This article was written by Dr. Kelly Brogan, posted here with permission.
Millions believe depression is caused by ‘serotonin deficiency,’ but where is the science in support of this theory?
“Depression is a serious medical condition that may be due to a chemical imbalance, and Zoloft works to correct this imbalance.”
Herein lies the serotonin myth.
As one of only two countries in the world that permits direct to consumer advertising, you have undoubtedly been subjected to promotion of the “cause of depression.” A cause that is not your fault, but rather; a matter of too few little bubbles passing between the hubs in your brain! Don’t add that to your list of worries, though, because there is a convenient solution awaiting you at your doctor’s office…
What if I told you that, in 6 decades of research, the serotonin (or norepinephrine, or dopamine) theory of depression and anxiety has not achieved scientific credibility?
You’d want some supporting arguments for this shocking claim.
So, here you go:
The Science of Psychiatry is Myth
Rather than some embarrassingly reductionist, one-deficiency-one-illness-one-pill model of mental illness, contemporary exploration of human behavior has demonstrated that we may know less than we ever thought we did. And that what we do know about root causes of mental illness seems to have more to do with the concept of evolutionary mismatch than with genes and chemical deficiencies.
In fact, a meta-analysis of over 14,000 patients and Dr. Insel, head of the NIMH, had this to say:
“Despite high expectations, neither genomics nor imaging has yet impacted the diagnosis or treatment of the 45 million Americans with serious or moderate mental illness each year.”
To understand what imbalance is, we must know what balance looks like, and neuroscience, to date, has not characterized the optimal brain state, nor how to even assess for it.
A New England Journal of Medicine review on Major Depression, stated:
” … numerous studies of norepinephrine and serotonin metabolites in plasma, urine, and cerebrospinal fluid as well as postmortem studies of the brains of patients with depression, have yet to identify the purported deficiency reliably.”
The data has poked holes in the theory and even the field of psychiatry itself is putting down its sword. One of my favorite essays by Lacasse and Leo has compiled sentiments from influential thinkers in the field – mind you, these are conventional clinicians and researchers in mainstream practice – who have broken rank, casting doubt on the entirety of what psychiatry has to offer around antidepressants:
Humble Origins of a Powerful Meme
In the 1950s, reserpine, initially introduced to the US market as an anti-seizure medication, was noted to deplete brain serotonin stores in subjects, with resultant lethargy and sedation. These observations colluded with the clinical note that an anti-tuberculosis medication, iproniazid, invoked mood changes after five months of treatment in 70% of a 17 patient cohort. Finally, Dr. Joseph Schildkraut threw fairy dust on these mumbles and grumbles in 1965 with his hypothetical manifesto entitled “The Catecholamine Hypothesis of Affective Disorders” stating:
“At best, drug-induced affective disturbances can only be considered models of the natural disorders, while it remains to be demonstrated that the behavioral changes produced by these drugs have any relation to naturally occurring biochemical abnormalities which might be associated with the illness.”
Contextualized by the ripeness of a field struggling to establish biomedical legitimacy (beyond the therapeutic lobotomy!), psychiatry was ready for a rebranding, and the pharmaceutical industry was all too happy to partner in the effort.
Of course, the risk inherent in “working backwards” in this way (noting effects and presuming mechanisms) is that we tell ourselves that we have learned something about the body, when in fact, all we have learned is that patented synthesized chemicals have effects on our behavior. This is referred to as the drug-based model by Dr. Joanna Moncrieff. In this model, we acknowledge that antidepressants have effects, but that these effects in no way are curative or reparative.
The most applicable analogy is that of the woman with social phobia who finds that drinking two cocktails eases her symptoms. One could imagine how, in a 6 week randomized trial, this “treatment” could be found efficacious and recommended for daily use and even prevention of symptoms. How her withdrawal symptoms after 10 years of daily compliance could lead those around her to believe that she “needed” the alcohol to correct an imbalance. This analogy is all too close to the truth.
Running With Broken Legs
Psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Carlat has said:
“And where there is a scientific vacuum, drug companies are happy to insert a marketing message and call it science. As a result, psychiatry has become a proving ground for outrageous manipulations of science in the service of profit.”
So, what happens when we let drug companies tell doctors what science is? We have an industry and a profession working together to maintain a house of cards theory in the face of contradictory evidence.
We have a global situation in which increases in prescribing are resulting in increases in severity of illness (including numbers and length of episodes) relative to those who have never been treated with medication.
To truly appreciate the breadth of evidence that states antidepressants are ineffective and unsafe, we have to get behind the walls that the pharmaceutical companies erect. We have to unearth unpublished data, data that they were hoping to keep in the dusty catacombs.
A now famous 2008 study in the New England Journal of Medicine by Turner et al sought to expose the extent of this data manipulation. They demonstrated that, from 1987 to 2004, 12 antidepressants were approved based on 74 studies. Thirty-eight were positive, and 37 of these were published. Thirty-six were negative (showing no benefit), and 3 of these were published as such while 11 were published with a positive spin(always read the data not the author’s conclusion!), and 22 were unpublished.
In 1998 tour de force, Dr. Irving Kirsch, an expert on the placebo effect, published a meta–analysis of 3,000 patients who were treated with antidepressants, psychotherapy, placebo, or no treatment and found that only 27% of the therapeutic response was attributable to the drug’s action.
