Over the years, I’ve not infrequently noted that there is a serious disconnect between what most people would think of as “natural” and what is considered “natural” in the world of “complementary and alternative medicine,” or, as I like to call it, CAMworld. I started thinking about this again after yesterday’s post about Jessica Ainscough’s decision to treat her rare sarcoma with the quackery that is the Gerson therapy and how her mother’s decision to use the same quackery, instead of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, resulted in her untimely demise. Reading over Jessica Ainscough’s blog, The Wellness Warrior, I see Ainscough extolling the virtues of “natural healing” over that nasty, reductionistic science-based medicine. Indeed, Ainscough has assembled a stable of bloggers who write primarily about “natural health.”
I’ll get back to Ainscough in a while. Another thing that got me thinking about this was a post I came across by one of my favorite quack apologists, Sayer Ji. He’s the guy who runs a website known as GreenMedInfo, a website that subverts legitimate research and misrepresents science in order to support “natural medicine.” Examples of the sort of intellectual firepower Ji brings to the issue of “natural medicine” include a post in which he described vaccines as “transhumanism” that subverts evolution and another post in which he tries to represent evidence-based medicine as being no more reliable than a coin flip. (He also really, really likes me.) In any case, for some reason, Ji’s blog showed up on one of my standard Google Alerts that I monitor with the delightfully batty title Biotech’s Dark Promise: Involuntary Cannibalism for All. It’s a perfect example of how advocates of “natural healing” demonize science as “unnatural.
Just from the title alone, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what Ji would be attacking, and I was pretty close to correct. First, he attacks the cloning of human embryos for medical purposes. Certainly, there are major ethical issues to deal with when it comes to therapeutic cloning. Also certainly, therapeutic cloning is very attractive because it has the potential for de novo organogenesis and the permanent treatment of diseases like Parkinson’s disease, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and diabetes mellitus. There are also a lot of problems to overcome, including induced tumors, the potential for interspecies pathogen transfer, and epigenetic reprogramming. Thorny ethical and legal issues remain, as well. For instance, the difference between therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning is not so clearcut. The first step, implantation of a nucleus from a somatic cell (usually a skin cell) is basically the same for therapeutic cloning as for attempted reproductive cloning. In the U.S. and many other countries, reproductive cloning is illegal, which makes therapeutic cloning problematic. Yet, Ji makes it sound as though there is a world-wide rush to start cloning human beings for all sorts of nefarious purposes. Subtlety, of course, is not his strong suit.
Which brings us to “cannibalism.” Did you know that vaccines are a form of cannibalism? Neither did I, but Sayer Ji says it is; so it must be so! Take a look:
Whereas cannibalism is considered by most modern societies to be the ultimate expression of uncivilized or barbaric behavior, it is intrinsic to many of the Western world’s most prized biotechnological and medical innovations. Probably the most ‘taken for granted’ example of this is the use of live, aborted fetus cell lines from induced abortions to produce vaccines. Known as diploid cell vaccines (diploid cells have two (di-) sets of chromosomes inherited from human mother and father), they are non-continuous (like cancer cells), and therefore must be continually replaced, i.e. new aborted, live fetal tissue must be harvested periodically. A good portion of the CDC’s immunization schedule requires the use of these human fetus-originated vaccines, and these include: rubella, measles, mumps, rabies, polio, smallpox, hepatitis A, chickenpox, and herpes zoster. Additionally, so-called “abortion tainted vaccines” cultivated on transformed fetal cells (293, PER.C6) are in the developmental pipeline, including: “flu, Respiratory Syncytial and parainfluenza viruses, HIV, West Nile virus, Ebola, Marburg and Lassa, hepatitis B and C, foot and mouth disease, Japanese encephalitis, dengue, tuberculosis, anthrax, plague, tetanus and malaria.” [iii]
I’ve discussed the “aborted fetal tissue” gambit so beloved of antivaccinationists, particularly those with fundamentalist religious tendencies, more times than I can remember. Just type “aborted fetal tissue” or “aborted fetal cells” in the search box of this blog, and you’ll see what I mean. Yes, some viruses used to make certain vaccines need to be grown in human cells. These cell lines were derived from an aborted fetus back in the 1960s and have been continually passaged (allowed to double) in cell culture many, many, many times since then. None of the original cells from the aborted fetus used to create the cell line remain; they are all descendent cells, many, many, many generations distant. Moreover, in the production of vaccines, these cells are removed. There are no fetal cells in vaccines. Let’s put it this way. Even the Catholic Church has stated that until there are alternatives, Catholics should vaccinate. If even the Catholic Church can reconcile itself to the use of these cells, it’s hard not to view the bleats of someone like Sayer Ji as anything more than pure cynicism. It’s also just plain nonsense. “Cannibalism” is the eating of human beings. Even if you think that the use of cell lines originally derived from aborted fetuses is pure evil, it is not cannibalism. Ji simply wants to demonize vaccines even more than associating them with aborted fetuses; he wants to make it sound as though using these vaccines is morally equivalent eating aborted fetuses.
