Healthy Skeptics Newsletter
January , 2022
The ongoing pandemic has taken a number of turns since the last newsletter. Every day, new and important research is published regarding new variants, the effectiveness of each vaccine, the adverse side effects of vaccines vs COVID disease, government and corporate mandates, and the evolving pathophysiology of the virus. Then there’s the ever-deepening rift between pro and anti-vaxers, which is still fraught with wild conspiracy theories, outright lies and a loss of confidence in public health institutions that will plague this nation for decades. The title of this month’s newsletter is:
What About Omicron?
I’ve been pouring over the medical news, as well as data submitted at zoom conferences and pre-publication sites. One useful resource is the ongoing analysis by Imperial College of London that coordinates investigations from a wide number of government and NGO research facilities and provides regular summaries.
I’ll provide direct quotes to make 2 points:
- The Omicron variant is far more transmissible than Delta. In the UK, “The results suggest that the proportion of Omicron among all COVID cases was doubling every 2 days up to December 11th.”
- “The Omicron variant largely evades immunity from past infection or two vaccine doses according to the latest Imperial modelling.”
At the same time, an excellent analysis of cases in South Africa showed reduced severity of omicron compared to Delta.
This is proving to be the case here in the US. As of 01/03/22, there were a record number of cases in Florida, but only a slight uptick in hospitalizations and deaths. This from the Miami Herald.
“Florida on Monday reported 85,707 cases and 61 new deaths to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Miami Herald calculations of CDC data. This is the largest multi-day increase of newly reported cases since the pandemic began in March 2020. The previous multi-day record was set during the height of the delta wave last summer when 56,036 cases were reported on Aug. 16. There were 5,700 people hospitalized for COVID-19 in Florida, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ 01/03/22 report. This data is reported from 259 Florida hospitals. COVID-19 patients take up 10.08% of all inpatient beds in the latest report, compared to 9.55% among Sunday’s reporting hospitals.”
So… Omicon appears to be:
* Far more transmissible
* Less severe in healthy people (that is, people under 65, at their ideal weight, who never smoked, eat a highly varied natural foods diet, who exercise regularly and have no history of any lung or heart disease, including asthma, pneumonia or bronchitis.
* Less severe in vaccinated vulnerable people.
What to do with this information:
From all the available data, it seems clear to me that the combination of vaccine plus recovery after COVID infection will result in the best outcome long-term. Known as hybrid immunity, we’ll see that IgG, B and T-cell memory may not 100% prevent reinfection but will defeat it quickly.
Q: Wait, what? Vaccine PLUS natural infection?
A: Yes, I’m saying that the most likely scenario right now is that we will all at some time be infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Those who maintain peak immunity with optimal nutrition, regular exercise and one or more vaccine shots will have a mild flu-like experience. Monoclonal antibodies like Lilly’s IV infusion or Regeneron’s IM shot will be reserved for the elderly and other high-risk individuals. More research on natural products and programs will be published, but those won’t appear anywhere in the news. You’ll have to search for them in reliable newsletters like this one. And of course, the drug companies will come out with new anti-viral drugs, all of which will come with a laundry list of cautions and warnings.
Q: You said “ONE or more vaccine shots.” Is one mRNA shot an option?
A: Everyone wants to promote full vaccination, so you won’t find any mention of single mRNA shot efficacy anywhere in the news. But shouldn’t that be part of the discussion, especially for the large number of people who are on the fence? Well here it is, from an excellent meta-analysis published by Public Health England. One dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine reduced COVID-19 symptoms by 55 to 70%, reduced hospitalizations by 75 to 85%, and deaths by 70 to 85%. Of course we’d love to know how many infections were prevented, but that’s always a best-guess estimate. The data from this analysis suggests that one shot reduced infections by 55 to 70% – still quite valuable.
Q: Should COVID survivors get both shots?
A: For people who have recovered from COVID-19 infection, there is very little benefit from the second dose of a mRNA vaccine. Medical decisions are properly made by looking at the risks and potential rewards. In this case, we pretty much know that COVID survivor’s reward from a second shot is negligible. Thus the risk/ reward picture favors a single mRNA shot for COVID-19 survivors.
- Infectious Diseases. August 6, 2021. SARS-CoV-2 Antibody Responses in Infection-Naive or Previously Infected Individuals After 1 and 2 Doses of the BNT162b2 Vaccine. Mark Anderson, Michael Stec, et al.
JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(8):e2119741. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.19741
- Manisty C, Otter AD, Treibel TA, et al. Antibody response to first BNT162b2 dose in previously SARS-CoV-2-infected individuals. Lancet. 2021;397(10279):1057-1058. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(21)00501-3.
- Prendecki M, Clarke C, Brown J, et al. Effect of previous SARS-CoV-2 infection on humoral and T-cell responses to single-dose BNT162b2 vaccine. Lancet. 2021;397(10280):1178-1181. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(21)00502-
- Bradley T, Grundberg E, Selvarangan R, et al. Antibody responses after a single dose of SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine. N Engl J Med. 2021;384(20):1959-1961. doi:10.1056/NEJMc2102051
A cogent Quote from a leading virologist, Krishna Udayakumar, MD, director for innovation at the Duke Global Health Institute in Durham, North Carolina:
“The trouble with natural immunity is you have to get infected to get natural immunity,” leaving you vulnerable to complications, long COVID, and death. I’m a big fan of immunity — innate immunity, natural immunity, acquired immunity — I love all of them, and I love B cells and T cells, but what really beats all those is hybrid immunity” that occurs when people who have gotten infected then get vaccinated.
Large population studies show that people who were infected with COVID and then vaccinated against it were 2.3 times less likely to get reinfected than those who had been infected but not vaccinated. Over half of Americans have probably already been infected in some way, shape, or form, and then add in 200 million Americans who’ve been fully vaccinated. If that’s the case, why do we have infections any more? Clearly, natural immunity by itself is not enough.”
The $64,000 dollar question.
If Dr. Udayakumar is correct; that ending this pandemic will have to be a combination of natural immunity and vaccines (aka hybrid immunity) the question becomes, “How many vaccine shots?” And the answer is… They don’t know.” And the REASON they don’t know is that they have no reliable way to measure a person’s immune status against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
In my last newsletter, I explained why that is a formidable challenge. But it’s not an insurmountable challenge, and should have been priority # 2 all along. Now that we have the vaccines, a comprehensive immune assay should be priority # 1. The fact that no “warp speed” effort is being made, (or in fact any effort that I can find in the biomedical press) suggests that the powers that be are content to continue with recommendations for endless boosters. This is not how science is supposed to work.
You see their logic. Vaccines stimulate antibodies. Antibody levels decline over time. Therefore, more vaccines. But this ignores the REALITY, that antibodies are, at most, only 50% of the immune response to this virus. I’ve presented a comprehensive review of the body’s immune response in previous newsletters, based on my years as director of the nation’s first FDA-certified clinical lab specializing in nutrition and immunology. But let’s just start with a simple T-cell assay.
This is now available from a private firm, Adaptive Biotechnologies.
Natalie and I have examined the methods and correlation studies, and it’s pretty impressive. They use a Microsoft AI module together with good old-fashioned cell sorters and mass spec to identify people with natural T-cell immunity. This is a step in the right direction, limited by the fact that it is only qualitative (eg, you have T-cells that are active against the SARS-CoV-2 virus). Over time, as they gather hundreds of thousands of samples and compare levels with reinfection rates, the test will also be quantitative (eg, you have sufficient T-cells to confer immunity for X months or years).
Bottom line, we are two thumbs up on this test. It’s $159 for the test and $60 for the Labcorp blood draw. And please note that we have no financial relationship with Adaptive Biotechnologies. Link: https://www.t-detect.com/
NOTE: If you decide to use this service, please share your results with us so we can include you in our database looking at COVID symptoms, recovery and reinfection.
Q: Are there optimum levels of Vit D and zinc?
A: People vary widely in their synthesis of vitamin D from sunlight, as well as the absorption and utilization of vitamin D supplements. Thus, the only way to determine if you are taking enough (and not too much) vitamin D is to measure the amount of 25-hydroxy vitamin D in your blood. This is easy and inexpensive. If you are scheduled for any blood work, tell (do not ask) your doctor to include serum vitamin D. You can also buy a panel of tests that include vitamin D, such as Life Extension’s Male Panel and Female Panel.
When you get your results, you’ll most likely see that you are in the “normal” range, but that just means you are at low risk for frank vitamin D deficiency and a disease known as rickets. Research strongly supports an optimum range from 50 to 100 ng/mL. Values above 150 ng/mL are considered to be excessive.
Zinc, on the other hand is difficult to test, and results are often inconclusive. Thus we recommend simply taking a zinc supplement, 30 mg three times a week. Best taken with food. Quality forms of zinc include zinc gluconate, citrate, orotate and picolinate.
