Hibernation Consternation

My muse left on extended vacation when the Lipkin XMRV study and subsequent press conference succeeded in discrediting retroviruses as a possible explanation for ME/CFS, with lots of important questions still left unanswered. The discussion reverted to whether or not it is a real disease and which set of diagnostic criteria are best, so there hasn’t been much to inspire me. It got pretty depressing. The IOM report was a joke: “The term ‘myalgic encephalomyelitis’ is not appropriate because there is a lack of evidence for encephalomyelitis (brain inflammation) in patients with this disease…”. Fail. I don’t know what to make of the Lipkin cytokine paper, because I take with a grain of salt results from a debunker on call for the government. XMRV wasn’t the first time: Lack of association between measles virus vaccine and autism with enteropathy: a case-control study. Nothing worth blogging about there. Certainly nothing hopeful. But recently, the Naviaux study was published and a couple of proposals posted by NIH have been making the rounds on Facebook, so I’ve had an uptick in email, some asking what I think about the paper and some telling me about successes with antiretrovirals in Europe, as well as encouragement to blog again. So, feeling very rusty, I’m going to give it a go.

My reaction to the Naviaux et al paper, Metabolic features of chronic fatigue syndrome, was dismay that the damage is so extensive and widespread. So many broken pathways. Finding a specific drug target seems very unlikely. There won’t be an answer anytime soon. They, and everyone else, including Lipkin and Hanson, are studying downstream effects, without attempting to identify the root cause. It’s a good thing that people are thinking and looking, but hibernation and dauer are not disease states and being compared to larval worms isn’t exactly the image change we need ;-). Even if they’re right and a handful of common abnormalities in this very heterogeneous group is accepted as validating real disease, my guess is that the findings will be similar in other diseases, e.g. GWI, fibromyalgia, ASD, maybe even chronic depression. GWI patients have PEM and often meet criteria for ME/CFS. As I said five years ago, I think all of these diseases of modern civilization are related and there is a family factor that confers risk to partners and offspring. There are even a few patients who believe themselves to be contagious by casual contact.

So what lies in wait to be activated by heterogeneous triggers and once activated causes immune dysfunction, neurological disease and opportunistic infections? The most likely explanation lives in the realm between retrovirology and genomics, the difference between the fields being as small as a single mutation. We have been injecting retroviruses and pieces of retroviruses into people for over a century. What are the chances that nothing bad happened from that? XMRV apparently doesn’t infect people, but injected into monkeys, it sets up a low level infection. Retroviruses recombine and rescue each other. Environmental toxins activate retroelements (HERVs and retrotransposons) which can recombine with each other or new incoming retroviral sequences and fully replicative retroviruses from vaccinations, biologics and lab workers. XMRV was created in a lab. The Paprotka paper said the odds of the recombination event that produced XMRV happening twice are infinitesimal. On the other hand, the odds of similar events having happened many times is very high I would think, since there have been so many chances. In the last few years it has been found that many cell lines produce viruses like XMRV which are capable of infecting human cells in tissue culture. Lipkin said in a press conference that 85% of Montoya’s samples contained retroviral sequences and in the XMRV study, 6% of patients and controls were positive for an antibody to SFFV, a very nasty murine retrovirus, but everybody is choosing to ignore those clues because that well is poisoned. Nobody wants to be the next Judy Mikovits. Lo and Alter both dropped it like a hot potato, returning to other research, never mind the question of how all these labs, Mikovits, Ruscetti, Silverman and Lo/Alter managed to consistently contaminate the patient samples at a higher rate than the controls.

Take a look at this paper: Are human endogenous retroviruses triggers of autoimmune diseases? Unveiling associations of three diseases and viral loci by Bjørn et al. “We speculate the possibility that recombinants or mixed viral particles are formed and that the resulting viruses stimulate the innate immune system, thereby initiating the autoimmune response.” They looked at multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes mellitus, and rheumatoid arthritis. It is one of several recent papers heading in this direction.

I hypothesized way back when that ME/CFS is related to MS. There are case reports of MS improving when patients take antiretrovirals, Multiple sclerosis patient walks after taking HIV drugs, and new cases of MS are rare or nonexistent in patients taking AIDS drugs, HIV and lower risk of multiple sclerosis: beginning to unravel a mystery using a record-linked database study.

Our very own Gerwyn Morris published an excellent paper on the subject of ME and MS being related diseases. Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome and encephalomyelitis disseminata/multiple sclerosis show remarkable levels of similarity in phenomenology and neuroimmune characteristics. I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge Gerwyn’s extraordinary achievement. If you search “Morris Gerwyn” on PubMed, his name appears as an author on 23 papers since 2013, usually as first author.

Lots of evidence has been published about the MS retrovirus, MSRV. Viral particles have clearly been detected, but it is less clear if these particles are ever infectious. There are several new papers reporting findings similar to this one, Two endogenous retroviral loci appear to contribute to Multiple Sclerosis.

Which brings us back to where this blog began. Are retroviruses at the bottom of ME/CFS? Might antiretrovirals be effective for ME/CFS and other diseases? Despite the thorough trashing of retroviruses in our disease and the intense ongoing fear mongering about how dangerous antiretroviral drugs are, apparently people are still trying it in Europe. The experience five years ago, when maybe a hundred people tried various regimens in a completely uncontrolled fashion, was some subjective improvement in about half, and no complete recoveries, except for one notable exception. The exception was a teenager who had only been sick for eight months. His mother wrote in the comments on this blog. He recovered fully, took the drugs for 6 months, stopped and as far as I know, didn’t relapse. I still find it upsetting that the prescribing physician was too cowardly to come forward and write a case report. How many teenagers could have been treated acutely since then? There were no injuries that I ever heard of. I was in touch with many of the doctors who were prescribing and there was lots of sharing, doctors and patients together, the only time I’ve ever seen that happen. One doctor I knew prescribed for 50 patients and concluded that it was better than placebo, but not worth the risk of prescribing it.

