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Immunity Quacks

Would any parent believe that serving Rice Krispies or Cocoa Krispies to their children can help protect them from catching the flu? You would think not. But what if that box of cereal has a banner splashed across its front declaring that it “now helps support your child’s immunity?” Would that not possibly lead someone to think that this cereal should be chosen over others?

Would any parent believe that serving Rice Krispies or Cocoa Krispies to their children can help protect them from catching the flu? You would think not. But what if that box of cereal has a banner splashed across its front declaring that it “now helps support your child’s immunity?” Would that not possibly lead someone to think that this cereal should be chosen over others? Or that they may then get away with being less careful about other protective measures against the flu? I think it’s possible. So, can these cereals really improve immune function? Not really. But maybe they can improve cash flow by cashing in on the “improve your immune function” craze which has reached a feverish pitch thanks to the H1N1 scare. So Kellogg’s has staked its claim by increasing the amount of vitamins A, C and E added to the cereal from 10% to 25% of the daily value. These vitamins do play a role in immune function in the sense that a clinical deficiency will be manifested as reduced immunity. But such a deficiency in the western world is rare, and the small increase in vitamin intake afforded by the cereal is unlikely to make any difference at all. And when you consider that these cereals contain 40% sugar by weight, with a supporting cast of high fructose corn syrup and a walloping dose of trans fats, it hardly makes for a healthy way to increase one’s vitamin intake. Kellogg’s has been roundly, and justifiably criticized for this flagrant attempt at marketing, but has managed to avoid legal action by the Food and Drug Administration because the statement on the box is not illegal. It falls into the category of a “function” claim rather than a “health” claim. “Supports immunity” just describes the role of the added ingredients without making an overt “health” claim. FDA did go after General Mills when a claim of “lowers cholesterol” appeared on the box. That’s a medical claim that requires rigorous supportive evidence, which General Mills did not provide. The claim has been removed. Although not legally required to do so, Kellogg’s has also said it will remove the immunity claim so as to prevent confusion.

But Kellogg’s misleading information is nothing compared to that spread by Natural News, a reprehensible Internet newsletter. The main force behind it is Mike Adams who has ridiculously labeled himself, “The Health Ranger.” It’s rare to see as stunning a level of scientific ignorance as this gentleman exhibits. In a recent example of his simple-mindedness, he attacks Tamiflu, the anti-viral medication that has been used to treat people stricken with the H1N1 virus. True, it is not a great drug, but at least it does have scientific evidence of efficacy. Adams delivers a scathing attack against it and informs us that we should be relying instead on the numerous anti-viral plants and herbs that nature has provided. He makes the astonishing prediction that “if the H1N1 flu becomes a global pandemic, many of those people who refuse to recognize the anti-viral medicine provided by Mother Nature will die. Their misplaced faith in Big Pharma will cost them their lives.” He polishes off his diatribe with the claim that while the pharmaceutical industry fails to acknowledge the value of herbs, it hides the fact that Tamiflu is extracted from the herb Star Anise. Here is his epic remark verbatim: “I find it downright comedic that Big Pharma and the world’s health authorities extract their “champion” anti-viral drug Tamiflu from a Chinese Medicine herb, and then they go out of their way to announce to people that herbs and natural remedies are useless against influenza. If that’s the case then why are they using herbs to make their own medicine?” What nonsense! Tamiflu is synthesized in the lab through a multi-step process, using shikimic acid as starting material. This is indeed isolated from the Star Anise but it has no activity. It just happens to be a convenient starting compound for the synthesis. Tamiflu is no more an extract of Star Anise than nylon stockings are an extract of petroleum. The news that you get from Natural News reminds me of a natural product that bulls produce.

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