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March 30, 2006
Give The People What They Want
I get emails every so often from people who are looking for more information about treatments for cancer or other diseases. More often than not, they've come across some Keven Trudeau-like "now the truth can be told" stuff and want to know what I think about it. I should note that almost all of these are non-hostile messages - they're just questions from people who haven't had a chance to learn much chemistry or biology, and want to hear some opinions from someone who has. I answer all of them as best I can.
A common theme in the miracle-cure claims is that such-and-such herb/supplement/device/mystic vibrational ripsnorter "boosts the immune system". If I had a dime for every time that claim is made, I'd be writing this from the conservatory of my mansion, right next to the orchid-hybridizing greenhouse and the frog pond. Who doesn't wish that their immune system worked better, tuned up to where it zapped every virus and cancer cell?
But, as Abel Pharmboy of Terra Sigillata pointed out, you should think twice about asking for that boost:
"Even if such a remedy existed, the immune system is far too complex to regulate with a single, myopic approach due to its multiple checks and balances, feedback loops, and other regulatory process that normally keep us from attacking our own tissue while recognizing and mounting responses against invading organisms. Even the most clever cancer immunologists have only made incremental headway in harnessing immune responses to treat cancer."
He goes on to mention that the notorious TGN1412 antibody was nothing if not an immune booster extraordinaire, and look what happened to the people that were exposed to it. My guess is that most people aren't aware that the immune system can attack a person's own tissues - they figure that there's an infallible friend-or-foe decoder built in or something. No such luck, though, when you consider the number of autoimmune diseases (and the number that might eventually be added to that list).
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