How Vaccine Adjuvants Affect Your Brain

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Story at-a-glance -

  • FDA documentation from 2002 admit that routine toxicity studies in animals with vaccine ingredients such as aluminum adjuvants were never conducted because it was assumed that these ingredients are safe
  • Countries with the heaviest vaccines schedules have higher autism rates compared to countries that do not vaccinate children with as many vaccines
  • Compelling evidence shows the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine can raise your risk of brain autoimmune disorders, such as multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Research shows that repeated stimulation with the same antigen overcomes the genetic resistance to autoimmunity. So by giving regular booster shots, you break your tolerance to autoimmunity

By Dr. Mercola

Vaccine safety is certainly a highly controversial topic this year, and in this interview, Dr. Lucija Tomljenovic helps shed light on an important aspect of this discussion, which is how vaccine adjuvants can affect your brain.

Dr. Tomljenovic is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia (UBC), where she works in neurosciences and the Department of Medicine.

"The reason why I got interested in this area is [because] there is a lack of research demonstrating safety," she says.

"When one reviews most of the pharma-based trials on the safety of vaccines, you will see that they either use another vaccine as a placebo or the aluminum adjuvant, and neither of those constitutes a proper placebo.

It's very easy to claim that the product is safe if you're using a comparator that inherently might be toxic."

Another factor that triggered her skepticism about what was being reported in the peer-reviewed literature was her coming face to face with scientific corruption. A former boss actually asked her to falsify data on an experiment they were doing with statin drugs.

They were testing a cholesterol-lowering medication in mice, and more mice were dying from the statin treatment than from the placebo treatment, which in this case was plain water.

"When the result came, my boss told me to ignore the dead mice from the statistics, because it wouldn't look good on the drug. I thought to myself, 'I didn't get a PhD degree to lie to earn money,' so I quit my job," she says.

“I started questioning what else have we been sold in sciences that were dodgy data...My boss was receiving money from the drug companies, and obviously they would have not given more money to a lab that published unfavorable reports about their drugs.”

Aluminum Adjuvants Are Falsely Assumed Safe

When asked about why researchers (and the peer-reviewed journals who review these studies) allow the use of improper placebos—meaning placebos that may be toxic rather than inert—when testing vaccines, she suggests increasing their sales as a primary motivating factor.

It's sobering to realize that when the aluminum adjuvant was first approved for use in vaccines, some 90 years ago, it was approved because of efficacy. It was never actually tested for safety. Even the total allowable limit was based on efficacy data, not safety data. They just assumed it was safe.

"I have a document from 2002 from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)... discussing the assessment of vaccine ingredients... and testing specifically in animal models," she says.

Back then, the FDA stated that the routine toxicity studies in animals with vaccine ingredients have not been conducted because it was assumed that these ingredients are safe. When I read that I was kind of pulling my hairs out [thinking] ‘So, this is your indisputable evidence of safety?’ 

These documents never made it to mainstream media. It's just a lie perpetuated over and over again; that we've been using these things for over nine decades and it's been proven safe. No, it's been assumed safe."

This document is readily available. On pages 11 and 12 of this document, titled: Workshop on Non-Clinical Safety Evaluation of Preventive Vaccines: Recent Advances and Regulatory Considerations,1 it says: “Historically, the non-clinical safety assessment for preventive vaccines has often not included toxicity studies in animal models. This is because vaccines have not been viewed as inherently toxic

In contrast to most drugs and biological products that are predominantly developed to treat ill patients, vaccines primarily are given to large numbers of healthy people, oftentimes predominantly healthy infants and children. And this places significant emphasis on their safety.”

So we see it is just empty talk. They say safety is of great importance, but then they go ahead licensing products that have not been adequately tested.

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Why Are Aluminum Adjuvants Used in Vaccines?

You might wonder why aluminum is used in vaccines as an adjuvant in the first place. An adjuvant is an agent or compound designed to increase your immune response.

Now, your immune response is subdivided into two immune responses: the humoral immune response and the cellular innate immune response. The adjuvant only increases your humoral immunity. It does not affect your cellular innate immunity.

The challenge is that there's really no good testing system for the innate immune system, but they technically can measure antibody response. So that's what's being used.

Aluminum is very effectively able to increase antibodies. But that doesn't appear to actually improve long-term immune responses to infections and disease, which is what most people imagine vaccines will do.

What many fail to realize is that vaccines only work short-term for one aspect of the immune system, not the total immune system.

When you get a wild, acquired infection, it does stimulate the innate immune system, which is how you end up with permanent life-long immunity once you've recovered. This never happens with a vaccine.

"The problem is that people are being brainwashed into this idea that high antibody titers equal protection against diseases, and it's simply not true," Dr. Tomljenovic says.

