In the mid-1990's, US medical experts made a far-reaching decision. A number of physicians and scientists had identified Blastocystis, a single-celled gastrointestinal parasite, as the cause of disease in patients. But some other physicians contested this claim. There were a few things they could have done. They could have arranged for a neutral third-party to obtain some samples of the organism, infect animals, and see what happened. They could have funded a small effort to perform an investigation and try to determine why there was a difference of opinion. But there was a third choice - shut down all research in the US, and teach medical students to avoid Blastocystis at all costs.
It turns out that we took the third option. Officials at the CDC wholly embraced this path, and until 2006, the only studies they would quote on their official information page were from the small number of US physicians who had identified Blastocystis as harmless. In the intervening years from 1995 to 2010, a lot happened. Overseas, researchers started looking more closely at Blastocystis, and found that is wasn't much different from the other organisms which cause disease in humans, like Giardia and E. histolytica. They showed it caused illness in animals, sometimes very severe illness. They worked to develop treatments. They approached the infection as previous infections had been approached.
It's not clear why, but in the United States, the most reasonable course of action to our medical experts appeared to be to do nothing. In fact, doing absolutely nothing about an infectious disease appears to be a respected trait in US medicine, much in the way citizens of the UK are advised to keep a "stiff upper lip" in the face of adversity. Indeed, articles by US medical experts on many diseases often begin by describing how mild and inconsequential the malady is, and how they are just looking at it because patients are so bothersome about vomiting blood or having to use the toilet 50 times a day.
But this decision is coming back to haunt the hallowed halls inhabited by our residential experts. Between 1995 and 2000, the rate of Blastocystis infection on the wet coast increased from about 2.5% to over 20%. And as those people got sick, they were unable to find any assistance from conventional medical case. So they began flocking to alternative medicine.
Every week, I answer questions from patients who want to use a variety of bizarre treatments to address Blastocystis infection. These inquiries come only from patients in the United States and the UK. In other countries, they have come to terms with the existence of microbial infections which cause chronic illness. They have full time parasitologists in mode medical schools, and these people are able to explain diseases like Blastocystis, even if they can not cure all the cases. The United States and the UK are the only countries in the world to wholly shut down the scientific study of this class of infection.
The lack of scientific information on Blastocystis is a tremendous boon to the field of alternative medicine, which includes anything from herbalism, which might actually work sometimes, to blatant quakery. And these people aren't just graduates of 2-year alternative therapy programs. Many fully accredited medical doctors are using treatments that the parasitologists I work with would consider nuttier than a fruitcake. Here's how one patients described how a medical doctor (yes, MD) in Oregon diagnosed food allergies:
"He put his hand on my shoulder, and I would hold different foods in my hand.
If my arm fell down, that meant I was allergic to the food. If it rose, then
I was not allergic."
The Web Of Science
When I was getting my undergraduate degree at Stanford, I took a class called "Philosphy 51: Introduction to Logic." It was unusual, at least in 1987, in that it was almost entirely computer based. You started out from a set of logical axioms, and constructed proofs that became progressively more complex. For example, given that A implies B, and B implies C, you could prove that A implices C, and that NOT C implies NOT A. One lesson was particularly interesting. In that lesson, the system allowed you to assert that something that was false was in fact true. Once this was done, everything about logic unraveled, and it became possible to prove anything was true.
What's happened in US medicine with Blastocystis is similar. The premise is that Blastocystis should be ignored, that it doesn't cause chronic illness, despite what over 100 full-time scientists at most of the world's leading medical research institutions have written. When people get sick, their illness can't be explained by the mainstream family practitioner, so they go outside of the system.
The money they spend is changing US medicine forever, these new consumers are ripping apart the medical system that was created by the same US "experts" who shut down Blastocystis research.
For example, a 1991 NIH study had already noted that metronidazole was failing to cure many infections, and a new drug would be needed. Several drug possibilities were mentioned. But after the 1995 shutdown, the NIH refused to investigate any of them. Even in 2006, despite letters from Congress, they still refuse to work to identify any drug to treat patients.
