Medical-Industrial Complex

“Unless we put medical freedom into the Constitution, the time will come when medicine will organize into an undercover dictatorship…To restrict the art of healing to one class of men and deny equal privileges to others will constitute the Bastille of medical science. All such laws are un-American and despotic…, and have no place in a republic…The Constitution of this Republic should make special provisions for medical freedom as well as religious freedom.”

Dr. Benjamin Rush, signer of Declaration of Independence, member of Continental Congress

“The efforts of the medical profession in the US to control:…its…job it proposes to monopolize. It has been carrying on a vigorous campaign all over the country against new methods and schools of healing because it wants the business…I have watched this medical profession for a long time and it bears watching.”

Clarence Darrow (1857-1938), Populist leader and lawyer

“Medicine is a social science and politics is a medicine on a large scale…The very words ‘Public Health’ show those who are of the opinion that medicine has nothing to do with politics the magnitude of their error.”

Rudolf Virchow, (1821-1902) founder of cellular pathology

“The profession to which we belong, once venerated…-has become corrupt and degenerate to the forfeiture of its social position…”

Dr. Nathaniel Chapman, first president, AMA, 1848

In 1922, Herbert McLean Evans and Katharine Scott Bishop discovered vitamin E. Then in the following decades from the 1930s to the 1940s, Drs. Wilfred and Evan Shute treated 30,000 patients with natural vitamin E in their clinic and studied it’s health benefits. Despite all of the documented evidence, they had little influence in mainstream nutrition and medicine. They had the disadvantage of promoting a vitamin right at the beginning of the era when pharmaceuticals were getting all of the attention: “Better Living through chemistry.” Responding to the resistance of medical authorities, from his book The Heart and Vitamin E (1956), Dr. Evans Shute wrote that,

“It was nearly impossible now for anyone who valued his future in Academe to espouse Vitamin E, prescribe it or advise its use. That would make a man a “quack” at once. This situation lasted for many years. In the United States, of course, the closure of the JAMA pages against us and tocopherol meant that it did not exist. It was either in the U.S. medical bible or it was nought. No amount of documentation could budge medical men from this stance. Literature in the positive was ignored and left unread. Individual doctors often said: ‘If it is as good as you say, we would all be using it.’ But nothing could induce them as persons of scientific background to make the simplest trial on a burn or coronary.”

In the article Drs. Wilfrid and Evan Shute Cured Thousands with Vitamin E, Andrew W. Saul emphasized this suppression of new knowledge:

“The American Medical Association even refused to let the Shute’s present their findings at national medical conventions. (p 148-9) In the early 1960’s, the United States Post Office successfully prevented even the mailing of vitamin E. (p 166).” Over the decades, others have taken note of the heavy-handedness of mainstream authorities. “The failure of the medical establishment during the last forty years,” wrote Linus Pauling in his 1985 Foreword, “to recognize the value of Vitamin E in controlling heart disease is responsible for a tremendous amount of unnecessary suffering and for many early deaths. The interesting story of the efforts to suppress the Shute discoveries about Vitamin E illustrates the shocking bias of organized medicine against nutritional measures for achieving improved health.”

What is motivating this ‘failure’? And is it really a failure or simply serving other interests, maybe quite successfully at that?

* * *

“Today, expulsion is again mustered into service in a war of ideology. …Modern society makes its heresies out of political economy…Ethics has always been a flexible, developing notion of medicine, with a strong flavor of economics from the start.”

Oliver Garceau, Dept. of Government, Harvard U., The Political Life of the AMA (1941)

“Everyone’s heard about the military-industrial complex, but they know very little about the medical-industrial complex…(in) a medical arms race…”

California Governor Jerry Brown, June 1980

“The new medical-industrial complex is now a fact of American life…with broad and potentially troubling implications…”

Dr. Arnold Relman, Editor, New England Journal of Medicine

“Bankers regard research as most dangerous and a thing that makes banking hazardous due to the rapid changes it brings about in industry.”

Charles Kettering, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and Vice President of General Motors, (in Ralph Moss, Cancer Syndrome)

“The system of influence and control..is highly skewed in favor of the corporate and financial system. And this dominant influence is felt not only in universities, foundations, and institutions of higher learning, but also…from media to all other instruments of communication.”

Vincente Navarro, (Professor of Health and Social Policy, John Hopkins U., and other credentials).

“In the feeding of hospital patients, more attention should be given to providing tasty and attractive meals, and less to the nutritive quality of the food.”
“People say that all you get out of sugar is calories, no nutrients…There is no perfect food, not even mother’s milk.”
“Have confidence in America’s food industry, it deserves it.”

Dr. Frederick Stare, Harvard U. School of Public Health, Nutrition Dept. Head

So, why are the powers that be so concerned with harmless supplements that consumers take in seeking self-healing and well-being? The FDA explained it’s motivativions:

“It has been common…to combine such unproven ingredients as bio-flavinoids, rutin…, with such essential nutrients as Vitamin C…, thus implying that they are all nutritionally valuable for supplementation of the daily diet. The courts have sustained FDA legal action to prevent such practices, and the new FDA regulations preclude this type of combination in the future…Similarly, it has been common…to state or imply that the American diet is inadequate because of soil deficiencies, commercial processing methods, use of synthetic nutrients, and similar charges. FDA recognizes that these false statements have misled, scared, and confused the public, and is prohibiting any such general statements in the future…The medical and nutritional professions have shown strong support of this policy,…” (FDA Assistant General council’s letter to 5 US Legislators, Hearings, US Congress, 1973).

To give a further example of this contorted thinking, consider another statement from an FDA official: “It is wholly unscientific to state that a well-fed body is more able to resist disease than a less well-fed body” (FDA’s Head of Nutrition Department, Dr. Elmer M. Nelson. in Gene Marin and Judith Van Allen, Food Pollution: The Violation of Our Inner Ecology). That is so absurd as to be unbelievable. Yet it’s sadly expected when one knows of incidents like Ancel Keys attack on John Yudkin amidst wholesale silencing of his detractors and the more recent high level persecution of Tim Noakes, along with dozens of other examples.

The advocates of natural healing and sellers of nutritional supplements were criticizing the dominant system of big ag, big drug, and closely related industries. This was a challenge to power and profit, and so it could not be tolerated. One wouldn’t want the public to get confused… nor new generations of doctors, as explained the Harvard Medical School Dean, Dr. David Edsall: “…students were obliged…to learn about an interminable number of drugs, many…valueless, …useless, some…harmful. …there is less intellectual freedom in the medical course than in almost any other form of professional education in this country.”

This is how we end up with young doctors, straight out of medical school, failing a basic test on nutrition (Most Mainstream Doctors Would Fail Nutrition). Who funds much of the development of medical school curruicula? Private corporations, specifically big drug and big food, and the organizations that represent them. Once out of medical school, some doctors end up making millions of dollars by working for industry on the side, such as giving speeches to promote pharmaceuticals. Also, continuing education and scientific conferences are typically funded by this same big money from the private sphere. There is a lot of money slushing around, not to mention the small briberies of free vacations and such given to doctors. It’s a perverse incentive and one that was carefully designed to manipulate and bias the entire healthcare system.

* * *

“[Doctors] collectively have done more to block adequate medical care for people of this country than any other single group.”

President Jimmy Carter

“I think doctors care very deeply about their patients, but when they organize into the AMA, their responsibility is to the welfare of doctors, and quite often, these lobbying groups are the only ones that are heard in the state capitols and in the capitol of our country.”

President Jimmy Carter

“The FDA and much, but not all, of the orthodox medical profession are actively hostile against vitamins and minerals… They are out to get the health food industry…And they are trying to do this out of active hostility and prejudice.”

Senator William Proxmire (in National Health Federation Bulletin, April, 1974

“Eminent nutritionists have traded their independence for the food industry’s favors.”

US Congressman Benjamin Rosenthal

“The problem with ‘prevention’ is that it does not produce revenues. No health plan reimburses a physician or a hospital for preventing a disease.”

NCI Deputy Director, Division of Cancer Cause and Prevention; and of Diet, Nutrition and Cancer Program

“What is the explanation for the blind eye that has been turned on the flood of medical reports on the causative role of carbohydrates in overweight, ever since the publication in 1864 of William Banting’s famous “Letter on Corpulence”? Could it be related, in part, to the vast financial endowments poured into the various departments of nutritional education by the manufacturers of our refined carbohydrate foodstuff?”

Robert C. Atkins, MD, Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution, c. 1972

“Although the stated purpose of licensure is to benefit the public…Consumers…have learned that licensing may add to the cost of services, while not assuring quality….Charges…the legal sector that licensure restricts competition, and therefore unnecessarily increases costs to consumers….Like other professionals, dietiticians can justify the enactment of licensure laws because licensing affords the opportunity to protect dietiticians from interference in their field by other practitioners…This protection provides a competitive advantage, and therefore is economically beneficial for dietiticians”

ADA President, Marilyn Haschske, JADA, 1984

“While millions of dollars were being projected for research on radiation and other cancer ‘cures’, there was an almost complete blackout on research that might have pointed to needed alterations in our environment, our industrial organization, and our food.”

Carol Lopate, in Health Policy Advisory Center, Health PAC Bulletin

“Research in the US has been seriously affected by restrictions imposed by foreign cartel members. …It has attempted to suppress the publication of scientific research data which were at variance with its monopoly interest. …The hostility of cartel members toward a new product which endangers their control of the market(:)…In the field of synthetic hormones, the cartel control has been …detrimental to our national interest.”

US Assistant Attorney General, Wendell Berge, Cartels, Challenge to the Free World. – in Eleanor McBean, The Poisoned Needle

“We are aware of many cases in industry, government laboratories, and even universities where scientists have been retaliated against when their professional standards interfered with the interests of their employers or funders. This retaliation has taken many forms, ranging from loss of employment and industry-wide blacklisting to transfers and withholding of salary increases and promotions. We are convinced that the visible problem is only the tip of the iceberg.”

American Chemical Society President, Alan C. Nixon, (in Science, 1973)

Similar to the struggles of the Shute brothers, this problem was faced faced by the early scientists studying the ketogenic diet and the early doctors using it to treat patients with epilepsy. The first research and application of the ketogenic diet began in the 1920s and it was quickly found useful for other health conditions. But after a brief period of interest and funding, the research was mostly shut down in favor of the emerging new drugs that could be patented and marketed. It was irrelevant that the keto diet was far more effective than any drugs produced then or since. The ketogenic diet lingered on in a few hospitals and clinics, until research was revived in the 1990s, about three-quarters of a century later. Yet, after hundreds of studies proving its efficacy for numerous diseases (obesity, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, etc), mainstream authority figures and the mainstream media continue to dismiss it and spread fear-mongering, such as false and ignorant claims about ketoacidosis and kidney damage.

Also, consider X-ray technology that was invented by Dr. Émil Herman Grubbé in 1896. He then became the first to use X-rays for cancer treatment. Did the medical profession embrace this great discovery? Of course not. It wasn’t acknowledged as useful until 1951. When asked what he thought about this backward mentality denying such a profound discovery, Dr. Grubbé didn’t mince words: “The surgeons. They controlled medicine, and they regarded the X-ray as a threat to surgery. At that time surgery was the only approved method of treating cancer. They meant to keep it the ‘only’ approved method by ignoring or rejecting any new methods or ideas. This is why I was called a ‘quack’ and nearly ejected from hospitals where I had practiced for years” (Herbert Bailey, Vitamin E: Your Key to a Healthy Heart). As with the Shute brothers, he was deemed a ‘quack’ and so case closed.

There have been many more examples over the past century, in particular during the oppressive Cold War era (Cold War Silencing of Science). The dominant paradigm during McCarthyism was far from limited to scapegoating commies and homosexuals. Anyone stepping out of line could find themselves targeted by the powerful. This reactionary impulse goes back many centuries and continues to exert its influence to this day, continues to punish those who dare speak out (Eliminating Dietary Dissent). This hindering of innovation and progress may be holding civilization back by centuries. We seem unable of dealing with the simplest of problems, even when we already have the knowledge of how to solve those problems.

* * *

“Relevant research on the system as a whole has not been done… It is remarkable that with the continuing health care ‘crisis’, so few studies of the consequences of alternative modes of delivering care have been done. Such a paucity of studies is no accident; such studies would challenge structural interests of both professional monopoly (MD’s) and corporate rationalization in maintaining health institutions as they now exist or in directing their ‘orderly’ expansion.”

Robert R. Alford, Professor, UC Santa Cruz, Health Care Politics

“…It seems that public officials are afraid that if they make any move, or say anything antagonistic to the wishes of the medical organization, they will be pounced upon and destroyed. ..Public officials seem to be afraid of their jobs and even of their lives.”

US Senator Elmer Thomas, In Morris A. Bealle, The Drug Story. c. 1949 and 1976

“I think every doctor should know the shocking state of affairs…We discovered they (the FDA) failed to effectively regulate the large manufacturers and powerful interests while recklessly persecuting the small manufacturers. …(The FDA is) harassing (small) manufacturers and doctors…(and) betrays the public trust.”

Senator Edward V. Long. 1967

“The AMA protects the image of the food processors by its constant propaganda that the American food supply is the finest in the world, and that (those) who question this are simply practicing quackery. The food processors, in turn, protect the image of the AMA and of the drug manufacturers by arranging for the USDA and its dietitic cronies to blacklist throughout the country and in every public library, all nutrition books written for the layman, which preach simple, wholesome nutrition and attack …both the emasculation of natural foods and orthodox American medical care, which ignores subtle malnutrition and stresses drug therapy, (“as distinct from vitamin therapy”) for innumerable conditions. The drug manufacturers vigorously support the AMA since only MD’s can prescribe their products.”

Miles H. Robinson, MD; Professor, University of Pennsylvania and Vanderbilt Medical Schools, exhibit in Vitamin, Mineral, and Diet Supplements, Hearings, US House of Representatives, 1973

“The AMA puts the lives and well being of the American citizens well below it’s own special interest…It deserves to be ignored, rejected, and forgotten. No amount of historical gymnastics can hide the public record of AMA opposition to virtually every major health reform in the past 50 years….The AMA has turned into a propaganda organ purveying ‘medical politics’ for deceiving the Congress, the people, and the doctors of America themselves.”

