By Dr. Mercola
Alzheimer's disease, which affects an estimated 5.2 million Americans,1 is a devastating degenerative brain disease that develops slowly over time, and tends to be quite lethal in its final stages.
According to the latest data, the death toll from Alzheimer's exceeds half a million Americans per year.2 This places Alzheimer's in the top three killer diseases in the US, right behind heart disease and cancer.
There's no conventional cure, and few if any successful medical treatments available once Alzheimer's sets in. There is, however, compelling evidence indicating that your diet plays a significant role. This means you may have quite a bit of control when it comes to prevention.
In previous articles, I've discussed the links between high-carb, low-fat diets, and Alzheimer's. Sugar, it turns out, is a major promoter of the disease. Some research even suggests that Alzheimer's may be a form of "brain diabetes," instigated by high sugar/fructose consumption.
The dietary links do not end there, however. More recently, investigators have raised the possibility that this severe form of dementia may be linked to eating meat from animals raised in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs)...
The Intriguing Connections Between Alzheimer's, Mad Cow, and Chronic Wasting Disease
The key player here is an infectious protein called TDP-43. This protein has already been linked to a number of animal and human diseases, including:
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease)
- Mad Cow disease
- Chronic wasting disease, a transmissible neurological disease in deer and elk
Researchers have found that this protein may also play an important role in Alzheimer's disease,3 as it is correlated with shrinkage of the hippocampus, thereby causing memory loss.
By examining the autopsied brains of more than 340 Alzheimer's patients, the researchers found that TDP-43 was present in nearly 200 of them. As reported by MedicineNet.com:4
"The study is unlike some others because it looked at two types of patients who were diagnosed with Alzheimer's after death -- those who showed symptoms in life and those who didn't.
Abnormal levels of TDP-43 were found in those who had the disease and were significantly affected by it... [T]he investigators found that those with abnormal levels of TDP-43 were 10 times more likely to have thinking problems such as memory loss at death than the other patients.
How could people have signs of Alzheimer's, but not have symptoms? That's not clear... But, maybe people who have [beta-amyloid] plaques and [tau] tangles don't develop symptoms unless they also have TDP-43, the researchers hypothesized." [Emphasis mine]
Feeding Animals Animal-Byproducts Is a Common CAFO Farming Technique, and It Can Be Deadly
The common denominator between Mad Cow and Chronic Wasting Disease5 is forcing natural herbivores to eat animal parts. Animal byproducts are in a variety of ways mixed into the feed given to CAFO livestock, and we have repeatedly seen the devastating effects of this practice.
Even in cases where omnivores, such as pigs, are fed byproducts of animals of their own kind, the practice still poses significant problems, as an infection originating in even a single sick animal can rapidly spread this way.
Over the past year, nearly 10 percent of the entire swine population in the US has been wiped out by a highly lethal virus traced back to pig's blood used in piglet feed for example.
As explained by the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance, the infectious agent that causes both Mad Cow and Chronic Wasting Disease is believed to be prions—an infectious type of protein—not bacteria or viruses. While some prions6 serve beneficial cell functions, others, acting like an infectious agent, are known to cause neurodegeneration. TDP-43 is in this latter category.
According to a University of Pennsylvania report titled, "The Saga of a Disease Protein,"7 TDP-43 reacts to oxidative stress, suggesting that antioxidant therapy might be helpful for disease prevention.
Mad Cow Disease Is a Man-Made Plague
Mad Cow Disease is another classic example of why the CAFO "cannibal" solution, i.e. feeding animal parts back to the same species of animal tends to be a bad idea. One of the primary ways Mad Cow Disease is transmitted is when cows are fed bone meal and waste products from other cattle infected with the disease.
As a result, it's now illegal to feed beef-based products to cows. Alas, the beef industry circumvents this rule by using a feed product known as "chicken litter," and that too can introduce this devastating disease into our food system.
Mad Cows Disease is still a factor when using chicken litter because this rendered down mix of chicken manure, dead chickens, and feathers, is also comprised of nearly one-third spilled chicken feed, which includes cow meat and bone meal used to feed the chickens—the very ingredients that are supposed to be off limits for cows.
