Me, I don’t watch Oprah. Nothing personal—I just don’t watch a whole lot of TV. But I do occasionally read the Oprah magazine, and find it to be exceptionally well written and usually informative. Would I take everything as gospel? Nope. But would I dismiss it out of hand? That’s also a nope.
Newsweek is apparently far better at the dismissing business.
Ambushed by an intriguing cover, featuring a totally deranged-looking Oprah and a story title that read, CRAZY TALK – OPRAH, WACKY CURES AND YOU, who could resist? So I didn’t.
I don’t know a thing about Suzanne Somers. Couldn’t tell you what The Secret is if it bit me. And no doubt Newsweek writers Weston Kosova and Pat Wingert made some excellent points about both (60 supplements a day? Seriously? Does Ms. Somers rattle like a rainstick?)
But I’ve been researching HPV and Gardasil a lot, so my attention was caught by mention of one of Oprah’s ‘regular experts,’ Dr. Christiane Northrup. Again, I don’t know a lot about her, but what I have heard always seemed pretty sensible, so it was rather a shock to find Newsweek putting her in the crazy category when she talked about Gardasil.
“Where I’d put my money,” she’s quoted as saying, “is getting everybody on a dietary program that would enhance their immunity, and then they would be able to resist that sort of thing. All right?”
You can practically hear the guffaws as the writers note that “…Oprah (did not) question Northrup’s assertion that women can stop the spread of a cancer-causing sexually transmitted disease by eating healthy foods. There is, Wood (Susan Wood, former head of the FDA’s Office of Women’s health) says dryly, ‘no evidence that money spent on general health promotion’ will do that.”
Now, I really hope that their general level of research is a lot better than that, because clearly they don’t know what the devil they’re snickering at. And nor does Ms. Wood, unless they truncated her comments.
True, Gardasil aims to protect women against four strains of HPV, the human papillomavirus, which is a virus that is spread through sexual and sometimes not-so-sexual skin-to-skin contact. And persistent infections, caused by any of about 40 strains of HPV out of more than a hundred, can indeed cause cervical cancer.
What these authors don’t seem to have properly researched is that roughly 80 percent of the population will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives, and as many as 95 percent of those infections will be cleared by the body. It’s only when an infection becomes persistent that it causes trouble. And why does an infection fail to clear itself?
Because of a crappy immune system. And why would an immune system be crappy? Often—not always, of course, but often—because of a crappy diet, sorely lacking in fruits and veggies.
A University of Arizona study that was reported in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found that women who ate a lot of veggies were more than 50 percent less likely to have persistent HPV infections. Fruits and juices appeared to be somewhat less protective than vegetables, but still proved to be a valuable addition to creating a strong immune system.
Smoking, incidentally, also damages a body’s natural immunity, increasing the risk of developing pre-cancerous lesions by up to a whopping 27 times, presumably because both smoking and HPV affect the molecules (called cytokines) that control tumor growth. For more info on that, check out the study authored by Anthony Gunnell from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden.
Strengthening the host is usually far more effective than trying to stop a virus, which has a nasty habit of sending in different strains as a replacement disease (think the common cold). Given that the latest studies show Gardasil to be only 17-45 percent effective against pre-cancerous cells, I’d certainly keep chowing down on the broccoli and kohlrabi, myself.
So Northrup is certainly not out in left field when she talks about enhancing the immune system so that one can resist ‘that sort of thing.’ On the contrary, science is on her side.
And when I read an article that is so obviously slanted towards the premise that Oprah is nuts and spreads 'crazy talk', it makes me wonder how accurate Newsweek's previous offering, showing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran looking as if he has failed to eat his prunes for far too long (where do they GET these pictures?) is going to be when I get to it.