19. Plant toxins are everywhere…and we should eat them

A while back, my neighbor asked me about a plant that he learned (on the internet) was toxic and he wanted to know if he should pull it out of his garden to protect his grand-daughter and her friends.  It was an Amaryllis.  I said that many plants in the lily family are toxic, but mostly the bulbs.  And the girls were not likely to see his plant as food and they aren’t very toxic to humans anyway. I wasn’t concerned. He pulled it out anyway.

I did not tell my neighbor that all plants produce toxins. There was no way I was throwing gas on that fire.  I don’t mean most plants, mind you; ALL plants are toxic.  A pound of fresh basil is toxic, a cup of fresh rosemary is toxic, cabbage is toxic, and hot peppers are toxic.  Apple seeds are very toxic and coffee beans have one of the most toxic substances known.  If you eat enough of any plant, your body will experience some difficulties with the toxins in the plant, and your digestive system will let you know.  Try eating leaves from a walnut tree.  The smells and tastes in plants are warnings of toxicity. 

And that’s why we eat them.  Not only that, we often crave them.  We dry them and grind them and sprinkle them on our food, especially on meats.  Plant chemicals keep us healthy.  I’ll take a second cup of those coffee beans, please.

There is nothing particularly healthy about meats.  It’s protein, sure, with a large dose of animal fat.  Plants add a variety of flavors and we associate the flavors with the meat, but we never think about the underlying need for the plant chemicals when we’re eating our meats.  Meats typically have little inherent flavor outside of burnt fats.  Those meats that do have subtle flavors, such as free-range meats, are the result of an exposure to a range of plants in the animal’s diet.  It’s the plants, not the meat.

We don’t get that.  With cheap corn-fed, factory-farmed, industrially-flavored supermarket meats surrounding us, anyone under the age of about 40 has never really experienced anything else.  Nor have the people who produce the meats.  And we are increasingly poorer and sicker because of it.

We need the healing power of those plant toxins.  We need weak toxins to stimulate our systems, we need environmental challenges, we need to stimulate the microbiome.  We need stop eating watered down, genetically uniform, commercially grown, immature food plants.  Plants are biological systems and they produce more and more chemicals as they age.  When we eat baby spinach, we are getting all of the experience those week-old leaves possess….and it isn’t much. 

We need to eat plants with character, with a history of fighting for life, with stories to tell about their misadventures with insects and pathogens.  We need to eat plants that can and have survived the outside world.  We need to stop eating plants that have never seen the outside of a greenhouse.

We also need to stop eating (or drinking) supplements and start consuming the real thing.  The plant is a consortium of defensive chemicals that have evolved over millions of years to protect the plant from a hungry world.  The components of that chemical cocktail do not work in isolation and we have no experience with them in that way.  Isolated chemicals are drugs.  They can be described as “medicine”, but they are still toxic, purified, potentially addictive, and act to replace physiological functions rather than to strengthen them. 

When we eat mature plants, we get very small doses of many different chemicals and those small doses stimulate out physiology in different ways.  They can be anaesthetics, analgesics, stimulants, depressants, disruptors, or enhancers.  The results of eating mature plants are incremental and slow, but the result is a stronger, more prepared, and more experienced body.  The result is a human physiology that is informed and ready in a holistic sense.  Plants are slow medicine.

The loss of nutritional quality in modern plants is well recognized.  Sometimes its intentional, such as reducing harsh flavors to make the plants more palatable.  Other nutrients are lost as genetic variation is eliminated in crop plants.  Sometimes, it’s just because we grow plants too fast.  Regardless, we are starved for the slow medicines and it’s showing.  We are sicker, we aren’t resistant or resilient, we are not recovering, we are more susceptible, we are dying.

We are primates.  We eat plants.  We have a colon that is constructed specifically for managing a large quantity of plant material by using bacteria to extract very important chemicals.  This is our evolutionary history and we cannot override that with food technology that ignores biological realities.  There is a second pandemic going on right now; it’s slow and creeping, but growing in speed.  It is the unintentional consequence of intentional actions that result in the starvation of our species by the continuous “improvement” of a nutritionally depauperate food system.  We need to change that very soon.

