I thought I’d seen it all: Epigenetic birth control

Epigenetics.

As I’ve described before, to alternative medicine practitioners, epigenetics seems to mean something akin to what the word “quantum” means: Magic. I’ve covered, for example, the woo-filled stylings of Deepak Chopra invoking things like “quantum consciousness,” and seemingly for quite a few years the best way to slap a patina of “sciencey”-sounding credibility on a pseudoscientific medical treatment has been to add the word “quantum” to it. Perhaps the epitome of this tendency was the infamous Quantum Xrroid Consciousness Interface promoted by a rather—shall we say?—flamboyant huckster named Bill Nelson. Truly, it was a headache-inducing computer interface allegedly designed to allow for the tracking of virtually any form of quackery known to human beings.

Of course, alternative medicine is nothing if not imaginative, with a voracious appetite for co-opting the latest science and turning it into woo. One of the latest examples has been epigenetics, which to quacks has become the new quantum, sometimes mixed with The Secret. For those not familiar with biology, epigenetics is a new branch of genetics that describes cellular and physiologic trait variations that are not caused by changes in DNA sequence. Rather, epigenetics describes traits that are due to changes in the expression of genes; these changes may or may not be heritable. Common epigenetic processes include the methylation of DNA (a chemical modification that attaches methyl groups), a method of silencing genes or histone modification. Histones are the proteins around which the DNA is wrapped to form chromosomes and how “tightly” parts of the DNA are wrapped around histones can make certain stretches of DNA available to the transcriptional machinery of the cell and others unavailable. There are a lot of other mechanisms too, such as short stretches of RNA called microRNAs that can bind to specific DNA sequences and silence specific genes. Some of these changes can be inherited, an observation that has led some creationists to claim that epigenetics “disproves Darwin.” It doesn’t, because there’s no reason selection processes can’t operate on epigenetic mechanisms as well.

Be that as it may, I thought I had seen it all from quacks, with claims that epigenetics means that thinking makes it so (i.e., that you can modify your gene expression consciously by influencing your own epigenetics) or that you can radically change your gene expression through thought, diet, exercise, and a host of other things, all to make yourself virtually immune to disease. Of course, one joke we like to make about homeopathy, acupuncture, and a lot of other woo is that no one ever relies on it for birth control because, well, the reasons are obvious. Birth control has a rather binary outcome: Pregnancy or no pregnancy. There’s little wiggle room for claiming success if pregnancy results in spite of what you’re doing.

Or so I thought until I saw this video, Epigenetic Birth Control_YOU are in control!:

It features a guy named Markus Rothkranz, whom I’d never heard of before. His website, however, is chock full of as much quackery as Joe Mercola’s or Mike Adams’ website. Indeed, I doubt that even Joe Mercola or Mike Adams would go so far as to recommend epigenetic birth control:

An exciting new world is unfolding around us.Little by litte, people are learning to let go of their fears and replacing it with power and freedom. The more in control you are of your physical, emotional and mental health, the more control you have of your entire life- including birth control. It’s not something you take. The answer is not “out there”. It’s inside you. The same thing that frees you from radiation poisoning (see last newsletter)- is the same thing that frees you from so many other things we fear. Women- claim your power. You deserve it.

The video opens with a woman proclaiming, “I never used birth control, and I never got pregnant again.” Then Rothkranz shows up, saying:

Eight years ago, I introduced you to the power of raw foods and cleansing. That’s only first grade level stuff. I’m about to take you to high school. This episode is about epigenetic birth control. You are more in control of your life than you ever thought.

Now here’s the funny part in the intro:

Something interesting happened to women who who went completely, 100% raw, and cleansed their bodies as clean as could possibly be, living the way nature intended. They stopped having periods. And they also found something else interesting. Even though they weren’t having periods, some of them still got pregnant. They were the ones who wanted to get pregnant. Those who didn’t, didn’t. This opens up a fascinating new field called epigenetics.