Senator Edward Kennedy, in UPI National Chronicle, 1971

“The hearings have revealed police-state tactics…possibly perjured testimony to gain a conviction,…intimidation and gross disregard for the Constitutional Rights…(of) First, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments, (by the FDA)
“The FDA (is) bent on using snooping gear to pry and invade…”
“Instance after instance of FDA raids on small vitamin and food supplement manufacturers. These small, defenseless businesses were guilty of producing products which FDA officials claimed were unnecessary.”
“If the FDA would spend a little less time and effort on small manufacturers of vitamins…and a little more on the large manufacturers of…dangerous drugs…, the public would be better served.”

Senator Long from various Senate hearings

“From about 1850 until the late 1930’s, one of the standing jokes in the medical profession, was about a few idiots who called themselves doctors, who claimed they could cure pneumonia by feeding their patients moldy bread. …Until…they discovered penicillin…in moldy bread!”

P.E. Binzel, MD, in Thomas Mansell, Cancer Simplified, 1977

“Penicillin sat on a shelf for ten years while I was called a quack.”

Sir Alexander Fleming.

“(in)”1914…Dr. Joseph Goldberger had proven that (pellagra) was related to diet, and later showed that it could be prevented by simply eating liver or yeast. But it wasn’t until the 1940’s…that the ‘modern’ medical world fully accepted pellagra as a vitamin B deficiency.”

G. Edward Griffin, World Without Cancer

“…The Chinese in the 9th century AD utilized a book entitled The Thousand Golden Prescriptions, which described how rice polish could be used to cure beri-beri, as well as other nutritional approaches to the prevention and treatment of disease. It was not until twelve centuries later that the cure for beri-beri was discovered in the West, and it acknowledged to be a vitamin B-1 deficiency disease.”

Jeffrey Bland, PhD, Your Health Under Siege: Using Nutrition to Fight Back

“The intolerance and fanaticism of official science toward Eijkman’s observations (that refined rice caused beri-beri) brought about the death of some half million people on the American continent in our own century alone between 1900 and 1910.”

Josue Castro, The Geography of Hunger

“In 1540…Ambroise Paré…persuaded doctors to stop the horrid practice of pouring boiling oil on wounds and required all doctors to wash thoroughly before delivering babies or performing surgery….(in) 1844…Ignaz Semmelweis in Vienna proved…that clean, well-scrubbed doctors would not infect and kill mothers at childbirth. For his efforts Semmelweis was dismissed from his hospital…(and) despite publication, his work was totally ignored. As a result he became insane and died in an asylum, and his son committed suicide.”
“As a chemist working for the US Government in 1916 on the island of Luzon (Philippines), (R.R.) Williams, over the opposition of orthodox medicine, had managed to eradicate beri-beri…by persuading the population to drink rice bran tea. In 1917, Williams was recalled to the US, and thereafter orthodox medicine discouraged anyone from drinking rice bran tea, so by 1920 there were more beri-beri deaths on Luzon than in 1915. ..In 1934, R.R. Williams (now) at Bell Telephone Labs., discovered thiamine (vitamin B-1), and that thiamine in rice bran both prevented and cured beri-beri.”
“Christian Eikman in Holland…shared the Nobel prize for Medicine in 1929 for Proving in 1892 that beri-beri was not an infectious disease…”

Wayne Martin, BS, Purdue University; Medical Heroes and Heretics, & “The Beri-beri analogy to myocardial infarction”, Medical Hypothesis

“In the 1850’s, Ignaz P. Semmelweis, a Hungarian doctor, discovered that childbed fever, which then killed about 12 mothers out of every 100, was contagious…and that doctors themselves were spreading the disease by not cleaning their hands. He was ridiculed…Opponents of his idea attacked him fiercely….(and) brought on (his) mental illness….(he) died a broken man.”

Salem Kirban, Health Guide for Survival

“…Galen…was…forced to flee Rome to escape the frenzy of the mob….Vesalius was denounced as an imposter and heretic…William Harvey was disgraced as a physician…William Roentgen…was called a quack and then condemned…”
“In…1535, when…Jacques Cartier found his ships…in…the St. Lawrence River, scurvy began…and then a friendly Indian showed them (that) tree bark and needles from the white pine – both rich in…Vitamin C – were stirred into a drink (for) swift recovery. Upon returning to Europe, Cartier reported this incident to the medical authorities. But they were amused by such ‘witch-doctor cures of ignorant savages’ and did nothing to follow it up…”
“It took over 200 years and cost hundreds of thousands of lives before the medical experts began to accept…Finally, in 1747, John Lind..discovered that oranges and lemons produced relief from scurvy…and yet it took 48 more years before his recommendation was put into effect….’Limeys’ would soon become rulers of the ‘Seven Seas’…”
“In 1593, Sir Richard Hawkins noted and later published, in observations on his voyage into the South Seas, references that natives of the area used sour oranges and lemons as a cure for scurvy, and a similar result was noted among his crew. …In 1804, regulations were introduced into the British Navy requiring use of lime juice….(and) into law by the British Board of Trade in 1865….It took two centuries to translate empirical observations into action…”

Maureen Salaman, MSc, Nutrition: the Cancer Answer

Most of the above quotes were found on a webpage put together by Wade Frazer (Medical Dark Ages Quotes). He gathered the quotes from Ralph Hovnanian’s 1990 book, Medical Dark Ages.

What is the lesson of COVID-19?

The US has been reacting to this public health crisis of COVID-19. But one can’t remain in emergency mode permanently. So, we’ve suddenly switched to the opposite reaction of reopening everything as a free-for-all as if everything is fine and normal again. Then there will likely be a massive upswing again of infections, followed by another period of fearful reaction.

We are stuck in this cycle because we are unprepared, both in terms of public policy and public health. But a major factor is the population is so unhealthy with 88% of Americans being metabolically unfit, not to mention environmental risks to the health of poor communities. Even in the best of times, that would eventually be devastating simply in terms of financial costs. Some predict we might eventually go bankrupt from treating all those sick Americans, along with the increasing costs of sick days, disability pay, etc.

The main thing that COVID-19 is showing us is how weak of a position we are in. It’s multiple factors that are putting us in a difficult bind. And this is a rather minor pandemic. If a truly deadly pandemic hits, which is inevitable, our society is going to be totally crippled and devastated. We barely can manage public health issues and healthcare costs without a pandemic. This situation is only going to get worse, specifically as the rates of metabolic disease continue to rise.

If we don’t become pro-active about dietary policy and healthcare quickly, we could be facing an existential crisis as a society. So, why is no major official or expert talking about public health in terms of factors we can control, specifically comorbidities such as diet-related and pollution-related suppression of the immune system? We can try to control external risk factors through public policies on social gathering and such, but we’d be wiser in the long term to improve public health by improving the metabolic and immunological health of Americans so that we are less susceptible to infections in the first place.

Being unhealthy is not only a threat to the individual. When magnified across an entire society, most of the population being unhealthy is a much greater threat. Every single unhealthy individual is a risk factor, is a threat of infectious spread to their family, friends, neighbors, fellow church congregants, etc. Personal health is a public health issue. But Americans seem only to know how to react to such things, or else scapegoat individuals for failure of public policy. Even those who want to dismiss it all are likewise trapped in an opposite reaction. Both sides have their head in the sand about the most central factor.

Even if the COVID-19 pandemic fizzles out in the end with maybe only a million or so dead in the United States, it doesn’t change the basic public health crisis that will continue to get worse. Imagine when even more people in the United States and worldwide have metabolic diseases, and imagine when an even more virulent infectious disease hits. If we make no changes before then to improve individual and public health, we will be in a worse position than now and we will still be unprepared. Are we going to learn any lesson from this crisis?

None of this is to consider the potential combination of other factors. We are likely entering a period of one crisis after another with each crisis as bad or worse than the one before. Besides pandemics and other public health problems, there will be climate change events with worsening and increasing number of superstorms, along with floods, droughts, wildfires, famines, etc that will lead to refugee crises, social instability, civil wars, political coups, international conflict, fight over resources, and on and on.

That could be on top of the crises of destabilizing inequality, loss of public trust, and weakening political authority; not to mention various backlashes of reactionary politics, authoritarianism, riots, terrorism, and so much else. In the end, worsening health concerns, even pandemics, might be the least of our worries. But certainly a great enough public health crisis alone could unleash a cascade of stresses, conflicts, and failures within American society and across the geopolitical order.

This situation with COVID-19 is a warning we should heed. This could be, as some claim, the new normal. Or else a mere suggestion of the new normal yet to come.

Then the second wave of infections hit…

Image

The 1918 Flu did not begin as an obvious pandemic and public health catastrophe. When the first cases appeared, experts and officials realized it was worse than the common flu, but it still seemed relatively mild and manageable. Beyond some closings in specific places, few took it seriously.

Besides, some were loudly vocal in their opposition to what they perceived as overreaction in trying to control the viral outbreak. And most leaders wanted to keep the economy going and the keep the factories open, if only for the war effort. A few more deaths of workers was deemed acceptable as sacrifices for the national good, the health of the economy, and whatever other reasons were given.

This allowed infections to spread around the world during the early period. And in spreading, it allowed this influenza virus to further mutate and quickly take hold across the global population. This set the stage for what was to follow when the next flu season came around later that year.

Then the second wave of infections hit with a new strain that was far more deadly. It is that second wave that we now remember as the greatest pandemic of the 20th century. Many millions of Americans died and, at that point, it was too late to have attempted to get it under control. The spread of the infection had to burn its way through the population.

Does the first part of that sound familiar? We now await the second wave of COVID-19 infections. No one knows what will happen. Going by testing data, it appears that only a small portion of the the United States population has been infected so far. One difference to the 1918 Flu is that governments this time around did put control measures into place, but that has only temporarily halted the spread while the virus goes partly dormant with warmer weather.

We will find out what happens this next fall and going into winter. The pandemic might fizzle out with only a few hundred thousands of Americans dead from COVID-19. Or as the leadership pushes to reopen the economy and larger society with few systematic and coordinated protective measures put into place, we might see a repeat of history with millions of American lives sacrificed. It’s a gamble.

* * *

There is nothing wrong with making an informed calculation about public health, but it’s not clear this is what has motivated the present reopening. Few politicians have been transparent about their decision-making and the data it’s based upon. And fewer still, not even in the media’s supposed role of holding officials accountable, are talking about the long term scenario we are facing, a possibility even of a pandemic that lingers for years.

Instead, those in power and influence are acting as if the pandemic is coming to an end, not merely passing through a momentary reprieve. The public is not being prepared, psychologically or practically, for another period of infectious spread. Yet it’s certain that plenty of people in the leadership know about the high probability of an even worse return of the pandemic later this year, but obviously they don’t want the public to know about it or worry about it.

If preparations are being made for what might come, it is being done covertly. That is understandable, in that they might want to avoid further politicization of the situation. And no doubt any officials who spoke of the pandemic not only continuing but getting worse would find themselves a target of the Trump administration and many other powerful interests, a not comfortable or safe position to be in.

The problem is this is yet more paternalistic authoritarianism in shutting down democratic process and public debate. Decisions are being made for us and we are being kept ignorant. We are being treated as children not to be trusted with full knowledge and adult responsibilities, children to be taken care of and told what to do. So, like good worker-citizens, we should return to our proper place within the capitalist hierarchy and, as Bush Jr told us after the 9/11 attack, our patriotic duty is to get back to shopping.

The appearance of normalcy is what has been deemed most important. The status quo is dependent on it, as is the power and profit of those who have most benefited from this entrenched system of neoliberalism. But viruses don’t concern themselves with political priorities, economic demands, and ideological rationalizations. We will never return to normal and this will become ever more apparent as we enter this era of crisis after crisis, no matter what does or does not happen as we move toward the end of the year.

None of this is being discussed, not how this pandemic is probably related to climate change and environmental destruction, not how this pandemic was exacerbated by generations of a public health crisis, not to mention a public trust crisis. Simply put, we’ve been in a crisis for a long time and, pandemic or not, the state of crisis will remain unresolved. Besides, even if this pandemic dwindles away in a less than dramatic fashion, it’s almost guaranteed that we will be facing other pandemics in the near future as the conditions are ripe for the spread of disease, similar to the spread of invasive species we’re also experiencing worldwide.

This is not a time to let down our guard. Then again, those well-informed have known this for decades. So, why do we keep finding ourselves surprised and unprepared when each new crisis appears on the horizon?

* * *

Much of this has to do with our public imagination, what we are collectively capable of thinking about and envisioning. This COVID-19 situation does not fit our perception of how a pandemic is supposed to look. When we have a pandemic in mind, most of us look back to something like the Black Death where so many people died that there weren’t enough people left to keep up with burying the dead.

It doesn’t occur to us that even some of the worst pandemics could begin so unimpressively, as was the case with the 1918 Flu. And since we have no living memory of a pandemic in the Western world, we have no basis to consider even what this pandemic might mean even as we’re in the middle of it. All the average person knows is that governments are reopening their economies and, intentionally or not, that sends a signal that all is well again.

Since there aren’t dead bodies piled in the streets, maybe most people assume that either the pandemic is over or there never really was a pandemic in the first place. The thought that the worst might be yet to come is simply not in public awareness, as it’s not a part of public debate, much less public messaging from officials and experts. And plenty of those seeking to shape the public imagination are happy to keep the public ignorant, so as to suppress fear and anxiety and panic.

Yet public imagination has permanently been impacted by these events. Most Americans still are reluctant about the economy reopening, not supporting the idea of being forced back to work when there is still a chance that they can be infected and die or that they might endanger the lives of loved ones. As increasing number of politicians take measures that indicate everything is winding down and returning to normal, a sense of caution and concern remains in the air. More people than ever are wearing masks, for example.

Despite lacking accurate historical knowledge of other pandemics, maybe on an unconscious level the public does sense that we are far from being in the clear, that the world still is not yet safe. Suppressed though it is, the public imagination is also being informed by the lack of public trust specifically in those trying to manipulate and manage public perception. Whether or not they could consciously articulate it, much of the population likely has a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

* * *

This brings us back to the precautionary principle. We are entering an era of crises. There is no doubt that governments are preparing for disasters, but the kind of preparation governments tend to make have to do with hurricanes, wars, and such. It seems apparent that the United States government had almost no serious preparation for a pandemic.

A slow-burning pandemic like this simply doesn’t fit into the political imaginary. The weakness of the precautionary principle is that it’s dependent on our ability to imagine possibilities. We need experts who are educated and trained to imagine what others find impossible to imagine, so as to prepare for what otherwise would be unpredictable.