This was followed up by a 2008 review, which invoked the Freedom of Information Act to obtain access to unpublished studies, finding that, when these were included, antidepressants outperformed placebo in only 20 of 46 trials (less than half!), and that the overall difference between drugs and placebos was 1.7 points on the 52 point Hamilton Scale. This small increment is clinically insignificant, and likely accounted for by medication side effects strategically employed (sedation or activation).
When active placebos were used, the Cochrane database found that differences between drugs and placebos disappeared, given credence to the assertion that inert placebos inflate perceived drug effects.
The finding of tremendous placebo effect in the treatment groups was also echoed in two different meta-analyses by Khan et al who found a 10% difference between placebo and antidepressant efficacy, and comparable suicide rates. The most recent trial examining the role of “expectancy” or belief in antidepressant effect, found that patients lost their perceived benefit if they believed that they might be getting a sugar pill even if they were continued on their formerly effective treatment dose of Prozac.
The largest, non-industry funded study, costing the public $35 million dollars, followed 4000 patients treated with Celexa (not blinded, so they knew what they were getting), and found that half of them improved at 8 weeks. Those that didn’t were switched to Wellbutrin, Effexor, or Zoloft OR “augmented” with Buspar or Wellbutrin.
Guess what? It didn’t matter what was done, because they remitted at the same unimpressive rate of 18-30% regardless with only 3% of patients in remission at 12 months.
How could it be that medications like Wellbutrin, which purportedly primarily disrupt dopamine signaling, and medications like Stablon which theoretically enhances the reuptake of serotonin, both work to resolve this underlying imbalance? Why would thyroid, benzodiazepines, beta blockers, and opiates also “work”? And what does depression have in common with panic disorder, phobias, OCD, eating disorders, and social anxiety that all of these diagnoses would warrant the same exact chemical fix?
As a holistic clinician, one of my bigger pet peeves is the use of amino acids and other nutraceuticals with “serotonin-boosting” claims. These integrative practitioners have taken a page from the allopathic playbook and are seeking to copy-cat what they perceive antidepressants to be doing.
The foundational “data” for the modern serotonin theory of mood utilizes tryptophan depletion methods which involve feeding volunteers amino acid mixtures without tryptophan and are rife with complicated interpretations.
Simply put, there has never been a study that demonstrates that this intervention causes mood changes in any patients who have not been treated with antidepressants.
In an important paper entitled Mechanism of acute tryptophan depletion: Is it only serotonin?, van Donkelaar et al caution clinicians and researchers about the interpretation of tryptophan research. They clarify that there are many potential effects of this methodology, stating:
“In general, several findings support the fact that depression may not be caused solely by an abnormality of 5-HT function, but more likely by a dysfunction of other systems or brain regions modulated by 5-HT or interacting with its dietary precursor. Similarly, the ATD method does not seem to challenge the 5-HT system per se, but rather triggers 5HT-mediated adverse events.”
So if we cannot confirm the role of serotonin in mood and we have good reason to believe that antidepressant effect is largely based on belief, then why are we trying to “boost serotonin”?
All you have to do is spend a few minutes on http://survivingantidepressants.org/or http://beyondmeds.com/ to appreciate that we have created a monster. Millions of men, women, and children the world over are suffering, without clinical guidance (because this is NOT a part of medical training) to discontinue psychiatric meds. I have been humbled, as a clinician who seeks to help these patients, by what these medications are capable of. Psychotropic withdrawal can make alcohol and heroin detox look like a breeze.
An important analysis by the former director of the NIMH makes claims that antidepressants “create perturbations in neurotransmitter functions” causing the body to compensate through a series of adaptations which occur after “chronic administration” leading to brains that function, after a few weeks, in a way that is “qualitatively as well as quantitatively different from the normal state.”
Changes in beta-adrenergic receptor density, serotonin autoreceptor sensitivity, and serotonin turnover all struggle to compensate for the assault of the medication.
Andrews, et al., calls this “oppositional tolerance,” and demonstrate through a careful meta-analysis of 46 studies demonstrating that patient’s risk of relapse is directly proportionate to how “perturbing” the medication is, and is always higher than placebo (44.6% vs 24.7%). They challenge the notion that findings of decreased relapse on continued medication represent anything other than drug-induced response to discontinuation of a substance to which the body has developed tolerance. They go a step further to add:
“For instance, in naturalistic studies, unmedicated patients have much shorter episodes, and better long-term prospects, than medicated patients. Several of these studies have found that the average duration of an untreated episode of major depression is 12–13 weeks.”
“Long-term antidepressant use may be depressogenic . . . it is possible that antidepressant agents modify the hardwiring of neuronal synapses (which) not only render antidepressants ineffective but also induce a resident, refractory depressive state.”
So, when your doctor says, “You see, look how sick you are, you shouldn’t have stopped that medication,” you should know that the data suggests that your symptoms are withdrawal, not relapse.
