March 30, 2017
Shooting fish in a barrel is a favorite pastime of Dr. Paul Offit, of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, in his pursuit of parents who wish to preserve their right to make personal medical choices for their children. But what if he expanded his barrel by adding a few different varieties of fish? It should get the job done faster, right? How about adding gluten to the vaccine barrel for starters? That’s a logical progression in science, right? Confused? You should be.
For those who don’t know Dr. Offit, the usual targets of his ire are “anti-vaxers,” “vaccine hesitants,” or “vaccine deniers.” Dr. Offit never refers to them as parents of vaccine-injured children, which is what most vaccine-risk-aware people are. Or if not, they are very well researched people who simply want to choose what to inject into their children, because 70 doses of vaccines against 17 diseases is not something they think is necessary in a modern society with excellent hygiene practices and medical advances.
While this is still the United States of America and the land of the free, I think labeling parents derogatorily for their medical preferences is asinine and sets oneself up for the classic backfire. So in that regard, I am thankful that Dr. Offit has expanded his barrel to include gluten-hesitant people too. I read his most recent blog thinking it must be satire or a cleverish joke relating to vaccines. But no, he went all in, no kidding.
The “anti-science left”
Offit takes aim at liberal Whole Foods shoppers, especially those who take steps to avoid GMOs, BPA, or gluten or prefer products that are natural, essentially lumping them with Bible-thumping conservatives who want to do away with federal regulation into an enemy camp he labels “anti-science.” Writing for the Daily Beast’s liberal following, he takes this bold and perhaps unwise step in an effort to bring everyone around to his way of thinking—a way of thinking akin to declaring the earth is flat and there’s no need to sail off into the sunset to disprove it because everyone knows it’s flat, so whatever you do, don’t explore the idea further. That’s anti-science. Bringing politics into it may not be clever, but it gets clicks. How has he come to this? He still had a smidge of mainstream credibility before his curse-filled confrontation in New York at the “vaccine hesitant” lecture. Now he’s berating gluten-deniers for being anti-science?
Dr. Offit makes such absurd assertions that it’s hard to understand his intention, as it seems so self-destructive for a doctor to spout such out-of-date ideas.
For example, he touts GMOs as “one of the most important scientific advances of the 20th Century” (from his past writings, we can glean that he believes that vaccines are the other). He musn’t realize that most of our genetically engineered and modified crops are “Roundup-resistant,” specifically so that large amounts of Monsanto’s weed-killer, glyphosate, may be used without killing the plants. Well, either that or he just missed the press release from the WHO that deemed glyphosate to be a “probable carcinogen,” ignored the recent court case in Missouri where Monsanto is facing a lawsuit by 136 farmers claiming Roundup caused their cancer, missed the fact that California has declared Roundup as a chemical “known to the state to cause cancer,” and never heard that Monsanto is accused of a massive cover-up following the unsealing of court documents which showed collusion between Monsanto and an EPA official involving ghostwriting of scientific studies. These documents show that Monsanto never studied Roundup’s carcinogenicity, exposure toxicity, or genotoxicity. (I suspect Dr. Offit deliberately ignored the fact that glyphosate has been found in many of his beloved vaccines.) GMOs may be one of the “most important scientific advances of the 20th century” if you’re talking about cultivating a toxic carcinogen in the food supply, endorsed by the EPA and the FDA, for some kind of greater good which has yet to be established, sure.
He then attempts to dismiss the BPA controversy with a virtual eyeroll. However, when you plug “BPA toxicity” into Pubmed, you get over 1,400 scientific articles. Apparently, it’s still a very active and “unsettled” topic in science. One such study from January 2017 states that “Epidemiological and experimental evidence associates the exposure to Bisphenol A with the increase of cancer risk in several organs, including prostate.” Currently, 1 in 7 American men receive a prostate cancer diagnosis in their lifetime, and 1 in 39 die from it.
EWG, a highly respected consumer health watchdog, takes it a step further and lists BPA at #4 on its top ten list of toxic chemicals, stating “This carcinogen is linked to infertility, developmental risks and diabetes.”
It doesn’t matter whether Dr. Offit believes GMOs or BPA to be toxic carcinogens or not. The public has the right to do their own research and perhaps err on the side of scientific caution by not intentionally feeding them to their children. It’s almost unfathomable that some pediatrician in Philadelphia (with ties to the pharmaceutical industry) would have a problem with that, never mind mock us for it.
The blog then arrives at its destination, the gluten-free epidemic, and tries to sensationalize the issue by labeling it a sad, destructive fallacy. I should have stopped reading there, but the remaining rant, and that’s all it is, ironically shows how anti-science Dr. Offit really is and that he has become the epitome of that which he is trying to denigrate.
I will admit that the gluten-free craze is partly media-driven with click-bait blogs (like Dr. Offit’s), and there is a huge misunderstanding by many bloggers and health enthusiasts. The message has been abbreviated, and therefore a key part of what going gluten-free means is missed. It’s the same phenomenon which occurred during the sugar-free and fat-free madness of the ’80s and ’90s. However, more than ever, we have a holistically awake population, who now fully understands the “big” food system—“big food,” “big ag,” “big chem,” “big pharma,” and “big beverage”—and is no longer being taken in by their messaging.