However encouraging the Naviaux paper may be with respect to advancing the case that ME/CFS is, in fact, a real and dreadful disease, it is discouraging with respect to finding treatment. A viable drug target seems unlikely. We are left with global strategies, hoping for synergy between therapies that don’t stand alone, same as now. But just as I was feeling dour about dauer…

The NIH compilation of responses to their request for proposals was published here. Read bottom of page 3 to top of page 4. I’m not going to mention any names for Google, because I don’t want to increase the risk of regulatory repercussions against a doctor brave enough to report successes with antiretrovirals. Also please read pages 9-12.

Then I heard from a patient in Europe who is having success with antiretrovirals after 20+ years of illness. In his own words:

I have been ill with ME since my mid-teens in 1994. Onset was in two stages. Firstly a gradual onset, whereby I was feeling increasingly more tested after the combined measleas/rubella vaccine, followed a few weeks later by the polio booster. And then secondly once that prodrome had got its hold, the downward cascade was always inevitable, and just waiting for me around the corner. 1994-2014 were harsh and brutal years. I hovered around 55% on the Bell scale and it was torture enough.

From September 2014 to July 2015 I took tenofovir 245mg. Improvement was an upward curve, albeit with some turbulence. Sometimes taking half- week, or full-week, or month-long breaks when I felt my body needed a rest from it so as to hold its own for a while. From August 2015 to September 2016 I added raltegravir to tenofovir and initially at full dose daily which sent me to sleep almost in the first few days. During this period I toggled around until I found the right balance for me. I got it right in the end around about June/July 2016 and the past two/three months have been great. My current regimen is tenofovir 245mg Tuesday through Friday, and on Tuesday and Thursday I also take raltegravir 400mg x 2. My original baseline was about 55% on the Bell scale for the twenty or so years when I was sick. I am now 95-100% and can go to the gym once weekly thanks to the antiretrovirals where I can build up quite a healthy sweat and recuperate normally. My VO2 max continues to increase substantially and my CD3-4-8 counts are x2.5 to 3 fold what they were before I started the antiretrovirals. Life is very good. I also take celebrex and multivitamin/antioxidant supplements and I am monitored closely.

This year I feel more confident about the winter than I did in 2014 on just tenofovir and than in 2015 when I was grappling with adding raltegravir. They were bad winters even though the arv’s did help me through better I guess. Winter 2016 can throw at me what it wants however. Now that I have hit the perfect treatment regimen with the antiretrovirals I am sure it will be a better winter. It was worth sticking it out and learning. I thank Dr Judy Mikovits and my physician over in Germany, along with the continued support of a rare and dedicated French doctor over there in Paris. Finally I thank two doctors over there in the UK for listening. I salute them all as men and women of true honour.

Several people wrote to ask what happened with antiretrovirals for my daughter and me. Ali and I plateaued without recovering fully. After the initial improvement, there was really no way to know what was happening. We both had a very mild flare of symptoms for the first six weeks and then a noticeable increase in energy and resilience. We started with AZT and Isentress, then switched the AZT to Viread a year later. Ali stayed on the two drugs for three years, not wanting to rock the boat, as she was doing relatively well. I stopped the Isentress after about a year and half and took Viread alone after that. We both improved during the three years we took antiretrovirals, but we were doing lots of other things documented on this blog. Since there was always the possibility that we might do better without them, eventually we decided we should find out. As it turned out, we didn’t decline when we stopped. I had some trouble coming off Viread, because my always labile blood pressure went crazy when I stopped, twice. Go figure. In the end, I weaned without any sort of noticeable decline. When we started, we were all so hopeful. Judy believed we’d be able to monitor viral load in a year, but it wasn’t to be. Our combined copays were breaking the bank and after three years, with no way to monitor and able to stop, it just didn’t make sense to continue. I would consider antiretroviral drugs again if either of us crashed completely.

My experience treating six very informed patients was similar to what other doctors have reported, 50% improved subjectively. Two had adverse reactions to Viread, including one who had responded initially; both resolved quickly when the drugs were stopped. Two patients continued long term, one on two drugs and one who opted for Viread monotherapy. I didn’t see anything dramatic enough to make me very encouraged though. I had successes with other things that were similar in scale with less risk to the patient and the doctor. However, it’s possible that tinkering with lower doses and less than every day regimens would make the drugs we have more useful for ME/CFS, even if they were designed for a virus we don’t have. Although we do not want to encourage resistance to the drugs, it’s possible that a small dose of a reverse transcriptase inhibitor would work for us. I heard from a doctor in Europe who reported complete recovery in 2011 after nine months on micro dose AZT (20-30mg/day). I don’t know how it turned out long term, but will write to him and ask.

Dr. Michael Snyderman is still doing remarkably well, still able to work in his hematology oncology practice at 75, controlling his cancer like a chronic disease, specifically like AIDS. He has been taking HAART for over 6 years, having twice passed his median survival, meaning there was less than a 25% chance that he’d still be alive by now. I will share his data here in the near future. He is still hoping to collaborate with Roswell Park Cancer Center in his hometown of Buffalo, NY to help patients who have cancer and who have a poor prognosis. The same viruses that infect cancers infect the immune system.  If cancer patients benefit as he expects they will, initiatives can be made with the neuroinflammatory disorders including ME/CFS. There is now a reliable virus detection methodology, ViroCap invented by the Wylies at Washington University and the Wylies are interested in collaborating with this research.

These are leads, the only leads we have. If drugs developed for a completely different retrovirus have some activity against a disease, think what could happen with some attention to the process that is actually occurring. The technology, next generation sequencing, already exists to begin to answer our questions, but the various software platforms that analyze the data are still in their infancy. The metabolomics studies are happening because there is a new toy. There are going to be lots of new toys in the near future. It already didn’t happen by random doctors prescribing off label. Since it wasn’t a slam dunk, it needs to be formally and properly studied.