Ji gets even more ridiculous, however. Ji doesn’t like “biopharming.” Biopharming is the use of plants, insects, or animals to produce useful proteins and biomolecules that normally don’t produce them. Lots of drugs and biomolecules are made this way now, and this is nothing new. For instance, insulin has been made by inserting the gene for insulin into bacteria for 30 years now; indeed Genentech first succeeded in producing recombinant insulin into bacteria in 1978. Not surprisingly, recombinant insulin rapidly became more popular than insulin isolated from pig and cow pancreases, and it changed the treatment of diabetes forever. Most people consider this sort of advance a good thing. Not Sayer Ji:
Another way in which the dark specter of cannibalism is resurfacing in our lives is through biotech’s intense investment in biopharming technologies. Also known as molecular farming, biopharming involves creating “drug-producing” GMOs by inserting a gene that code for useful pharmaceuticals or biological products (e.g. antibodies, lactoferrin) into host plants, insects or animals that do not naturally express those genes.
And, of course, he fears vaccines most of all:
There is intense work being done today to create biopharmed “edible vaccines,” which contain deadly viral or bacterial vectors. Obviously, the biopollution created by inserting these genes into plants traditionally used for human consumption and which could find their way into the human food supply could cause life-threatening health problems. But edible vaccines are only a subset of biopharmed products in the developmental pipeline. There are a broad range of human proteins being ‘pharmed’ using genetically modified animals expressing human genes as ‘bioreactors.’
Ji then proceeds with a list of several examples of biopharming, including bulls expressing human lactoferrin for human consumption, mice expressing human granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor under control of a goat gene, silkworms expressing human glycoproteins, tobacco expressing human interferon-alpha for medical use, rice expressing human serum albumin for medical use, and more. To Ji, this is cannibalism:
With biotech weaving into the web of life arbitrarily placed human genes and their biological products, cannibalism (human consumption of human proteins) will become an inevitably in the future. The question is, will we stand for this reworking of the very molecular and genetic infrastructure of life, or pretend like it won’t also result in the genetic modification of our own bodies.
No, the question is whether Sayer Ji is an idiot who doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to molecular biology, and the answer is clearly yes.
Of course, what Ji doesn’t seem to consider is that none of this is “unnatural.” Indeed, to do these things, scientists are taking advantage of nature, using natural products (DNA), inserting genes into cells using various methods ranging from plasmids to viruses, and producing proteins normally made by the human body. Indeed, you could even look at it the way our “natural healing” advocates look at things. The reason these proteins are needed to treat patients is because those patients obviously have deficiencies in them. All scientists are doing is providing doctors with the means to correct deficiencies in insulin, human interferon-alpha, serum albumin, and the like. I jest, but only a little. It’s not too far off.