In general, hyperobjects that pose slow violence don’t inspire collective action. They are too hard for most people to comprehend. Examples of this are invisible things like lead toxicity and climate change. We can’t see them happening, can’t see what they are doing to us and the world around us. So, we have no emotional and visceral response to their threat.

Related to COVID-19, another example is that of the chronic diseases that are comorbidities of infectious diseases. These are also referred to as the diseases of civilization, as they appear with the rise of civilization and worsen with the development of civilization, from agriculture to industrialization. How health declines across generations was scientifically studied in the early 1900s by Weston A. Price and Francis M. Pottenger Jr, although observations were made in the century or two prior.

The earlier 1918 flu became a pandemic because of changing conditions. This included the mass urbanization and industrialization that was changing lifestyles and diets, such as creating crowded conditions and malnutrition. Just hitting adulthood was the first generation that was majority urbanites. In the early 1900s, European immigrants were already noticing that American children looked chubbier, an early sign of metabolic disease, although obesity wouldn’t be considered a public health crisis until the 1950s.

The 1918 flu may never have become a pandemic if not for the worsening health in the Western world. The same might be true now for COVID-19. Such conditions of public health could be the decisive factors for which infectious diseases become pandemics.

As a precaution, the best preparation possible for any and all crises is to improve public health. Even preparing for war requires a public healthy enough to serve as soldiers, a problem Western countries faced a century or so ago when much of the population couldn’t serve in the military because of malnutrition and maldevelopment. Obesity has become a problem in the military now.

A pandemic doesn’t come out of nowhere. The conditions for it develop over long periods of time, sometimes over generations. Such conditions might determine if infectious diseases remain a minor concern or run rampant across a population. Other conditions that unleash infectious diseases have to do with environmental destruction that stresses the health of both humans and wild animals.

The precautionary principle suggests we should expect the worst and expect the unexpected. It also suggest we shouldn’t push our luck.

* * *

Relevant articles:

Three potential futures for Covid-19: recurring small outbreaks, a monster wave, or a persistent crisis
by Sharon Begley

Coronavirus may last 2 years, study warns- and its second wave could be worse
by Dennis Wagner

Why a Mayo Clinic expert has concerns about second wave of COVID-19
by DeeDee Stiepan

Harvard epidemiologist: Beware COVID-19’s second wave this fall
by Len Strazewski

Why a Second Wave of Covid-19 Is Already a Worry
by John Lauerman

What If Covid-19 and Flu Both Flare Up This Fall?
by Robert Roy Britt

How will we know whether the coronavirus will come back stronger in the winter?
by Amina Khan

As States Rush to Reopen, Scientists Fear a Coronavirus Comeback
by Donald G. McNeil Jr.

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything
by Ashley Wadhwani

‘The 1918 Spanish flu’s second wave was even more devastating’: WHO advises caution to avoid ‘immediate second peak’
by Quentin Fottrell

What a Second Wave of Coronavirus in the Fall Could Look Like
by Heather Grey

Second more deadly wave of coronavirus expected ‘to hit Europe this winter’
by Anne Gulland

Aftershock: If coronavirus swells in a second wave later this year, will the nation be ready?
by Dennis Wagner

Flu and coronavirus will launch dual ‘assault’ on America next winter if we don’t prepare now, CDC chief warns
by Brandon Specktor

CDC director warns second wave of coronavirus is likely to be even more devastating
by Lena H. Sun

COVID-19 Update: US Second Wave May Happen in Fall and Winter; Here’s How to Stop it, Says Fauci
by Jamie P.

Dr. Anthony Fauci on How America Can Avoid a Second Wave of the Coronavirus
by Soo Kim

For historical perspective, see the Twitter feed by John Zahorick:

100 YEAR OLD NEWS is like new news.
October 7, 1918
“Daily influenza reports ordered”
“All churches, fraternal orders, and clubs were requested to remain closed on Sunday.”
“SALOON MEN PROTEST AGAINST CLOSING ORDER”

Image

October 11, 1918
“Severe Embargo on Schools, Theaters, Churches and All Public Gatherings, Effective Tonight”
“A number of speakers to voice a protest against the closing order as being more drastic than the emergency demands”

Image

December 17, 1918
“SPANISH INFLUENZA MORE DEADLY THAN WAR”
“More deaths have resulted in a little more than a month from this disease than through our whole 18 months participation in the battles of WW I”

Image

July 30, 1919
“Congress Urged to Pass Flu Bill”
“The epidemic found the nation unprepared”
“470,000 deaths in America last year, 50,000 this Spring”
“Economic loss in ran into the billions”

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A Pandemic of Ignorance

The main failure in this COVID-19 pandemic has been about knowledge. The United States government was unprepared for dealing with a pandemic, specifically in being unprepared for quickly gathering the data, analyzing it, basing official policies on it, and communicating it to the public. We were blindsided and slow to respond.

We not only have lacked necessary info but, more importantly, lacked leadership in relationship to what we needed to know. Government positions and corporate practices for the most part have not been dependably based on good data nor did those making the decisions emphasize the importance of getting good data. Instead, we’ve too often been handed partisan politics, campaign rhetoric, and slogans.

Unlike in some other countries, US government and major businesses have failed to do mass infection testing, temperature scanning, contact tracing, and app tracking. All of this would’ve offered useful data for controlling the spread of infections and making informed decisions about which actions to take. Compare companies that kept running in the US to some in other countries.

In the US, meatpacking plants that have close working environments weren’t even requiring employees to wear masks and that is insane, as quickly became apparent. A German company, on the other, managed to keep infections down using not only masks but data collection to quickly determine the infected so as to isolate them. The same pattern was seen in how many Asian countries were much more systematic in their control measures. Why did those other places seek out knowledge early on and acted on it while the US decision-makers embraced willful ignorance in hoping everything would be fine?

Even when US leaders had info, they would sometimes keep it a secret, instead of sharing it in a way that could’ve helped. For example, health officials were apparently afraid of their being a run on medical masks and so, instead of being honest with the public, they intentionally lied to us by stating masks offered no protection. This led many to not take the protective gear seriously, including in extended care facilities that weren’t using protective gear.

This lack of transparency and accountability has continued. Governor Reynolds of Iowa has continually repeated that she is basing all her decisions on careful and regular analysis of detailed metrics, but she has never shared any of the supposed data and instead just makes declarations. Or consider how the Trump administration has silenced the CDC by disallowing their official report to go public. Are these officials worried what the public would do or demand if they had full knowledge?

Even now, decisions are being made about reopening businesses, schools, etc without any clear basis on data, at least not data that is being shared with the public. Almost no one in media or government is talking about how the second wave in fall will likely be far worse than anything we’ve seen so far. Many officials are acting like the pandemic is coming to an end and that now it’s time for everything to go back to normal, even as the reality is that waves of infections could continue for years.

Obviously, we still lack the knowledge we need. It’s true we know that COVID-19 isn’t as deadly as first thought, although it still is far more deadly than the common flu. All these months after the pandemic began spreading globally, there is no mass infection testing in the US nor are places of business implementing the basic tools like temperature scans used elsewhere from the beginning.

So, we aren’t sure how many Americans have been infected. On top of that, despite some hoping herd immunity will save us, our knowledge about immunity to this novel coronavirus is next to nothing. There might be some short term immunity, but even then it might not last long enough to prevent the same people getting infected again with the second wave. And no one knows if we will have a vaccine soon or ever.

Why is the US economy being reopened when even the most basic message of mask-wearing hasn’t been consistently and effectively communicated to much of the population? Instead, most of the major leaders are refusing to wear masks while speaking in public and so are modeling to Americans that they shouldn’t wear masks. Are we still at the level of not even agreeing on masks?

What lesson have we Americans learned from our mistakes during this pandemic? Have we learned any lessons? Would our leadership respond differently if the same situation happens again? When this pandemic began, we were in a state of collective ignorance and we were caught without even the capacity to ameliorate our ignorance. So, we acted blindly. In the same state of collective ignorance, we’d be forced to respond in the same way again or something similar.

The worst part is that this demonstrates the culture of ignorance that dominates in the US, as part of a broader failure of democracy. Much of the American leadership is brazen in pushing ignorance and much of the American public is apathetic in accepting it. There has been little political will to pursue data-driven policy and to put respect for knowledge front and center. Sadly, in the understandable mistrust by the public, those officials and experts worthy of trust are equally dismissed as the rest.

Our response in American society has been based primarily on ideology. The related problem in the US is that, in our reactionary hyper-individualism, a large part of the American population is dismissive to the very concept of public health, as if no individual should ever sacrifice the slightest freedom to save the lives of others. No healthy society can function that way.

Some of the most successful methods, besides masks, have been contact tracing and tracking apps. But many Americans would call that authoritarianism. It’s understandable that we should be cautious about what we allow in a society that aspires to democracy (aspires, if rarely succeeds). The problem is when paranoia destroys the culture of trust that is essential to a democracy. By promoting mistrust, the sad result is that authoritarianism becomes inevitable. Truth becomes whatever is declared by those with the most power and influence, by those who control the media and other platforms.

That is exactly what President Donald Trump has taken advantage of, in his own brand of authoritarianism. He loves to play on people’s fears, to scapegoat and attack all sources of authority other than himself so as to muddy the water. In his authoritarian worldview, US workers should be forced to go back to work with nothing in place to protect their lives because to an authoritarian workers are expendable and replaceable. This was his position from the beginning and no new data was ever going to change this position.

Yet most Americans are opposed to fully reopening the economy. That is largely because the top US leadership has utterly failed in the most basic test of human decency, even ignoring all of the deception and demagoguery. Americans don’t trust Trump or many other figures of authority, including the capitalist class asking for Americans to sacrifice their lives for the profit of others, and they aren’t sure who to trust. If some basic protections were put into place as is done in certain other countries, we could begin to rebuild some public trust.

The American public health crisis first and foremost is a public trust crisis. And it is a crisis that has been a long time coming. If not remedied, it could become an existential crisis. And the only remedy would be democratic reform through an informed public. That means the public will have to demand knowledge or, failing that, will have to educate themselves. A functioning democracy with transparency and accountability is the best preparation for any crisis, but that would require nurturing a culture of knowledge and learning, a shared respect for intellect and expertise.

Americans Fatter at Same Level of Food Intake and Exercise

Americans, to state the obvious, are unhealthier with each passing generation. And the most obvious sign of this is rising obesity rate. In one analysis, this was shown to be true even when controlling for levels of food intake and exercise (see article below). This is the kind of data that undermines conventional dietary advice based on Christian moralizing about the deadly sins of gluttony and sloth.

Heart attacks and obesity first became a public health concern in the 1940s and 1950s. That was following decades of seed oil and margarine consumption having mostly replaced lard in the American diet. We were told that saturated fat is dangerous and that seed oils were great for health. Americans were listening and they strictly followed this advice. Even restaurants stopped cooking their french fries in tallow.

In particular, olive oil has been sold as the best. Why is olive oil supposed to be so healthy? Because it has monounsaturated fat, the same as is primarily found in lard. Not too long ago, the healthiest population in the United States was in Roseto, Pennyslvania. Guess what was their main source of fat? Lard. They also ate massive loads of meat, as do other long-lived populations in the world such as in Hong Kong.

Red meat also decreased over that period and has continued to increase since then. Dairy has followed this pattern of decline. Americans are eating less animal fats now than ever before in American history or probably human existence. It’s true that Americans are eating more lean chicken and fish, but we were told those are healthy for us. Meanwhile, Americans are eating more fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds than ever before.

Calories-in/calories-out has been an utter failure. It’s not how much we are eating but what we are eating. That then determines how our metabolism functions, whether it burns fat or stores it. Exercise is largely irrelevant for fat loss. Fat people can exercise all the time and not lose weight, while some skinny people hardly move at all. Another study “demonstrated that there is no difference in total energy expenditure between traditional hunter-gathers, subsistence farmers and modern Westerners.”

One explanation is an increase of obesogens. These are chemicals that cause the body to create fat. In general, fat is where the body stores excess toxins that overwhelm the body. And indeed younger Americans are exposed to more toxins. Then this makes losing weight hard because all the toxins get released and make one feel like shit. It’s hard for the body to eliminate a lifetime of accumulated toxicity. On top of that, the young are prescribed more medications than ever before. Antidepressants and antipsychotics have been given out like candy for anyone with mild mental issues. What is a common side effect of these drugs? Yep, weight gain.

A third possibility is more complex. We know the gut microbiome has shrunk in number and diversity. It’s also changed in the profile of bacteria. Research is showing how important is the microbiome (see The Secrete Life of Your Microbiome by Susan L. Prescott and Alan C. Logan). Toxins and drugs, by the way, also alter the microbiome. So does diet. Even if total calorie intake hasn’t changed much relative to the increased height of the population, what has changed is what we are eating.

In place of animal fats, we are eating not only more seed oils but also more carbs and sugar. Animal fats are highly satiating and so food companies realized they needed to find something equally satiating. It turns out a high-carb diet is not only satiating but addictive. It knocks people out of ketosis and causes them to put on weight. It doesn’t matter if one tries to eat less. In processed foods, when carbs are combined with seed oils, the body is forced to burn the carbs immediately and so it has no choice but to turn the seed oils into fat.

By the way, what alters metabolism also alters the microbiome. This is seen when people go from a high-carb diet to a ketogenic diet. Ketosis is powerful in its impact on how the body functions in so many ways, even changing epigenetic expression of genes. Here is the worst part. Those epigenetic changes have been happening for generations with the loss of regular ketosis. Even epigenetics for obesity, following an environmental trigger like famine, have been shown to pass on across multiple generations. The microbiome, of course, also is inherited and each of those bacteria likewise have an epigenome that determines their genetic expression.

Everything we do as individuals, good and bad, doesn’t only affect us as individuals. People are getting fatter now not only because of what they are doing differently but because of everything that was done by their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. As I’ve said before, even if we reversed all these changes instantly, as we are unlikely to do, it would still require generations to fully reverse the consequences.

* * *

Why It Was Easier to Be Skinny in the 1980s
by Olga Khazan

A study published recently in the journal Obesity Research & Clinical Practice found that it’s harder for adults today to maintain the same weight as those 20 to 30 years ago did, even at the same levels of food intake and exercise. […]

Just what those other changes might be, though, are still a matter of hypothesis. In an interview, Kuk proffered three different factors that might be making harder for adults today to stay thin.

First, people are exposed to more chemicals that might be weight-gain inducing. Pesticides, flame retardants, and the substances in food packaging might all be altering our hormonal processes and tweaking the way our bodies put on and maintain weight.