It is possible that the metabolites that Naviaux et al have identified as a potential diagnostic panel might be useful for monitoring success with antiretrovirals. Dr. Naviaux has answered questions here, stating that he thinks the use of antibiotics and antivirals aren’t indicated and I mostly agree with him, planning to share my thoughts on treatment in a future blog.

I continued to go slowly uphill after I last blogged about ME/CFS almost two years ago, but nothing like a full recovery. I was able to work a little and I was able to ride on the back of a tandem, close to a thousand miles in two years according to Strava, half of it on dirt. Still lots of symptoms, but a life, where once there wasn’t one, plus a way to get endorphins. My recovery was slow after exercise; I felt drained the next day, but nothing like full blown PEM. I was still maintaining the fantasy that someday I would recover fully. But a year ago, while hiking, I twisted my ankle and broke my distal fibula. It was a minor fracture that should have healed without problems in 6 weeks. Instead I got RSD/CRPS (reflex sympathetic dystrophy/complex regional pain syndrome), a very challenging and painful condition. It takes most of my energy just to cope and I’ve been out of commission since it started, able to attend only to my own treatment (HBOT).

After 5 years of managing patients, I had to retire completely. I only worked with a very small number of patients, scattered all over the country, who saw me in person once a year in Hawaii or Arizona, but I got to know them very well, because most of the contact was electronic, day to day, moment to moment even, and that works well for ME/CFS patients. It was enough to learn quite a bit about the spectrum of disease, what works and what doesn’t, especially given that almost everyone I saw had been around the block and came with voluminous records, having failed treatment with the best. I’d like to share my impressions while still fresh, so intend to keep blogging, if I don’t get too beat up over this one ;-).

Today’s song from Les Misérables

Cactus Fruit

Last October, after three months on the Wahls paleo diet, I recovered my ability to benefit from exercise. I had been unable to exercise without payback for nine years, since starting treatment for tick borne diseases, a decade into my illness. That most intangible switch between can’t and can suddenly flipped back and aerobic exercise became possible again. No drugs involved. Just a clean, nutrient dense, low carbohydrate diet. Lots of healthy fat.

In February, the “flu” went through our house. I was down with it for about 6 weeks. Then I pushed through and went to Tucson to see patients in April. My upper respiratory tract symptoms came back on my second day home and a week later my husband got sick also. Then, in quick succession, I had a UTI, sinusitis and a salivary gland infection requiring back to back courses of antibiotics.

My mood crashed also. It’s really tough to be very active for a while and then find yourself back in the pit. When I was emerging from years of hell, I felt amazingly wonderful, even though I still had lots of symptoms. Conversely, after a period of very few symptoms, I had a lot of trouble coping with symptoms that would have been no big deal when I was sicker.

I don’t usually catch stuff. I’d been experimenting with higher doses of Vitamin D after reading some studies about using higher doses in MS patients for anti-inflammatory effect. In hindsight, the dose I was taking was probably too immunosuppressive for me, though it is cited as safe in several recent papers. When I went back to a lower dose, the infections stopped. I didn’t try this experiment on anyone but myself. If you do try higher doses of Vitamin D, follow levels and be careful. Upward target level creep is happening in the literature, as people try to use Vitamin D as a drug, not just a preventative. For me, 5000 iu daily seems OK and my 25(OH)D level on that dose is about 50 ng/mL. More was not better, but I am not saying that it couldn’t be for someone else. The word isn’t in yet as to how to supplement Vitamin D optimally in the setting of neuroimmune illnesses. Natural sunlight is no doubt the best way. The most powerful ways to heal are provided by Mother Nature, not a pharmaceutical or neutraceutical company.

Despite my fear that the gig was up for good this time, gut torn up again by antibiotics, I started the climb back to wellerness. I was really weak when I got back on the bike, but I improved faster than the first time and by early August had surpassed my previous level. Anthony and I spent our 26th anniversary camping on the Conejos River in southern Colorado, and went fishing in our canoe on Platoro Reservoir, same as our 25th. Last year, I needed a special seat on the floor of the canoe with a backrest. This year, I could help paddle. Last year, I couldn’t ride a bike. This year, we rode uphill on a fire road for an hour, from 9000 to almost 11,000 feet, before a long, exciting descent. Then later, the same day, we went fishing. If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will recall, I used to need a wheelchair to get through an airport. Now I could jog to the gate if I were late. Exercise is my go to “treatment” when I am feeling poorly, which I still do, not infrequently. I am not cured, by a long shot, but I’m not at the mercy of the illness. I can fight back.

I still attribute my recovered exercise ability to the Wahls paleo diet. I’m no longer completely adherent though. My intake of vegetables is much increased from prior, but I’m no longer force feeding. I eat some rice and quinoa and a few legumes. I eat bananas, apples and pears, though Wahls excludes them. I’ve learned that any dairy is problematic, except butter, but I can get away with a bite of gluten, at least as far as I can tell. Properly produced eggs are my friend, though I haven’t tested for egg allergy or tried eliminating them. My focus has become not only what I eat, but what I avoid, especially toxins and GMOs. We are paying attention to what cookware we use and what we store food in. Bone broth is a staple in our household. My daughter makes it with fresh turmeric root and seaweed. I love my green drinks. We are having an adventure with fermenting. We are learning what edibles grow naturally around us. I am going hunting for prickly pears with my daughter and grandchildren in a little while, planning to make prickly pear, crabapple butter. It will probably be terrible:-), but the walk and the project will do us good.

We are no longer eating as much meat as we were when we first went on the diet. We are a large family and bought a whole cow from a local ranch. It was definitely different to buy it alive and sign off on its slaughter. For about six months, we ate a large amount of very high quality, grass fed, grass finished beef. After that, two healthy members of the family had serious GI complications, specifics of which I won’t share to protect their privacy. Anecdotal of course, but we decided to back off on the red meat. We are eating more fish, even though finding clean fish is so problematic, and having more vegetarian meals.

