you towards disease, she claims that autism and ADD, OCD, schizophrenia, epilepsy, depression, and many other conditions are all digestive disorders, but offers a ‘cure’ in the form of her diet plan.

The diet plan is complicated and long, it is recommended to be followed for years, rather than your typical ‘fad’ diets which are often crash diets lasting days or weeks, but it isn’t any less restrictive. There are 8 steps to the diet, the first one being the most restrictive. Step one consists of room temperature water, probiotics and bone broth (which must be made from scratch, you can’t use any store bought stocks, they contain all those nasty toxins and stuff). A worrying line in the introduction to the diet refers to side effects when introducing new foods. It states that if you experience black, sticky diarrhoea, pain or any other digestive distress stop eating the new food, leave it a week and try again. It is important to note that black diarrhoea can be a sign of gastrointestinal bleeding and a possible medical emergency. It should never be ignored, or left for a week! The introduction to the diet also recommends a ‘sensitivity test’ for new foods. Here you place a small amount of the food onto a patch on your wrist and see if there is any reaction…..seems legit.

After the initial stage you can slowly start to introduce other foods, beginning in stage 2 with eggs, but, they must be raw and they must be organic (yummy salmonella), along with homemade yoghurts and fermented fish. I barely have time to make myself a bowl of cereal in the morning, let alone having constant homemade broth, yoghurts, soups and stews on the go all week! And so the stages go on until stage 7 when you’re on the most permissive GAPS diet where some, unrefined starches are allowed.

a cracked raw egg on a black surface with an egg beater in the background

The GAPS diet is based on that classic nutri-nonsense idea of ‘detoxification’ of the body. The idea that our lifestyles and the food we consume are clogging up our bodies and minds, making us sick and fogging up our thought processes. By ‘flushing us out’, these diets can help our body to heal.

It is widely known that the liver and kidneys already do the ‘detoxifying’ bit. It’s kind of their job, and McBride does acknowledge this, but she thinks we need to give our body a helping hand in the shape of a few gallons of meat water, or by starving ourselves, which she believes helps to redirect our bodies energy to fight off disease….

So that’s the GAPS diet in a nutshell……but not a nutshell…because you can’t eat nuts on GAPS……so, in an avocado skin?…….or a chunk of hollowed out cow’s femur? Anyway! There isn’t much scientific evidence of this kind of restrictive diet being able to cure disease, or complex psychological disorders. In fact, there isn’t any evidence. There are no published studies on the GAPS diet and Dr McBride hasn’t produced any research or published anything backing up her claims. It is a dangerous way to go, advising people who are sick to go on such a restrictive diet, but she does, and there’s more.

McBride also believes and claims the following:

  • Children with autism are born perfectly healthy. Abnormal gut flora develops due to diet, and microbes passed from the mother, and makes them ill.
  • Breastfeeding is essential. If you are physically unable to breast feed your child use donated breast milk or a wet nurse. Bottle fed babies are going to develop abnormal gut flora and develop problems.
  • The contraceptive pill has had a ‘devastating effect on gut flora’, she doesn’t explain why.
  • She recommends smearing live yoghurt around and inside your vagina during your third trimester when pregnant to help ‘prepare the birth canal’ with beneficial bacteria. She also recommends doing the same to the armpits and breasts.
  • Big Pharma!
  • You should avoid vaccinating your child until they are around 4-5 years old, and even then, only if the child has a healthy, balanced gut flora.
  • Black elderberry is one of the most powerful anti-viral remedies known to man.
  • Using volcanic rock dust in organic gardening improves nutrition, and if used on a global scale, it would enable the soil to absorb enough excess atmospheric carbon to stabilize global climate change.

The upper arm of a child with a pink t shirt sleeve and a hand holding a syringe to the arm.

