As Modern Alternative Mama (MAMA) launches new articles as part of her shameful “Vaccine Injury Awareness Month” campaign, I’ll continue laying out the facts that show she’s wrong and dangerous. Today I’m debunking her recent article “No Flu Shot For Me! Fighting the Flu With Essential Oils.”1
I’m glad she published this article, because it touches on two major topics that come up in nearly every anti-vaccine argument: aluminum in vaccines and flu vaccinations for pregnant women.
So, in this debunking, we’ll be looking at:
- “Toxic” aluminum in vaccines
- Safety of flu vaccines in pregnant women
- Use of “essential oils” (EOs) to combat viruses, and the toxicity of EOs
An important disclaimer here: I’m not a doctor. Even though I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night,9, 10 your ultimate source for medical information should always be a qualified doctor, not something you read on the internet. I’m here to point out what real doctors and scientists are saying about the nonsense anti-vaccine proponents are spouting. You’re a smart person. Please do the research. The outcomes are important.
Right away, the original article sways from truth and science like Justin Bieber’s car during one of his drunk driving sprees15. Not only does MAMA lie about which vaccines include aluminum, she doesn’t understand that it’s safe.
In fact, in other articles, MAMA recommends eating foods rich in aluminum (such as spinach, tea, and potatoes).17, 20, 24 But, for the flu vaccine, not only do we get a reversal of opinion, we get an outright lie:
“We do know, however, that aluminum is added to the flu shot to increase the body’s response to the vaccine. Aluminum is a neurotoxin.”
If you disregard the specific Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine, flu vaccines do not contain aluminum.2, 11, 12 You also won’t find aluminum in other vaccines commonly claimed to be “toxic” by anti-vaxxers, such as those for polio, MMR, or shingles. Oops.
But, is aluminum a danger in the vaccines (such as hepatitis A & B) that contain it? No.
Aluminum is added to some vaccines to help boost the response of the body’s immune system. The most common metal in the Earth’s crust,3 aluminum is an unavoidable part of our diet. In the USA, the average adult consumes 7-9mg of aluminum per day by eating but eliminates most of it as feces (poop). People with kidney disease are an exception: the disease effects the body’s ability to eliminate aluminum.33
Our average adult will accumulate between 50 and 100mg of aluminum in their bodies over an entire lifetime.3 Nearly 100% of that total comes from the food they’ll eat, the water they’ll drink2, and the air they’ll breathe. In addition to water, foods naturally containing aluminum include potatoes, spinach, and tea.4 Babies ingest aluminum regardless of whether they’re breast-fed or given milk from a bottle.2
Aluminum enters the environment via natural processes. A healthy human body is excellent at removing aluminum, regardless of whether it comes from a vaccine or the all-natural health food you ate for dinner. Studies in humans show it’s poorly absorbed in the first place, and for animals in general, the absorption rate is less than 1%.4 It’s ironic that Modern Alternative Mama publishes “healthy living” spinach recipes17 when spinach naturally contains five times the amount of aluminum of other foods.16
So, you can’t avoid aluminum unless you give up eating, drinking, and breathing. But there’s no need to worry: your body can (and does) handle the aluminum safely. There is no aluminum in the common flu shot.2, 11, 12 For other shots that contain aluminum (for example, hepatitis A & B), the amount of aluminum is insignificant compared to what we obtain from eating, drinking, and breathing. But your body doesn’t care where the aluminum comes from: it removes it the anti-vaxxer’s favorite way — naturally.
No good anti-vaccine terror campaign is complete without a cherry-picked legalese quote from a medication insert, and MAMA does not disappoint, chastising a Walgreens’ campaign to get pregnant women vaccinated:
“Walgreen’s conveniently left out the fact that the vaccine inserts themselves recommend women avoid receiving the flu shot.”