So, any cow that eats chicken litter may also be consuming various cow byproducts–the very same feed products that spurred Mad Cow Disease in the first place.
Pigs, chickens, and turkeys can also be fed cattle byproducts, and current laws permit byproducts of those animals to be fed back to cattle.8 This is yet another loophole that can allow Mad Cow agents to infect healthy cattle—and you, should you end up eating any of these infected meats.
The CAFO-Alzheimer's Connection
Eating CAFO meat carries a number of health risks, including the rare occurrence of Mad Cow disease. But could the infectious prions associated with Mad Cow, Chronic Wasting, and Alzheimer's be spread via CAFO meats as well? Mad Cow Disease is a prion disease that can spread like wildfire in CAFOs. And there's speculation that diseased cattle, which is ground up for feed to chickens and other non-bovine animals, may be retransmitting the disease by virtue of it passing on through the food chain, albeit indirectly.
When a foreign protein is introduced, your body will respond with inflammation. Chronic inflammation, we know, is a hallmark of most degenerative diseases. TDP-43 is one such foreign protein, but it certainly isn't the only foreign protein you might ingest via CAFO foods.
CAFO livestock are also given feed consisting primarily of genetically engineered (GE) grains, and GE plants are also known to produce unfamiliar proteins—some of these proteins have in fact never existed in the human food chain prior to the introduction of GE foods. It's no small wonder then that researchers keep finding that GE foods tend to be far more allergenic than non-GE foods.9
Now, when it comes to CAFO meats, be it chicken, pork, or beef, you're being exposed to any number of foreign proteins—and TDP-43 might be one of them... Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), or the human version of Mad Cow, has a long incubation period, and few dementia-related deaths in the US are ever investigated. An infected person usually starts having symptoms in their 60s. As noted by the Centers for Food Safety,10 the symptoms are similar to Alzheimer's, and include staggering, memory loss, impaired vision, and dementia.
Mad Cow Keeps Resurfacing...
In 2012, a California dairy cow was diagnosed with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or Mad Cow Disease). According to the USDA, milk from cattle infected with Mad Cow is safe for human consumption, but dairy cows can also be processed into meat, and if they're infected with BSE, such meat can cause vCJD when consumed.11 As noted by Center for Food Safety,12 which reported on the 2012 outbreak:
"Tissue from infected cows' central nervous systems (including brain or spinal cord) is the most infectious part of a cow. Such tissue may be found in hot dogs, taco fillings, bologna and other products containing gelatin, and ground or chopped meat. People who eat contaminated beef products are at risk of contracting the human version of mad cow disease... The disease slowly eats holes in the brain over a matter of years, turning it sponge-like, and invariably results in death. There is no known cure, treatment, or vaccine for BSE diseases. The incubation period for 'mad cow' disease in cattle is thought to be approximately 5 years; it may be latent in humans for a decade or more before manifesting itself."
This year, Mad Cow is rearing its ugly head again, this time claiming the life of a Texas man. He was the fourth American victim of the disease.13
Chronic Wasting Disease—Another Aspect of the Same Problem
Another type of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) disease is known as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), which is now rapidly spreading among deer and elk. As with Mad Cow, the disease is the result of domesticating wild animals, as discussed in the featured video. CWD now affects animals in 22 US states, and 68 game farms in Saskatchewan, Canada now have infected animals, imported via game farm animals from the US... CWD-infected animals shed the infectious prions in saliva and urine, starting around three months after being infected. They remain contagious for the remainder of their life, contaminating land and water as they go along.
According to some experts, the prions causing CWD are the most resistant disease agent currently known. As noted in the featured video, should CWD spread among humans the way it's spreading through the deer population, HIV-Aids would seem like "a walk in the park" in comparison.
Game farms cater to hunters who are more or less guaranteed a kill, and the potential for CWD to spread to humans through consumption of these game animals is a serious concern. A recent paper in the journal Landes Bioscience14, 15 offers the following sobering assessment on the ability of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) to affect humans:
"We hypothesize that both BSE prions and CWD prions passaged through felines will seed human recPrP more efficiently than BSE or CWD from the original hosts, evidence that the new host will dampen the species barrier between humans and BSE or CWD. The new host effect is particularly relevant as we investigate potential means of trans-species transmission of prion disease."
