By Dr. Mercola
The more we learn about the symbiotic existence of everything within the food chain, the more apparent it becomes that mankind has no one to blame but itself for the emergence of some of our most challenging health trends.
In this article, I will focus on two significant health threats:
- Alzheimer's disease, a severe form of neurodegenerative brain disorder that now claims over half a million American lives each year, making it the third leading cause of death in the US, right behind heart disease and cancer.1,2
Compared to heart disease and cancer it is also the most expensive. The average cost of care for a dementia patient during the last five years of life is over $287,000, with an out-of-pocket expense of more than $61,500 for those on Medicare.3
- Lyme disease, and a new emerging tick-borne disease that resembles Lyme; both of which are very difficult to diagnose and treat
Alzheimer's and Lyme Disease Originate in Food Chain Disruptions
When we look closely at the causes of these diseases, we find their origins in the food production system. In our efforts to create a cheaper food system, we've cut too many corners, and made too many dangerous shortcuts.
And these errors in judgment are now costing us in terms of skyrocketing health problems and enormous psychological distress.
Research suggests Alzheimer's and other neurological degeneration may be driven by two diet-related problems: excessive sugar consumption, and the creation of brain-wasting proteins in our meat supply, which is the result of turning herbivores into carnivores.
Interestingly, new evidence suggests that Lyme disease may be primarily driven by the elimination of natural predators.
Rodents are the number one tick-bearing host spreading the disease, and agricultural and urban sprawl have eliminated many of the rodent's natural predators, allowing populations to grow, and with them comes infected ticks.
Below I will expand on these errors in human judgment that have allowed these (and other) diseases to flourish.
Relying on a Processed Food Diet Endangers Your Health
Processed foods have most of their vital nutrients eliminated and replaced with refined sugars and synthetic chemicals, most of which have never been tested for human safety due to a federal regulatory loophole.
A study6 published in the New England Journal of Medicine in August 2013 demonstrates that even mild elevation of blood sugar — fasting levels over 100 mg/dl — is associated with an elevated risk for dementia.
The connection between sugar and Alzheimer's was first revealed in 2005, when the disease was tentatively dubbed "type 3 diabetes." At that time researchers discovered that your brain produces insulin necessary for the survival of your brain cells.
A toxic protein called ADDL removes insulin receptors from nerve cells in your brain, thereby rendering those neurons insulin resistant, and as ADDLs accumulate, your memory begins to deteriorate. Diabetics also have a doubled risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
Overwhelmingly, the evidence points to the fact that Alzheimer's is a lifestyle-driven disease, and eating a primarily processed food diet is likely the most significant contributor. Eating CAFO meats may also be a contributing factor.
How Turning Herbivores into Meat Eaters May Have Unleashed an Alzheimer's Epidemic
While more research still needs to be done, scientists have found a compelling link between a particular kind of protein and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's.
This protein, called TDP-43, behaves like infectious proteins known as prions, which are responsible for the brain destruction that occurs in Mad Cow and Chronic Wasting Disease.7
These types of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) are the result of forcing natural herbivores to eat animal parts.
One of the primary modes of transmission of Mad Cow Disease is by feeding cows 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.
However, the beef industry still uses "chicken litter" in the feed, which consists of a rendered down mix of chicken manure, dead chickens, feathers, and spilled chicken feed — the latter of which includes cow meat and bone meal, the very ingredients that are known to spread Mad Cow...
In this way, the disease may still be promulgated and spread.
According to research8 published in 2011, TDP-43 pathology is detected in 25 to 50 percent of Alzheimer's patients, and it's been suggested that Alzheimer's may be a slow moving version of Mad Cow disease, acquired by eating contaminated meats from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).9,10
One 2005 study11 also noted that bovine tuberculosis serves as a vector for human Mad Cow Disease, and bovine tuberculosis is in fact one of the most prevalent disease threats in American CAFOs. US Department of Agriculture (USDA) data suggests that anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of American dairy herds are infected at any given time.