What about Medicinal Mushrooms?
While I cannot cite a published clinical trial showing that medicinal mushrooms help defend against COVID disease, there is a wealth of evidence supporting the use of these natural products in maintaining peak immunity. The most active compounds in medicinal mushrooms are polysaccharides known as beta glucans. Look for a product that provides mushroom concentrates, not just dried and powdered mushrooms. These products have much of the cellulose removed, which concentrates the amount of beta glucan.
Beta glucans have the ability to activate and stimulate both the innate and adaptive immune system. Innate immunity is the body’s first line of defense, comprised of immunoglobulin A (IgA), neutrophils, NK cells and others. Adaptive immune cells arrive as a second wave against a specific invader. They include B-cells, memory T-cells and immunoglobulin G (IgG). These are the cells that provide long-term immunity. Medicinal mushroom products are especially important for the elderly, because they not only support immunity; in a very real sense, they are able to supplant immunity.
There are thousands of mushroom species, but the ones that have been studied and used for centuries include shiitake, reishi, chaga, maitake, and coriolus versicolor aka turkey tail. Best results will be obtained from a blend, as each has been shown to provide slightly different benefits. Reishi, for example, also has a calming effect. Shiitake, in addition to powerful immune support, acts as an anti-inflammatory.
At Altea Health Sciences, we combine concentrates of Shiitake, Chaga, reishi and turkey tail, and then add pure beta glucan to create a super-premium product. Since the powder has an enjoyable umami flavor, it can be added to coffee or another beverage, or simply mixed with hot water to create an “immuni-tea.” MMIS (Multi-Mushroom Immune Support) comes in a 100 gram canister, with a small scoop. One scoop is the equivalent of 2 capsules of other popular brands, so the canister will provide 90 servings; important immune support for two people for over a month. https://thehealthyskeptics.com/shop/mmis-canister/
Boosting vaccination efficacy in the elderly
Even in well-nourished elderly men and women, there are age-related deficits in both the innate and adaptive immune response. Exercise can certainly help, but that is not always possible. Thus we suggest:
Maintaining youthful levels of DHEA.
I’ve been banging on this drum for 40 years, and had a paper recently published in Academia Letters relating to DHEA and Covid. I’ll include only the key references and summarize below. Full text available at
- High levels of DHEA are associated with competent and balanced immunity.
- Low levels of DHEA are associated with increased risk for ischemic heart disease, cardiovascular mortality, atherosclerosis, osteoporosis, all forms of dementia and all inflammatory diseases.
- Animal studies and one human clinical trial have shown DHEA to effectively boost vaccine efficacy.
- DHEA is not only the most comprehensive repair signal in human physiology. It is also a powerful immune modulator, potentiating immunity against a variety of pathogens, maintaining immune competence in aging, and restoring immune balance in autoimmune disorders such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
- NK cell deficits, both in number and killing capacity, have been shown to correlate strongly with COVID-19 disease severity and deaths. DHEA administration has been shown in animal and human studies to augment both NK cell number and anti-viral activity. In one clinical trial with men (mean age of 63 years) DHEA administration resulted in a 22-37% increase in NK cell numbers with a concomitant 45% increase in killing capacity. REF: J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 1997 Jan;52(1):M1-7. Activation of Immune Function by Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in Age-Advanced Men. O Khorram, L Vu, S Yen.
- COVID-19 disease frequently results in cognitive impairment and other adverse effects in the central nervous system. DHEA is synthesized in the brain, has neuro-protective and neuro-regenerative effects; and even modest (25 mg/d) supplementation with DHEA has produced significant improvement in cognition and activities of daily living in elderly women with mild to moderate cognitive impairment.
REF: Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2010 Oct;10(4):280-7. Effects of DHEA supplementation on cognitive function and activities of daily living in older women with mild to moderate cognitive impairment. Shizuru Yamada, et al.
New on the horizon: Spermidine
Natalie and I are reviewing new information on a polyamine called spermidine (named after it was first found in mammalian sperm). This compound, found in a variety of foods and also synthesized in the gut microbiome, plays a critical role in immunity. Spermidine levels decline with advancing age, and restoring youthful levels appears to enhance the efficacy of vaccines. REF: https://elifesciences.org/articles/57950.