I stopped writing, not because I was too sick, but because I was too negative. Existential crisis. Jaded and cynical. Disgusted with how broken and corrupt the system is and how hopeless it seems that our current suicidal trajectory can be changed in time. We are about to be a failed experiment, on a global scale. Why write about it? Time to eat, drink and be merry. We have the technology to figure out what we need to do, and not do for neuroimmune illnesses, but no cavalry is coming over the hill. The game is rigged. All greed and special interests. What gets studied, and then published, is tightly controlled. Obvious studies that challenge a prevailing paradigm will not get done (vaccinated vs unvaccinated children or the family study we tried to do once on this blog). Scientists who dare to depart from the mainstream paradigm are discredited (Mikovits and Ruscetti). Yet real live fraud within a government agency that most likely harmed children is covered up by the media (see my last blog). The billions of dollars paid out by the drug companies for their frequent gigantic frauds make the news, but their stock prices remain strong. Those billions are just the price of doing business. And they are indemnified in the case of vaccines, so that’s a real gravy train. The medical profession is completely asleep at the wheel when it comes to the causes of or solutions to complex chronic diseases. Safe treatments that can’t be patented, like home oxygen, will never be studied. So their treatments now do more harm than good. Conventional doctors push dangerous drugs. Alternative doctors push expensive tests and supplements. Depressed yet? I certainly am, if I think about it too much. So I won’t. I’ll go on a hike with family at the end of a magnificent monsoon season in the high desert, pick prickly pears and be grateful I can walk. Time to find some heavy gloves.

Stay tuned for an update from Dr. Michael Snyderman.

By Way of Sorrow –  Cry, Cry, Cry

Recovery In Neverland

Even though the last blog was the least controversial I’ve ever written, it managed to ruffle a few feathers. On the one hand, it couldn’t possibly be as simple as a diet cure and, on the other, it is too hard to implement, especially if you are sick and short of money. And what about retroviruses?

I am not cured. It is a relapsing, remitting illness and I am experiencing a remission. I am not asymptomatic, but much, much better. My husband and I have ridden our tandem 180 miles so far this month. Our rides are quickly getting longer, faster and more challenging. My husband said I have never worked harder. I don’t know if that’s because I want it more, or because I finally fixed my rubidium deficiency;-). No doubt a real doctor would say I finally decided to get off my ass;-). But anyone with real knowledge of the disease knows what a profound change has to occur for an ME patient to return to exercise after nine years.

Ali also has noticed improvement with respect to her physical abilities. She went to an hour long yoga class a few days ago with no PEM and expects to continue. She is living away from me, something neither of us thought possible just a few short years ago.

It isn’t just the diet. The diet happened to us in the context of a slow recovery over a number of years during which several treatments were contributory, all documented on this blog. Antiretrovirals, oxygen, Deplin, at one time Actos, at another modified Meyer’s cocktail IVs, metformin and Prometrium for Ali, prior dietary modifications and ever more awareness of the importance of biotoxin avoidance. I believe all of these things have helped to tip the balance towards recovery. When you are treating an incurable disease, it is necessary to look for therapeutic synergy.

As to the diet being hard, some of the biggest things aren’t too hard. A daily smoothie, big plates of organic greens, bone broth from clean grass fed animals. Buy organic. Try your local CSA (community sponsored agriculture) who sometimes deliver. Try eliminating gluten and dairy for three months. Consider nutrient density before eating something. Don’t try to change everything at once. Pick one thing and do that, then add to it. It is more expensive to eat this way. If it is too expensive, I am thinking the food is more important than supplements, on which most patients spend a lot of money. I am increasingly suspicious of things that come in pill form, including supplements.

One of the really interesting things that has happened to me on the Wahls diet is I am not tolerating B vitamins at all, finding them overactivating and sleep disrupting, after taking Deplin for years. I presume this is because I am getting what I need from my food. Can we infer from this that my methylation status has improved? Take a look at the numbers midway through this article by Dr. Wahls: Maximizing Nutrient Density for the Modern Day Hunter-Gatherer.

In addition to a relatively small number of known required nutrients, whole food contains thousands of compounds which work together in ways we do not begin to understand. Supplements supply an excess of a single nutrient. In the case of L-methylfolate, the idea is to overcome an enzyme deficiency by supplying the activated form of the nutrient folic acid to prime the pump of essential metabolic pathways. The deficiency occurs more often in the presence of certain genetic mutations, or SNPs, but remember, the problem is most often not caused by the genetic make-up of the individual, who was healthy once, but by epigenetic changes that have occurred. Also remember that methylation silences retroviruses.

I still think retroviruses are at the bottom of it, endogenous and/or exogenous. I will prevail upon Dr. Snyderman, who has lots to say on this subject, to give us an update in the near future. There is a growing body of literature to support the association of activated HERVs with various diseases. There are even a few intrepid researchers still pursuing novel retroviruses in chronic disease, working at the edge of our current understanding. Andrew Mason‘s betaretrovirus associated with primary billiary cirrhosis, clinical trials with antiretrovirals ongoing, Sidney Grossberg‘s JHK gammaretrovirus which he has identified in CFS patients, and Hervé Perron‘s MSRV, particles from HERV-W transcripts, with an immunopathogenic envelope protein, severity of illness correlates to viral load, replication competence still unknown. “Most HERVs are unable to replicate but MSRV expression associated with reverse-transcriptase activity in MS would explain reported DNA copy number increase in MS patients.” from The DNA copy number of human endogenous retrovirus-W (MSRV-type) is increased in multiple sclerosis patients and is influenced by gender and disease severity.

The possibility that animal retroviruses are the root cause of the enormous increase in chronic neuroinflammatory illnesses, autoimmunity and cancer in our modern world has not been ruled out, just because the particular sequence called XMRV has been put to bed. In fact, in figuring out where XMRV came from, created in a lab using techniques in use every day all over the world, a can of worms has been opened. How many times have similar organisms been created? How many cell lines commonly in use produce infectious virus that can spread airborne through a clean lab, as XMRV does.