Theoretical Evidence for Human-to-Human Transmission of Alzheimer's
Most recently, researchers provided the first-ever theoretical evidence12,13 for human-to-human transmission of prion-like proteins associated with Alzheimer's, introduced via a medical procedure involving contaminated material.
Previous animal research14 has also found that when tiny amounts of amyloid-beta proteins — which are a hallmark of Alzheimer's — are injected into mice or monkeys, they act as self-propagating "seeds," unleashing a chain reaction of protein misfolding that results in pathology that is very reminiscent of that seen in Alzheimer's patients.
These kinds of findings add further support to the argument that Alzheimer's may be "contracted" via contaminated meat. Basically, these brain-destroying prions may be the result of a food system that relies on cheap and efficient methods that are simply too far outside the natural order. Cows — natural herbivores — should not be eating cow and chicken parts. Doing so invites prion infection, which humans might then contract when eating infected animals.
Eliminating Natural Predators to Rodents Promotes Disease
Lyme disease is on the rise, and the disease is also spreading out geographically.15 Since national surveillance began in 1982, the number of annual Lyme cases reported has increased nearly 25-fold.16 Between 1993 and 1997, 43 counties across the US had a high incidence of Lyme disease. By 2012, the number of hotspots had skyrocketed to 182.17 At present, approximately 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year.18
Lyme disease spreads when a tick picks up the Borrelia burgdorferi spirochete from an infected host19,20 — typically a rodent, such as the white-footed mouse, which infects about 75 to 95 percent of the larval ticks that feed on them. (It's worth noting that according to some experts, such as Dr. Dietrich Klinghardt, who is one of the leading authorities on the natural treatment of Lyme disease, the bacteria can also be spread by other biting or blood-sucking insects, including mosquitoes, spiders, fleas, and mites.)
Deer, which typically get the blame for spreading the disease, only infect about one percent of the ticks that feed on them.
The reason for the upswing in prevalence and the geographical spread has been traced to the elimination of the rodent's natural predators, thanks to a combination of agricultural and urban sprawl, an increase in the coyote population, and climate change, depending on which region of the country you're talking about. Agricultural and urban sprawl are to blame because they destroy the natural habitats for birds of prey that feed on rats and mice, forcing the birds to move.
Coyotes, which are a growing problem across the US because of their ability to adapt to just about any habitat and their proficiency at breeding, are a concern because they kill off two other natural predators of rodents — fox and cats. So, with their natural predators gone, mice and rats are growing in numbers.21
In New York City, rats have become a significant problem, with nearly 24,400 reported complaints so far this year,22 and rats are also known to spread Lyme disease.
In fact, according to a 1996 study,23 rats are even more infectious than infected mice, and "the capacity of rats to serve as reservoir hosts for the Lyme disease spirochete, therefore, increases risk of infection among visitors to this and other urban parks." Another study24 published the following year also found that Norway rats and black rats were exceptionally effective hosts, infecting nearly all ticks that fed on them.
The infected ticks then detached during the day, when the rats were at rest. Typically, you don't associate Lyme disease with the concrete jungle, but considering the high infection rate of rats, you'd be well advised to take precautions if you're in an area where rats have been sighted.
Meet B. Miyamotoi — Lyme Disease's Distant Cousin
There's also another tick-borne disease on the loose. Researchers have identified yet another tick-borne illness that is similar to Lyme.25 The culprit, Borrelia miyamotoi, was originally identified in Japanese ticks in 1995. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention26 (CDC), it is a distant relative to the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, being more closely related to bacteria that cause tick-borne relapsing fever — a disease characterized by recurring episodes of fever, headache, muscle and joint aches, and nausea.
In the US, B. miyamotoi has been found in two tick species: the black-legged or "deer" tick (Ixodes scapularis) and the western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus). To date, less than 60 people in the US have been infected, and no cases have been reported in the UK. "Regular" Lyme disease, however, is on the rise in the UK, quadrupling in the last 12 years.27
Lyme disease is notoriously difficult to diagnose and treat, and diagnosing B. miyamotoi has turned out to be equally tricky. Blood tests used to identify Lyme are even more ineffective for B. miyamotoi. To diagnose it, doctors are currenly relying on antibody tests, or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests that can detect the organism's DNA. As for symptoms, B. miyamotoi produces fatigue, fever, chills, headaches, and pain (particularly in the joints).