Don’t go rushing out to buy a spermidine supplement just yet. Looking at the available products, we find them to be expensive (over $100 for a month supply) and lacking independent lab assays to document potency. Many appear to be nothing more than wheat germ oil, and one powdered product comes in a tiny vial with instructions to take 5 mg per day. That’s a weird serving size; roughly the amount of powder that would fit on the flat end of a toothpick.
Here’s a better idea. Increase intake of foods rich in polyamines. Here’s a starting list:
- Wheat germ:
- Green pepper
- Peas and pea soup
- Citrus fruit
- Broad beans
In addition, there’s good research to show that Bifidobacteria (a probiotic) taken with some plain unsweetened yogurt raises spermidine levels in human volunteers. REF: FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol. 2001 Oct;31(3):181-6. Impact of LKM512 yogurt on improvement of intestinal environment of the elderly. M Matsumoto, H Ohishi, Y Benno
The Ivermectin Fiasco
The Ivermectin debate has raged not only on social media but in the courts, where hospitals are being sued. Hospital administrators argue that there’s no definitive proof that ivermectin is a reliable treatment for COVID, They dismiss the studies conducted outside the US because they were not gold-standard double-blind, controlled clinical trials.
So a group of infectious disease experts at Oxford University got funding to include ivermectin in the prestigious PRINCIPLE trial, a multi-million dollar multi-center study designed to evaluate existing drugs that could be repurposed to treat COVID. The PRINCIPLE study tested a number of drugs, giving a thumbs up for inhaled budesonide but finding no significant value for azithromycin, doxycycline or colchicine.
As arguments regarding ivermectin spread from social media to the medical press and courtrooms across the country, proponents were told that the definitive study was underway; that we should wait for the PRINCIPLE trial. We waited 9 months, and then – surprise! The ivermectin arm of the trial was dropped.
Here is the announcement Direct from MedPage Today: https://www.medpagetoday.com/special-reports/exclusives/96194?xid=nl_mpt_DHE_2021-12-15&eun=g1778151d0r&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm
“The ivermectin arm of the U.K.’s PRINCIPLE trial is “currently paused due to temporary supply issues,” according to the trial’s website.
The website does not offer any details on what caused the ivermectin supply difficulties in PRINCIPLE, which is investigating possible treatments for COVID-19 and being led by the University of Oxford in England.
A full response from the trial’s press team was promised, but had not reached MedPage Today by press time.”
This is unconscionable. Natalie and I reviewed over 30 studies with Ivermectin, and found 10 that were reliable enough to recommend its use back in June of 2020, specifically as an interim preventive until vaccines were approved. Importantly, the CDC reviewed the same collection of studies and their expert team found five to be of merit. This led to ivermectin’s inclusion in the PRINCIPLE trial that was at the time enrolling thousands of people across the UK.
Why are we so double-blind?
Numerous medical surveys have shown that fewer than 50% of medical treatments are backed by randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human clinical trials. That means that doctors rely instead on the risk/ reward ratio. What are the known risks associated with a certain treatment or drug compared to the beneficial effects reported by patients, measured in the clinic and documented in the medical literature?
With ivermectin, the risks are quite low. It has been used for more than 30 years with literally billions of doses administered around the world. So with a safety record like that, even a slight benefit in reducing COVID infection, or reducing severity and death would be significant.
So what do the naysayers do? They use sarcasm on late night talk shows, referring to the drug as horse medicine, when they well know that it has also been administered to millions of men, women and children as an anti-parasitic. Then they cite scary risks, such as the increase in calls to poison control centers, implying that thousands of misguided people are being harmed by taking ivermectin. Now, take a deep breath, because this is going to chafe your fanny. Here is the most common refrain heard in dozens of court cases and hundreds of talk shows. It’s a direct quote from the AMA.
“Use of ivermectin for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 has been demonstrated to be harmful to patients. Calls to poison control centers due to ivermectin ingestion have increased five-fold from their pre-pandemic baseline.”
What’s the glaring error in this statement; that qualifies it as duplicitous, unscientific rubbish?
Answer: There is a sacred rule in scientific reporting that you never report a percent change without putting the actual number in parentheses following the %. The reason for this is obvious. Using only % change is the easiest way to manipulate data. If there were 2 homicides in your city in 2020, and 3 homicides in 2021, the newspaper headline could be Murder Rate Increases by 50%!