Given that retroviruses recombine and rescue each other, that under certain conditions HERVs activate to produce viral product, that the environment is full of the very toxins used to amplify retroviruses in the lab and that high risk biotechnologies have offered up so many chances for new retroviruses to infect humans, it seems more likely than unlikely that it has happened, and more than once. After all, we have been injecting adventitious retroviruses into people for 80 plus years in combination with other live viruses. We think nothing of fusing human and mouse genetic material to produce monoclonal antibodies that are given to immunocompromised people. Passaging human tumor tissue through immunodeficient mice, gene vector technology, genetically modifying animals to produce human proteins for IV administration (Atryn) are all very high risk things to do. Lots and lots of chances. Hubris allowed it. Money drives it. How could the legacy of all that science be that half of everybody has a chronic illness, including children? Who wants to know that?

Injected into monkeys, XMRV causes a low level latent infection, which isn’t communicated by transfusion. However, Dr. Mikovits found other sequences in patients besides XMRV. Here is a slide from her recent lecture at Dr. Enlander’s conference showing just that.

The Exotic Biology of XMRVsfinal slide 10

Of course, she doesn’t have her notes, so all of the unpublished work she did is lost to us. Meanwhile, the WPI continues to suck up a big chunk of the government dollars spent on our disease, while their co-founder awaits jail for his felony convictions.

$450,000 of taxpayer money was spent on the specimens collected for the Lipkin study, which was negative, as expected. The good news was that Dr. Lipkin was going to use those specimens to answer some questions. I guess he couldn’t get funding. Instead those specimens have gone to Dr. Peterson, who is raising money to look for evidence of arthropod borne disease, even though the collection criteria for the specimens specifically excluded Lyme Disease. How’s that for looking under the streetlight?

Meanwhile, as a patient community, we are back to case definitions, an obfuscation if there ever was one. A case definition is an exercise in futility, because the disease isn’t one thing. ME/CFS is a garbage pail diagnosis, somewhere to put all those patients who feel awful, have non-specific immune dysfunction and secondary mitochondrial failure, with nothing else to define their illnesses. Many roads lead to Rome. The question of causation is simply too complex for our current scientific methods. The ability to analyze huge amounts of genetic material cost effectively is coming, but it isn’t here yet. It may turn out that the specific retroviral sequences involved are found in particular families or groups of people with certain environmental exposures, e.g. certain chemicals or vaccines.

With the burying of XMRV has come a resurgence of Lyme Disease as The Cause. The CDC recently admitted that they were low on the number of annual cases by a factor of ten, right on time for the release of Baxter’s new vaccine and Lyme test. The CDC’s admission is unfortunately a boon to ILADS, a renegade medical society based on an incestuous relationship with a private lab, to which they refer and then use the unvalidated results to perpetuate their mythology: Patients congratulated for “herx” reactions to antibiotics, rather than recognizing it for the damaging cytokine storm that it is. Then there’s the one about how enough antibiotics in the right combination for the right duration can eradicate it, despite all evidence to the contrary. And the one about how chronic Lyme Disease is a distinct entity from ME/CFS, despite the fact that the two groups are clinically indistinguishable without test results from this one particular cash only lab whose results no other lab can duplicate. And then, if they happen to get a negative test, which is a rare event, the most imaginative of all, seronegative Lyme can be diagnosed clinically, even in people with no risk factors. It’s a scam and a dangerous one. I saw this yesterday: Is Lyme Disease Contagious? Clues Hint That It May Be A Sexually Transmitted Disease, quoting no other than Dr. Raphael Stricker, the most published of the so called LLMDs. Here is what the Office of Research Integrity at the NIH has to say about him (link):

Raphael B. Stricker, M.D., University of California at San Francisco. An investigation conducted by the University found that Dr. Stricker falsified data for a manuscript and a PHS-supported publication reporting research on AIDS. In the manuscript, Dr. Stricker selectively suppressed data that did not support his hypothesis, and reported consistently positive data whereas only one of four experiments had produced positive results. In the publication, Dr. Stricker reported that an antibody was found in 29 of 30 homosexuals, but not found in non-homosexuals. However, Dr. Stricker”s control data, which he suppressed, showed the antibody in 33 of 65 non- homosexuals. The falsified data was used as the basis for a grant application to the National Institutes of Health. The ORI concurred in the University”s finding. Dr. Stricker executed a Voluntary Exclusion and Settlement Agreement in which he has agreed not to apply for Federal grant or contract funds and will not serve on PHS advisory committees, boards or peer review groups for a three year period beginning April 1, 1993. The publication “Target platelet antigen in homosexual men with immune thrombocytopenia” in the New England Journal of Medicine, 313: 1315-1380, 1985 has been retracted (New England Journal of Medicine, 325: 1487,1991).

ME/CFS, Chronic Lyme Disease, mold illness, MCS, fibromyalgia, GWI, all have pretty much the same symptoms. Lots of tunnel vision going on in each group. A retroviral hypothesis is the most parsimonious explanation for all of these diseases, which didn’t exist or were very rare when I went to medical school 35 years ago. Dysautonomia, now common, wasn’t seen then except rarely in advanced diabetes. A retroviral hypothesis fits for ASD also. This very brief distillation is all referenced elsewhere on this blog. However, even when one turns to the literature for answers, you have to figure that a very large proportion of it is wrong due to mistakes, contamination and fraud (lots of that going around). Why Scientific Studies Are So Often Wrong: The Streetlight Effect. So whatever cohort you fall into, which may depend more upon which doctor you go to than anything else, you get to choose between neglect by conventional doctors and expensive overtreatment by the “experts”. My advice is avoid doctors and eat your vegetables.