Losing Your Mind for the Sake of a Burger
The idea that neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and ALS may be spread via CAFO foods is not entirely new. A 2005 study16 published in the journal Medical Hypotheses, titled: "Thinking the unthinkable: Alzheimer's, Creutzfeldt-Jakob and Mad Cow disease: the age-related reemergence of virulent, foodborne, bovine tuberculosis or losing your mind for the sake of a shake or burger," states:
"In the opinion of experts, ample justification exists for considering a similar pathogenesis for Alzheimer's, Creutzfeldt-Jakob and the other spongiform encephalopathies such as Mad Cow disease. In fact, Creutzfeldt-Jakob and Alzheimer's often coexist and at this point are thought to differ merely by time-dependent physical changes. A recent study links up to 13 percent of all 'Alzheimer's' victims as really having Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease." [Emphasis mine]
The researchers also note that bovine tuberculosis serves as a vector for human Mad Cow Disease. Bovine tuberculosis (caused by Mycobacterium bovis and M. avium-intracellulare or paratuberculosis) is one of the most prevalent disease threats in American CAFOs, and the researchers quote USDA data suggesting that anywhere from 20-40 percent of American dairy herds are infected at any given time! According to the authors:
"The health risk for milk tainted with M. bovis has been known for decades and there was a time not so long ago when 'tuberculin-tested' was printed on every milk container. Schliesser stated that meat from tuberculous animals may also constitute a significant risk of infection. At the turn of the 20th century 25 percent of the many US deaths from TB in adults were caused by M. bovis. Dairy products aside, when past and present meat consumption are factored in, there is three times the risk of developing Alzheimer's in meat eaters as opposed to vegetarians.
The investigation into the causal trail for Creutzfeldt-Jakob, indistinguishable from Alzheimer's except for its shorter, lethal course might have grown cold where it not for Roel's and others who linked mad cow in cattle with M. bovis and related paratuberculosis on clinical, pathologic and epidemiological grounds. The southwest of the UK, the very cradle of British BSE and CJD outbreaks, saw an exponential increase in bovine tuberculosis just prior to its spongiform outbreaks. All of this brings up the unthinkable: that Alzheimer's, Cruetzfeldt-Jackob, and Mad Cow Disease might just be caused by eating the meat or dairy in consumer products or feed." [Emphasis mine]
Are We Paying Far Too High a Price for Cheap Meat?
In my opinion, the answer to that question is yes. We are paying an exorbitantly high price for factory farmed foods. Some of the health effects associated with CAFO animal products are easier to estimate than others. In all likelihood, the news that Alzheimer's disease, which now appears to be the third leading cause of death in the US, may be the result of a slower-acting form of Mad Cow or Chronic Wasting Disease is bound to come as a complete shock for most people. And yet the links between the diseases are quite compelling, and they all point to one main culprit: factory farming practices, which eliminate hygiene and replace animals' natural diets with unnatural grain diets, into which animal byproducts are mixed in.
This "cannibal" solution, and the loopholes that end up permitting same-species cannibalism, has set in motion a disease-producing cycle that can only be stopped by putting an end to such unnatural food production practices. The bottom line is, an animal's diet matters greatly. You cannot judge the benefits of the animal's diet based on added weight gain or added milk production alone... There can be all sorts of unforeseen ramifications when you alter the natural course of nature, including never-before-seen diseases.
Organic, grass-fed and finished meat that is humanely raised and butchered is really about the only type of meat that is healthy to eat. By purchasing your meat from smaller farms that raise their animals in a humane fashion, according to organic principles, you're promoting the proliferation of such farms, which in the end will not only help protect your health, it will ultimately benefit everyone, including the animals, by putting the brakes on farming practices that are actively sowing the seeds of degenerative diseases... The following organizations can help you locate farm-fresh foods in your local area that has been raised in a humane, sustainable manner:
- Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
- Farmers' Markets -- A national listing of farmers' markets.
- Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
- Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) -- CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
- FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSAs, and markets near you.