Monday, June 15, 2009

Gardasil, Oprah, and Crazy Talk

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.


Anonymous said...

Hi I'm writing from New Zealand and have set up a website after uncovering shocking facts about "Gardasil" You are so right about 98% of women's own immune systems will irradicate HPV viruses. This is a "created" scare campaign, whether for monetary gain and/or covert sterilisation of the next generation. We should be vary wary of this "created scenario" which suddenly pops up as the next best health dilemma that we should all be "scared" into. Dr Diane Harper who headed the clinical trials for Gardasil has now spoken out because of very real concerns she has with this vaccine and the way in which Merck has so aggressively marketed it.
She asked our government here in New Zealand not to proceed with the vaccination programme, however they have chosen to ignore her "credible" advice and have proceeded. Call it intuition, gut instinct, when you gather all the facts on this vaccine, the facts just don't add up.

Kristin said...

I think you're being a bit harsh. Granted, Merck has done some pretty unsavoury promotion (fake medical journals, anyone?) but I don't think they have a high interest in sterilizing anyone--that would mean fewer customers, after all. I do feel that researchers genuinely wanted to fix a problem, regardless of Merck's eventual marketing antics.

I don't think Gardasil is particularly effective and I think that it might cause real problems for certain vulnerable individuals with a predisposition to immune diseases. And I think that eventually it will reduce our natural immunity and create worse diseases.

But I also believe that we all need to be aware of HPV and take steps to prevent it from taking hold. It isn't trivial.

Anonymous said...

Why should Newsweek attack Oprah Winfrey?

Here’s Why:

Oprah’s TV show advocates Natural Medicine and Bioidentical Hormones in direct competition to the interests of the Pharmaceutical Industry which makes synthetic hormones. Newsweek is merely an attack dog for the drug industry. A typical issue of Newsweek magazine contains $2 million in pharma ads.

Oprah is depicted as a voodoo witch on the Newsweek cover in a desperate attempt to please the drug company sponsors of a failing magazine.

To read more:

Newsweek Attacks Oprah Winfrey and BioIdentical Hormones

Anonymous said...

That's interesting about the vegetables and fruits. Shows that you shouldn't be too quick to ridicule "wacky cures."

Anonymous said...

I'm not much in favor of wacky cures myself, but it sounds as if these reporters really didn't do their research. Obviously having a strong immune system will help get rid of viruses of all kinds, and eating bad food weakens your immune system. Go, Dr Northrup, and shame on Newsweek.