Second, the use of prescription drugs has risen dramatically since the 1970s and ’80s. Prozac, the first blockbuster SSRI, came out in 1988. Antidepressants are now one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the U.S., and many of them have been linked to weight gain.

Finally, Kuk and the other study authors think that the microbiomes of Americans might have somehow changed between the 1980s and now. It’s well known that some types of gut bacteria make a person more prone to weight gain and obesity. Americans are eating more meat than they were a few decades ago, and many animal products are treated with hormones and antibiotics in order to promote growth. All that meat might be changing gut bacteria in ways that are subtle, at first, but add up over time. Kuk believes that the proliferation of artificial sweeteners could also be playing a role.

Why Do Americans Keep Getting Fatter?
by Chris Bodenner

Notwithstanding the known errors of dietary assessment, it is interesting that we observe consistent trends over time in terms of how dietary intake relates with obesity and how this relationship has changed over time. This lends more confidence to our primary findings and suggests that there are either physiological changes in how diet relates with body weight or differences in how individuals are reporting their dietary intake over time. […]

[W]e observed that the BMI associated with a given leisure time physical activity frequency was still higher over time in men. This may be attributed to changes in non-leisure time physical activity such as reductions in occupational physical activity or increasing screen time. However, a study using doubly labelled water demonstrated that there is no difference in total energy expenditure between traditional hunter-gathers, subsistence farmers and modern Westerners. Thus, numerous other factors in addition to energy intake and physical activity may be important to consider when trying to explain the rise in obesity, and should be further evaluated in further studies.

Lead Toxicity is a Hyperobject

What is everywhere cannot be seen. What harms everyone cannot be acknowledged. So, we obsess over what is trivial and distract ourselves with false narratives. The point isn’t to understand, much less solve, problems. We’d rather large numbers of people to suffer and die, as long as we don’t have to face the overwhelming sense of anxiety about the world we’ve created.

We pretend to care about public health. We obsess over pharmaceuticals and extreme medical interventions while pandering about exercise and diet, not to mention going on about saving the planet while only taking symbolic actions. But some of the worst dangers to public health go with little mention or media reporting. Lead toxicity is an example of this. It causes numerous diseases and health conditions: lowered IQ, ADHD, aggressive behavior, asthma, and on and on. Now we know it also causes heart disease. Apparently, it even immensely contributes to diabetes. A common explanation might be that heavy metals interfere with important systems in the body such as the immune system and hormone system. In the comments section of Dr. Malcolm Kendrick’s post shared below, I noticed this interesting piece of info:

“I recently listened to a presentation, as a part of a class I’m taking, put on by the lead researcher for the TACT trial. He is a cardiologist himself. I would say that a 48% ABSOLUTE risk reduction in further events in diabetic patients, and a 30-something % risk reduction in patients without diabetes, is extremely significant. I went and read the study afterward to verify the numbers he presented. I would say, based on the fact that he admitted freely he thought he was going to prove exactly the opposite, and that his numbers and his statements show it does work, are pretty convincing. Naturally, no one that works for JAMA will ever tell you that. They would prefer to do acrobatics with statistics to prove otherwise.”

Lead toxicity is one of the leading causes of disease and death in the world. It damages the entire body, especially the brain. For the survivors of lead toxicity, they are crippled for life. It was also behind the violent crime wave of paste decades. The prison population has higher than average rates of lead toxicity, which means we are using prisons to store and hide the victims and scapegoat them all in one fell swoop. And since it is the poor who are primarily targeted by our systematic indifference (maybe not indifference, since there are profits and privileges incentivizing it), it is they who are disproportionately poisoned by lead and then, as victims, imprisoned or otherwise caught up in the legal system or institutionalized or left as one of the vast multitudes of forgotten, of the homeless, of those who die without anyone bothering to find out what killed them.

But if only the poor worked harder, got an education, followed the USDA-recommended diet, and got a good job to pay for all the pills pushed on them by the pharmaceutical-funded doctors, then… well, then what the fuck would good would it do them? Tell me that. The irony is that, as we like to pity the poor for their supposed failures and bad luck, we are all being screwed over. It’s just we feel slightly better, slightly less anxious as long as others are doing worse than us. Who cares that we live in a society slowly killing us. The real victory is knowing that it is killing you slightly slower than your neighbor or those other people elsewhere. For some odd reason, most people find that comforting.

It’s sad. Despite making some minor progress in cleaning up the worst of it, the decades of lead accumulation still lingers in the soil, oceans, infrastructure, and old buildings. Entire communities continue to raise new generations with lead exposure. On top of that, we’ve been adding even more pollutants and toxins to the environment, to our food supply, and to every variety of product we buy. I will say this. Even if diet doesn’t have as big of a direct affect on some of these conditions as does removing dangerous toxins, diet has the advantage of being a factor one can personally control. If you eat an optimally healthy diet, especially if you can avoid foods that are poisoned (either unintentionally with environmental toxins or intentionally with farm chemicals), you’ll be doing yourself a world of good. Greater health won’t eliminate all of the dangers we are surrounded by, but it will help you to detoxify and heal from the damage. It may not be much  in the big picture, but it’s better than nothing.

On the other hand, even if our diet obsession is overblown, maybe it’s more significant than we realize. Sammy Pepys, in Fat is our Friend, writes about Roseto, Pennsylvania. Scientists studying this uniquely healthy American community called the phenomenon the Roseto Effect. These people ate tons of processed meat and lard, smoked cigars and drink wine, and they worked back-breaking labor in quarries where they would have been exposed to toxins (“Rosetan men worked in such toxic environments as the nearby slate quarries … inhaling gases, dusts and other niceties.” p. 117). Yet their health was great. At the time, diet was dismissed because it didn’t conform to USDA standards. While most Americans had already switched to industrial seed oils, the Rosetans were still going strong on animal fats. Maybe their diet was dismissed too easily. As with earlier lard-and-butter-gorging Americans, maybe all the high quality animal fats (probably from pasture-raised animals) was essential to avoiding disease. Also, maybe it had something to do with their ability to handle the toxins as well. Considering Weston A. Price’s research, it’s obvious that all of those additional fat-soluble vitamins sure would have helped.

Still, let’s clean up the toxins. And also, let’s quit polluting like there is no tomorrow.

* * *

What causes heart disease part 65 – Lead again
by Dr. Malcolm Kendrick

There are several things about the paper that I found fascinating. However, the first thing that I noticed was that…. it hadn’t been noticed. It slipped by in a virtual media blackout. It was published in 2018, and I heard nothing.

This is in direct contrast to almost anything published about diet. We are literally bombarded with stories about red meat causing cancer and sausages causing cancer and heart disease, and veganism being protective against heart disease and cancer, and on and on. Dietary articles often end up on the front page on national newspapers. […]

Where was I? Oh yes, lead. The heavy metal. The thing that, unlike diet, makes no headlines whatsoever, the thing that everyone ignores. Here is one top-line fact from that study on lead, that I missed:

‘Our findings suggest that, of 2·3 million deaths every year in the USA, about 400 000 are attributable to lead exposure, an estimate that is about ten times larger than the current one.’ 1

Yes, according to this study, one in six deaths is due to lead exposure. I shall repeat that. One in six. Eighteen per cent to be exact, which is nearer a fifth really. […]

So, on one side, we have papers (that make headlines around the world) shouting about the risk of red meat and cancer. Yet the association is observational, tiny, and would almost certainly disappear in a randomised controlled trial, and thus mean nothing.

On the other we have a substance that could be responsible for one sixth of all deaths, the vast majority of those CVD deaths. The odds ratio, highest vs lowest lead exposure, by the way, depending on age and other factors, was a maximum of 5.30 [unadjusted].

Another study in the US found the following

‘Cumulative lead exposure, as reflected by bone lead, and cardiovascular events have been studied in the Veterans’ Normative Aging Study, a longitudinal study among community-based male veterans in the greater Boston area enrolled in 1963. Patients had a single measurement of tibial and patellar bone lead between 1991 and 1999. The HR for ischemic heart disease mortality comparing patellar lead >35 to <22 μg/g was 8.37 (95% CI: 1.29 to 54.4).’ 3

HR = Hazard Ratio, which is similar, if not the same to OR = Odds Ratio. A Hazard Ratio of 8.37, means (essentially) a 737% increase in risk (Relative Risk).

Anyway, I shall repeat that finding a bit more loudly. A higher level of lead in the body leads to a seven hundred and thirty-seven per cent increase in death from heart disease. This is, in my opinion, correlation proving causation.

Looking at this from another angle, it is true that smoking causes a much greater risk of lung cancer (and a lesser but significant increase in CVD), but not everyone smokes. Therefore, the overall damage to health from smoking is far less than the damage caused by lead toxicity.

Yet no-one seems remotely interested. Which is, in itself, very interesting.

It is true that most Governments have made efforts to reduce lead exposure. Levels of lead in the children dropped five-fold between the mid-sixties and the late nineties. 4 Indeed, once the oil industry stopped blowing six hundred thousand tons of lead into the atmosphere from vehicle exhausts things further improved. Lead has also been removed from water pipes, paint, and suchlike.

However, it takes a long old time from lead to be removed from the human body. It usually lingers for a lifetime. Equally, trying to get rid of lead is not easy, that’s for sure. Having said this, chelation therapy has been tried, and does seem to work.

‘On November 4, 2012, the TACT (Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy) investigators reported publicly the first large, randomized, placebo-controlled trial evidence that edetate disodium (disodium ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) chelation therapy significantly reduced cardiac events in stable post–myocardial infarction (MI) patients. These results were so unexpected that many in the cardiology community greeted the report initially with either skepticism (it is probably wrong) or outright disbelief (it is definitely wrong).’ 3

Cardiologists, it seems from the above quotes, know almost nothing about the subject in which they claim to be experts. Just try mentioning glycocalyx to them… ‘the what?’

Apart from a few brave souls battling to remove lead from the body, widely derided and dismissed by the mainstream world of cardiology, nothing else is done. Nothing at all. We spend trillions on cholesterol lowering, and trillions on blood pressure lowering, and more trillions on diet. On the other hand, we do nothing active to try and change a risk factor that kicks all the others – in terms of numbers killed – into touch.

Corporate Media Slowly Catching Up With Nutritional Studies

“The change in dietary advice to promote low-fat foods is perhaps the biggest mistake in modern medical history.”
 ~ Dr. Aseem Malhotra, cardiologist and expert on heart disease

“Fundamental problems were 2-fold. First, acceptance of weak associational epidemiological data as proof of causation. Second promotion of diet-heart hypothesis/lo fat diet to the public ahead of definitive proof of outcomes. Diet-heart hypothesis then became incontestable dogma.”
~ Tim Noakes, emeritus professor, scientist, and expert on low-carb diets

We’re All Guinea Pigs in a Failed Decades-Long Diet Experiment
by Markham Heid, Vice

The US Department of Agriculture, along with the agency that is now called Health and Human Services, first released a set of national dietary guidelines back in 1980. That 20-page booklet trained its focus primarily on three health villains: fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.

Recently, research has come out strongly in support of dietary fat and cholesterol as benign, rather than harmful, additions to person’s diet. Saturated fat seems poised for a similar pardon.

“The science that these guidelines were based on was wrong,” Robert Lustig, a neuroendocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco, told VICE. In particular, the idea that cutting fat from a person’s diet would offer some health benefit was never backed by hard evidence, Lustig said.

Just this week, some of Lustig’s colleagues at UCSF released an incendiary report revealing that in the 1960s, sugar industry lobbyists funded research that linked heart disease to fat and cholesterol while downplaying evidence that sugar was the real killer.

Nina Teicholz, a science journalist and author of the The Big Fat Surprise, said a lot of the early anti-fat push came from the American Heart Association (AHA), which based its anti-fat stance on the fact that fat is roughly twice as calorie-dense as protein and carbohydrates.

“[The AHA] had no clinical data to show that a low-fat diet alone would help with obesity or heart disease,” Teicholz told VICE. But because fat was high in calories, they adopted this anti-fat position, and the government followed their lead. Surely the 1960s research rigged by the Sugar Association, which was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, added to our collective fat fears.

By the 1990s, when Teicholz says the epidemiological data started piling up to show that a low-fat, high-carb diet did not help with weight loss or heart disease—calories be damned—much of the damage was already done. The US public was deep in what nutrition experts sometimes call the “Snackwell phenomenon”—a devotion to low-fat and low-calorie processed snack foods, which people pounded by the bagful because they believed them to be healthy.

“This advice [to avoid fat] allowed the food industry to go hog-wild promoting low-fat, carb-heavy packaged foods as ‘light’ or ‘healthy,’ and that’s been a disaster for public health,” Lustig said.

The stats back him up. Since the US government first published a set of national nutrition guidelines in 1980, rates of obesity and related diseases like diabetes have more than doubled. “Childhood diabetes was basically unheard of, and now it’s an epidemic,” Lustig said.

Overseas, national health authorities followed America’s lead on fat. The results have been similarly grim. Earlier this year, a UK nonprofit called the National Obesity Forum (NOF) published a blistering condemnation of its government’s diet and nutrition policies. […]

Teicholz said it’s hard to overstate the effect of national health authorities’ pro-carb, anti-fat stance. A whole generation of health professionals accepted—and passed on to their patients—the government’s guidance to avoid fat and cholesterol. Many still do.

“Both professional and institutional credibility are at stake,” she said when asked why more doctors and policymakers aren’t making noise about the harms caused by the government’s dietary guidance. She also mentioned food industry interests, the potential for “massive class-action lawsuits,” and the shame of copping to nearly a half-century of bad diet advice as deterrents for USDA and other health authorities when it comes to admitting they were wrong. […]

But one thing is clear: Dietary fat was never the boogeyman health authorities made it out to be.

“I think most of us would be 90 percent of the way to a really healthy diet if we just cut out processed foods,” UCSF’s Lustig said. “We wouldn’t need diet guidelines if we ate real food.”

Success of Big Drug is Failure of Public Health

Pfizer has owns the rights to the drug Enbrel outside North America. Internal analysis at the company showed that there was a strong correlation to lower incidence of Alzheimer’s. It was an amazing 64% reduction. This is almost unheard of in Alzheimer’s research. At a company presentation, it was stated in no uncertain terms that, “Enbrel could potentially safely prevent, treat and slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease” (as quoted by Mark Terry).