Longitudinal studies demonstrate poor functional outcomes for those treated with 60% of patients still meeting diagnostic criteria at one year (despite transient improvement within the first 3 months). When baseline severity is controlled for, two prospective studies support a worse outcome in those prescribed medication:
One in which the never-medicated group experienced a 62% improvement by six months, whereas the drug-treated patients experienced only a 33% reduction in symptoms, and another WHO study of depressed patients in 15 cities which found that, at the end of one year, those who weren’t exposed to psychotropic medications enjoyed much better “general health”; that their depressive symptoms were much milder”; and that they were less likely to still be “mentally ill.”
I’m not done yet. In a retrospective 10-year study in the Netherlands, 76% of those with unmedicated depression recovered without relapse relative to 50% of those treated.
Unlike the mess of contradictory studies around short-term effects, there are no comparable studies that show a better outcome in those prescribed antidepressants long term.
First Do No Harm
So, we have a half-baked theory in a vacuum of science that that pharmaceutical industry raced to fill. We have the illusion of short-term efficacy and assumptions about long-term safety. But are these medications actually killing people?
The answer is yes.
Unequivocally, antidepressants cause suicidal and homicidal behavior. The Russian Roulette of patients vulnerable to these “side effects” is only beginning to be elucidated and may have something to do with genetic variants around metabolism of these chemicals. Dr. David Healy has worked tirelessly to expose the data that implicates antidepressants in suicidality and violence, maintaining a database for reporting, writing, and lecturing about cases of medication-induced death that could make your soul wince.
What about our most vulnerable?
I have countless patients in my practice who report new onset of suicidal ideation within weeks of starting an antidepressant. In a population where there are only 2 randomized trials, I have grave concerns about postpartum women who are treated with antidepressants before more benign and effective interventions such as dietary modification and thyroid treatment. Hold your heart as you read through these reportsof women who took their own and their childrens’ lives while treated with medications.
Then there is the use of these medications in children as young as 2 years old. How did we ever get the idea that this was a safe and effective treatment for this demographic? Look no further than data like Study 329, which cost Glaxo Smith Klein 3 billion dollars for their efforts to promote antidepressants to children. These efforts required ghost-written and manipulated data that suppressed a signal of suicidality, falsely represented Paxil as outperforming placebo, and contributes to an irrepressible mountain of harmdone to our children by the field of psychiatry.
RIP Monoamine Theory
As Moncrieff and Cohen so succinctly state:
“Our analysis indicates that there are no specific antidepressant drugs, that most of the short-term effects of antidepressants are shared by many other drugs, and that long-term drug treatment with antidepressants or any other drugs has not been shown to lead to long-term elevation of mood. We suggest that the term “antidepressant” should be abandoned.”
So, where do we turn?
The field of psychoneuroimmunology dominates the research as an iconic example of how medicine must surpass its own simplistic boundaries if we are going to begin to chip away at the some 50% of Americans who will struggle with mood symptoms, 11% of whom will be medicated for it.
There are times in our evolution as a cultural species when we need to unlearn what we think we know. We have to move out of the comfort of certainty and into the freeing light of uncertainty. It is from this space of acknowledged unknowing that we can truly grow. From my vantage point, this growth will encompass a sense of wonder – both a curiosity about what symptoms of mental illness may be telling us about our physiology and spirit, as well as a sense of humbled awe at all that we do not yet have the tools to appreciate. For this reason, honoring our co-evolution with the natural world, and sending the body a signal of safety through movement, diet, meditation, and environmental detoxification represents our most primal and most powerful tool for healing.
Learn more by taking Dr. Kelly Brogan’s E-Course Vital Mind Reset.
GreenMedInfo LLC. . This work is reproduced and distributed with the permission of GreenMedInfo LLC. Where it first originally appeared. Want to learn more from GreenMedInfo? Sign up for the newsletter here http://www.greenmedinfo.com/greenmed/newsletter.”
Dr. Brogan is boarded in Psychiatry/Psychosomatic Medicine/Reproductive Psychiatry and Integrative Holistic Medicine, and practices Functional Medicine, a root-cause approach to illness as a manifestation of multiple-interrelated systems. After studying Cognitive Neuroscience at M.I.T., and receiving her M.D. from Cornell University, she completed her residency and fellowship at Bellevue/NYU. She is one of the nation’s only physicians with perinatal psychiatric training who takes a holistic evidence-based approach in the care of patients with a focus on environmental medicine and nutrition. She is also a mom of two, and an active supporter of women’s birth experience. She is the Medical Director for Fearless Parent, and an advisory board member for GreenMedInfo.com. Visit her website.
Studies Show We Can Heal With Sound, Frequency & Vibration
- The Facts:
Multiple studies and examples have shown how sound, frequency and vibration can literally alter physical material matter. Research has also shown that sound, frequencies and vibration can be used as a significant healing method for various ailments.
- Reflect On:
How plausible would it be for these interventions to become a regular part of therapy, just as much as pharmaceutical drugs are now?
Cymatics is a very interesting topic. It illustrates how sound frequencies move through a particular medium such as water, air, or sand and as a result directly alter physical matter. There are a number of pictures all over the internet as well as youtube videos that demonstrate how matter (particles) adjust to different sounds and different frequencies of sound.
When it comes to ancient knowledge, sound, frequency and vibration have always been perceived as powerful forces that can influence and alter life all the way down to the cellular level. Sound healing methods are often used by Shamans, who employ drums and singing to access trance states. Research has even demonstrated that drumming and singing can can be used to slow fatal brain disease, and it can generate a sense of oneness with the universe . Sound therapy is getting more popular, and it can have many medical applications, especially within the psychological and mental health realms.