My first thought upon hearing this was simple. Women also stop menstruating when they’re malnourished. In addition, just because a woman stops menstruating under these circumstances doesn’t necessarily mean she is not ovulating or that she is completely infertile, either. So right away, we can potentially explain this observation, if it’s even true. While a carefully chosen vegan diet can be healthy, it’s not hard to imagine how an extreme raw vegan diet, coupled with extreme cleanses favored by many of these raw food faddists, could result in the cessation of menstruation. To be honest, it’s difficult to parse the medical literature with respect to the effect of a raw vegan diet on menstruation and fertility. For instance, this small, old study suggests a higher incidence of becoming anovulatory associated with a vegetarian diet, and other studies suggest a correlation between long term raw vegan diets and amenorrhea. Consistent with these observations, it’s well established that heavy exercise can result in cessation of menses in female athletes. Let’s take this claim at face value for a moment, though. If women of reproductive age who go on raw vegan diets and various cleanses cease menstruating, that is not a good thing. Rather, it’s an indication that something is wrong. Yet here it is being sold as a good thing!

It’s also not hard to imagine a combination of confirmation bias, where Rothkranz remembers the women who got pregnant who wanted to be pregnant and forgot the ones who got pregnant who didn’t want to be pregnant (not to mention the ones who didn’t get pregnant who wanted to be) plus perhaps women who wanted to be pregnant trying harder, causing the appearance that this “epigenetic birth control works.”

In any case, the video consists of three women telling their stories. First up is a woman named Cara Brotman, who tells a tale of how “baby crazy” she was, how she had wanted a baby ever since she was a little girl, to the point where when she was 20 she got pregnant with her first serious boyfriend, had a baby, and was overjoyed. She then fast forwards five years later, to when she’s 26. At that point she’s running a vegan raw food restaurant, and in telling the story she practically brags about being “up and running” from 7:30 AM to 12:30 AM. Of course, my first thought was: What happened to that baby she was so crazy about? He would have been only five years old or so when she opened that restaurant, and apparently she was working 16+ hours a day. How did she take care of her child?

Funny I thought that, though, because her next complaint is that, with all the restaurant work, she had lost time “for me.” She became pregnant again at age 27, and she really didn’t want this baby. So what did she do? Her story is a bit disturbing in its level of self-absorption. According to her tale, the night after she learned she was pregnant, she wished very, very hard. No, I’m serious. She “focused on her body” and wished that she was not pregnant any more. The next morning, she relates with satisfaction, she had a miscarriage:

And I realized that I can never lose focus on myself again if I am to continue this sort of mental birth control that I have been on since I was in my 20s. After that, it was mind over matter, and I’ve never been pregnant after that.

Brotman basically brags about “making love” up to six times a day with no pregnancy or pregnancy scares. Of course, one wonders how one has a pregnancy scare if one is not menstruating, which Brotman hasn’t been doing since she went 100% raw vegan. Indeed, she relates going years without having a period, after which Rothkranz blathers about how menstruation is just the “body doing dishes” or cleaning up and that if there’s nothing to clean there’s no reason to menstruate.

If this sounds a lot like The Secret, you’re right, although Rothkranz tries very hard to deny it, saying it’s not “wanting something” and it’s not “positive affirmation.” He claims it’s just “living” the way you’re supposed to and as a result getting what you really want. In other words, it’s not unlike religion, where your righteous way of living is rewarded.

He also provides a ready excuse for failure, claiming that you have to be absolutely certain and that “if there’s just 1% doubt” it’s all null and void:

If either of the partners has a little bit of a desire or a doubt or a fear, guess what’s going to creep into their situation and become real. You have to be completely, completely living what you know you deserve.

Later:

The ability to have children when the time is right or not have them when the time is not right is just the tip of the iceberg. Epigenetics and quantum physics is your passport to freedom.

Oops. I spoke too soon. I thought this would all just be epigenetics, but he brought quantum physics into it too. Of course he did.