Yet they didn’t follow up with more data analysis and clinical studies. Neither did they publicly release their findings. Pfizer can’t take all the blame, though. The company works with the Amgen in marketing Enbrel. This other drug company holds the patent and rights to market Enbrel in the United States and Canada. Both drug companies knew about the results and both remained silent. A company spokesman for Pfizer told the Washington Post that, “Science was the sole determining factor against moving forward.” I don’t doubt that is true for corporate science. But there sometimes is a vast difference between corporate science and non-profit science. This is indicated by another explanation that came out of Pfizer.

The WaPo reported that, the company “decided during its three years of internal reviews that Enbrel did not show promise for Alzheimer’s prevention because the drug does not directly reach brain tissue.” That is odd because, based on much research, we know there is more involved in Alzheimer’s than just the brain. The only proven clinical trial that has reversed Alheimer’s symptoms used a protocol that included many methods, including the ketogenic diet (see the clinical study and writings of Dr. Dale Bredesen).

The US FDA approved use of Enbrel is for the treatment of autoimmune diseases: rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis and psoriatic arthritis, plaque psoriasis and ankylosing spondylitis. The effect it would have on Alzheimer’s is as an anti-inflammatory. This could be achieved in many ways, such as broadly reducing an overactive immunological response in the body, not only in the brain. The neurocognitive effect might be indirect and secondary to the process without the drug needing to cross the blood-brain barrier. It isn’t necessarily significant by which path, neurological or not, that it accomplishes this feat of inflammatory reduction. As reported in the WaPo:

Yet Alzheimer’s researchers believe inflammation outside the brain — called peripheral inflammation — influences inflammation within the brain.

“There is a lot of evidence suggesting that peripheral or systemic inflammation may be a driver of Alzheimer’s disease,’’ said Walker, the Johns Hopkins researcher. It is a fair hypothesis that fighting inflammation outside the brain with Enbrel will have a similar effect inside the brain, he said.

“I don’t believe Enbrel would need to cross the blood brain barrier to modulate the inflammatory/immune response within the brain,’’ Walker said.

“There is increasing evidence that peripheral inflammation can influence brain function,’’ said rheumatologist Christopher Edwards, of the University of Southampton in Britain.

I refuse to believe that the researchers at Enbrel didn’t know this basic scientific understanding and didn’t explain it to those making the decisions. Maybe that is why the scientists employed by Pfizer, in opposition to the management, were pushing for more research to be done.

Basically, it was a business decision and so it was irrelevant even if it was guaranteed to cure Alzheimer’s. In capitalism, there is no financial incentive in humanitarianism, at least not when its costly. As Enbrel was already patented for another medical use and its patent life was coming to an end, getting it patented for an entirely different health condition would have been difficult because of patent laws. It would have been a high-risk business investment with low probability of success and profit.

Since it wasn’t profitable for the company to pursue further research, it also wouldn’t have been profitable for the company to release the info so that others might pursue further research or else simply gain better understanding about the possibilities of different avenues of research. Promoting scientific debate and scientific knowledge is not part of capitalism (ditto for public health), other than as an unintentional side effect. No company will freely choose to disclose any information beyond what is necessary or else when deemed unrelated to any financial gain… that is unless required by law, in which case it wouldn’t be freely chosen.

If you want to hear defenses of the actions or rather inaction of Pfizer, some pieces have been written taking the other side of the debate: A Missed Alzheimer’s Opportunity? Not So Much by Derek Lowe, and 5 Reasons Pfizer Sat on a Potential New Alzheimer’s Drug by Cory Renauer. Pfizer also went to its own defense on social media: Pfizer takes to Twitter to refute ‘Washington Post’ story by Alison Kanski. I find the excuses unconvincing. It comes across more as apologia for capitalist realism.

Still, to be fair, there has been immense failure in Alzheimer’s research. A new drug treatment hasn’t been approved by the FDA in the past decade. But that is part of the problem with the corporate model of big drug. The only promising research in recent years is from methods other than pharmaceuticals. As far as capitalism goes, it doesn’t matter if Alzheimer’s can be treated and reversed with a multifactorial approach, by a combination of diet, nutrition, supplementation, exercise, detoxification, etc. There is no profit in this, since no company can patent it and so monopolize the market for decades. In that sense, it is pointless in blaming a corporation for acting like a corporation. This is the inevitable result of capitalism.

Following the obvious financial incentive, Pfizer has stopped Alzheimer’s research. This is problematic for public health, of course. Big biz, however, doesn’t give a flying fuck about public health. If we are seeking public health, then governments will have to massively invest in public funding of research and development as the United States did in the past. Instead, public funding has been drastically cut. This is expected in corporatocratic government where corporate interests determine public policy. It’s the nature of the beast. If we think it is morally wrong to let millions of people to suffer and die when there is no profit in helping them, then we will be forced by our collective conscience to demolish our present economic and political system and then replace it with something better.

But it goes beyond even this. The causes of inflammation are diverse. With industrialized capitalism, we are drowning in physiological and social stressors, from toxins to inequality, that constantly antagonize the body while disallowing the natural processes of healing. We need an entirely different model and paradigm to confront what is causing the worsening of health across the board: metabolic syndrome (obesity, diabetes, & heart disease), autoimmune disorders (Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, etc), mood disorders (depression, anxiety, etc), and personality disorders (BPD, NPD, etc); psychosis, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, drug addiction, and on and on. A common feature found in numerous health conditions is inflammation.

When the entire social order, from economic system to food system, is inflammatory and generally harmful to public health, what is the treatment? And even if we could find effective treatments, why would we settle for that rather than seeking cures and prevention? Why are we obsessed with symptoms, instead of going directly to the root cause of so many diseases?

* * *

Pfizer had clues its blockbuster drug could prevent Alzheimer’s. Why didn’t it tell the world?
by Christopher Rowland

A team of researchers inside Pfizer made a startling find in 2015: The company’s blockbuster rheumatoid arthritis therapy Enbrel, a powerful anti-inflammatory drug, appeared to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 64 percent.

The results were from an analysis of hundreds of thousands of insurance claims. Verifying that the drug would actually have that effect in people would require a costly clinical trial — and after several years of internal discussion, Pfizer opted against further investigation and chose not to make the data public, the company confirmed.

Researchers in the company’s division of inflammation and immunology urged Pfizer to conduct a clinical trial on thousands of patients, which they estimated would cost $80 million, to see if the signal contained in the data was real, according to an internal company document obtained by The Washington Post.

“Enbrel could potentially safely prevent, treat and slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease,’’ said the document, a PowerPoint slide show that was prepared for review by an internal Pfizer committee in February 2018.

The company told The Post that it decided during its three years of internal reviews that Enbrel did not show promise for Alzheimer’s prevention because the drug does not directly reach brain tissue. It deemed the likelihood of a successful clinical trial to be low. A synopsis of its statistical findings prepared for outside publication, it says, did not meet its “rigorous scientific standards.’’

Science was the sole determining factor against moving forward, company spokesman Ed Harnaga said.

Pfizer Did Not Pursue Possible Evidence of Enbrel Helping with Alzheimer’s Due to Low Chance of Clinical Success
by Mark Terry

Recently released documents indicate that Pfizer spent three years reviewing whether the science supported running a trial on Enbrel in Alzheimer’s. A PowerPoint slide from a February 2018 presentation stated, “Enbrel could potentially safely prevent, treat and slow progression of Alzheimer’s disease.”

But the company told The Washington Post that during those three years, they felt that the drug didn’t show promise for Alzheimer’s because it doesn’t directly reach brain tissue. So, they believed that the clinical trial’s chances of success would be low. Pfizer spokesman Ed Harnaga told The Post that the only reason the company didn’t go forward was the science.

That may or may not be reasonable, but the company’s decision not to release or publish the data is taking more criticism, with many researchers arguing they should have made that data available to researchers.

“Of course they should. Why not?” Rudolph E. Tanzi, a top Alzheimer’s researcher with Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

In fact, in an interview with Tanzi earlier this year, he noted that more and more research is focused on the role of inflammation in Alzheimer’s, particularly as the amyloid-beta theory comes under fire. In Tanzi’s opinion, and there’s quite a bit of scientific research supporting it, amyloid and tangles trigger Alzheimer’s, but they’re not enough to cause dementia. But the amyloid and tangle-driven neuronal cell death eventually hits a point where the brain’s innate immune system reacts with significant levels of neuroinflammation. Tanzi told BioSpace, “Then, exponentially more cell death occurs, which leads to symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”

So it seems possible that a powerful anti-inflammatory like Enbrel could have a dampening effect on the entire immune system, which might decrease Alzheimer’s risk. […]

It also seems contradictory that when so many biopharma companies are investing in artificial intelligence and data mining of real-world evidence (RWE) such as the Pfizer scientists utilized in 2015, that they would then ignore what they found.

Pfizer recognizes that it hid a drug that prevents Alzheimer’s
from The Mazatlan Post

This American media also explains in its exclusive that the role of brain inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease has been attracting the attention of academics after the failure of multiple experimental drugs that pointed to the accumulation of plaques in brain tissue.

“People who have chronic inflammation have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s”

Thus, they recall that in 2016 researchers from the universities of Dartmouth and Harvard published an insurance claims data study , similar to the internal findings of Pfizer (for those who refused to continue investigating the possible new use of their drug) that showed a potential benefit of Enbrel.

Enbrel “shows promise as a potential treatment” For Alzheimer’s, he pointed out.” In this study, it is said that Alzheimer’s is significantly more prevalent in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, a fact that was already known: people who have chronic inflammation have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. Also, those who were taking the Pfizer drug had a decreased risk, “explains the SEN member, who points out that there is evidence in basic research.

However, Pascual Sanchez says that […] “Of course it is a piece of interesting information [published by the Washington Post], and of course it is a line that, taking into account that others have not worked, such as amyloid, we are very interested in it.” There is strong genetic evidence and targets are being developed based on modulation of inflammation. ”

“We urgently need the pharmaceutical laboratories to bet on Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, Pfizer has strategically abandoned the line of Neurology, and has probably been one of the reasons why not bet on it, “says Sanchez.

The expert says that Alzheimer’s disease is very complex and” from pharmaceutically no Much progress has been made. The pharmaceutical companies that have bet for now have not achieved benefits because they have not taken new drugs, but increasingly we know more and we do better clinical trials. I think there are more options for us to find something that works. And the more you invest, and the more people think about this, the more likely we are to achieve it, “he says.

“We need to do more trials and probably need more complex approaches to this disease, we are realizing that we will need several treatments or different simultaneous approaches to treat the disease, there are many factors that are involved, such as amyloid, TAU protein, inflammation or even p43, probably if we focus only on one factor we will not succeed, we must have a more global vision of the problem and also of the solutions”, concludes Pascual Sánchez.

Pfizer, pocketing a big tax cut from Trump, will end investment in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research
by Michael Hiltzik

No one would say that drug companies should engage in research as a philanthropic exercise, but within the context of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry, Pfizer looks risk-averse. The second-biggest U.S. drug company by sales (after Johnson & Johnson), Pfizer in recent years seems to have devoted more effort to financial engineering than biomedical engineering. In 2015, for instance, it announced a $160-billion merger with Allergan, the maker of Botox. The deal was a so-called inversion, aimed transparently at cutting Pfizer’s tax bill in part by eliminating U.S. tax on $147 billion in profits it had stashed overseas.

Although the company denied that the deal was “simply… a tax transaction,” the truth emerged in 2016 when the deal was canceled; the only thing that had changed was that the U.S. Treasury had implemented new rules that all but eliminated the tax savings. So, bye-bye, Allergan.

Pfizer is expected to be among the prime beneficiaries of the corporate tax cut. The measure allows companies to pay a tax rate as low as 8% on foreign earnings they bring home, a big discount from the 21% top rate the law assesses on domestic earnings, itself a big cut from the previous rate of 35%. By some estimates, that could be worth more than $5 billion to Pfizer alone, not counting any gains from the lower tax rate.

As it happens, Pfizer signaled how it would apply the tax savings even before the final passage of the tax bill: The company announced a $10-billion share buyback on Dec. 18, four days before President Trump signed the tax cut into law. That buyback was on top of $6.4 billion left to be spent from a previous buyback plan, and was accompanied by a 6% increase in the company’s stock dividend, which will be worth roughly another half-billion dollars a year.

For comparison’s sake, Pfizer’s entire research and development budget averaged about $8 billion a year from 2014 through 2016.

Pfizer’s diversion of its tax break to shareholders parallels its behavior the last time American companies received a tax holiday on repatriated foreign earnings. That was in 2004, after corporations promised to apply their tax savings to hiring more workers and investing in their business. Instead, they laid off workers, bought back their shares, and pumped up their CEO compensation.

Pfizer brought home more than any other company in that amnesty, $35.5 billion, according to a 2007 investigation by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. From 2004 through 2007, Levin reported, Pfizer bought back more than $27 billion in stock and reduced employment by 11,748 workers.

This time around, the company is again gifting its shareholders and laying off workers. Abandoning a challenging research field is a new wrinkle, however.

What’s most discouraging to patient advocates is the dearth of alternatives to big pharmaceutical companies in brain research. Pfizer’s withdrawal, especially if it prompts other big pharma companies to flee the field, places more of the burden on small biotech firms, academia, foundations and government. The news “reinforces the urgent need for additional federal investment in Alzheimer’s research,” a spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America told me. But the Trump administration has placed funding for government research projects in almost all scientific fields on the chopping block.

Some experts recognize that the big drug companies may have been less than sturdy partners all along. “Many groups have been hoping for quick wins in the [central nervous system] space and we haven’t succeeded,” Beck of the Parkinson’s Foundation says, “so there’s some frustration from the viewpoint of management that we’re not getting the progress we need.”

He says his organization and others will still focus on the most promising pathway to a cure: Trying to understand the mechanisms of these diseases, which are still very murky. Only once those riddles are solved can drug research truly move ahead.

But as long as purely economic considerations drive drug R&D, the prospects for progress are dim. The Republicans who drafted the corporate tax cut promised that it would lead to more business investment and therefore economic growth. But as Pfizer demonstrates, all the incentives run in the opposite direction: More investment in shareholder welfare, less economic growth, and less attention to what corporations are supposed to exist for — improving people’s lives.

Profits before people: capitalists abandon Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research
by Joe Attard

Pfizer’s announcement is an especially striking testament to the horrors of capitalism when seen in context with the damage caused by Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. For example, the global cost of Alzheimer’s and dementia (in terms of medical care, social care and hospices) is estimated at $605 billion: equivalent to 1 percent of the entire world’s gross domestic product. Meanwhile, the financial impact incurred for a UK citizen living with Parkinson’s disease (which affects mobility, and eventually communication) are £16,000 per year on average – factoring in assistance with cleaning, loss of income and benefits and so on. For the poorest Parkinson’s’ sufferers, professional help might be unaffordable, placing the duty of care on family members.