The mistake made by people who don’t investigate fully, and I would include Dr. Offit since he didn’t point this out, is that people associate going gluten free with weight loss, and that is only partly true. With over two thirds of Americans overweight, it is understandable that such a narrative would have gravitational pull. The part that is missing is that people are not being told that going gluten free will only improve your health if you don’t replace it with the simple carb gluten-free alternatives, especially in the snack aisle. In these snacks, the gluten is replaced mostly by potato, corn starch and other chemical fillers, which can be equally as detrimental to our health. If weight loss is the goal, going truly gluten free means removing the foods associated with gluten, even the starchy alternatives.
More astonishing than his attack on gluten-free enthusiasts, whatever their influences, is his attack on two doctors who pioneered the gluten awareness movement: Dr. David Perlmutter (a neurologist) and Dr. William Davis (a cardiologist). They are both exceptional doctors with impeccable credentials. Both are New York Times bestselling authors and have appeared on countless talk shows beamed into hundreds of millions of homes. Both studied at exemplary universities and are beyond reproach. Those credentials could be those of Offit himself, in fact—well, except for the New York Times bestseller part. Yet, Dr. Offit feels qualified to cast aside their life’s work with a few taps on his keyboard, all because he can’t imagine life without beer and brownies? From his attacks on their collectives works, it seems evident that he has not read their books, something that will also be apparent to the millions of Americans who have.
The science they present is very clear. There is a large body of evidence in the medical literature, which supports everything these doctors have to say. Again, a quick PubMed search tells us that there are over 4,600 scientific papers on “gluten-free diets”—all of which makes Dr. Offit sound a little “fringe,” shall we say? An impression that is only deepened when he makes the claim that the wheat we eat today is “no different from the wheat that was harvested 10,000 years ago.” Say that to a group of farmers, and they’ll laugh you into the next county. Today’s wheat bears little resemblance to the wheat of 150 years ago, never mind 10,000 years ago.
Science on Gluten
Gluten may still be considered a controversial topic in some circles, but Offit’s hysterical flat-earth-type preaching will not change the emerging science. It is widely known that gliadin triggers zonulin in the gut, disrupts the microbiota, and weakens intestinal permeability. In this paper by Fasano, the author describes the scientific mechanism where zonulin is associated with the regulation of tight junctions and autoimmune illnesses:
Of particular interest is the regulation of antigen trafficking by the zonulin-dependent paracellular pathway and its activation by intestinal mucosa-microbiota/gluten interactions. These functions dictate the switch from tolerance to immunity, and are likely integral mechanisms involved in the pathogenesis of inflammatory and autoimmune processes.
One of the most recent studies on the subject firmly establishes non-celiac gluten sensitivity as a medical condition. In another 2017 study, the authors concluded that gliadin “disturbs the intestinal environment and affects metabolic homeostasis in obese mice, suggesting a detrimental effect of gluten intake in gluten-tolerant subjects consuming a high-fat diet.”
I think the most glaring thing about Dr. Offit’s rant against “gluten deniers” is his complete and utter lack of comprehension that it’s, essentially, none of his business. He thinks a world without “raviolis, dumplings, couscous, gnocchi, croissants, pita, naan, bagels, corn bread, muffins, doughnuts, pretzels, graham crackers, cakes, cookies, pies, brownies, pancakes, waffles, French toast, crepes, croutons, soy sauce, cream sauces, noodles, and beer as well as other foods that might contain gluten like potato chips, tortilla chips, salad dressings, french fries, meat substitutes, and cheesecake” would be intolerable. But despite the fact that healthy, gluten-conscious people don’t seem to be bothered by not consuming the items on Offit’s list of staples which contribute to his (personal) “meaning of life,” he goes even further by asserting that denial of one’s (own) consumption of such delicacies is “crushing” and could even be fatal by leading to anorexia and bulimia. He offers no scientific evidence that it does so, however, and his argument might be more convincing if he had gone with “orthorexia” instead.
I wonder if Dr. Offit has seen the recent obesity, heart disease, or diabetes rates in this country? I wonder what nutritional education he has received that qualifies him to dismiss people’s own observations of how they react to specific kinds of foods as “anti-science,” or to endorse high-carbohydrate and high-sugar content foods as the ultimate in healthy diet?
The Real Reason to Attack Gluten-Free Diets?
Has Dr. Offit assumed the unelected role of being the purveyor of mandates on our children’s health and wellbeing? Could it be getting personal? His blog managed to avoid the real reason I suspect he brought his Merck-sponsored thoughts to the keyboard in the first place. He knows his arch-nemeses mostly adopt gluten-free diets for their children as one mode of recovery from autism. We see what he did there!
I can only assume that Dr. Offit’s motive in writing this blog was to build on the case against “anti-vaxxers” by attempting to discredit their other health choices for their children. Because if everything vaccine-hesitant people do is considered a sad and destructive fallacy, then surely they are all guilty as charged and should be burned at the stake for their heresy? That would certainly complement Dr. Offit’s fellow industry spokesman Dr. Hotez’s recent declaration in Scientific American that “we need to take steps now to snuff it [the “American antivaccine movement”] out.” I wonder how you “snuff out” entire movements of people these days?
I think the Dr. Offits and Dr. Hotezes of this world need to step back for a moment and see what is happening around them. This is not a hysterical leftist issue. It is not a conservative anti-establishment issue. It is an issue of personal freedom as embodied by the Constitution of the United States. The more they try to push their Orwellian mandates onto the people and remove our civil rights, the more we will push back. I hope Dr. Offit includes this pro-gluten rant in his next book about “anti-science” fallacies. We could use the laugh. In the meantime, he would do well to do more research into the science so as not to appear foolish when the consensus is accepted that the world is, in fact, a globe.
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