Also notice how, even the hint of anything “unnatural” taints everything in the eyes of a quackery apologist like Sayer Ji. If a cell line derived from a human fetus 40 or 50 years ago that has undergone probably hundreds, if not thousands, of cell divisions since then, “diluting” the original components of the original cells nearly as effectively as homeopaths dilute their remedies, is used to make vaccines, those vaccines are forever tainted by the 50-year-old evil. Indeed, this concept reached a ridiculous extreme when Helen Ratajczak claimed that autism was due to human DNA from fetal tissue from the cell line in which the rubella virus used to make the MMR vaccine. She claimed that this fetal DNA underwent homologous recombination with the brain’s DNA in vaccinated children, caused expression of proteins from another human, leading to an autoimmune reaction. Now that’s some powerfully unnatural DNA.
All of this brings us back to the Gerson therapy for cancer, which Jessica Ainscough loves so much. It turns out that Sayer Ji thinks it’s just ducky, too, having invited Charlotte Gerson to appear in his “Natural Healing Summit” and having published several abstracts seemingly favorable to the Gerson therapy. Indeed, among cancer quackery apologists like Ainscough and Ji, the Gerson therapy is the epitome of “natural healing.” This remains something that I have never been able to understand. Remember what the Gerson therapy involves; I discussed it yesterday, after all. It involves:
- Thirteen glasses of fresh, raw carrot/apple and green-leaf juices prepared hourly from fresh, organic fruits and vegetables.
- Three full vegetarian meals, freshly prepared from organically grown fruits, vegetables and whole grains. A typical meal will include salad, cooked vegetables, baked potatoes, Hippocrates soup and juice.
- Fresh fruit and fresh fruit available at all hours for snacking, in addition to the regular diet.
The Gerson therapy requires huge amounts of these fruits and vegetables, up to 20 lbs. per day, as well as:
- Potassium compound
- Lugol’s solution
- Vitamin B-12
- Thyroid hormone
- Pancreatic Enzymes
Note that pancreatic enzymes come from, well, animal pancreases, and thyroid hormone comes from, well, animal thyroids, while Lugol’s solution is a solution of elemental iodine and potassium iodide in water, named after the French physician J.G.A. Lugol that was commonly used as a disinfectant. To top all this off (if you’ll excuse the term), the Gerson therapy involves coffee enemas, lots and lots and lots of coffee enemas, several a day. Meanwhile, variants of the Gerson therapy also include:
- ozone treatment (given by enema or via infusion in autologous, heparinized blood or directly into patients’ blood vessels)
- hydrogen peroxide (topically, rectally, or orally)
- intravenous “GKI drip” (glucose, potassium, and insulin solutions)
- “live cell therapy”
- castor oil
- clay packs
- Lincoln bacteriophage (a vaccine made from killed Staphylococcus aureus bacteria) and influenza virus vaccine, both reportedly to stimulate “allergic inflammation,” a process Gerson believed contributed to healing , and
So, if using recombinant DNA to make human proteins for medical therapy is “unnatural,” then how on earth can using bacteriophages be “natural”? After all, scientists using recombinant techniques have been taking advantage of bacteriophages since at least the 1970s to introduce human DNA sequences into bacteria to make human proteins. How is ozone treatment “natural,” given that the ozone has to be generated with a machine or from hydrogen peroxide, a—gasp!—chemical? “Live cell therapy” involves either ingesting or injecting cells. Some forms of biological therapy used in science involve using live cells; so how can live cell therapy be “natural” and, for instance, bone marrow transplantation be “unnatural”?
In CAMworld the dividing line what is and is not “natural” is very fluid and arbitrary, apparently. Using human proteins from the “wrong” source is a crime against nature, while, puzzlingly, shooting yourself up with coffee enemas four to six times a day is not. I also have news for Mr. Ji. Cannibalism is not unnatural; it is very common in nature among all sorts of animals. Moral beliefs that are shared by most humans today explain why we find cannibalism repulsive, not anything in nature. He should be totally down with the “cannibalism” of biopharming.