Pfizer pulling out of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research will shunt more of the burden of seeking treatments for these diseases on the public sector – via universities, for example. That is, as is becoming the norm, they leave the bill for research to be paid for by taxpayers, only to take over the patents for small change at a later stage. […]

The main driving force for Pfizer is cold, hard profit. Its R&D chief, Mikael Dolsten, recently told a J.P. Morgan healthcare conference that the company bases its R&D strategy on drugs with “multi-billion-dollar blockbuster potential.” These drug giants focus their attention on whatever nets the biggest windfalls with the least amount of effort, which can lead to an emphasis on manufacturing financial loopholes rather than medicines. In 2015, Pfizer acquired Allergan (the company that makes Botox) in a $160-billion merger: a move that eliminated U.S. tax on $147 billion in profits it had stashed overseas. In Britain, despite making sales of between £1.3bn and £1.8bn annually between 2001 and 2014, Pfizer paid almost no tax over the period because it announced major operating losses each year, except for a tiny profit of £9m in 2013. The company is also expected to benefit substantially from Donald Trump’s new corporate tax cut, to the tune of $5bn: 10 times more than the US government’s 2017 pledge to Alzheimer’s research, and more than half of Pfizer’s entire research and development budget from 2014 through 2016. Donald Trump has generously rewarded Pfizer’s shareholders, who have responded by slashing early development research on neurological diseases, firing hundreds of employees and continuing to inflate the cost of its products.

This should all come as no surprise. The whole medical industry has become thoroughly parasitical, making billions from ripping off state healthcare services, withholding essential medicines from Third World countries and lobbying governments to deregulate the healthcare market. Pfizer was itself hit with a record fine in 2016 after it charged the NHS £50m for an anti-epilepsy drug: up from £2m in 2013. For years Pfizer withheld fluconzale (a powerful anti-fungal agent that can be used to treat AIDS-related diseases like oral thrush and cryptococcal meningitis) from the developing world, while continuing to sell it to wealthy American and European patients. Only after provoking international outrage did it make the drug available to NGOs operating in developing countries with a greater than 1 percent prevalence of HIV/AIDS in 2001. The firm has also never been shy about using its financial clout to get its way in the political sphere, spending $25 million in 2010 alone on lobbying for healthcare deregulation in the USA. Big business and the state are connected to each other by a thousand threads. Despite Donald Trump’s promises during the primaries that he would reign in Big Pharma, his appointment of former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar to replace Tom Price as Health and Human Services Secretary suggests otherwise.

In stark contrast to claims that free market competition fosters innovation, the private pharmaceutical industry reveals the stagnation, irrationality and base cruelty of capitalism in its state of senile decay. From Martin Shkreli’s jacking up the cost of Daraprim (a drug used in the treatment of AIDS-related conditions) from US$13.50 to US$750 per pill; to drug giants profiteering off AIDS epidemics in Africa and Asia; to Big Pharma taking public money (in the form of tendered contracts) from the NHS and stashing it in tax havens, the logic of capitalism ensures that healthy profits always take precedence over public health. Moreover, Pfizer’s actions demonstrate the sheer barbarism of allowing vast reserves of money, expertise and talent to be wasted or misdirected by private medical firms. Permitting research priorities to be dictated by market forces has resulted in pharmaceutical giants directing more attention towards lifestyle drugs targeted at the wealthy – designed to treat such tragic conditions as obesity, baldness, wrinkles and impotence. There is a multi-billion-dollar market for such products. Meanwhile, the difficult, expensive work of producing treatments for illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease is sacrificed to the bottom line.

* * *

Essentialism On the Decline

Before getting to the topic of essentialism, let me take an indirect approach. In reading about paleolithic diets and traditional foods, a recurring theme is inflammation, specifically as it relates to the health of the gut-brain network and immune system.

The paradigm change this signifies is that seemingly separate diseases with different diagnostic labels often have underlying commonalities. They share overlapping sets of causal and contributing factors, biological processes and symptoms. This is why simple dietary changes can have a profound effect on numerous health conditions. For some, the diseased state expresses as mood disorders and for others as autoimmune disorders and for still others something entirely else, but there are immense commonalities between them all. The differences have more to do with how dysbiosis and dysfunction happens to develop, where it takes hold in the body, and so what symptoms are experienced.

From a paleo diet perspective in treating both patients and her own multiple sclerosis, Terry Wahls gets at this point in a straightforward manner (p. 47): “In a very real sense, we all have the same disease because all disease begins with broken, incorrect biochemistry and disordered communication within and between our cells. […] Inside, the distinction between these autoimmune diseases is, frankly, fairly arbitrary”. In How Emotions Are Made, Lisa Feldman Barrett wrote (Kindle Locations 3834-3850):

“Inflammation has been a game-changer for our understanding of mental illness. For many years, scientists and clinicians held a classical view of mental illnesses like chronic stress, chronic pain, anxiety, and depression. Each ailment was believed to have a biological fingerprint that distinguished it from all others. Researchers would ask essentialist questions that assume each disorder is distinct: “How does depression impact your body? How does emotion influence pain? Why do anxiety and depression frequently co-occur?” 9

“More recently, the dividing lines between these illnesses have been evaporating. People who are diagnosed with the same-named disorder may have greatly diverse symptoms— variation is the norm. At the same time, different disorders overlap: they share symptoms, they cause atrophy in the same brain regions, their sufferers exhibit low emotional granularity, and some of the same medications are prescribed as effective.

“As a result of these findings, researchers are moving away from a classical view of different illnesses with distinct essences. They instead focus on a set of common ingredients that leave people vulnerable to these various disorders, such as genetic factors, insomnia, and damage to the interoceptive network or key hubs in the brain (chapter 6). If these areas become damaged, the brain is in big trouble: depression, panic disorder, schizophrenia, autism, dyslexia, chronic pain, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are all associated with hub damage. 10

“My view is that some major illnesses considered distinct and “mental” are all rooted in a chronically unbalanced body budget and unbridled inflammation. We categorize and name them as different disorders, based on context, much like we categorize and name the same bodily changes as different emotions. If I’m correct, then questions like, “Why do anxiety and depression frequently co-occur?” are no longer mysteries because, like emotions, these illnesses do not have firm boundaries in nature.”

What jumped out at me was the conventional view of disease as essentialist, and hence the related essentialism in biology and psychology.

[…]

Researchers have found that there are prospective causes to be studied. Consider proprionate, a substance discussed by Alanna Collen (10% Human, p. 83): “although propionate was an important compound in the body, it was also used as a preservative in bread products – the very foods many autistic children crave. To top it all off, clostridia species are known to produce propionate. In itself, propionate is not ‘bad’, but MacFabe began to wonder whether autistic children were getting an overdose.” This might explain why antibiotics helped many with autism, as it would have been knocking off the clostridia population that was boosting propionate. To emphasize this point, when rodents were injected with propionate, they exhibited the precise behaviors of autism and they too showed inflammation in the brain. The fact that autistics often have brain inflammation, an unhealthy condition, is strong evidence that autism shouldn’t be taken as mere neurodiversity (and, among autistics, the commonality of inflammation-related gut issues emphasizes this point).

There is no doubt that genetic determinism, like the belief in an eternal soul, can be comforting. We identify with our genes, as we inherit them and are born with them. But to speak of inflammation or propionate or whatever makes it seem like we are victims of externalities. And it means we aren’t isolated individuals to be blamed or to take credit for who we are. To return to Collen (pp. 88-89):

“In health, we like to think we are the products of our genes and experiences. Most of us credit our virtues to the hurdles we have jumped, the pits we have climbed out of, and the triumphs we have fought for. We see our underlying personalities as fixed entities – ‘I am just not a risk-taker’, or ‘I like things to be organised’ – as if these are a result of something intrinsic to us. Our achievements are down to determination, and our relationships reflect the strength of our characters. Or so we like to think.

“But what does it mean for free will and accomplishment, if we are not our own masters? What does it mean for human nature, and for our sense of self? The idea that Toxoplasma, or any other microbe inhabiting your body, might contribute to your feelings, decisions and actions, is quite bewildering. But if that’s not mind-bending enough for you, consider this: microbes are transmissible. Just as a cold virus or a bacterial throat infection can be passed from one person to another, so can the microbiota. The idea that the make-up of your microbial community might be influenced by the people you meet and the places you go lends new meaning to the idea of cultural mind-expansion. At its simplest, sharing food and toilets with other people could provide opportunity for microbial exchange, for better or worse. Whether it might be possible to pick up microbes that encourage entrepreneurship at a business school, or a thrill-seeking love of motorbiking at a race track, is anyone’s guess for now, but the idea of personality traits being passed from person to person truly is mind-expanding.”

This goes beyond the personal level, which lends a greater threat to the proposal. Our respective societies, communities, etc might be heavily influenced by environmental factors that we can’t see. A ton of research shows the tremendous impact of parasites, heavy metal toxins, food additives, farm chemicals, hormones, hormone mimics, hormone disruptors, etc. Entire regions might be shaped by even a single species of parasite, such as how higher rates of toxoplasmosis gondii in New England is directly correlated to higher rates of neuroticism (see What do we inherit? And from whom? & Uncomfortable Questions About Ideology).

Health From Generation To Generation

To emphasize this point, the testing of newborn babies in the United States shows that they’ve already accumulated on average more than 200 synthetic chemicals from within the womb; and then imagine all the further chemicals they get from the breast milk of their unhealthy mothers along with all kinds of crap in formulas and in their environments (e.g., carcinogenic fire retardants that they breathe 24/7). Lead toxicity has decreased since my own childhood and that is a good thing, but thousands of new toxins and other chemicals have replaced it. On top of that, the hormones, hormone mimics, and hormone disruptors add to dysbiosis and disease — some suggesting this is a cause of puberty’s greater variance than in past generations, either coming earlier or later depending on gender and other factors (maybe partly explaining the reversal and divergence of educational attainment for girls and boys). Added to this mix, this is the first generation of human guinea pigs to be heavily medicated from childhood, much of it medications that have been shown to permanently alter neurocognitive development.

A major factor in many modern diseases is inflammation. This has many causes from leaky gut to toxicity, the former related to diet and often contributing to the latter (in how the leaky gut allows molecules to more easily cross the gut lining and get into the bloodstream where they can freely travel throughout the body — causing autoimmune disorders, allergies, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, etc). But obesity is another main cause of inflammation. And one might note that, when the body is overloaded and not functioning optimally, excess toxins are stored in fat cells — which makes losing weight even more difficult as toxins are released back into the body, and if not flushed out causing one to feel sick and tired.

It’s not simply bad lifestyle choices. We are living in unnatural and often outright toxic conditions. Many of the symptoms that we categorize as diseases are the bodies attempt to make the best of a bad situation. All of this adds up to a dysfunctional level across society. Our healthcare system is already too expensive for most people to afford. And the largest part of public funding for healthcare is going to diabetes alone. But the saddest part is the severe decrease in quality of life, as the rate of mood and personality disorders skyrockets. It’s not just diet. For whatever reason (toxins? stress?), with greater urbanization has come greater levels of schizophrenia and psychosis. And autism, a rare condition in the past, has become highly prevalent (by the way, one of the proven effective treatments for autism is a paleo/keto diet; also effective for autoimmune conditions among much else).

It’s getting worse and worse, generation after generation. Imagine what this means in terms of epigenetics and transgenerational trauma, as nutritional deficits and microbiotic decimation accumulates, exacerbated by a society driven mad through inequality and instability, stress and anxiety. If not for nutrients added to our nutrient poor food and supplements added to our unhealthy diet, we’d already be dying out as a society and our civilization would’ve collapsed along with it (maybe similar to how some conjecture the Roman Empire weakened as lead toxicity increased in the population). Under these conditions, that children are our future may not be an affirmation of hope. Nor may these children be filled with gratitude once they’ve reached adulthood and come to realize what we did to them and the world we left them. On the other hand, we aren’t forced to embrace fatalism and cynicism. We already know what to do to turn around all of these problems. And we don’t lack the money or other resources to do what needs to be done. All that we are waiting for is public demand and political will, although that might first require our society reaching a point of existential crisis… we are getting close.

The stumbling block is that there is no profit in the ‘healthcare’ industry for advocating, promoting, incentivizing, and ensuring healthy diet and healthy conditions for a healthy population. Quite the opposite. If disease profiteering was made illegal, there would be trillions of dollars of lost profit every year. Disease is the reality of capitalist realism, a diseased economic system and social order. This collective state of sickliness has become the norm and vested interests will go to great lengths to defend the status quo. But for most who benefit from the dysfunctional and destructive system, they never have to give it much thought. When my mother brought my nephew to the doctor, she pointed out how he is constantly sick and constantly eating a poor diet. The doctor’s response was that this was ‘normal’ for kids (these days), which might be true but the doctor should be shocked and shamed by his own admission. As apathy takes hold and we lose a sense of hope, low standards fall ever lower.

Fasting, Calorie Restriction, and Ketosis

Fasting, for example, increases the level of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine while temporarily reducing the brains release and use of them; plus, serotonin and its precursor tryptophan are made more available to the brain. So, it allows your reserves of neurotransmitters to rebuild to higher levels. That is partly why a ketogenic diet, along with the brains efficient use of ketones, shows improvements in behavior, learning, memory, acuity, focus, vigilance, and mood (such as sense of well-being and sometimes euphoria); with specific benefits, to take a couple of examples, in cerebral blood flow and prefrontal-cortex-related cognitive functions (mental flexibility and set shifting); while also promoting stress resistance, inflammation reduction, weight loss, and metabolism, and while decreasing free radical damage, blood pressure, heart rate, and glucose levels. Many of these are similar benefits as seen with strenuous exercise.

