Stewing in Our Own Sewage

food supply chain
Big Pharma, and the misinformed media, would have us all believe that medicine can cure every disease, and that as a result, we might one day achieve immortality. Hardly a week goes by without reports of some genetic ‘marker’ for some cancer or chronic disease, with the implication that this genetic ‘imperfection’ might be remedied by the miracles of modern medicine, and the disease eradicated forever. Or that a virus or bacteria ‘suspected’ to be involved in some infectious disease has been discovered, with the implication that, by eradicating the microbe, we can be free forever from the disease.

We have, to be fair, made significant headway in the fight against infectious diseases. That is, we have recently (in the last century and a half) identified that most infectious diseases are caused by viruses or bacteria, learned how these microbes spread, and discovered or invented vaccines, antibiotics and antivirals to kill many of them.

That doesn’t mean we are winning the war against infectious diseases, however, or that this war is even winnable. Viruses and bacteria can evolve much faster than we can ever hope to invent vaccines and antimicrobials to keep up with them. That’s the reason heath experts are so worried about pandemic influenza — antivirals like tamiflu may not be effective against it (and the regimen for using it is involved, expensive and carries risks of complication), and vaccines need to be tailored to the specific form of the virus, which can take months. In addition, the endemic use of antibiotics and antivirals in modern society is encouraging the more rapid mutation of viruses and bacteria which are resistant to most or all antibiotics and antivirals. And some infectious diseases (like Mad Cow) are spread by prions, which are not treatable with antimicrobials of any kind.

So infectious diseases will continue to threaten us, and, as we run out of effective antimicrobials, they could easily become once again as great a scourge as they have been throughout most of the centuries since civilization began. Nothing suits bacteria and viruses better than creatures crowded into close quarters who travel quickly and extensively across communities.

Diseases that are not infectious are called environmental or chronic diseases. These are the illnesses (physical and mental) that are growing at epidemic rates, especially in affluent nations. It is simply not true that the staggering increase in these diseases is largely due to better detection, better reporting, or an aging population. We have our suspicions about the reason for the increases, but we cannot prove it.

What we do know is that such diseases only seem to emerge when three prerequisites are present:

  • Genetic predisposition: some people are naturally more immune to some environmental diseases than others.
  • Exposure to environmental poisons: chronic exposure to and ingestion of dangerous levels of toxins.
  • Situational catalyst: a trigger that ‘sets off’ the disease in the presence of the two factors above (usually that trigger is stress).

Our natural stress-responses are fight-or-flight adrenal responses, and as suited as they were to gatherer-hunter culture, they are maladapted to modern forms of (mostly psychological) stress, and to the chronic, relentless stresses that most of us face.

I believe that all three of these prerequisites are becoming increasingly prevalent. In recent centuries (and still today in many struggling nations) a larger proportion of the population has each had a large number of children. Since then, our temporary victory over many infectious diseases has slashed infant and child mortality rates. In Darwinian terms, many people who would not have been born, or would not have survived, have entered the gene pool, to the point that genetic weaknesses have inevitably increased in the population at large.

We have more toxins and untested chemicals in our food, water, air and soil than we have ever had before, and we live longer than we have since civilization began, so over a lifetime we surely ingest more poisons than previous generations. Even if we wanted to change this, through the precautionary principle applied retroactively, we could not — our economy depends utterly on the ‘efficiencies’ that poisonous production makes possible. We could not sustain even a fraction of today’s human population with healthy, careful, expensive production methods.

And we unquestionably face more chronic stresses than previous generations. We can talk about methods to mitigate our stress reactions, but many of these are visceral, subconscious, not in our power to control.

So, in short, there is nothing we can do to stem the current surge in chronic diseases. At a personal level, if we can afford it, we can try to eat and drink healthier, and try to find places not afflicted by poisoned air, water and soil. And, if we have the luxury of time, opportunity, awareness and self-knowledge, we can try to self-manage to minimize our stress reactions. But at a societal level, we are literally stewing in our own sewage, and in a weakened condition to start with.

Of course, the big polluters, their political and media handmaidens, a big chunk of the medical fraternity, many religious groups, and the Big Pharma oligopoly would have you see it differently. They’d have you believe it’s your fault: not taking care of yourself, having bad genes, suffering for your sins, being too lazy and hence too poor to afford good food anddecent medicine.

And guess what all that guilt and self-blame does to those who believe it?

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3 Responses to Stewing in Our Own Sewage

  1. nice, informative blog

  2. Vish Goda says:

    Dave,My comments here are not specific to this posting. But I wanted to commend you on consistently coming out with the best visualization diagrams in all of your posts. It just reflects the clarity of your thoughts and I am in envy of that. I wish I could depict my ideas as you do. On the other hand, I feel lucky that we have found in you, someone who can clearly communicate our own thoughts in such a succinct and engaging manner.Thank you.Vish

  3. gbreez says:

    Echo…I feel lucky we have found you…I feel so for the children, and their children, should we manage not to cause the complete nuclear destruction of the planet. What will they inherit and how can we help alter that for the better, besides fighting global warming and American politics? I am at a loss. I teach my son the importance of supporting the organic industry only to find that it is being degraded by the mega-corps who want a piece of the action but bring no ethics with them. I grow an organic garden fighting acid rain, changed weather patterns (it will not stop raining), and toxins in the natural (goat) fertilizer due to the toxins I now know were in the feed, and I feel at a loss.It is a difficult and interesting time to be living in America and in the world.

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