Tonight’s song: We Shall Overcome by Pete Seeger

Status Post XMRV

I have been in the doldrums, but since blogging is my hedge against powerlessness…

This is how deep in it I have been; my inner blogger didn’t even twitch for this: Partial molecular cloning of the JHK retrovirus using gammaretrovirus consensus PCR primers. Grossberg SE, …, Sun HY

 “Unlike earlier reports, in which MLV-like sequences were identified in human source material, which may have been due to murine contamination, budding retrovirions were demonstrated repeatedly by electron microscopy in uncultivated lymphocytes of the index patient that were morphologically identical in their development to the virions in the JHK-3 cells, and immunological evidence was obtained that the index patient produced IgG antibodies that bound to the budding viral particles in patient PBMCs and in the JHK-3 cells. “

It’s tough to keep writing about it when the medical and scientific communities aren’t interested. This group has been publishing about their retrovirus since 1995. Andrew Mason and Hervé Perron have been publishing about their respective retroviruses for over a decade and nobody is interested:

I haven’t heard or seen anything that makes me feel hopeful of meaningful treatment since the demise of XMRV. The only perhaps promising development was Dr. Hornig saying publicly that they have isolated a novel pathogen. Cruel to have said so without more information, but let’s hope it is true and they publish soon. Otherwise, it is pretty much the same ole, same ole.

Chronic Lyme Disease seems to be experiencing a horrifying resurgence as the explanation for what ails us. A wise doctor, one of the few, once told me that antibiotics are the surest path to worse. Wish I had listened to him. ILADS hasn’t updated their guidelines since 2006, even though lots and lots of people have been made worse by their protocols. They are stumped because in all these years they still can’t show that what they do is a good idea.

Borrelia burgdorferi is obviously one of the things that can happen to the microbiome if one is bitten by deer ticks. The problem is that it can’t be eradicated  with antibiotics once it is established and the antibiotics are harmful. Weigh these papers:

This is as positive as it gets in the literature:

Nevermind that we can’t really tell who has it or whether it is what is making them sick. They could tell that a man from 5000 years ago, found frozen in the Aps had Bb, but he died of trauma. However, they can’t really tell if we have it. The Iceman’s Genome Reveals Evidence Of Lyme Disease, Lactose Intolerance And Distant Relatives.

But what about the people who do get better from antibiotics? My daughter got several remissions in the early years. Did it even have anything to do with Lyme? Broad spectrum antibiotics kill in a broad spectrum way.

So who should get antibiotics? That is the million dollar question. I keep listening and it seems to me the people who are better off for having taken antibiotics know it pretty quickly when they go on. When it works, it works. This idea that a prolonged “herx” is a good thing is lunacy. As bad as blood letting with leeches. It is a cytokine storm, not a good thing and if it lasts a long time, it is damaging.

Two suicides in the Facebook ME/Lyme community yesterday. Both beautiful young women. This should not be happening! And the response is, we understand why they did it. How can that be? When is it going to change? Not soon. Nobody is going to save us. We have to help ourselves. The disease is treatable. Not curable, but treatable. Read the last blog. K is not an anomaly. She has come a huge distance by finding synergy in gentle therapies, none of which would have done it alone. But those therapies aren’t even on the table for discussion.

Ali and I have been on the Wahls diet for 2 weeks. Terry Wahls is a physician with secondary progressive MS who got herself out of a reclining wheelchair with diet. She was already on a paleo diet which had slowed her progression, but modified it to get reversal. Since my working hypothesis is that we have MS Light, I decided to give it a try. I already know it is helping me. My chronic nausea is almost gone and my gut function is much improved. Ali is less sure, but likes it and plans to continue. Only two weeks. We were already on a good gluten free, mostly dairy free, whole food diet. Changing diet is a process, but we have taken it to the next level. Force feeding vegetables:). 9 cups daily, or as much as we can stuff in. Lots of leaf and berry smoothies. We have eliminated grains and added sea vegetables. Working on organ meats and bone soup.

There is no one right diet for everybody. Nor do I expect it to be curative. Like everything I do, it is about quality of life. In particular, getting our food from local CSA’s and learning about the source of what we are eating is feeling really good. Learning about food is fascinating. Focusing on making each bite nutrient dense is working for me. Yes, it is a lot of prep work and yes, it is more expensive. I couldn’t have started without Ali, but now I could do it alone. I posted something about the diet on Facebook and the comments that it is impossible are heartbreaking. Why do these patients have no help?

Dr. Wahls has a book on Amazon Minding My Mitochondria in print and kindle editions. Here are her recent papers:

She is doing the work. The Wahls Foundation is working to further her research and is on Facebook. She found something that helps and she is putting it out there. Here are the videos that inspired me: 

MS Light?

What’s occurred in the last 30 years is criminal, Mikovits says today. “Mothers and fathers got sick, their children got sick.” But with heightened attention, she adds, patients are likely to get help soon. Even lacking a causal pathogen, biomarkers in this patient population can be studied for clues. “We can find therapies for the CFS patient population even before we determine the exact cause,” Mikovits says.
Chasing the Shadow Virus by Hillary Johnson Discover March 2013.


As I said last time, I started Viread again, because I became dangerously hypertensive, a few weeks after stopping it. I had a significant drop in my BP, almost to normal from days 6-12, then it went up again, not quite as high as before, but very high. After much fiddling, it is now controlled, but I had to add additional antihypertensive medication. Happily, after a month back on Viread, there is a downward trend again and I’m hoping I’ll be able to wean from the extra treatment soon. This is not the first time I’ve had this problem, but it was the worst episode yet, and was related in time to stopping Viread. I have been feeling significantly better for the last week, and am also back to baseline productivity. I flared for the first few weeks I went on Viread the first time also. I am going to Tucson to see patients in a couple of weeks and when I come home, am planning to restart Isentress and then Kaletra. I really didn’t want to go back on Viread, but it does seem that I’m getting a payoff again from it. I went off because I wasn’t doing well, and things got even worse, now better back on. I am just reporting, not explaining why or how. The disease is a relapsing remitting illness all on it’s own and changes may or may not have anything to do with the last thing you did.

