Snake oil

The flu season continues along and at least for my few unlucky patients made ill by this germ; so far it has been a mild illness with recovery in a week to 10 days.

This has not stopped the concern and worry of course.  It also has not stopped some unusual claims by others.  In the local community paper this week was an ad by Steven Pettigrew, a chiropractor.    This provider suggests that manipulation or spinal adjustments can help “the body fight illness” and should be considered in order to stay healthy.

It’s worth taking a look at his subsequent claims both for education and to serve as a warning about some conclusions people can make.

First he notes that “the spine is the central corridor from which the body’s nervous system emanates.”  Well, this is partially true.  There are nerves traveling to the face, the cranial nerves, that avoid the spinal cord.  Still, I have no major worries about this first point.  It is pretty much everything else that I consider hogwash.

“Nerves control every aspect of the body, including the immune system.”

No, goodness no, that is not true.  This is reducing a complex process to a simple statement that is not accurate.  It is beyond the scope of this blog to address this in great detail, but suffice it to say that there are massive numbers of chemicals released from different organs independent of the effects of nerves.  Sugar levels sway how the pancreas works, thyroid levels feedback to the brain and on to the thyroid and other chemicals and blood numbers are influenced by so many other factors that have no nerves controlling this process.  This is especially true for the immune system made up of billions of cells of various sorts floating about in the body (hence, could not have a nerve attached) or in glands (lymph glands, spleen in particular).  The immune system is not under control of any of the nerves from the spinal cord.  Individuals with complete paralysis due to spinal cord injury, have normal immune systems.

“The brain and the immune system are the two major adaptive systems in the body” he adds next.

No, this is wrong.  The endocrine system (hormones), the digestive system (stomach and intestines), the renal system (kidneys) and cardiovascular system (heart and vessels) would all disagree.  They all work, adjust, adapt in a constant dance of life without claims to superiority.

“When the immune system has to respond to a (flu), it reacts with the brain to maintain balance in the body” is his next sentence.

No, how absolutely wrong and silly is this comment.  The flu is a virus that invades cells throughout the body, mostly the respiratory system.  It does not react, in a positive way, with the brain.  As it spread in the body, immune cells release chemicals that may cause a fever (feedback on the brain) or the flu may infect the lining of the brain (viral meningitis) or worse get in the brain (encephalitis).  There is no brain effects that balance anything.

“Any misalignment in the vertebrae can cause malfunction and weaken the immune system” is his following sentence.

What?  Wait, I thought it was about the brain?  What does the spinal cord have to do with it?  The answer is nothing of course.  Not to mention the fact that there is not a shred of evidence to suggest a bone in the back (or several) can be moved around to then have some distant effects on the chemicals floating about in the body that fight infection.  This is all just complete silliness and wishful thinking.

He finally ends by suggesting chiropractic treatment should be done to help the nerves to help the immune, hence to help you stay healthy.

Save that money and instead work on eating well, exercising, washing your hands and avoiding those who are ill.  If you can, and most importantly, get a flu shot!

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