Sound, frequency and vibration are used all throughout the animal kingdom, and there are many examples. If we look at the wasp, they use antennal drumming to alter the caste development or phenotype of their larvae. Conventional thinking has held for quite some time that differential nutrition alone can explain why one larvae develops into a non-reproductive worker and one into a reproductive female (gyne). However, this is not the case, according to a 2011 study:
“But nutrition level alone cannot explain how the first few females to be produced in a colony develop rapidly yet have small body sizes and worker phenotypes. Here, we provide evidence that a mechanical signal biases caste toward a worker phenotype. In Polistes fuscatus, the signal takes the form of antennal drumming (AD), wherein a female trills her antennae synchronously on the rims of nest cells while feeding prey-liquid to larvae. The frequency of AD occurrence is high early in the colony cycle, when larvae destined to become workers are being reared, and low late in the cycle, when gynes are being reared. Subjecting gyne-destined brood to simulated AD-frequency vibrations caused them to emerge as adults with reduced fat stores, a worker trait. This suggests that AD influences the larval developmental trajectory by inhibiting a physiological element that is necessary to trigger diapause, a gyne trait.”
This finding indicates that the acoustic signals produced through drumming within certain species carry biologically meaningful information (literally: ‘to put form into’) that operate epigenetically (i.e. working outside or above the genome to affect gene expression).
Pretty fascinating, isn’t it? Like many other ancient lines of thought, this has been backed by modern day scientific research.
Another example comes from cancer research. In his Tedx talk, “Shattering Cancer with Resonant Frequencies,” Associate Professor and Director of Music at Skidmore College, Anthony Holland, tells the audience that he has a dream. That dream is to see a future where children no longer have to suffer from the effects of toxic cancer drugs or radiation treatment, and today he and his team believe they have found the answer, and that answer is sound. Holland and his team wondered if they could affect a cell by sending a specific electric signal, much like we do with LCD technology. After searching the patent database for a device that could accomplish this, they came across a therapeutic device invented by New Mexico physician Dr. James Bare. The device uses a plasma antenna that pulses on and off, which, as Holland explains, is important because a constant pulse of electricity would produce too much heat and therefore destroy the cell. For the next 15 months, Holland and his team searched for the exact frequency that would directly shatter a living microorganism. The magic number finally came in the form of two inputs, one high frequency and one low. The high frequency had to be exactly eleven times higher than the low, which in music is known as the 11th harmonic. At the 11th harmonic, micro organisms begin to shatter like crystal glass.
After consistently practicing until they became efficient at the procedure, Holland began working with a team of cancer researchers in an attempt to destroy targeted cancer cells. First they looked at pancreatic cancer cells, eventually discovering these cells were specifically vulnerable between 100,000 – 300,000 Hz.
Next they moved onto leukemia cells, and they were able to shatter the leukemia cells before they could divide. But, as Holland explains in his talk, he needed bigger stats in order to make the treatment a viable option for cancer patients.
In repeated and controlled experiments, the frequencies, known as oscillating pulsed electric field (OPEF) technology, killed an average of 25% to 40% of leukemia cells, going as high as 60% in some cases. Furthermore, the intervention even slowed cancer cell growth rates up to 65%.
You can read more about the story, find sources, and watch that TEDx talk here.
Another example occurred in 1981, when biologist Helene Grimal partnered with composer Fabien Maman to study the relationship of sound waves to living cells. For 18 months, the pair worked with the effects of 30-40 decibel sounds on human cells. With a camera mounted on a microscope, the researchers observed uterine cancer cells exposed to different acoustic instruments (guitar, gong, xylophone) as well as the human voice for 20-minute sessions.
They discovered that, when exposed to sound, cancer cells lost structural integrity until they exploded at the 14-minute mark. Far more dramatic was the sound of a human voice — the cells were destroyed at the nine-minute mark.
After this, they decided to work with two women with breast cancer. For one month, both of the women gave three-and-a-half-hours a day to “toning” or singing the scale. Apparently, the woman’s tumor became undetectable, and the other woman underwent surgery. Her surgeon reported that her tumor had shrunk dramatically and “dried up.” It was removed and the woman had a complete recovery and remission.
These are only a few out of multiple examples that are floating around out there.
Let’s not forget about when Royal Rife first identified the human cancer virus using the world’s most powerful microscope. After identifying and isolating the virus, he decided to culture it on salted pork. At the time this was a very good method for culturing a virus. He then took the culture and injected it into 400 rats, which, as you might expect, created cancer in all 400 rats very quickly. The next step for Rife was where things took an interesting turn. He later found a frequency of electromagnetic energy that would cause the cancer virus to diminish completely when entered into the energy field. You can read more about that story here.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Huntington’s Disease found that two months of drumming intervention in Huntington’s patients (considered an irreversible, lethal neurodegenerative disease) resulted in “improvements in executive function and changes in white matter microstructure, notably in the genu of the corpus callosum that connects prefrontal cortices of both hemispheres.” The study authors concluded that the pilot study provided novel preliminary evidence that drumming (or related targeted behavioral stimulation) may result in “cognitive enhancement and improvements in callosal white matter microstructure.”