My reading lately has been about retrotransposons and HERVs, especially MSRV, multiple sclerosis-associated retrovirus. Here is a cutting edge, must read paper, senior author Hervé Perron, whose name appears on most of the important papers on this topic: The DNA Copy Number of Human Endogenous Retrovirus-W (MSRV-Type) Is Increased in Multiple Sclerosis Patients and Is Influenced by Gender and Disease Severity.

MSRV increases its copy number in PBMC of MS patients and particularly in women with high clinical scores. This may explain causes underlying the higher prevalence of MS in women. The association with the clinical severity calls for further investigations on MSRV load in PBMCs as a biomarker for MS.

Human endogenous retrovirus type W envelope expression in blood and brain cells provides new insights into multiple sclerosis disease.

The envelope protein from multiple sclerosis (MS) associated retroviral element (MSRV), a member of the Human Endogenous Retroviral family ‘W’ (HERV-W), induces dysimmunity and inflammation.

Env antigen was detected in a serum of 73% of patients with MS with similar prevalence in all clinical forms, and not in chronic infection, systemic lupus, most other neurological diseases and healthy donors (p<0.01). Cases with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (5/8) and rare HC (4/103) were positive. RNA expression in PBMC and DNA copy numbers were significantly elevated in patients with MS versus HC (p<0.001). In patients with MS, DNA copy numbers were significantly increased in chronic progressive MS (secondary progressive MS vs relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) p<0.001; primary progressive MS vs RRMS -<0.02). Env protein was evidenced in macrophages within MS brain lesions with particular concentrations around vascular elements.

The above paper concludes that exogenous virus production is unlikely. Particles have been identified in MS patients going back to 1989: Leptomeningeal cell line from multiple sclerosis with reverse transcriptase activity and viral particles. 

In fact, a virus was identified in MS in 1975. Look at how far they got with the technology at hand at that time: Multiple sclerosis-associated agent: transmission to animals and some properties of the agent.

In confirmation and extension of observations by Carp and his associates, brain tissue and sera from patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) were found to harbor an agent which induces a transitory depression in polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN) in mice as well as in rats, hamsters, and guinea pigs. All of eight MD brains contained this agent at titers as high as 10(-9)/g of brain tissue. The agent was found in MS sera at titers up to 10(-3)/ml of serum, but its presence depended to some extent on the clinical status of the patients; it was observed more frequently in sera of patients with active disease (73%) thatn in sera of patients with quiescent disease (31%). Control brain tissues or sera failed to induce PMN depression. The apparently MS-associated agent (MSAA) passed through 50-nm but not 25-nm membrane filters (Millipore Corp.) and was largely sedimented at 105,000 X g but not at 50,000 X g for 1 h. It multiplied to high titers in the central nervous tissue of the inoculated animals and could be serially transmitted from animal to animal by passage of brain homeganates. Various observations and considerations appear to preclude that MS-associated agent represents an indigenous animal virus. Although its role in MS remains to be determined, it should be considered a candidate for the etiology of this disease.

Endogenous retroviral genes, Herpesviruses and gender in Multiple Sclerosis contains electron micrographs of MSRV particles.

Particle-associated retroviral RNA and tandem RGH/HERV-W copies on human chromosome 7q: possible components of a ‘chain-reaction’ triggered by infectious agents in multiple sclerosis?

The human endogenous retrovirus link between genes and environment in multiple sclerosis and in multifactorial diseases associating neuroinflammation.

Endogenous retroviruses represent about 8% of the human genome and belong to the superfamily of transposable and retrotransposable genetic elements. Altogether, these mobile genetic elements and their numerous inactivated “junk” sequences represent nearly one half of the human DNA. Nonetheless, a significant part of this “non-conventional” genome has retained potential activity. Epigenetic control is notably involved in silencing most of these genetic elements but certain environmental factors such as viruses are known to dysregulate their expression in susceptible cells. More particularly, embryonal cells with limited gene methylation are most susceptible to uncontrolled activation of these mobile genetic elements by, e.g., viral infections. In particular, certain viruses transactivate promoters from endogenous retroviral family type W (HERV-W). HERV-W RNA was first isolated in circulating viral particles (Multiple Sclerosis-associated RetroViral element, MSRV) that have been associated with the evolution and prognosis of multiple sclerosis. HERV-W elements encode a powerful immunopathogenic envelope protein (ENV) that activates a pro-inflammatory and autoimmune cascade through interaction with Toll-like receptor 4 on immune cells. This ENV protein has repeatedly been detected in MS brain lesions and may be involved in other diseases. Epigenetic factors controlling HERV-W ENV protein expression then reveal critical. This review addresses the gene-environment epigenetic interface of such HERV-W elements and its potential involvement in disease.

Here is a paper about something that could turn into useful therapy, overlooking the significant risks associated with the administration of monoclonal antibodies and the inherent risks involved in hybridoma technology, which involves fusing human cancer with animal B cells. GNbAC1, a humanized monoclonal antibody against the envelope protein of Multiple Sclerosis-associated endogenous retrovirus: a first-in-humans randomized clinical study.

Human endogenous retrovirus (HERV) genes represent about 8% of the human genome. A member of the HERV family W, the Multiple Sclerosis-Associated Retrovirus (MSRV) gene, encodes an envelope protein (Env), which can activate a proinflammatory and autoimmune cascade through its interaction with Toll-like receptor 4. Due to its proinflammatory property and an inhibitory effect on oligodendrocyte precursor cell differentiation, the MSRV-Env protein could play a crucial role in the pathogeny of multiple sclerosis. GNbAC1 is a humanized monoclonal antibody of the immunoglobulin G4 type, which is directed against MSRV-Env. After validation of the MSRV-Env as a therapeutic target in preclinical experimental models, a clinical development program was initiated.

In these healthy male subjects, the safety and pharmacokinetic profiles of GNbAC1 appeared favorable. These findings are expected to allow for the launch of a Phase II development program for this innovative therapeutic approach in patients with multiple sclerosis. ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT01699555.