This isn’t really true. Her two inserts say the shots should be given if clearly needed. And medical experts agree the vaccine is clearly needed. Pregnant women who get the flu are at a greater risk of complications — including hospitalization and death — than non-pregnant women. The risk to unborn babies is also higher, including premature birth.7, 18
Recent research suggests the risk to unvaccinated pregnant women may be higher because their immune systems react in an unusually strong manner when they contract the flu, and urges pregnant women to get the vaccination to prevent the inflammatory effects of the full disease.25, 26 (The flu shot is a “dead” virus and cannot give you the flu.)
The vaccine has benefits beyond helping the mother stay alive and healthy. Antibodies generated in her body as a result of the vaccination can be passed to the unborn baby, giving it protection until it’s old enough to receive its first vaccination at age 6 months.7, 19 Millions of pregnant women have been vaccinated against the flu with no harm to either the mother or baby.7
There’s one important warning: According to the CDC, pregnant women should not receive the live version of the vaccine (the nasal spray), but the inactivated version (the shot) is harmless.7, 18, 19 Although we’re specifically talking about pregnant women here, this warning about the live version of the vaccine also applies to certain other groups such as immunosuppressed persons.32 When in doubt, always talk to your doctor.
To contradict all this medical evidence, we get a trio of lies from the anti-vaccination article:
“but manufacturers admit that the impact on a developing human just isn’t known”
“Considering the ‘regular’ flu shots cannot verify safety for pregnant women”
“Besides the lack of safety testing for pregnant women”
Ahem. From the CDC:
“Studies of several thousand pregnant women in scientific literature have assessed the safety of using the flu vaccine during pregnancy. These studies have shown no evidence of harm to pregnant women, to the unborn child (or fetus) or to newborns of vaccinated women.”8
And if you do the research, studies back this up.8, 13, 14
It’s interesting to pause here and consider the hypocrisy of MAMA. Later in her article, she’ll tout the amazing benefits of essential oils in combating viruses, even though their safety for use during pregnancy has never been studied.
The problem is that the flu isn’t caused by bacteria. It’s caused by a virus. There’s a huge difference. Bacteria are single-celled living organisms; viruses are small packages of DNA or RNA that cannot “live” without being injected into a living cell.
So we’re off to a bad start already, with an article using research performed on bacteria to support a conclusion about viruses.
Interestingly, it turns out that chemicals found in essential oils are being studied for anti-viral properties, and are showing promise — in test tubes.22, 23 MAMA doesn’t cite any of these studies, for obvious reasons. No doubt, if the research results in a promising medicine that works when ingested, anti-vaxxers will dismiss it as a Big Pharma conspiracy.
Or perhaps essential oil fans are embarrassed by the track record of EOs with the FDA. For example, in September 2014, Living Young, the manufacturer of “Thieves Blend”, an essential oil often pushed on alternative medicine web sites as a cure for nearly everything, was warned by the FDA for making unsubstantiated medical claims about their oil including, incredibly, as a cure for Ebola.22
Regardless, an article that is supposed to be focused on the flu virus keeps wandering away like a lost puppy to talk about essential oils and bacteria. After many paragraphs on this red herring, MAMA pulls this magical conclusion out of her [expletive deleted]:
There are many essential oils known for being antiviral. Tea tree (melaleuca), basil, lemon, peppermint, and more. All these oils will enter your body, enter your cells, and fight off viruses that have already taken over your cells. It’s pretty amazing.
What would be even more amazing would be even a single reference to back up this claim!
What we do know from science about essential oils is that some of them can be toxic when ingested:
“However, the ingestion of a few milliliters of essential oils may cause severe symptoms of intoxication like vomiting, respiration failure, and unconsciousness and may lead to death, especially when infants are concerned.”28, 29
A University of Minnesota (UoM) article30 warns that while many essential oils are safe when used on the skin, some can cause serious harm — including liver and other organ damage — when ingested. The same article warns that some EOs are not safe to apply to the skin, or should not be applied to the skin without dilution, else photo-toxicity can result. UoM reminds the reader that peppermint oil is heavily laced with methanol-one, which has caused young children to stop breathing.