Unlike Lyme, however, it very rarely produces the hallmark "bulls eye" rash. According to the CDC, patients have been successfully treated with a two- to four-week course of doxycycline, Amoxicillin, or ceftriaxone.
Understanding How Your Food Is Grown Is Essential for Optimal Health
Alzheimer's and Lyme disease are two very different diseases. (For more information about how to prevent and/or treat these two diseases, please see my previous articles, "Under Our Skin —The Hidden Reality of Lyme Disease," and "Alzheimer's — A Disease Fed by Sugar.")
What they have in common is that they're both promoted by human ignorance about the symbiotic relationship between each creature in the food chain, starting with the microbes in the soil, and ending with us. The realities currently facing us clearly demonstrate that we cannot outsmart nature.
We can take shortcuts, and we can come up with a wide variety of unnatural but cheaper shortcuts — such as feeding cows grains, artificial sweeteners (which are also neurotoxic), and animal byproducts rather than grass — and for a while it will seem to work. But eventually, it will fail miserably with unintended and unexpected consequences.
This is precisely why I'm so passionate about regenerative agriculture, as it encompasses and addresses the ecosystem in its entirety. Humans are but one part of a vast ecosystem that works as an undivided whole.
The Easiest Way to Support Regenerative Farming — Vote With Your Pocketbook
Our current method of growing food, which can be accurately labeled as degenerative agriculture, is the obvious problem, while regenerative agriculture is the obvious and simple solution. And, contrary to popular belief, it can also be financially rewarding. Grazing livestock on pasture is part and parcel of sustainable, regenerative agriculture, so it's important we reach the grass-fed milk and beef tipping point — that point when enough people choose grass-fed animal products over CAFO fare, to really push producers into switching the way they run their business, en masse.
You can assist the process of converting conventional chemical-based agriculture into a system that relies on regenerative practices in a number of ways, but "voting with your pocketbook" is one of the most potent ways to support farmers who have transitioned, or are transitioning, to sustainable practices.
At present, less than two percent of the US population is engaged in growing sustainable food. So in terms of government policy, they have but a tiny voice. This is particularly true for farmers practicing regenerative agriculture, who make up just one-tenth of one percent of the entire US population.
They need the broader, stronger voice of consumers — not just by purchasing these products, but also by supporting policies from the USDA, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and others that would help further support regenerative agricultural practices. And, of course, by voting against policies that are detrimental to regenerative farmers.
Developing Relationships with Your Local Food Producers Is One Way to Safeguard Your Health
Eating REAL FOOD is key for your optimal health, and that means food grown in accordance to the laws of nature, free of as many chemicals and additives as possible. To make sure you're getting the highest quality nutrient dense food, your best bet is to grow your own food by converting your lawn into a garden. If that is not possible consider growing sunflower seed sprouts.
Additionally or alternatively it would be wise to know your local farmer or rancher — what his philosophy is and how he raises his food and his herd. If you can only afford organic produce or organic meats, I recommend opting for the organic grass-fed meats. Aside from the potential risks discussed in this article, CAFO meats also tend to be contaminated with pesticides to an even greater degree than some fruits and vegetables, thanks to all the genetically engineered grains CAFO animals are fed.
When it comes to cattle ranchers raising grass-fed cattle for meat, some pertinent questions you may want to ask to ascertain quality and safety include:
- Do you give the animals hormones or antibiotics, and if so, when and why?
- Are the animals confined in a yard? And if so, for how long?
- Are the animals finished on grains or on pasture?
The following organizations can help you locate grass-fed beef and other organic- and locally grown foods:
Eat Wild – With more than 1,400 pasture-based farms, Eat Wild's Directory of Farms is one of the most comprehensive sources for grass-fed meat and dairy products in the United States and Canada. 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. 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. Grassfed Exchange lists producers of organic pastured meats, including beef, bison, lamb, and poultry 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. Farmers' Markets – A national listing of farmers' markets.