Vaccines, Autoimmunity, and the Changing Nature of Childhood Illness
By Dr. Thomas Cowan
Chelsea Green Publishing
Many years ago, as I sat down to enjoy breakfast at the Weston A. Price Foundation conference, two other people happened to be sitting at the same table: Harvey Ussery and Dr. Tom Cowan. For the next hour, I was treated to a delightful discussion meandering across many issues—modern and ancient—from two amazing contributors to those seeking to recover their health. Reading Dr. Cowan’s new book reminded me of that morning and the many gifts, along with a depth of experience and wisdom, that he brings to his speaking, writing and other work.
Vaccines, Autoimmunity, and the Changing Nature of Childhood Illness takes us on a three-part journey into the origins of autoimmunity, the world of vaccines (and the fallacies that support their continued use) and Dr. Cowan’s approach to helping people who are struggling with autoimmune issues. Beforehand, we get a great introduction from Sally Fallon Morell, whose brief comments remind us that one reason we are so at odds with the modern world is because of the way modern scientists see it—as dangerous. This world view says that raw milk is dangerous, diseases are dangerous and we must use science and technology to stomp out these dangers. As members of WAPF know, however, this approach doesn’t work and actually results in even more danger, primarily through skyrocketing rates of degenerative disease. Dr. Cowan weaves these same themes together with other themes in his foreword, stating “There is evidence that our bodies need exposure to certain childhood illnesses in order to establish the foundation for lifelong health.” Danger isn’t antithetical to health, it is part of its foundation.
The first section of the book is full of Dr. Cowan’s usual fascinating mix of science, explanation, story and clinical observation. His discussion of how the heart is not a pump and how many other modern theories and explanations of the human body fall short of actually explaining the evidence is an important reminder that modern science, which claims to have moved beyond myth and superstition, is often still deeply mired in a modernized version of it!
Cowan states that no matter which autoimmune disease is in play, the first line of treatment should focus on healing the gut: “Autoimmune disease begins in the gut and treatment depends on restoration of the gut microbiome and its diversity of species.” Research shows that almost every single autoimmune disease is accompanied by some type of gut dysbiosis. The combination of immune-system-disrupting vaccines plus a modern world that sets people up for disturbed and disrupted microbiome development have created a lethal cocktail of autoimmune diseases waiting to happen.
The second section of the book was my favorite. Honestly, I hope Dr. Cowan or someone else will write a book that expands on this section. In it, he picks through three common childhood diseases—chickenpox, polio and measles—and explores the history of each along with the changes in attitude toward each disease over the past five or so decades. While I was familiar with a fair bit of the material, there were many new, worthwhile nuggets and gems scattered across these chapters. The inclusion of primary sources for particular claims was especially helpful, such as in the discussion of how the chickenpox vaccine has led to much higher rates of shingles. Did you ever realize that one reason it is good to care for young children with common childhood diseases is because it gives the parents an all-natural “booster”? Cowan shows us that vaccination has many unintended consequences and drawbacks, not just for the vaccinated, but for all of us. Many similar excellent observations litter the pages of these chapters.
In perhaps my favorite pages of the entire book, Dr. Cowan takes pro-vaccine logic to task, pointing out that the push to eradicate certain illnesses actually leaves small children more vulnerable to them! How so? Small children receive natural protection from many common childhood illnesses via their mother’s milk, but this protection is predicated on something important: they will receive it only if their mother naturally experienced the illnesses. A vaccinated mother creates an at-risk newborn, one who comes into the world denied the natural protections that the mother’s milk would normally provide. Thus, it is not those who are wary of vaccines that put people, especially infants, at risk, but those who push vaccines relentlessly on all people regardless of the vaccines’ actual risks and benefits.
Studies show that while vaccines decrease mortality rates for the particular disease against which a child is vaccinated, they often lead to an overall increase in death rates among vaccinated populations. Vaccines are a band-aid, a cover-up that actually stops people from addressing root cultural, nutritional and other issues, similar to how antibiotics cover up the evils and ills of industrial farming. Dr. Cowan states, “Having a poor outcome from measles is a symptom of social displacement, cultural breakdown, and malnutrition. These are difficult issues to address—it is much easier to manufacture and administer a vaccine—but these issues must be addressed if we are to truly have a positive impact on the lives of the children affected by them.”
The last part of the book gives suggestions for treating autoimmune disorders and conditions, both therapeutic and dietary in nature. For those familiar with WAPF and Dr. Cowan, there are few surprises here. Many of the things that he has written and spoken about before show up once again, such as low-dose naltrexone (LDN), organ meats and colostrum. Because the immune system and the gut are intimately interrelated, and one’s gut is tied to one’s diet, diet receives an entire chapter to itself, focusing on the Cowan autoimmune diet—a diet similar to the GAPS diet. Cowan states that “the Cowan autoimmune diet and LDN form the foundation of my treatment for all autoimmune disease.”
This chapter surprised me, but in a good way. Cowan shares a wide array of useful advice and observations, discussing the superiority of foraged and wild-caught foods (if accessible), the importance of harvesting foods at the right time of day (fruit and leaf in the morning, root in the evening) and the use of flavor (meaning more than mere sweetness) as the most reliable tool for ascertaining nutrient density. I especially appreciated his suggestion to connect with a hunter as a source of wild game. Hunting plays a crucial and critical role in preserving habitats and keeping wild animal populations in check. Unfortunately in recent decades, the number of hunters has declined rapidly. Just as we should want to connect with and support local farmers, we should view and support local hunters similarly, especially since their labor provides not just nutrient-dense food but a host of other ecological benefits to their communities and regions.
I read dozens of books a year, some for work and some for pleasure; Cowan’s new book is one of a few that qualifies for both categories. I do hope that someone, perhaps Dr. Cowan himself, will take the middle section that explores particular illnesses and expand on it, discussing the wide variety of diseases that we are now forced to vaccinate our families against or have to fight to avoid. Two thumbs up!
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2018.