The second woman featured is Katrine Volynsky, who on her website describes herself as “truth seeker, researcher, teacher, author, coach, sports nutritionist, athlete, foodie and Chernobyl Survivor.” Well, there’s a new twist. I hadn’t heard of Chernobyl survivors selling epigenetic quackery before. I guess that, even a decade into this, there’s always room for me to learn something new. In any case, she seems to contradict Rothkranz in that she goes on and on and on about how becoming pregnant or not becoming pregnant is a “conscious choice” for your life, that “choice” somehow “sets up a pattern in your body” and “your body responds.”

Rothkranz asks her if she uses the rhythm method; she says no. He asks her if she can have sex while ovulating; she dances around the question a bit but basically answers yes. She even goes on to say that it’s basically all up to her and her partner whether she becomes pregnant or not. In fact, she even claims that there are souls out there who are waiting to come in during the act to result in a pregnancy whom she and her partner can choose to let in or not. No, I’m not kidding. That is what she claims, all with a whole lot of blather about the “cosmos” and how during the act of making love she encompasses the whole universe. I’m only touching the surface here. You have to watch for yourself. Volynsky’s segment begins at 6:20.

Of course, given that Volynsky says on her website that she was a survivor of Chernobyl as a child and that she’s had multiple health problems as a result, one wonders how fertile she is to begin with. Add to that this:

Throughout my journey to true health, I’ve been to many extremes. I have been a hardcore raw foodist, I’ve fasted for 45 days on water, I’ve eaten pounds of enzymes and probiotics at a time, lived on juices, had weekly colonics – you name it. Each experience brought me closer to understanding the body, the mind and the amazing health technology that is out there.

None of this sounds particularly healthy. Indeed, Volynsky relates a story of becoming pregnant, because, of course, she had had a moment of wanting it during sex, to put it more crudely than she did. So she “had a conversation with the soul that’s coming in” telling it to “take another flight” and asking her body to “shift course.” I kid you not. I can’t make up stuff like this, and I’m glad that I can’t. Volynsky then goes on about how awesome it is to have this power of “conscious creation,” apparently not realizing that, if she really did induce her own miscarriage, that’s conscious destruction. Be that as it may, unlike Brotman, Volynsky never really comes right out and says that she “thought” her own miscarriage. In fact, she says she conceived, but one wonders if that was all in her mind as well, given the sheer quantity of nonsense she lays down in this segment.

The final woman to be featured is Kathrine Clark, who runs a website called Simply Superfood. Her segment might as well take a title stolen from Marvin Gaye, as in Sexual Healing, because Clark lets loose a barrage of woo about how the creator gave us sex not just for procreation but to help us in our “awakening” and to increase the “life force” and “vitality.” She reiterates how women on a 100% raw diet experience fewer and fewer periods, sometimes even ceasing menstruation altogether. In fact, she states that every woman she knew who went “completely raw” eventually stopped menstruating, as though that were a good thing! It never occurs to her that this might in fact be an indication that her diet is not healthy.

While watching this video, I kept waiting for a woo-tastic explanation of how epigenetics is supposedly allowing these women to control whether or not they became pregnant. I never heard one. It became clear to me by the end of the video that the word “epigenetic” was utterly meaningless to these people, other than as a sciencey-sounding buzzword like “quantum” that they used to tell themselves how their pseudoscience and mystical beliefs work. In fact, it’s clear that Markus Rothkranz, Cara Botman, Katrine Volynsky, and Katherine Clark have even less understanding of quantum and epigenetics than Deepak Chopra, who, quantum con man that he is, must at least understand enough about quantum theory and epigenetics to be able to pontificate about it in a way that sounds as though he knows what he’s talking about. These clowns don’t even bother with that. They might as well say “God” or “The Secret” or the “universe” is what allows them to do what they claim they can do while ignoring that that their lack of menstrual periods is almost certainly not due to anything they’re thinking but quite possibly to their extreme raw vegan diets coupled with the rest of the “cleanses” they do.

Come to think of it, that’s just what they all did.