A 2011 Finnish study observed that stroke patients who were given access to music as cognitive therapy had improved recovery. Other research has shown that patients suffering from loss of speech due to brain injury or stroke regain it more quickly by learning to sing before trying to speak. The phenomenon of music facilitating healing in the brain after a stroke is called the “Kenny Rogers Effect.”
A 2012 study published in Evolutionary Psychology found that active performance of music (singing, dancing and drumming) triggered endorphin release (measured by post-activity increases in pain tolerance), whereas merely listening to music did not. The researchers hypothesized that this may contribute to community bonding in activities involving dance and music-making.
According to a study published by the National Institute of Health, “Music effectively reduces anxiety for medical and surgical patients and often reduces surgical and chronic pain. [Also,] Providing music to caregivers may be a strategy to improve empathy, compassion, and care.” In other words, music is not only good for patients, it’s good for those who care for them as well.
Below is an interesting interview with Dr. Bruce Lipton. You can view his curriculum vitae here.
The information presented in this article isn’t even the tip of the iceberg when it comes the the medical applications of sound, frequency and vibration, which are all obviously correlated. One thing is clear, however, which is that there are many more methods out there, like the ones discussed in this article, that should be taken more seriously and given more attention from the medical establishment. It seems all mainstream medicine is concerned about is making money and developing medications that don’t seem to be representative of our fullest potential to heal. “Alternative” therapies shouldn’t be labelled as alternative, they should be incorporated into the norm.
Mental Health Problems—The Sad “New Normal” on College Campuses
College campuses are witnessing record levels of student mental health problems, ranging from depression and anxiety disorders to self-injurious behaviors and worse. A clinician writing a few years ago in Psychology Today proclaimed it neither “exaggeration” nor “alarmist” to acknowledge that young Americans are experiencing “greater levels of stress and psychopathology than any time in the nation’s history”—with ramifications that are “difficult to overstate.”
The problems on college campuses are manifestations of challenges that begin sapping American children’s health at younger ages. For example, many students enter college with a crushing burden of chronic illness or a teen-onset mental health diagnosis that has made them dependent on psychotropic or other medications. The childhood prevalence of different forms of cognitive impairment has also increased and is associated with subsequent mental health difficulties. In addition, a majority of American students are now unprepared academically for their college careers, as evidenced by historically low levels of achievement on standardized tests. Once in college, large proportions of students—increasingly characterized as emotionally fragile—blame mental health challenges for significantly interfering with their ability to perform. The outcomes of these trends—including rising suicide rates among students and declining college completion rates—bode poorly for young people’s and our nation’s future.
… more than three in five (63%) respondents reported experiencing overwhelming anxiety in the past year, while two in five (42%) reported feeling so depressed that it was difficult to function.
Crippling anxiety and depression
A 2018 survey at 140 educational institutions asked almost 90,000 college students about their health over the past 12 months. The survey found that more than three in five (63%) respondents reported experiencing “overwhelming anxiety” in the past year, while two in five (42%) reported feeling “so depressed that it was difficult to function.” Students also reported that anxiety (27%), sleep difficulties (22%) and depression (19%) had adversely affected their academic performance.
In the same survey, 12% of college students reported having “seriously considered suicide.” Another study, which looked at college students with depression, anxiety and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who had been referred by college counseling centers for psychopharmacological evaluation, found that the same proportion—12%—had actually made at least one suicide attempt. Half of the students in the latter study had previously received a prescription for medication, most often antidepressants.
Colleges are feeling the squeeze, with demand growing nationally for campus mental health services. A study by Penn State’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health reported an average 30% to 40% increase in students’ use of counseling centers between 2009 and 2015 at a time when enrollment grew by just 5%. According to Penn State’s report, the “increase in demand is primarily characterized by a growing frequency of students with a lifetime prevalence of threat-to-self indicators.”
Most colleges expect new students to have had the full complement of CDC-recommended childhood vaccines and to top up before college matriculation with any vaccines or doses that they may have previously missed. In particular, universities are likely to emphasize tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis (Tdap) and measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) boosters; the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine; meningococcal vaccination; and annual flu shots.
… found particularly strong associations for three disorders common on college campuses—anorexia nervosa, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety disorders—and observed a surge in diagnosed disorders after influenza vaccination (one of the vaccines that college students are most likely to get).
It is unlikely that clinics are issuing warnings to freshly vaccinated college students about potential adverse consequences to watch out for, yet two universities (Penn State and Yale) made news in 2017 when their researchers published a study showing a temporal relationship between newly diagnosed neuropsychiatric disorders and vaccines received in the previous three to twelve months. Although the researchers analyzed health records for 6- to 15-year-old children, not college students, they found particularly strong associations for three disorders common on college campuses—anorexia nervosa, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety disorders—and observed a surge in diagnosed disorders after influenza vaccination (one of the vaccines that college students are most likely to get). They also detected significant temporal associations linking meningitis vaccination to both anorexia and chronic tic disorders.
To distance themselves from too strongly implicating vaccines, these researchers later proposed several less controversial mechanisms to explain their findings, including the presence of predisposing inflammatory or genetic factors. One of the researchers even suggested that the “trauma” of getting “stuck with needles” might be triggering the adverse neuropsychiatric outcomes.