"Proof of that are cases where you get outbreaks of infectious diseases in fully vaccinated populations, where over 95 percent are vaccinated, and they still get the disease.

The other side will always say, “We need to increase the boosters.” Does it ever occur to these people that these disease outbreaks might be [happening] because [the vaccine] is not doing what they think it should be doing?” 

Rates of Autism Have Risen in Tandem with Vaccine Burden

Together with Christopher Shaw, a professor in the department of ophthalmology and visual sciences at UBC who also chairs the CMSRI's scientific advisory board, Dr. Tomljenovic has published a number of papers2,3,4,5,6 that suggest aluminum-containing vaccines may be unsafe.

Not surprisingly, their work has been heavily criticized. The UBC, however, has defended and stands behind Shaw's and Tomljenovic's work on aluminum toxicity.7 So what does their research show that has everyone in such a tizzy?

"In the original study we gathered data that's available from the US Department of Education about autism rates in the last couple of decades. We have done a similar analysis looking at autism rates in various other countries like UK and the Scandinavian countries.

We found that the countries that have the heaviest vaccines schedule (the children are vaccinated with a great number of vaccines) have higher autism rates compared to countries that do not vaccinate children with as many vaccines.

If you look at the temporal trend in the US, you see a significant correlation over the last three decades between the number of vaccines and autism rates. The autism numbers have been skyrocketing. They always say it's only because the diagnosis of autism is better. But that's a bogus argument because just in the last five years there's been about a 70 percent increase in autism. This is not due to better diagnostic criteria, and it sure isn't a genetic epidemic, because genes in a population do not change in a five-year span. These arguments are just silly," she says.

Correlations such as these do not prove causation, however. To prove a plausible theory, you have to actually test it, to see if the theory holds. At present, the animal model is the best way to do this, as large-scale testing of toxic substances on humans is unethical. This kind of toxicity research on animals should have been done prior to approval, but it wasn't. There's also a large-enough pool of unvaccinated children that could be used to compare health outcomes. As noted by Dr. Tomljenovic, this kind of comparative research also should have been done but hasn't:

"They should've tested vaccinated versus non-vaccinated, the population of vaccinated kids versus non-vaccinated kids, and assessed the health outcomes. But that study has never been done because it has been claimed that it's unethical not to give children vaccines. Well, again, that's an assumption. If you claim that, don't call me a quack scientist, because your science is quack also, because you're putting out assumptions. They're untested. The same goes for safety."

Animal Study Demonstrates Harm of Aluminum Adjuvant

In one of their studies,8 Shaw and Tomljenovic injected mice with aluminum at the equivalent dose given to American children through vaccines, and they spaced out the injections based on the mice's developmental stages. (On a side note, to find out how much aluminum you or your child actually receives from various vaccines, see this vaccine excipients list.9) What they found was that once the mice reached adulthood (which occurs at the age of six months), the treated mice had permanent behavioral impairments.

There was a significant increase in anxiety and a reduction in exploratory behavior. There was also a reduction in social interactions between the mice. "That was a huge confirmation that our initial assumption or correlation [between the number of vaccines and rising autism rates] might be something more than just correlation," she says.

After that, the duo went on to do some gene-based studies, specifically looking at the expression of genes in the mouse brain. They selected 17 candidate genes that are involved in neural function and immune response, and looked to see if there was any change in their expression either at the gene level or the protein level. Here, they discovered:10

  • A significant increase in tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) interferon gamma (IFN-gamma), and a chemokine called macrophage chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1), which is a macrophage-attracting factor. These are indicative of an inflammatory response in the adult mouse brain
  • A significant decrease in a neurotransmitter called acetylcholinesterase (AChE), which is related to depression and anxiety

When You Alter Your Immune System, It Affects Your Brain Function

The changes seen at the genome level and the behavioral level are consistent with findings from studies done on deceased autistic patients, in which chronic brain inflammation was identified. It's important to realize that autism is not just a brain disorder; it's also an immune system disorder. Dr. Tomljenovic calls it an immune system brain disorder, as the two systems are connected.

"The backbone of this research was done 30 years ago. We already knew that there is a significant connection between the immune system and the central nervous system. They communicate. You cannot influence the immune system at the periphery without changing something in the brain. Most of us know that from experience, because when you get the flu, your brain doesn’t function very well. That mental fogginess and chronic fatigue, they are clear neurobehavioral changes in response to an immune stimulus [infection].

It's a neuroendocrine axis—basically, the immune system at the periphery and the central nervous system talk to each other. Again, if you increase an immune response artificially at the periphery, you are going to mess up the brain. They’ve done that artificially using what they call viral and bacterial mimics. I thought, “Oh, that spells like antigens in vaccines,” Because that’s exactly what’s being used. Commonly in this type of research strong adjuvants are added to exaggerate the immune response...