So what do patients hear when they go to the doctor? Heavy metals are causing their Blastocystis infection to be difficult to treat. The metals are from dental fillings and vaccines. They should avoid vaccination and go on chelation therapy to rid their body of toxins.
This isn't just happening for Blastocysits. I wrote a very conventional article for athe newsleter of a charity called the "Gut Trust" in the UK in 2007 about Blastocystis infection underlying many cases of what Western doctors are calling IBS. Dr. Nick Read, a leading advisor to the charity, and a major figure in gastrointestinal research corrected me, indicating that microbes do not cause disease by themselves. As proof of this, he noted that many people carry TB without showing symptoms. Also, we are mistaken in the current medical belief that H pylori causes stomach ulcers, even though the Nobel Committee awarded a prize to the pair that made this discovery in the 1980's. That is because some people have H pylori but do not have symptoms.
This is true of most infectious disease, and mainstream infectious disease researchers now link variability in symptomatic presentation to host genetic factors. They can now reproduce the genetic factors in mice and create animals which will get sick or not get sick. Think of Typhoid Mary - she carried typhoid fever her whole life, had no symptoms, but infected many other people. But this kind of stuff is "conventional science" It is reductive. It does not allow for personal creativity.
So what does cause illness? According to Dr. Read, "stress and toxins."
Return to the Middle Ages
What we're seeing in the US and UK is the jettison of mainstream science, in favor of what advocates claim is a "wholistic earth-centered view of medicine" that doesn't rely on harsh antibiotics, vaccines, and treatments.
So the curmudgeons who shut down Blastocystis research now have about ten different things to content with. They have mainstream doctors advising patients not to vaccinate themselves. They have professionals arguing that vaccines and antibioitics are unnecessary and harmful. And they have a half dozen new "alternative" treatments in their place.
Judging from their writings, these alternative treatments are causing much more heartburn than would have ever been caused by just doing the science of Blastocystis. Let this be a lesson for future generations. If being conservative means being responsible, that that means taking appropriate action.
So are these things silly? Yes. As Blastocystis spreads, we'll see patients spending more on these things, and we'll see less interest in funding conventional medicine.
US spending on alternative medicine, at around $18 billion/year, already exceeds the budget of the NIH.
Here's a list of what Blastocystis patients are ploughing their family's savings into:
Chelation - This treatment involves consuming specific drugs, like EDTA, to "rid the body of heavy metal toxins" which accumulate from dental fillings, pollution, and vaccines. NUTTY FACTOR: I've worked with parasitologists in 7 countries for over 5 years, and not one has ever mentioned chelation as a direction for treating enteric parasitic infections. There may be some value in treating malaria, but the chelation in this case gets rid of the body's iron, and has nothing to do with heavy metals.
Sputnik - This is a $300 pill which the patient swallows, and it supposedly emits an electromagnetic pulse which cures the patients of any bacterial or parasitic infection.
Rife Machine - This is a $80 machine the patient buys, and it emits electromagnetic waves at a specific frequency, which kills certain parasites, viruses, and bacteria, depending on the frequency of course. Patients have written me asking for the frequency for Blastocystis.
Colloidal Silver - This is a concoction made by dissolving silver in water. Patients drink it to address infections. There is actually some evidence that silver has antimicrobial properties, but it also accumulates in human tissues, and at therapeutic levels may turn skin blue permanently. Again, after years of working with parasitologists around the world, I have never heard anyone talk about colloidal silver.
Hyperbaric Oxygen - This involves going into a chamber, having it pressurized, and letting the oxygen treat the disease. This actually may work, but it is very expensive (cost per treatment > $1000) and it doesn't cure the disease, so patients have to come back over and over. Again, it might be better just to identify a reliable treatment, and treat the patient once, as we do with other infectious diseases.