We know so much about this because the ketogenic diet is the only diet that has been specifically and primarily studied in terms of neurological diseases, going back to early 20th century research on epileptic seizures and autism, was shown effective for other conditions later in the century (e.g., V. A. Angelillo et al, Effects of low and high carbohydrate feedings in ambulatory patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic hypercapnia), and more recently with positive results seen in numerous other conditions (Dr. Terry Wahl’s work on multiple sclerosis, Dr. Dale Bredesen’s work on Alzheimer’s, etc). By the way, the direction of causality can also go the other way around, from brain to gut: “Studies also suggest that overwhelming systemic stress and inflammation—such as that induced via severe burn injury—can also produce characteristic acute changes in the gut microbiota within just one day of the sustained insult [15].” (Rasnik K. Singh et al, Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health). And see:

“Various afferent or efferent pathways are involved in the MGB axis. Antibiotics, environmental and infectious agents, intestinal neurotransmitters/neuromodulators, sensory vagal fibers, cytokines, essential metabolites, all convey information about the intestinal state to the CNS. Conversely, the HPA axis, the CNS regulatory areas of satiety and neuropeptides released from sensory nerve fibers affect the gut microbiota composition directly or through nutrient availability. Such interactions appear to influence the pathogenesis of a number of disorders in which inflammation is implicated such as mood disorder, autism-spectrum disorders (ASDs), attention-deficit hypersensitivity disorder (ADHD), multiple sclerosis (MS) and obesity.” (Anastasia I. Petra et al, Gut-Microbiota-Brain Axis and Its Effect on Neuropsychiatric Disorders With Suspected Immune Dysregulation) […]

For example, a ketogenic diet modulates the levels of the microbes Akkermansia muciniphila, Lactobacillus, and Desulfovibrio (Lucille M. Yanckello, Diet Alters Gut Microbiome and Improves Brain Functions). It is the microbes that mediate the influence on both epileptic seizures and autism, such that Akkermansia is decreased in the former and increased in the latter, that is to say the ketogenic diet helps the gut regain balance no matter which direction the imabalance is. In the case of epileptic seizures, Akkermansia spurs the growth of Parabacteroides which alters neurotransmission by elevating the GABA/glutamate ratio (there is glutamate again): “the hippocampus of the microbe-protected mice had increased levels of the neurotransmitter GABA, which silences neurons, relative to glutamate, which activates them” (Carolyn Beans, Mouse microbiome findings offer insights into why a high-fat, low-carb diet helps epileptic children), but no such effect was found in germ-free mice, that is to say with no microbiome (similar results were found in human studies: Y. Zhang, Altered gut microbiome composition in children with refractory epilepsy after ketogenic diet). Besides reducing seizures, “GABA is a neurotransmitter that calms the body. Higher GABA to glutamate ratios has been shown to alleviate depression, reduce anxiety levels, lessen insomnia, reduce the severity of PMS symptoms, increase growth hormone, improve focus, and reduce systemic inflammation” (MTHFR Support, Can Eating A Ketogenic Diet Change Our Microbiome?). To throw out the other interesting mechanism, consider Desulfovibrio. Ketosis reduces its numbers and that is a good thing since it causes leakiness of the gut barrier, and what causes leakiness in one part of the body can cause it elsewhere as well such as the brain barrier. Autoimmune responses and inflammation can follow. This is why ketosis has been found beneficial for preventing and treating neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s (plus, ketones are a useful alternative fuel for Alzheimer’s since their brain cells begin starving to death for loss of the capacity to use glucose as a fuel).

All of this involves the factors that increase and reduce inflammation: “KD also increased the relative abundance of putatively beneficial gut microbiota (Akkermansia muciniphila and Lactobacillus), and reduced that of putatively pro-inflammatory taxa (Desulfovibrio and Turicibacter).” (David Ma et al, Ketogenic diet enhances neurovascular function with altered gut microbiome in young healthy mice). Besides the microbiome itself, this has immense impact on leakiness and autoimmune conditions, with this allowing inflammation to show up in numerous areas of the body, including the brain of course. Inflammation is found in conditions such as depression and schizophrenia. Even without knowing this mechanism, much earlier research has long established that ketosis reduces inflammation.

Trends in Depression and Suicide Rates

Stephen Ilardi made two very important points.

First, depression is a disease of civilization. He spoke of research done on a hunter-gatherer tribal people. What the researcher found was that depression was almost non-existent among them. They lived a hard life and often hard deaths, but they weren’t clinically depressed. Nor did they have many of the other diseases of civilization, all of which are related to inflammation in the body.

He points out that studies have shown that depression is related to inflammation in the brain, at least partly caused by an unhealthy ratio between Omega 6 fats and Omega 3 fats. Combined with the stresses and social isolation of modern society, clinical depression has become a massive problem.

Second, clinical depression is a growing problem. Each generation has higher rates of depression than the generation before. It correctly can be called an epidemic at this point and it increases as people age. The younger generations will as they age, if the pattern holds, have 50% or more experiencing clinical depression.

This gets at an issue I continually return to. Everything is getting worse for the young generation such as poverty, economic inequality, unemployment and homelessness. My generation is the first generation do worse than their parents in the 20th century. My generation as children had poverty rates not seen since the Great Depression and had the worst child suicide rates since such things were recorded. How bad does society have to get before even children become so desperate and hopeless that they kill themselves?

Most people in the older generations never personally experienced these kinds of conditions. Because of this, they have no tangible understanding, no sympathy. They can’t see how this is a systemic problem throughout society, a problem transcending individuals and even generations.

I’ve previously discussed this a bit in terms of capitalist realism (see here and here), but I’ve never gone into much detail about this before. The analysis behind the concept of capitalist realism is based on the collective inability to imagine alternatives and hence collective inability to perceive the problems of the present system. The individual is the product and the scapegoat of capitalist realism.

The World Around Us

What does it mean to be in the world? This world, this society, what kind is it? And how does that affect us? Let me begin with the personal and put it in the context of family. Then I’ll broaden out from there.

I’ve often talked about my own set of related issues. In childhood, I was diagnosed with learning disability. I’ve also suspected I might be on the autistic spectrum which could relate to the learning disability, but that kind of thing wasn’t being diagnosed much when I was in school. Another label to throw out is specific language impairment, something I only recently read about — it maybe better fits my way of thinking than autistic spectrum disorder. After high school, specifically after a suicide attempt, I was diagnosed with depression and thought disorder, although my memory of the latter label is hazy and I’m not sure exactly what was the diagnosis. With all of this in mind, I’ve thought that some of it could have been caused by simple brain damage, since I played soccer since early childhood. Research has found that children regularly head-butting soccer balls causes repeated micro-concussions and micro-tears which leads to brain inflammation and permanent brain damage, such as lower IQ (and could be a factor in depression as well). On the other hand, there is a clear possibility of genetic and/or epigenetic factors, or else some other kind of shared environmental conditions. There are simply too many overlapping issues in my family. It’s far from being limited to me.

My mother had difficulty learning when younger. One of her brothers had even more difficulty, probably with a learning disability as I have. My grandfather dropped out of school, not that such an action was too uncommon at the time. My mother’s side of the family has a ton of mood disorders and some alcoholism. In my immediate family, my oldest brother also seems like he could be somewhere on the autistic spectrum and, like our grandfather, has been drawn toward alcoholism. My other brother began stuttering in childhood and was diagnosed with anxiety disorder, and interestingly I stuttered for a time as well but in my case it was blamed on my learning disability involving word recall. There is also a lot of depression in the family, both immediate and extended. Much of it has been undiagnosed and untreated, specifically in the older generations. But besides myself, both of my brothers have been on antidepressants along with my father and an uncle. Now, my young niece and nephew are on anti-depressants, that same niece is diagnosed with Asperger’s, the other even younger niece is probably also autistic and has been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and that is only what I know about.

I bring up these ailments among the next generation following my own as it indicates something serious going on in the family or else in society as a whole. I do wonder what gets epigenetically passed on with each generation worsening and, even though my generation was the first to show the strongest symptoms, it may continue to get far worse before it gets better. And it may not have anything specifically to do with my family or our immediate environment, as many of these conditions are increasing among people all across this country and in many other countries as well. The point relevant here is that, whatever else may be going on in society, there definitely were factors specifically impacting my family that seemed to hit my brothers and I around the same time. I can understand my niece and nephew going on antidepressants after their parents divorced, but there was no obvious triggering condition for my brothers and I, well besides moving into a different house in a different community.

Growing up and going into adulthood, my own issues always seemed worse, though, or maybe just more obvious. Everyone who has known me knows that I’ve struggled for decades with depression, and my learning disability adds to this. Neither of my brothers loved school, but neither of them struggled as I did, neither of them had delayed reading or went to a special education teacher. Certainly, neither of them nearly flunked out of a grade, something that would’ve happened to me in 7th grade if my family hadn’t moved. My brothers’ conditions were less severe or at least the outward signs of it were easier to hide — or maybe they are simply more talented at acting normal and conforming to social norms (unlike me, they both finished college, got married, had kids, bought houses, and got respectable professional jobs; basically the American Dream). My brother with the anxiety and stuttering learned how to manage it fairly early on, and it never seemed have a particularly negative affect on his social life, other than making him slightly less confident and much more conflict-avoidant, sometimes passive-aggressive. I’m the only one in the family who attempted suicide and was put in a psychiatric ward for my effort, the only one to spend years in severe depressive funks of dysfunction.

This caused me to think about my own problems as different, but in recent years I’ve increasingly looked at the commonalities. It occurs to me that there is an extremely odd coincidence that brings together all of these conditions, at least for my immediate family. My father developed depression in combination with anxiety during a stressful period of his life, after we moved because he got a new job. He began having moments of rapid heartbeat and it worried him. My dad isn’t an overly psychologically-oriented person, though not lacking in self-awareness, and so it is unsurprising that it took a physical symptom to get his attention. It was a mid-life crisis. Added to his stress were all the problems developing in his children. It felt like everything was going wrong.

Here is the strange part. Almost all of this started happening specifically when we moved into that new house, my second childhood home. It was a normal house, not that old. The only thing that stood out, as my father told me, was that the electricity usage was much higher than it was at the previous house, and no explanation for this was ever discovered. Both that house and the one we lived in before were in the Lower Midwest and so there were no obvious environmental differences. It only now struck me, in talking to my father again about it, that all of the family’s major neurocognitive and psychological issues began or worsened while living in that house.

About my oldest brother, he was having immense behavioral issues from childhood onward: refused to do what he was told, wouldn’t complete homework, and became passive-aggressive. He was irritable, angry, and sullen. Also, he was sick all the time, had a constant runny nose, and was tired. It turned out he had allergies that went undiagnosed for a long time, but once treated the worst symptoms went away. The thing about allergies is that it is an immune condition where the body is attacking itself. During childhood, allergies can have a profound impact on human biology, including neurocognitive and psychological development, often leaving the individual with a condition of emotional sensitivity for the rest of their lives, as if the body is stuck in permanent defensive mode. This was a traumatic time for my brother and he has never recovered from it — still seething with unresolved anger and still blaming my parents for what happened almost a half century ago.

One of his allergies was determined to be mold, which makes sense considering the house was on a shady lot. This reminds me of how some molds can produce mycotoxins. When mold is growing in a house, it can create a toxic environment with numerous symptoms for the inhabitants that can be challenging to understand and connect. Unsurprisingly, research does show that air quality is important for health and cognitive functioning. Doctors aren’t trained in diagnosing environmental risk factors and that was even more true of doctors decades ago. It’s possible that something about that house was behind all of what was going on in my family. It could have been mold or it could have been some odd electromagnetic issue or else it could have been a combination of factors. This is what is called sick building syndrome.

Beyond buildings themselves, it can also involve something brought into a building. In one fascinating example, a scientific laboratory was known to have a spooky feeling that put people at unease. After turning off a fan, this strange atmosphere went away. It was determined the fan was vibrating at a level that was affecting the human nervous system or brain. There has been research into how vibrations and electromagnetic energy can cause stressful and disturbing symptoms (the human body is so sensitive that the brain can detect the weak magnetic field of the earth, something that earlier was thought to be impossible). Wind turbines, for example, can cause the eyeball to resonate in a way to cause people to see glimpses of things that aren’t there (i.e., hallucinations). So, it isn’t always limited to something directly in a building itself but can include what is in the nearby environment. I discuss all of this in an earlier post: Stress Is Real, As Are The Symptoms.

This goes along with the moral panic about violent crime in the early part of my life during the last several decades of the 20th century. It wasn’t an unfounded moral panic, not mere mass hysteria. There really was a major spike in the rate of homicides (not to mention suicides, child abuse, bullying, gang activity, etc). All across society, people were acting more aggressive (heck, aggression became idealized, as symbolized by the ruthless Wall Street broker who wins success through social Darwinian battle of egoic will and no-holds-barred daring). Many of the perpetrators and victims of violence were in my generation. We were a bad generation, a new Lost Generation. It was the period when the Cold War was winding down and then finally ended. There was a sense of ennui in the air, as our collective purpose in fighting a shared enemy seemed less relevant and eventually disappeared altogether. But that was in the background and largely unacknowledged. Similar to the present mood, there was a vague sense of something being terribly wrong with society. Those caught up in the moral panic blamed it on all kinds of things: video games, mass media, moral decline, societal breakdown, loss of strict parenting, unsupervised latchkey kids, gangs, drugs, and on and on. With so many causes, many solutions were sought, not only in different cities and states across the United States but also around the world: increased incarceration or increased rehabilitation programs, drug wars or drug decriminalization, stop and frisk or gun control, broken window policies or improved community relations, etc. No matter what was done or not done, violent crime went down over the decades in almost every population around the planet.

It turned out the strongest correlation was also one of the simplest. Lead toxicity drastically went up in the run up to those violent decades and, depending on how quickly environmental regulations for lead control were implemented, lead toxicity dropped back down again. Decline of violent crime followed with a twenty year lag in every society (twenty years is the time for a new generation to reach adulthood). Even to this day, in any violent population from poor communities to prisons, you’ll regularly find higher lead toxicity rates. It was environmental all along and yet it’s so hard for us to grasp environmental conditions like this because they can’t be directly felt or seen. Most people still don’t know about lead toxicity, despite it being one of the most thoroughly researched areas of public health. So, there is not only sick building syndrome for entire societies can become sick. When my own family was going bonkers, it was right in the middle of this lead toxicity epidemic and we were living right outside of industrial Chicago and, prior to that, we were living in a factory town. I have wondered about lead exposure, since my generation saw the highest lead exposure rate in the 20th century and probably one of the highest since the Roman Empire started using lead water pipes, what some consider to have been the cause of its decline and fall.