There is a huge body of research that shows that if you overstimulate the immune system at the periphery, especially in the critical stage of early development, you are going to influence the brain in a negative way, and by doing so, you can create irreversible damage. Again, this is research that is rarely discussed, because it really shows that there is reason to question the safety of the burden of vaccines given to infants.”

It’s frustrating to realize that the kind of research and the technology Dr. Tomljenovic incorporated to measure these neuroparameters, has been long available and could have been performed two or three decades ago—it’s that basic. And what the research reveals is that it is not just that aluminum is a neurotoxin, which it certainly is, but also, it is the exaggerated adjuvant-induced immune response that is causing trouble.

What this means is that even if they replaced aluminum with another adjuvant, you’d still get the same problem. This is undoubtedly a problem of enormous proportions for the vaccine industry, which explains why this kind of research isn’t done on a routine basis, and why Shaw’s and Tomljenovic’s work is under such heavy fire.

The pair has also investigated the cross-reactivity between the antibodies that are raised against vaccine antigens. As it turns out, some of them cross-react with our own tissues. Many viruses and bacteria share genetic similarities with human proteins.

For example, there may be a peptide sequence in the wall of the virus that mimics the structure of a human protein. So, the antibody that is raised against the virus will then also recognize these epitopes in your own tissues that mimic the virus. This has the potential to cause severe harm, and can significantly raise the risk of autoimmune disorders.

HPV Vaccine May Raise Your Risk of Autoimmune Disease

For example, Tomljenovic in collaboration with the team led by professor Yehuda Shoenfeld (world expert in autoimmune diseases who heads the Zabludowicz Autoimmunity Research Centre at the Sheba Hospital in Israel) has demonstrated how the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine can raise your risk of brain autoimmune disorders.

This was done by vaccinating young mice with the equivalent of three doses of Gardasil, which is what young girls are receiving. As a result of these vaccinations, the mice developed anti-HPV antibodies, which were found to preferentially bind to a protein in the mouse brain. Dr. Tomljenovic explains:

“[I]f you coat a plate with HPV antibodies and if you apply the serum [blood] from the mice to this plate, the serum from the mice that have been vaccinated with Gardasil and have concentrated antibodies in serum, you can detect the binding between the antibody fraction and the HPV fraction that’s on the plate. Now, if you apply a mouse brain protein extract, you get inhibition of binding of the anti-HPV antibodies to HPV. Why? Because they [the anti-HPV antibodies] are preferentially binding to the mouse brain protein extract. 

The presence of cross-reactive anti-HPV antibodies in the blood of vaccinated girls will increases their risk for developing immune-mediated nervous system disorders, which incidentally appear to be the most commonly reported worldwide, following Gardasil. We have done the analysis on adverse events reported following HPV vaccination. It was published it in the Annals of Medicine. We took vaccines safety databases from various countries, and then we rated the adverse effects reported based on organ system. We found the most commonly reported adverse events following HPV vaccination are nervous system disorders of immune origin.

What was interesting is that in 2013, Japan Institute of Pharmacovigilance picked up our paper. I had an email from a doctor saying, “Can you send us the raw data, because we would like to add our Japanese data to your set and see if they match,” and I said, “Yes, please do.” And the match was perfect. After that, the Japanese Institute of Pharmacovigilance and the Japanese government, and health authorities, held a hearing on concerns about the safety of HPV vaccines. Because again, they were introduced in Japan and universally recommended, and there were many adverse effects reported thereafter. Following the hearing, the Japanese government and health authorities decided to stop recommending the HPV vaccine.11"

Japan No Longer Recommends Gardasil

Japan issued the first suspension of the government's recommendation to get vaccinated against HPV in June 2013. The Japanese Government and Health authorities then organized a symposium on HPV vaccines,12,13 which occurred in February 2014. Important testimony was delivered by one doctor who had treated over 20 cases of MS after Gardasil vaccination. Pharmaceutical representatives were trying to say that such side effects are psychogenic, but how can a psychogenic disorder cause MS lesions in a person’s brain—and in a girl who was perfectly healthy prior to vaccination? “They didn’t have an answer to that,” she says.

“All these problems started in temporal association with the vaccine. Just out of precautionary principle, you would think that they would have the common sense to at least halt the use of the vaccine until more research is done. But no, they just want to force it, and they parrot that it is safe. They do not have any proof of safety other than manipulated research.”

This symposium was followed by a large press conference, attended by Dr. Tomljenovic and research colleagues from France and the US. Since then, attempts by the makers of HPV vaccines to reinstate active recommendation of HPV vaccination by the Japanese Government have all failed, and Merck—which manufactures Gardasil—warned investors that Japan's decision would have "a significant negative impact" on sales.14 GlaxoSmithKline's HPV vaccine Cervarix also saw a downturn in sales immediately following the original suspension.