However, rather than injecting antibodies to gobble up the viral envelope, given the real and theoretical problems with monoclonal antibodies, it would be better to keep Env from being produced in the first place. Maybe a protease inhibitor is the missing link. AIDS drugs didn’t work well until they had PI’s. Dr. Snyderman’s data suggests this was the case for him. I am happy to report that he remains stable at 32 months. Does a response to a PI imply exogenous virus? How far does a HERV have to get in its reproductive cycle before a PI would do some good? SFFV is a defective virus with a pathogenic envelope. If MSRV produces variable particles, some of which appear complete on EM, is it ever infectious?

Reading about MS, thinking about my own clinical presentation and putting it together with everything we have learned since XMRV entered our lives, ME/CFS may exist on a spectrum with MS, in the same way that Aspergers Syndrome is part of the autistic spectrum. Certainly, we are a variation on a theme. I have called it MS light before and I think it is a good working hypothesis for now. Up To Date’s summary on MS is here. Note the many similarities, genetics, epidemiology (including cluster outbreaks), possible problems with the Hepatitis B vaccine. It seems to me our best hope post XMRV is to ride on the coattails of MS, even though it is pathetic that we need to, given that there are at least three times as many of us.

I’m getting lots of questions about what I think of the paper published by De Meirlier et al. Plasmacytoid dendritic cells in the duodenum of individuals diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis are uniquely immunoreactive to antibodies to human endogenous retroviral proteins. I am not going to evoke all the reasons why I might have a problem with this paper, whatever it says. I have moved on. Much of it is documented elsewhere on this blog.

Taking the paper at face value, problems with it are the tiny sample size, from patients that I hope had very serious GI complaints, compared to the patient population as a whole, since, presumably, they warranted a duodenal biopsy. I would like to take this opportunity to emphasize that I am completely opposed to taking any risk of harming fragile patients with unnecessary procedures in order to study the disease. There is no reason to do duodenal biopsies on garden variety ME patients, so the patients in this study should have had significant inflammatory bowel disease, not just IBS. The procedure carries a significant risk. A duodenal punch biopsy can result in death. There is lots of tissue to study without resorting to that. Fresh tissue is harvested all the time for other reasons, there is lots of material to autopsy and lots of specimens in paraffin, which is what was used in this study. My small intestine in paraffin is stored down the street at the local hospital. And plasmacytoid dendritic cells can be harvested from peripheral blood.

The simplest explanation for the findings in this paper is that there was a range of proteins consistent with a generalized activation of HERVs. Many things can transactivate HERVs including recombination events and exposure to exogenous retroviruses. Perhaps they didn’t name the HERV because they were all transactivated? This is what you might expect in someone with inflammatory bowel disease. We have no idea whether these people had a neuroimmune disease or not. The fact that they had a range of symptoms that would qualify for a clasification of CFS is neither here nor there. Endogenous retrovirus-K promoter: a landing strip for inflammatory transcription factors?

There are quite a few papers worth reading in the references, but they missed one:  Cell-free HTLV-1 infects dendritic cells leading to transmission and transformation of CD4(+) T cells.

I hope they are right. It would set us on a path to catch us up to MS, where we belong. However, the paper is so vague. Antibodies to proteins expressed by a generic HERV. This negative paper was also just published: Human Endogenous Retrovirus-K18 Superantigen Expression and Human Herpesvirus-6 and Human Herpesvirus-7 Viral Loads in Chronic Fatigue Patients. It is good news for us that this avenue of research is being pursued.

I expect the De Meirleir paper to get shot down or be ignored completely. The scientific world will probably only read it for laughs, considering the source. They didn’t find a “real” virus this time, so nobody needs to spend millions of dollars to prove it wrong. MSRV was ignored for decades, even though it is associated with a more sympathetic disease than ME/CFS. Progress with it has been glacial, revealing the non-urgent, almost lackadaisacal attitude of the biomedical world towards activated HERVs, even one that was shown to produce viral particles over 20 years ago. In any case, infectious or not, there is increasing agreement that HERV W is associated with MS and can transcribe an Env protein which is neuropathogenic.

And another related illness: HERVs expression in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

I am particularly happy to report that my friend Dr. Mikovits is doing well through it all. She has received many letters of support and asked me to let the community know that she is fine and excited about the future. She is consulting with respect to drugs and diagnostics. She continues to lecture. Currently, she is working on projects with Dr’s Ruscetti and Lipkin, and, in a translational capacity with several medical doctors, Eric Gordon, Chitra Bhakta, Derek Enlander, Paul Cheney, Michael Snyderman and myself.

This excerpt is from an email to me a couple of days ago when I asked her a few questions for this blog:

Planning for the April 25th FDA meeting…a two day meeting to get drug companies and clinical trials going..to avoid the failure of Hemispherx..we have a huge opportunity here..talk about that..tell the patient community I will go there and work to bring them the drugs that are out there as soon as possible..we as a community do not have to go back to basic research where we are decades away..we can translate what we know.. write about that …move forward..

My background is in antiviral drug mechanisms and epigenetic drug development..I am going back to my roots to focus on drug development in infectious/ inflammatory disease…I can now apply my expertise and extensive network to ME/CFS..

Dr. Lipkin said this about her in Nature, only a few months ago:

I feel very badly for Mikovits, [her co-author] Ruscetti and Harvey Alter [a hematologist at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, who led one of the CFS studies]. Mikovits in particular — she has lost everything. She can be wrong but she’s not a criminal. She has been honest in a respectful, forceful way and said that we have to conclude that we were wrong. You can imagine how difficult it must be, and I think she should be applauded. Lots of people wouldn’t have the balls to do that. She has come across as a scientist who really believes in the importance of truth.

Dr. Judy has come a long way since then, pulling herself up by her own bootstraps. I am in awe of her resilience. Handed lemons, she is making excellent lemonade. Stay tuned.

Today’s song: Titanium by David Guetta