As previously stated, there is no published scientific evidence that any of the claims made by Dr McBride are true. The science is shaky and inaccurate. All the ‘evidence’ I’ve seen of the diet working has been purely anecdotal, from people on various forums singing the diets praises and attributing it to their improved health or the health of their child. Which brings me onto my main issue with this, the issue that made me wish I hadn’t investigated all this in the first place. The diet is directed predominantly at children. Children with complex behavioural and psychological problems, the thought of subjecting a child to this incredibly restrictive diet is worrying to me. You are essentially starving your child (albeit for a short period during stage 1 of the diet plan). Even when you reach stage 7 of the diet plan the diet is still extremely restrictive. A healthy balanced diet needs a bit of everything in moderation. Starving the body of sugar for example (unrefined or otherwise) is not beneficial.

The GAPS diet is an extreme, damaging, and potentially dangerous response to a problem that there is no evidence even exists. As with all clean eating fad diets, it preys on peoples’ fears, and offers a solution that seems too good to be true. Unfortunately, it nearly always is.

 

Karin McClure

Karin has been actively involved in skepticism for 4 years and has been involved with the Merseyside Skeptics for 3 years. She has given talks on the pseudoscience around diets and health at QED
Skepti-camp, Ignite Liverpool and Merseyside Skeptics and has been interested in diet and health for 3 years. Karin is also an artist and has sold her work at events around the country and online, information can be found on her website lunalynes.wordpress.com where she also shares posts about her experiences with mental health, as well as art updates.

 

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Measles Myths: Redux

You’d imagine that, by the second decade of the 21st century, we’d be done talking about measles. Like small pox, measles would be a distant and unpleasant memory of days gone by – at very least in the developed world.

Sadly, that is not the case. Although measles was looking distinctly peaky in the late 90s (with fewer than 100 confirmed cases annually in England and Wales), infections have risen sharply in the past few years with highly-publicised outbreaks in south Wales and Liverpool, including one possible death.

In response, Public Health England have today launched the MMR ‘catch up’ campaign, with the aim of vaccinating one million unvaccinated children between the ages of 10 and 16 before the start of the new school year.

Unfortunately, and despite the best efforts of public health campaigners, vaccination rates are still suffering as a result of uncritical reporting of the discredited Wakefield study which linked the MMR vaccine to autism. Many parents avoided vaccinating their children at the time, community immunity suffered, and with those children now of school age we are paying the price today.

Last time there was a big increase in measles cases, I wrote an article responding to common myths and misconceptions I had read in the ‘Have Your Say’ section of BBC News. Unfortunately, many of those same myths continue to persist today (my blog didn’t change the world – who’d have thought it?)

So in support of the Public Health England campaign, I’ve decided the time is right to give it another airing.

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Why We Should Avoid Ubisoft Products

In 1994, my friend Russel called me raving about a new playable demo he’d got from the cover disc of a PC magazine.  The game was a reasonably early example of a real-time strategy game, in which the player was required to harvest resources, construct buildings and raise an army with which to crush the opposition; lest they do the same.  It was called Warcraft: Orcs and Humans; you may have heard of its descendants.  The playable demo came with four levels, which I devoured.  I quickly bought the full game shortly thereafter and its sequel, Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, the following year.  I had developed a taste for real-time strategy games and wanted more.

In 1995, another phone call from Russel introduced me to Westwood Studios new RTS game – Command & Conquer – which I came to love more than I loved Warcraft.  One of its distinguishing features, setting it apart from the Warcraft series was the inclusion of full-motion video sequences (with real actors!) introducing each mission.  After making free with Russel’s copy of C&C, I bought my own copy in early 1996, followed by its sequels as they were released, including the games from the C&C spin-off series Red Alert.

That was until 2008, and the publication of Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3.  By then Westwood Studios had been bought up by gaming giants Electronic Arts, and with more money behind them (and much more money in the video game market than in 1995), EA were able to cast Hollywood stars for Red Alert 3‘s full motion video segments.  The cast included Tim Curry as Soviet Premier Antony Cherdenko;  J. K. Simmons as US President Howard T. Ackerman; Jonathan Pryce as Field Marshall Robert Bingham; George Takei as Japanese Emperor Yoshiro; and one Jenny McCarthy as Special Agent Tanya.