For children who actually drink an essential oil containing methanol or other toxic ingredients, the results can be tragic.31
The flu is dangerous. In 2010, influenza and pneumonia (which go hand-in-hand) killed over 53,000 people in the United States.27 Except for the Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine, flu vaccines do not contain aluminum, but aluminum is unavoidable in our diets, and our bodies process it naturally. Other vaccines that contain aluminum contain far lower amounts than the water we drink or the food we eat, and are safe.
The live (nasal) form of the flu vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women, but the dead (injected) form has been given to millions of pregnant women and medical studies conclude that it is safe. Finally, although scientific research is being done on the possible benefits of chemicals extracted from essential oils, the article being debunked presents no evidence of any trials in humans — because, as of this writing, there aren’t any. In fact, some essential oils are known to be toxic when ingested by animals.
Note: to avoid increasing search engine exposure for quack web sites, I use the DoNotLink URL obfuscator on their links. I promise I’m not redirecting you to porn 🙂
(1) No Flu Shot For Me! Fighting the Flu With Essential Oils (original MAMA article)
(2) Aluminum in Vaccines: What you should know
(3) extract, CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 77th Edition
(4) Aluminum in Drinking Water (World Health Organization)
(5) The Cell: A Molecular Approach. 2nd edition
(6) Effect of Essential Oils on Pathogenic Bacteria
(7) CDC: Pregnant Women Need a Flu Shot
(8) Seasonal Flu Vaccine Safety and Pregnant Women
(9) Holiday Inn Express (Nuclear Meltdown)
(10) Holiday Inn Express (Jeopardy)
(11) Vaccines and Aluminum
(12) Vaccine Excipient & Media Summary
(13) Adverse events in pregnant women following administration of trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine and live attenuated influenza vaccine in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, 1990-2009
(14) Trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine and spontaneous abortion
(15) Justin Bieber arrested on drunken driving, resisting arrest charges
(16) Aluminum in Your Diet
(17) Spinach and Goat Cheese Quesadillas (original MAMA article)
(18) Seasonal Flu Vaccine Safety and Pregnant Women
(19) MAYO Clinic: Pregnancy week by week
(20) Boost Your Produce Budget: smart shopping tips for buying local (MAMA article)
(21) Virucidal effect of peppermint oil on the enveloped viruses herpes simplex virus type 1 and type 2 in vitro
(22) FDA Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations Warning Letter to “Thieves Oil” Manufacturer
(23) Susceptibility of Drug-Resistant Clinical Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 Strains to Essential Oils of Ginger, Thyme, Hyssop, and Sandalwood
(24) Recipe Collection: Cheesy Potatoes (MAMA article)
(25) Immune response turned up high by flu during pregnancy
(26) Immune Response Turned Up, Not Down, by Flu During Pregnancy
(27) Deaths and Mortality
(28) Essential Oil Poisoning, Woolf, Clinical Toxicology, 1999, Vol. 37, No. 6 : pp 721-727
(29) Antimicrobial Effect of Essential Oil Isolated from Eucalyptus globulus Labill
(30) Are Essential Oils Safe?
(31) A Case of Methanol Poisoning in a Child
(32) Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) — United States, 2014–15 Influenza Season
(33) ATSDR Division of Toxicology and Environmental Medicine: Aluminum
Pandermix flu vaccine from WikiMedia Commons, released into public domain with no restrictions.
Pregnant woman by Inferis, from WikiMedia Commons, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Image owner does not necessarily share or endorse the views put forth by the author of this article.
Aluminum by Romary, from WikiMedia Commons, used under GNU Free Documentation License. Image owner does not necessarily share or endorse the views put forth by the author of this article.
Essential Oil from WikiMedia Commons, released into public domain with no restrictions.