This absurd sidestepping ignores considerable experimental evidence from both animals and humans linking the immune responses produced by vaccines (and vaccine adjuvants) to adverse mental health symptoms. In fact, some researchers vaccinate healthy animals or people on purpose just to study this phenomenon. For example:
- A study intentionally injected mice with the vaccine used against tuberculosis (BCG vaccine) to induce “depression-like behavior,” finding that the vaccine-induced depression was resistant to treatment with standard antidepressants.
- Another study in mice found that both the antigens and the aluminum adjuvant in the Gardasil HPV vaccine produced significantly more behavioral abnormalities, including depression, in the exposed mice compared to unexposed mice.
- University of California researchers followed healthy undergraduates for one week before and one week after influenza vaccination; in the absence of any physical symptoms, they detected increased post-vaccination inflammation that was associated with more mood disturbances—especially “depressed mood and cognitive symptoms.”
- Another study of influenza vaccination compared vaccine recipients who had preexisting depression and anxiety to “mentally healthy” recipients, finding that both groups had “decreased positive affect” following vaccination; however, the vaccine’s impact on mood was “more pronounced for those with anxiety or depression.”
- Neuroscientists at Oxford injected healthy young adults with typhoid vaccine to explore “the link between inflammation, sleep and depression,” finding that the vaccine “produced significant impairment in several measures of sleep continuity” in the vaccine group compared to placebo; the researchers noted in their conclusions that impaired sleep is both a “hallmark” and “predictor” of major depression.
- Another group of UK researchers who likewise injected healthy young adult males with the typhoid vaccine found that, within hours, the vaccine had produced measurable social-cognitive deficits.
Interestingly, a study conducted in 2014 found that vaccine-mental health effects may cut both ways. Researchers who assessed self-reported depression and anxiety (and other measures) in 11-year-olds before and up to six months after routine vaccination found that children who reported more initial depressive and anxious symptoms had a stronger vaccine response(defined by “elevated and persistently higher antibody responses”) and that this association remained even after controlling for confounders. Given that this type of overactive vaccine response can be a harbinger of autoimmunity, some researchers have urged more attention to these “bidirectional” effects.
… we are kidding ourselves if we ignore the possible contribution of a cumulative vaccine load that has children receiving dozens of doses by age 18 …
afe spaces or safe vaccines?
As “safe spaces” multiply on college campuses, and elite private institutions offer dumbed-down for-credit courses like “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus” or “Beginning Dungeons and Dragons,” it is time to take stock of the health challenges—both mental and physical—that are sabotaging college students’ chances of success. Researchers already have noted a disturbing mismatchbetween available cognitive abilities and the types of “non-routine analytical-cognitive” skills that our nation will increasingly need in the future. While variables such as student debt certainly factor into college students’ stress equation, we are kidding ourselves if we ignore the possible contribution of a cumulative vaccine load that has children receiving dozens of doses by age 18—and piles on even more when kids go off to college.
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Vaccine Rhetoric vs. Reality—Keeping Vaccination’s Unflattering Track Record Secret
Note: This is Part VI in a series of articles adapted from the second Children’s Health Defense eBook: Conflicts of Interest Undermine Children’s Health. The first eBook, The Sickest Generation: The Facts Behind the Children’s Health Crisis and Why It Needs to End, described how children’s health began to worsen dramatically in the late 1980s following fateful changes in the childhood vaccine schedule.]
A concerted and “heavy-handed” effort is under way to censor information that contradicts the oversimplified sound bites put forth by public health agencies and the media about vaccines. However, while brazen, in-your-face censorship—and attacks on health freedom—have ratcheted up to an unprecedented degree, officialdom’s wish to keep vaccination’s unflattering track record out of the public eye is nothing new.
There is a chasm between vaccine rhetoric and reality for most if not all vaccines, but four vaccines—varicella (chickenpox), rotavirus, human papillomavirus (HPV) and pertussis-containing vaccines—offer especially instructive before-and-after case studies. Analysis of the U.S. experience with these vaccines raises important questions. First, why did the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) race to approve—and why does the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) heavily promote—vaccines such as varicella and rotavirus when there is little public health justification for them? Second, why are federal agencies ignoring the many serious risks that have surfaced in the vaccines’ wake—problems unheard of before the vaccines’ introduction?
With the rollout of mass varicella vaccination, shingles started cropping up to an unprecedented extent in both children and adults, eliminating boosting for adults and shifting downward the average age at which shingles occurs.
Varicella and rotavirus vaccines
The rationale for the varicella and rotavirus vaccines was dubious from the start. In the U.S. and other wealthy countries, varicella and rotavirus were nearly universal and mostly benign childhood infections; in those settings, the pre-vaccine impact of the two conditions was largely measured in terms of “healthcare costs, missed daycare, and loss of time from work for parents/guardians” rather than in terms of serious illness or mortality.