In the case of ivermectin, it stands to reason that before the pandemic, there would be very few calls to poison control centers for a drug that was only used to treat parasitic infections in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. Perhaps there were 20 calls nationwide. Then, as people started using it to treat or prevent COVID, it makes sense that people, unclear on the dose guidelines, might call their local poison control center. But a 5-fold increase would be 100 calls. The problem for the AMA is that’s not scary, so they report it as a FIVE-FOLD increase.
Of course, if you’re a scientist, you also want to know how many of these calls resulted in the caller actually experiencing harm. Oh, those numbers are unavailable. But if anyone bothered to follow up, I would wager that the number would be miniscule, so they continue to report the FIVE-FOLD increase. Arghh
Conclusion: It’s a matter of trust
Without a doubt, the most pressing question today is “who can I trust to provide accurate information and sensible advice?” I want to point out that this is nothing new. Health and wellness has always been a challenging endeavor on both sides of the therapeutic fence. At UCLA, I was critical of the pharma faculty for ignoring proven plant-based therapeutics, and at the same time critical of the natural health industry for launching a never-ending parade of worthless products, absurd programs and books filled with utter nonsense. There are, of course, many worthwhile natural products supported by solid science. The books I wrote were all vetted by leading experts, paid by my publishers to scour my text for any hint of hype or breach of scientific integrity.
That was before social media. Today, anyone can say anything, and the average person without an advanced degree in one of the biological sciences cannot possibly discern fact from folly. This creates a deep sense of insecurity regarding our number ONE priority: Our health and the health of the people we love. The response to this deep insecurity is to adopt an all-or-nothing stance, where natural health products and practices are good (and should never be questioned) and anything coming from “Big Pharma” is to be avoided, no matter how much scientific support exists to document its benefits.
Because of this, I am regularly accused of being a shill for the drug companies, even though I have defended the natural product industry in front of the FTC, FDA and two Congressional committees. I helped to create the world’s largest medicinal plant library and have been interviewed more than a hundred times for my views on natural health science.
Natalie and I launched The Healthy Skeptics website in 2016, in order to show people “what to explore and what to ignore.” We have a little over 500 members, and we are devoted to helping these individuals chart a well-informed course through these turbulent times. For those who do not know us, we sincerely hope you will allow for the possibility that two health professionals with decades of experience on both sides of the therapeutic fence might have a perspective that is trustworthy.
Let’s build a reliable resource list
Every day, I am sent videos and newsletters from dozens of sites. It’s easy to spot sensationalist promotions that claim to have secret information showing that the vaccines cause (choose one) autoimmune disease, sterility, swollen testicles, miscarriage. But I’m sure others are worthwhile. If you have a resource that you would like us to review, send it to me at StephenCherniske108@gmail.com. If that person or resource has already been debunked by experts we trust, we’ll let you know. Resources that we have carefully vetted will be listed in each newsletter, with the goal to have a handful of reliable go-to sources.
Dr. Dan Wilson is number one on our list. A brilliant PhD molecular biologist, Dan puts out a new video roughly once a week. With about 50 now available at https://www.youtube.com/c/debunkthefunkwithdrwilson
You can find a careful, impeccably referenced debunk of most of the webaloney that floods the internet regarding COVID-19. Dan is tireless and beyond generous. As his channel became hugely popular, advertisers started making offers, which he accepts only if 100% of the revenue goes to charities providing COVID relief to underserved communities. When someone sends you a video or website with alarming COVID news, check with Dan Wilson before wasting your time.
Case in point: Dr. Robert Malone
The # 1 most forwarded anti-vax videos this month are a variety of YouTube interviews featuring Dr. Robert Malone who insists that he is the inventor of mRNA technology; when the published biomedical literature clearly shows a progression of work by hundreds of scientists that led to the current breakthrough vaccines. To get a clear view of Dr. Malone’s contribution, I highly recommend a balanced article with cited references and diligent fact-checking written by a highly respected journalist. Read it here:
This just in
OK, so now there’s a Joe Rogan interview with Dr. Malone, which really needs a Dan Wilson review. I consider this a must-watch.
Coming in February:
A detailed look at myocarditis, pericarditis, and cardiac arrhythmias associated with COVID-19 vaccination and SARS-CoV-2 infection. Sneak preview: scores of athletes around the world are not dying soon after getting a vaccine. That article was fabricated nonsense. And the video showing Danish soccer player Christian Eriksen collapsing during the European championships? Eriksen was not even vaccinated. He was stricken by sudden cardiac arrest.
But there are risks that need to be carefully evaluated, Natalie and I will do a deep dive into the numbers, particularly since we have 5 sons ages 17 to 29.