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Public Opinion On Science: Who To Trust And When?

MSS-member and recent émigré to Canada Chris Hassall takes a look at how public perception of science is distorted, and the role of skepticism in  combating the distortion.

People go about their daily lives making decisions on the basis of beliefs about the way the world works. Their epistemological framework is a complex architecture of foundations and interconnecting supports on which rest concepts held to be “true”. While some beliefs may have little consequence for the person holding that belief, others have the potential to seriously impact the lives of both the believer and, through the actions that those beliefs precipitate, the rest of mankind. When we come to examine issues of such magnitude, we see a difference between the beliefs held by the general public and those which are held by the majority of experts in the respective fields. To understand why this is the case, it is informative to consider two claims that have been made in recent years and the variation in the reception that each has received from the public.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Compulsory Ignorance: More Anti-Vax Propaganda From The AVN

Anti-Vax Propaganda from the AVN

Anti-Vax Propaganda from the AVN

A couple of weeks ago, I reported on the Australian Skeptics and their battle with the Australian Vaccination Network.  The AVN are a ‘pro-choice’ organisation which promotes the spread of information and debate on vaccines. No, wait, sorry, I’ve got that completely wrong – they’re a deceitful, weaselly organisation spreading misinformation, rumour and lies when it comes to vaccination. Led by Meryl Dorey, the AVN have made dangerous and deceitful claims that nobody dies of whooping cough, that the swine flu pandemic was planned and deliberate and that  the MMR vaccine causes autism.

The latest ignorant and dangerous pseudomedical crap from AVN’s website is this presentation, a 46-page PDF of hateful anti-vax propaganda. It’s so blood-boilingly, insultingly and pathetically manipulative it really has to be taken piece-by-piece, so permit me to do so.

Page 1 declares, in gaudy, sensationalist, fear-mongeringly red block capitals:

Compulsory Vaccination: IT’S HERE!

Erm, yes, true enough. It is here, admittedly in some very specific circumstances, but I’m with you so far. What next, Meryl?

February 2007, NSW became the first state to mandate full vaccination (10 required vaccines) for all medical staff and allied health students. Failure to comply will result in expulsion from school or loss of employment/transfer to another area of the facility if that area exists.

July 2007 – jump on the bandwagon
All other Australian states and territories have now introduced similar policies for their health students. Hospital policies will follow shortly

OK, so far so innocuous – although a successful scheme to raise vaccination rates and therefore lower rates of infection, injury and death from some very nasty diseases is somewhat flippantly dismissed as a ‘bandwagon’. And if it is a bandwagon – fuck it, it’s precisely the kind of bandwagon there should be more of. If there were a pro-condom bandwagon in South Africa, I’d welcome that too.

What does this mean?
– 5 out of the 10 required vaccines contain live viruses which will put vulnerable hospital patients at risk.- Staff and students who can think for themselves and who question authority will no longer be in the health system.
– The list of required vaccines is sure to increase – just as the childhood vaccination schedule is increasing. How many vaccines will be enough?

Ah, here we go, now begins the weasel-wording and the utter utter bullshit. Read the rest of this entry »

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Son of God says the flu vaccine will kill your kids

Last week, the British government announced that it would concentrate on immunising vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women and health care professionals, against the H1N1 “swine” flu strain, before considering whether to extend the vaccination program across the wider population.  Westminster is reported to have contracts in place for 132 million doses of the vaccine, enough to immunise the entire UK population. Whether they use it or not remains to be seen.

Unfortunately, the vaccination program has attracted the attention of Internet crackpot and former son-of-god David Icke, who contends that the swine flu vaccine is a conspiracy by the Illuminati to cull vast portions of the human population.

Oh dear.

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