Childhood chickenpox infections served an important purpose for all, conferring lifelong immunity to infected children while boosting adult immunity to the related shingles (herpes zoster) virus. With the rollout of mass varicella vaccination, shingles started cropping up to an unprecedented extent in both children and adults, eliminating boosting for adults and shifting downward the average age at which shingles occurs. Vaccine waning also began increasing young adults’ risk for varicella outbreaks and complications later in life, presenting “perverse public health implications.” Meanwhile, the CDC and its local public health partners worked hard to conceal these unwanted chickenpox vaccine outcomes from the public.
Rotavirus vaccines have had a similarly checkered history. Soon after their introduction in the U.S., reports emerged of a substantially increased risk in infants of an otherwise rare bowel complication called intussusception. The FDA knew about the problem during the prelicensing regulatory review process but ignored it. Although the agency subsequently withdrew its approval for one of the problematic rotavirus vaccines, it was not until after an estimated 500,000 children received at least one million doses. The FDA never explained the “precise mechanism” by which the discontinued vaccine caused intussusception.
Two rotavirus vaccines that display the same intussusception risks are still on the U.S. market. Both are contaminated with foreign DNA from porcine viruses capable of causing severe immunodeficiency in pigs. Had the presence of these “adventitious agents” been discovered prior to vaccine licensure, the FDA probably would have been forced to shelve the vaccines, yet they remain on the vaccine schedule to this day.
The speed with which the FDA gave them [HPV vaccines Gardasil and Gardasil-9] the go-ahead—despite obvious red flags regarding their safety—illustrates the insincerity of the agency’s assertions that its vaccine approval process is committed to minimizing risks.
The HPV vaccines Gardasil and Gardasil-9 (manufactured by Merck) represent perhaps an even more compelling case study of risk-laden vaccines that should have attracted strong up-front regulatory scrutiny—but didn’t. The speed with which the FDA gave them the go-ahead—despite obvious red flags regarding their safety—illustrates the insincerity of the agency’s assertions that its vaccine approval process is committed to minimizing risks.
The FDA not only gave the quadrivalent Gardasil a free pass but has repeatedly reapproved it and the nine-valent Gardasil-9 for wider use. (Gardasil-9 is a newer formulation that contains more than twice the amount of neurotoxic aluminum adjuvant as Gardasil.) In 2009, the FDA also okayed GlaxoSmithKline’s HPV vaccine, Cervarix, but Merck’s FDA-facilitated stranglehold on the market prompted the company to withdraw Cervarix from the U.S. in 2016. Merck is now aggressively expanding its Gardasil “franchise” into other countries, generating unprecedentedworldwide demand, while continuing to “rev up” U.S. sales.
Since 2006, the FDA’s Gardasil-related decisions have included:
- 2006: Granting fast-tracked approval for the original quadrivalent Gardasil vaccine (girls and women aged 9 to 26 years)
- 2009: Approving Gardasil’s use in boys and men (ages 9-26)
- 2014: Approving Gardasil-9 (girls ages 9-26, boys ages 9-15)
- 2015: Approving Gardasil-9 for boys ages 16-26
- 2018: Approving Gardasil-9 for older women and men (ages 27-45)
An eight-month investigation by Slate identified numerous troubling aspects of the clinical trials that encouraged U.S. and European regulators to approve Gardasil. The Slate reporter also criticized regulators for allowing “unreliable methods to be used to test the vaccine’s safety.” These included Merck’s use of “a convoluted method” that made it difficult to objectively evaluate and report side effects; its failure to document “symptom severity, duration, outcome, or overall seriousness”; restriction of adverse event reporting to just 14 days following each injection; and reliance on the subjective opinion of clinical trial investigators regarding “whether or not to report any medical problem as an adverse event.” Not infrequently, clinical trial participants who shared complaints of debilitating symptoms with trial investigators were dismissed with the response, “This is not the kind of side effects we see with this vaccine.”
The author of the Slate investigation reported:
Experts I talked to were baffled by the way Merck handled safety data in its trials. According to…a professor…who studies side effects, letting investigators judge whether adverse events should be reported is “not a very safe method of doing things, because it allows bias to creep in.” …Of the short follow-up…,“It’s not going to pick up serious long-term issues, which is a pity. Presumably, the regulators believe that the vaccine is so safe that they don’t need to worry beyond 14 days.”
Two years after Gardasil’s initial approval, Judicial Watch pronounced it a “large-scale public health experiment.” Post-licensure studies carried out since then confirm that HPV vaccines have grave risks, including impaired fertility, demyelinating disease, chronic limb pain, circulatory abnormalities and autoimmune illness, to name just some of the disabilities reported in the aftermath of HPV vaccines’ introduction. Overall, the “rate of reported serious adverse reactions (including deaths) from HPV vaccination” is many times higher than the cervical cancer mortality rate.
Recent data suggest that HPV vaccines may be increasing cervical cancer risks.
In a February 2019 letter to the CDC, Children’s Health Defense Chairman Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. noted, “During Gardasil’s clinical trials, an extraordinary 49.5% of the subjects receiving Gardasil reported serious medical conditions within seven months of the start of the clinical trials. Because Merck did not use a true placebo in its clinical trials, its researchers were able to dismiss these injuries as sad coincidences.” A current civil case brought on behalf of a 24-year-old who has suffered from systemic autoimmune dysregulation since receiving her third Gardasil vaccine at age 16 alleges that Merck “committed fraud during its clinical trials and then failed to warn [vaccine recipients] about the high risks and meager benefits of the vaccine.” The trial’s legal team is benefiting from the support of an “A-team” of plaintiffs’ law firms and attorneys, including Kennedy, Jr.