French Researchers Find Link Between Aluminum Adjuvant and Alzheimer's

A team from Créteil and the INSERM Institute in France also presented data from animal experiments at the Japanese symposium, which show that if you inject the aluminum adjuvant, a portion of the aluminum is engulfed by macrophages. Some of these macrophages eventually find their way into the mouse brain.

The transport in the brain is dependent on the same chemokine, MCP-1, macrophage chemoattractant protein that Shaw and Tomljenovic found increased in their aluminum-exposed animals. Part of the problem is that the aluminum accumulates, and it stays in the brains of mice up to one year after injection because there’s no recirculation to take it out.

“This is a common problem with aluminum, because it’s got a strong positive charge, 3+,” Dr. Tomljenovic says. “What other research has found is that in Alzheimer’s patients, the chromatin fractions in the nucleus of the cell, where your genetic material is stored, accumulate aluminum. Because the DNA has a negative charge on the outside, it binds the positive aluminum.

Thus aluminum disrupts the chromatin structure and in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients it was found that aluminum binds to selective promoter areas of genes that encode proteins that are essential for neural function. In this way aluminum inhibits the expression of these genes.

Again, the problem is that once the aluminum gets into the nucleus of the cell, there is no way of getting it out. It just stays there. The finding by the French team is that even the aluminum you inject in the periphery can get into the brain, which is a concern...

The fact is that the aluminum we get from vaccines is not rapidly excreted, and most of it does remain in your body because it bypasses the gastrointestinal system. If aluminum was rapidly excreted, as the health authorities would like us to believe, then it would be a pretty lousy adjuvant.”

ANY Adjuvant Is Likely to Carry Risk of Autoimmune Disease

I want to stress the point Dr. Tomljenovic makes about the harm produced by stimulating an exaggerated immune response, which is what vaccines are designed to do—this is the function of the adjuvant. The problem is, even if aluminum is removed from vaccines, the risk of immune system brain disorder remains even if the new adjuvant is non-toxic. As she explains, by the virtue of over-stimulating your immune system, you run the risk of breaking self-tolerance. Research supporting this was also presented in Japan during its governmental hearing on HPV vaccines.

What the team of Japanese researchers led by Dr Shunichi Shiozawa found15 is that the repeated stimulation with the same antigen overcomes the genetic resistance to autoimmunity. At present, we’re giving children booster shots at regular intervals with the same antigen. And the research shows that when you do this—when you stimulate the immune system on a regular basis—you break the tolerance to autoimmunity. This is a really crucial piece of information that people need to become aware of.

How Can Safety Be Proven When Proper Safety Studies Are Lacking and Health Statistics Indicate Otherwise?

In light of these findings, it is not surprising that Shaw and Tomljenovic are under fire. However, the critics really do not have much to counter with, besides ad hominem attacks. One recent critic blasted the study saying it was irresponsible to publish this type of research because it might erode the confidence in vaccines. “I think the opposite is true because if you’re trying to enforce military measures, I think that erodes the confidence. Because a truly good product does not need military-type of enforcement,” Dr. Tomljenovic retorts.

The primary and central issue here is that no properly performed safety studies have been done, and by that I'm referring to safety studies that are not corrupted by using toxic placebos, such as another vaccine, rather than a truly inert placebo. "We're not saying stop vaccinating, but stop selling lies, [stop saying] that these things are absolutely safe and that serious adverse risks are so rare that you don't have to worry about them. It's a lie because the proper type of research to answer that question has never been done," Dr.Tomljenovic says.

I couldn't agree more, especially when you add the historical record, which Dr. Suzanne Humphries dissects in her excellent book, Dissolving Illusions. In it, she shows that most infectious diseases were nearly eradicated before the introduction of vaccines. In the end, basic nutritional and hygiene principles such as optimizing vitamin D and avoiding sugar has a far more dramatic preventative effect against illness, and with robust immune function, you can safely recover from virtually any infectious disease and come out the other side with lifelong immunity.

“There is also a research showing how exposure to certain childhood diseases like chicken pox actually has prevented certain types of gliomas [a type of brain tumor],” Dr. Tomljenovic notes. “There are some others that decreased the risk of Parkinson’s. Cancer is also in part a disease of the immune system because a healthy immune system will detect abnormal cell growth. If you compromise your immune system early in childhood, there goes your anti-cancer defense...

People need to do their own research on these things, because we have to make choices every day, and they should be informed choices. If I was to buy a new kitchen appliance I would spend some time researching, comparing prices, and looking at the quality. But when it comes to putting things into our children, we just blindly trust the medical authorities...

You cannot go back on some of these things. I get a lot of emails from parents with vaccine injured children. It must be the most horrible thing for a parent to live with that because they truly believe they did the best for their child. I know many mothers whose girls have died following HPV, and they said, “If I only haven’t listened to that campaign, my daughter would still be alive.”