Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Flu-woo at the Huffington Post

I never paid much attention to the Huffington Post before, but I couldn’t help but notice Orac’s recent postings about all the quackery that’s being promoted there. The latest example he cites is a post by Lisa Sharkey. The title warns of the woo to follow: What Most Doctors Won’t Tell You About Preparing for the Swine Flu.

The laundry list of precautions to take starts with things which, if not evidence based, are at least plausible---get plenty of rest, stay away from hospitals and doctors’ offices if you can---then devolves into total woo: reflexology, tapping (especially those critical areas between certain chakras), homeopathy and various Yoga techniques.

She even offers some of the “mechanisms” of the Yoga postures:

Halasana - all plough variations - massages the internal organs, stimulates the spinal nerves and brings increased blood supply in the region, nourishing many essential internal organs

Pashimottanasana…stimulates and tones the digestive organs and detoxifies the body

Sarvangasana - Shoulder Stand -As the chin presses on the throat it brings a rich blood supply, the thyroid gland is massaged and brought to its proper level of activity,…

Bhujangasana - baby cobra and all cobra variations, the arching of the spine stimulates the thymus gland and boosts the immunity of the body,…

Sirsasana - Headstand - reverses the flow of gravity, allows the hypothalamus to secrete hormones and stimulates total glandular secretion, boosts the immunity by catalyzing the thymus gland functions

Ustrasana - Camel - opens the heart, expands the lung capacity and stimulates the thymus gland,…

(Digression: I have been smacked down, here and elsewhere, for my characterization of the religious and pseudoscientific underpinnings of Yoga with the rejoinder “Hey, lighten up, it’s just relaxation, stretching and balance exercise.” Almost all the explanations of Yoga I come across contain language like that above. It’s total woo).

The common thread in these remedies is the claim that they “boost the immune system.” Now, given that immunity exists on many levels, comprising diverse mechanisms and effector elements, any simple mention of an “immune system” can pretty nebulous. So what do the woosters really mean (assuming they even know what they mean) when they talk about the immune system? They must mean innate immunity rather than adaptive immunity because the former is the only type you could “boost” in a non-specific way absent vaccines or prior infection. But, given that it’s probably those innate immune mechanisms which caused the cytokine storm purported to make the 1918 pandemic so lethal in young healthy individuals I’m not sure I even want to boost my immune system in a non-specific manner!

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