Recent data suggest that HPV vaccines may be increasing cervical cancer risks. A 2017 study out of Australia—which has heavily promoted routine HPV vaccination since 2007—reported an increased risk of difficult-to-detect malignant cervical lesions among the HPV-vaccinated. In all countries where HPV vaccination coverage is high, including Australia, official cancer registries show “an increase in the incidence of invasive cervical cancer” in the vaccinated age groups. In England, “2016 national statistics showed a worrying and substantial increase in the rate of cervical cancer…at ages 20-24”—the first HPV-vaccinated cohort.
The proper decision would be to take HPV vaccines off the market, but the FDA and CDC continue to look the other way. Both agencies’ unwavering support for Gardasil has clearly helped Merck’s commercial bottom line, so much so that the CDC director at the time of Gardasil’s approval (Julie Gerberding) went on to be appointed president of Merck’s profitable vaccine division (worth $5 billion globally) in 2009. The agencies’ willingness to aggressively promote HPV vaccination despite its readily apparent dangers illustrates a “public health flimflam” of the first order. Before the U.S. introduction of HPV vaccination, a decades-long pattern of declining cervical cancer rates was already well underway, thanks to routine cervical cancer screening. HPV vaccines have never even been proven to prevent cervical cancer. In 2016, researchers admitted that they would be unable to ascertain HPV vaccines’ long-term efficacy for “at least another 15-20 years.”
Officials also seem to have little interest in modern evidence documenting many vaccines’ inability to provide the promised protection, even when vaccine coverage is widespread.
Alongside their many misplaced claims about various vaccines’ rationale and safety record, the FDA and CDC—as echo chambers for the vaccine industry—also have misinformed the public about vaccine effectiveness. Back in 1899, doctor William Bailey (vaccination enthusiast and member of the State Board of Health in Louisville, Kentucky) was more honest, cautioning that “nothing is gained by claiming too much” about vaccine-induced immunity and stating that “the degree of immunity may vary with time and circumstance”—presaging the troublesome modern phenomena of vaccine failure and waning immunity. In the present day, officials are only too willing to “claim too much,” conveniently ignoring historical evidence that reductions in infectious disease had little to do with vaccines and far more to do with improvements in sanitation and nutrition. Officials also seem to have little interest in modern evidence documenting many vaccines’ inability to provide the promised protection, even when vaccine coverage is widespread.
The acellular version of pertussis (whooping cough)—a component of U.S. vaccines such as DTaP and Tdap—is one of the vaccines noted for its abysmal effectiveness. The vaccine is supposed to protect against the respiratory infection caused by Bordetella pertussis. Instead, according to recent studies, pertussis is making a “surprising” comeback; between 1990 and 2005, pertussis epidemics increased in the U.S. “in both size and frequency,” and over half of all cases occurred in highly vaccinated adolescents aged 10 to 20 years old. In fact, not only is pertussis at its highest level since the mid-1950s, but, according to CDC researchers, it is showing signs of being vaccine-resistant. The CDC researchers also note “substantial heterogeneity among vaccine recipients in terms of the durability of the protection they receive.”
… the researchers concluded in 2017 that all currently available evidence suggests that DTP vaccine may kill more children from other causes than it saves from diphtheria, tetanus or pertussis …
West Africa has used the DTP vaccine since the 1980s—formulated with a whole-cell pertussis component instead of acellular pertussis—and it has an even more horrifying safety and effectiveness record than its acellular counterparts. Research published in 2017 by a prestigious team of international scientists and led by vaccinology expert Dr. Peter Aaby found that DTP vaccination had a negative effect on child survival, with fivefold higher mortality in young DTP-vaccinated infants (ages three to five months) compared to as-yet-unvaccinated infants. When the researchers published results in 2018 for slightly older DTP-vaccinated children (ages six months to three years), they continued to observe more than double the risk of death as similarly situated unvaccinated children. Explaining that vaccines can increase susceptibility to other infections, the researchers concluded in 2017 that “all currently available evidence suggests that DTP vaccine may kill more children from other causes than it saves from diphtheria, tetanus or pertussis” and added in 2018 that “all studies of the introduction of DTP have found increased overall mortality.”
Learning from history
Efforts to counter the official vaccine narrative with evidence about negative consequences date back to the days of smallpox. A doctor practicing in the 1870s observed that smallpox mortality doubled (from roughly 7% to 15%) after adoption of smallpox vaccination. During an outbreak in 1871 and 1872, this doctor stated, faith in vaccination received a “rude…shock” when “[e]very country in Europe was invaded with a severity greater than had ever been witnessed during the three preceding centuries.” The doctor also noted that “many vaccinated persons in almost every place were attacked by small-pox before any unvaccinated persons took the disease.” In this individual’s estimation, these facts were “sufficient to overthrow the entire theory of the protective efficacy of vaccination.”
In the present era, federal agencies continue to tout difficult-to-justify but money-spinning vaccines as beneficial, even in the face of substantial evidence to the contrary. Now, more than ever, it is important to illuminate the risks and downsides that public health agencies do not want us to know about.
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