There are other examples of this environmental impact. Parasite load in a population is correlated to culture of distrust and violence (parasites-stress theory of values, culture, and sociality; involving the behavioral immune system), among other problems — parasite load is connected to diverse things, both individually and collectively: low extraversion, higher conscientiousnessauthoritarianism (conformity, obedience), in-group loyalty (in situations of lower life expectancy and among populations with faster life histories)collectivism, income inequality, female oppressionconservatism, low openness to experience, support for barriers between social groups, adherence to local norms, traditionalism, religiosity, strength of family ties, in-group assortative sociality, perceived ‘ugliness’ of bodily abnormalityhomicide, child abuse, etc. Specific parasites like toxoplasmosis gondii have been proven to alter mood, personality, and behavior — this can be measured across entire populations, maybe altering the culture itself of entire regions where infection is common.

Or consider high inequality that can cause widespread bizarre and aggressive behavior, as it mimics the fear and anxiety of poverty even among those who aren’t poor. Other social conditions have various kinds of effects, in some cases with repercussions that last for centuries. But in any of these examples, the actual cause is rarely understood by many people. The corporate media and politicians are generally uninterested in reporting on what scientists have discovered, assuming scientists can get the funding to do the needed research. Large problems requiring probing thought and careful analysis don’t sell advertising nor do they sell political campaigns, and the corporations behind both would rather distract the public from public problems that would require public solutions, such as corporate regulations and higher taxation.

In our society, almost everything gets reduced to the individual. And so it is the individual who is blamed or treated or isolated, which is highly effective for social control. Put them in prison, give them a drug, scapegoat them in the media, or whatever. Anything so long as we don’t have to think about the larger conditions that shape individuals. The reality is that psychological conditions are never merely psychological. In fact, there is no psychology as separate and distinct from all else. The same is true for many physical diseases as well, such as autoimmune disorders. Most mental and physical health concerns are simply sets of loosely associated symptoms with thousands of possible causal and contributing factors. Our categorizing diseases by which drugs treat them is simply a convenience for the drug companies. But if you look deeply enough, you’ll typically find basic things that are implicated: gut dysbiosis, mitochondrial dysfunction, etc —- inflammation, for example, is found in numerous conditions, from depression and Alzheimer’s to heart disease and arthritis — the kinds of conditions that have been rapidly spreading over the past century (also, look at psychosis). Much of it is often dietary related, since in this society we are all part of the same food system and so we are all hit by the same nutrient-deficient foods, the same macronutrient ratios, the same harmful hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils/margarine, the same food additives, the same farm chemicals, the same plastic-originated hormone mimics, the same environmental toxins, etc. I’ve noticed the significant changes in my own mood, energy, and focus since turning to a low-carb, high-fat diet based mostly on whole foods and traditional foods that are pasture-fed, organic, non-GMO, local, and in season — lessening the physiological stress load. It is yet another factor that I see as related to my childhood difficulties, as diverse research has shown how powerful is diet in every aspect of health, especially neurocognitive health.

This makes it difficult for individuals in a hyper-individualistic society. We each feel isolated in trying to solve our supposedly separate problems, an impossible task, one might call it a Sisyphean task. And we rarely appreciate how much childhood development shapes us for the rest of our lives and how much environmental factors continue to influence us. We inherit so much from the world around us and the larger society we are thrown into, from our parents and the many generations before them. A society is built up slowly with the relationship between causes and consequences often not easily seen and, even when noticed, rarely appreciated. We are born and we grow up in conditions that we simply take for granted as our reality. But those conditions don’t have to be taken as fatalistic for, if we seek to understand them and embrace that understanding, we can change the very conditions that change us. This will require us first to get past our culture of blame and shame.

We shouldn’t personally identify with our health problems and struggles. We aren’t alone nor isolated. The world is continuously affecting us, as we affect others. The world is built on relationships, not just between humans and other species but involving everything around us — what some describe as embodied, embedded, enacted, and extended (we are hypersubjects among hyperobjects). The world that we inhabit, that world inhabits us, our bodies and minds. There is no world “out there” for there is no possible way for us to be outside the world. Everything going on around us shapes who we are, how we think and feel, and what we do — most importantly, shapes us as members of a society and as parts of a living biosphere, a system of systems all the way down. The personal is always the public, the individual always the collective, the human always the more than human.

* * *

When writing pieces like this, I should try to be more balanced. I focused solely on the harm that is caused by external factors. That is a rather lopsided assessment. But there is the other side of the equation implied in everything I wrote.

As higher inequality causes massive dysfunction and misery, greater equality brings immense benefit to society as a whole and each member within it. All you have to do in order to understand this is to look to cultures of trust such as the well functioning social democracies, with the Nordic countries being the most famous examples (The Nordic Theory of Everything by Anu Partanen). Or consider how, no matter your intelligence, you are better off being in an on average high IQ society than to be the smartest person in an on average low IQ society. Other people’s intelligence has greater impact on your well being and socioeconomic situation than does your own intelligence (see Hive Mind by Garett Jones).

This other side was partly pointed to in what I already wrote in the first section, even if not emphasized. For example, I pointed out how something so simple as regulating lead pollution could cause violent crime rates around the world to drop like a rock. And that was only looking at a small part of the picture. Besides impulsive behavior and aggression that can lead to violent crime, lead by itself is known to cause a wide array of problems: lowered IQ, ADHD, dyslexia, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, etc; and also general health issues, from asthma to cardiovascular disease. Lead is only one among many such serious toxins, with others including cadmium and mercury. The latter is strange. Mercury can actually increase IQ, even as it causes severe dysfunction in other ways. Toxoplasmosis also can do the same for the IQ of women, even as the opposite pattern is seen in men.

The point is that solving or even lessening major public health concerns can potentially benefit the entire society, maybe even transform society. We act fatalistic about these collective conditions, as if there is nothing to be done about inequality, whether the inequality of wealth, resources, and opportunities or the inequality of healthy food, clean water, and clean air. We created these problems and we can reverse them. It often doesn’t require much effort and the costs in taking action are far less than the costs of allowing these societal wounds to fester. It’s not as if Americans lack the ability to tackle difficult challenges. Our history is filled with examples of public projects and programs with vast improvements being made. Consider the sewer socialists who were the first to offer clean water to all citizens in their cities, something that once demonstrated as successful was adopted by every other city in the United States (more or less adopted, if we ignore the continuing lead toxicity crisis).

There is no reason to give up in hopelessness, not quite yet. Let’s try to do some basic improvements first and see what happens. We can wait for environmental collapse, if and when it comes, before we resign ourselves to fatalism. It’s not a matter if we can absolutely save all of civilization from all suffering. Even if all we could accomplish is reducing some of the worst harm (e.g., aiming for less than half of the world’s population falling victim to environmental sickness and mortality), I’d call it a wild success. Those whose lives were made better would consider it worthwhile. And who knows, maybe you or your children and grandchildren will be among those who benefit.

Parasites Among the Poor and the Plutocrats

Hookworm rates in parts of the United States have reached the levels seen in developing countries.

This was a major problem in the past, specifically in the rural South. It was thought to have been largely eliminated, although that might not have been true. The most harmed populations just so happen to be the very populations most ignored — these are mostly poor rural populations with little healthcare and hence limited availability of public health data. The problem was maybe more hidden than solved. Until a study was recently done, it apparently wasn’t an issue of concern beyond the local level and so there was no motivation to research it.

As hookworm is a parasite, with it comes the problems of parasite load. Parasitism and parasite load effect not just general health but also energy levels, neurocognitive development, intelligence, and personality traits; for example, toxoplsasmosis is correlated to higher rates of neuroticism and parasite load is correlated to lower rates of openness. Populations with heavy parasite load will behave in ways that are stereotyped as being poor, such as acting lethargic and unmotivated.

Research indicates that poverty rates are an indicator of diverse other factors, many being environmental. People dealing with such things as stress, malnutrition, and parasites literally have less energy and cognitive ability available to them. Under these oppressively draining conditions, the body and mind simply go into survival mode and short-term preparedness. This is seen on the physiological level with stressful conditions causing early sexual maturity and increase in fat reserves.

This relates to the worsening poverty in many parts of the country, exacerbated by growing inequality across the country. But in many cases these are problems that aren’t necessarily worsening, as they have simply been ignored up to this point. Put this also into the context of problems that are clearly worsening, specifically among lower class whites: unemployment, homelessness, stress-related diseases, mental health conditions, alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicides. It’s not just poor minorities that have been shoved out of the way in the march of progress. Even the middle class is feeling the pressure, many of them falling down the economic ladder.

This is why most Americans at present neither trust big government nor big business. And this is why economic populism has taken hold. Since the DNC silenced Sanders in order to maintain the status quo, we got Trump as president instead. If we ignore these basic problems any longer, we are looking toward the possibility of an authoritarian takeover of our government and that would mean something far worse than Trump. That is what happens when a large part of the citizenry loses faith in the system and, unless a democratic revolution happens, are willing to look to a strongman who promises to do what needs to be done.

Simply put, we are long past the point of tolerating this inequality. This inequality is not just of income and wealth but also of political representation and public voice, of life opportunities and basic health. We shouldn’t tolerate this because the oppressed will only tolerate it for so long. Once we get beyond the point of collective failure, there is no turning back. The upper classes might prefer to continue ignoring it, but that isn’t a choice that is available. If push comes to shove, the upper classes might not like the choice that the oppressed will eventually demand by force. That is precisely why FDR created the New Deal. It was either that or something far worse: fascist coup, communist revolution, or societal collapse.

It would be nice if we Americans proactively solved our problems for once, instead of waiting for them to become an emergency and then haphazardly reacting. We probably won’t be so lucky to get another Roosevelt-like leader with a sense of noblesse oblige, belief in the duty to defend and uphold the public good. With that in mind, a useful beginning toward preventing catastrophe would be taking care of the basic the public health issues of rampant parasitism, lead toxicity, etc. That is the very least we can do, assuming we hope to avoid the worst. If we need an existential crisis to motivate ourselves and gain the political will to take action, we appear to be at that point or close to it.

Yet before we can deal with the parasites in poor areas, we might have to purge the body politic of the more dangerous parasites breeding within the plutocracy. That might require strong medicine.

* * *

Hookworm, a disease of extreme poverty, is thriving in the US south. Why?
by Ed Pilkington, The Guardian

These are the findings of a new study into endemic tropical diseases, not in places usually associated with them in the developing world of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, but in a corner of the richest nation on earth: Alabama.

Scientists in Houston, Texas, have lifted the lid on one of America’s darkest and deepest secrets: that hidden beneath fabulous wealth, the US tolerates poverty-related illness at levels comparable to the world’s poorest countries. More than one in three people sampled in a poor area of Alabama tested positive for traces of hookworm, a gastrointestinal parasite that was thought to have been eradicated from the US decades ago.

The long-awaited findings, revealed by the Guardian for the first time, are a wake-up call for the world’s only superpower as it grapples with growing inequality. Donald Trump has promised to “Make America Great Again” and tackle the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, but he has said very little about enduring chronic poverty, particularly in the southern states. […]

The parasite, better known as hookworm, enters the body through the skin, usually through the soles of bare feet, and travels around the body until it attaches itself to the small intestine where it proceeds to suck the blood of its host. Over months or years it causes iron deficiency and anemia, weight loss, tiredness and impaired mental function, especially in children, helping to trap them into the poverty in which the disease flourishes.

Hookworm was rampant in the deep south of the US in the earlier 20th century, sapping the energy and educational achievements of both white and black kids and helping to create the stereotype of the lazy and lethargic southern redneck. As public health improved, most experts assumed it had disappeared altogether by the 1980s.

But the new study reveals that hookworm not only survives in communities of Americans lacking even basic sanitation, but does so on a breathtaking scale. None of the people included in the research had travelled outside the US, yet parasite exposure was found to be prevalent, as was shockingly inadequate waste treatment.

The peer-reviewed research paper, published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, focuses on Lowndes County, Alabama – the home state of the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and a landmark region in the history of the nation’s civil rights movement. “Bloody Lowndes”, the area was called in reference to the violent reaction of white residents towards attempts to undo racial segregation in the 1950s.

It was through this county that Martin Luther King led marchers from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 in search of voting rights for black citizens, More than half a century later, King’s dream of what he called the “dignity of equality” remains elusive for many of the 11,000 residents of Lowndes County, 74% of whom are African American.

The average income is just $18,046 (£13,850) a year, and almost a third of the population live below the official US poverty line. The most elementary waste disposal infrastructure is often non-existent.

Some 73% of residents included in the Baylor survey reported that they had been exposed to raw sewage washing back into their homes as a result of faulty septic tanks or waste pipes becoming overwhelmed in torrential rains.

The Baylor study was inspired by Catherine Flowers, ACRE’s founder, who encouraged the Houston scientists to carry out the review after she became concerned about the health consequences of having so many open sewers in her home county. “Hookworm is a 19th-century disease that should by now have been addressed, yet we are still struggling with it in the United States in the 21st century,” she said.

“Our billionaire philanthropists like Bill Gates fund water treatment around the world, but they don’t fund it here in the US because no one acknowledges that this level of poverty exists in the richest nation in the world.” […]

He added that people were afraid to report the problems, given the spate of criminal prosecutions that were launched by Alabama state between 2002 and 2008 against residents who were open-piping sewage from their homes, unable to afford proper treatment systems. One grandmother was jailed over a weekend for failing to buy a septic tank that cost more than her entire annual income. […]

The challenge to places like Lowndes County is not to restore existing public infrastructure, as Trump has promised, because there is no public infrastructure here to begin with. Flowers estimates that 80% of the county is uncovered by any municipal sewerage system, and in its absence people are expected – and in some cases legally forced – to provide their own.

Even where individuals can afford up to $15,000 to install a septic tank – and very few can – the terrain is against them. Lowndes County is located within the “Black Belt”, the southern sweep of loamy soil that is well suited to growing cotton and as a result spawned a multitude of plantations, each worked by a large enslaved population.

The same thing that made the land so good for cotton – its water-retaining properties – also makes it a hazard to the thousands of African Americans who still live on it today. When the rains come, the soil becomes saturated, overwhelming inadequate waste systems and providing a perfect breeding ground for hookworm. […]

“We now need to find how widespread hookworm is across the US,” said Dr Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine, who led the research team along with Rojelio Mejia. Hotez, who has estimated that as many as 12 million Americans could be suffering from neglected tropical diseases in poor parts of the south and midwest, told the Guardian the results were a wake-up call for the nation.

“This is the inconvenient truth that nobody in America wants to talk about,” he said. “These people live in the southern United States, and nobody seems to care; they are poor, and nobody seems to care; and more often than not they are people of color, and nobody seems to care.”