Mainstream pseudo-science good, alternative pseudo-science bad
Posted by Henry Bauer on 2009/02/25
HIV/AIDS vigilantes like to accuse promoters of alternative treatments of threatening lives. In South Africa they have campaigned against Matthias Rath for pointing out the considerable health benefits of vitamin supplements for malnourished people. President Thabo Mbeki has been charged with the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands of people for questioning the worth of antiretroviral drugs, and his Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, was sarcastically referred to as “Dr. Beetroot” for suggesting the value of some natural remedies.
But when properly “scientific” Westerners discover that naturally occurring substances might make good medicine, of course that’s something else. So the discovery by UCLA’s AIDS Institute was reported reverently, that “the herb Astragalus root may help fight HIV” [UCLA’s AIDS (“Beetroot”) Institute discovers how HIV kills cells, 2 January 2009]. Not to be outdone, Houston researchers have identified an ingredient of green tea as active against “HIV” even at physiological concentrations:
“Thursday, February 5, 2009, 3:15pm CST
Houston researchers cite HIV breakthrough
A chemical that occurs naturally in green tea appears to prevent HIV-1, the virus that causes AIDS, from infecting cells in the immune system and could prove a valuable component of treatment for the disease, according to a report by researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital.
After further research, the study could move to human trials, the researchers said Thursday.
In previous studies, Dr. Christina Nance, assistant professor of pediatrics at BCM, and Dr. William Shearer, professor of pediatrics at BCM, had demonstrated that epigallocatechin gallate — EGCG — found in green tea, inhibited infection in a specific HIV-1 strain.
The latest discovery shows EGCG can inhibit infection in multiple HIV-1 strains.
‘This is paramount from a global aspect,’ Nance said. ‘Most initial studies with HIV-1 in the Americas are based on subtype B.’ However, she added, most of the world is infected with other strains.
‘EGCG may represent a potential low-cost inhibitor of global HIV-1 infection that could be used at least as adjunctive anti-HIV therapy,’ said Nance and Shearer in their report.
Previous drugs developed to block the entry of HIV-1 into cells proved ineffective because the virus mutated. Nance hopes that EGCG, derived from a natural product, will be less likely to generate such mutations.
BCM has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to being a phase 1 trial to study the safety of the compound in HIV-1-infected people.
Funding for the research came from the National Institutes of Health and the Baylor Center for AIDS Research.
The report appears in the current issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.”
In the true spirit of objective science, the researchers refrained from saying “breakthrough”, that was only the designation in the popular media; the researchers themselves merely titled their article “Preclinical development of the green tea catechin, epigallocatechin gallate, as an HIV-1 therapy” [by Christina L. Nance, Edward B. Siwak, & William T. Shearer, J Allergy Clin Immunol 2009;123:459-65] — though, come to think of it, that’s still making a pretty big claim, “development”, even if only pre-clinical as yet. And the Conclusions carry a tone of certainty: “We conclude that by preventing the attachment of HIV-1–glycoprotein 120 to the CD4 molecule, EGCG inhibits HIV-1 infectivity. Because this inhibition can be achieved at physiologic concentrations, the natural anti-HIVagent EGCG is a candidate as an alternative therapy in HIV-1 therapy.”
Perhaps this discovery explains why Asian-Americans, to whom we owe our introduction to green tea, have been so much less affected by HIV/AIDS than have Caucasian Americans?
At any rate, those of us who believed those unscientific peddlers of traditional remedies who have long touted green tea as health-promoting can feel vindicated as we continue with — indeed increase — our gullible guzzling of that beverage. And those intrepid researchers in Houston are being justly rewarded with continuing grant support from the National Institutes of Health.