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Viral Basics

In the movie Predator, the Good Guys encounter an Enemy about which they know nothing, except that it becomes readily apparent that the rules of the game are simple: kill or be killed. The enemy is strong, powerful, deadly, invisible, silent, ruthless.  The Good Guys have to redirect their behavior, adapt their tactics, and try to understand their opponent in the sense that they have to find a weakness.  Normally a collaborative approach would be the strongest tactic, but Hollywood action movies rarely have enough head space for more than one star.  The A list star solves all of the problems and the B list stars help by sacrificing themselves to a good cause.  Fighting an unknown enemy is fine if one has strong weapons at one’s disposal.  Fighting without weapons is much harder.

COVID-19 is a novel enemy, but it’s an insidious predator, and unlike the one Arnold Schwarzenegger had to fight.  A virus is on a reconnaissance mission to find weak spots.  It isn’t alive, it isn’t hunting for prey; it is making biochemical connections that indicate a doorway into a cell’s internal resources.  The virus exploits those opportunities and your immune system has the job of stopping that exploitation.  A novel virus has the advantage, however, because the immune system has no point of reference and no previous history for stopping the virus.  And until the immune system is educated on what to look for and attack, there is no stopping a novel virus other than the overall health of the body.

Viruses are like a spy that has found out all there is to know about your personal medical history.  It investigates what diseases you had as a child, your traumatic injuries, hospitalizations, current issues, recent diseases, chronic conditions, and all of your past and present bad habits.  This information is your health context.  The virus is able to find entry points into your system based on the weaknesses you have accumulated over your lifetime.  If there are a number of weaknesses, the virus may seem to be attacking from a number of directions and gaining a foothold will be much easier.  If there are few weaknesses or a robust health context, the virus may still find entry, but fail to gain a dominant position in the system, and the system will fight back successfully. 

Humans have a very strong constitution; our immune systems have been battle tested for thousands of years.  Each of us carries an immunological legacy from the survivors of the battles.  We have been given the tools to survive and those tools are honed further by personal experience.  Our immune systems have been educated by every disease and vaccine we have experienced.  And our hope is that a strong immune system will be able to respond in the face of novel enemies.  Unfortunately, the modern lifestyle is one that tends to weaken our defenses and novel viruses exploit those weaknesses.

Some weakening of our defenses is inevitable.  Of course, we are weakened with age, and age in combination with other traumas will compound the effects.  More importantly, what we have done in our younger years may be more important than age alone.  It’s becoming more apparent that some of the “traumas” to our defenses are as simple as inappropriate use of antibiotics, especially in children for whom antibiotics are often a regular part of life. Few adults routinely use antibiotics, but worried parents will reach for any effective solution when their child is sick.

Let’s be clear though, viruses and bacteria are not the same thing, not are antibiotics and vaccines.  Bacteria are alive; viruses are not.  Vaccines strengthen the immune system against both viruses and bacteria by educating it; antibiotics replace the immune system temporarily and only for bacterial infections until it can regain its previous effectiveness.  Antibiotics do not strengthen our immune systems.

Thus, we should be very wary of using drugs that interfere with and may damage normal functions.  We should also be very aware of the kinds of daily activities that can impair the function of our immune system.  Primary among activities that boost our immunity is the kind and quality of food we eat.  We need weapons to fight novel enemies and our first line of defense will be what we’re made of.

Viral thoughts: The value of an opinion, imo.

In other words: If opinions are equal, then my ignorance is equal to anyone’s expertise.

Someone told me during an argument about COVID’s reality that everyone’s opinion is valid. I’m going to have to disagree with that.  Not only is that not even remotely true, but the person speaking didn’t believe it for a minute.  It’s just that she did not agree with my opinion and the fact that I believe the death toll isn’t exaggerated; I believe it’s grossly under-reported.  The difference in our opinions was this: I read as widely as I can on the pandemic, but I focus on reputable sources.  She relied on right-wing political commentary and the single fact that she once saw a report in her hospital that a person who died in a car accident was listed as a COVID death. That single incident told her that hospitals are adding names to the COVID list that don’t belong there, increasing the totals, and bringing additional money into the hospital because the government is compensating for COVID deaths.

So, I was trying to rely on that facts that have been published by the CDC, US Gov’t, NY Times, WHO, and other independent reporting agencies.  She was doing something else. 

Here’s my point about opinions though.  Let’s say I work in a hospital and manage a particular section.  A new worker is filling out the forms improperly and I approach them and say so.  They reply that this is the way it was done in the other hospital and this was acceptable there.  I say, well it isn’t acceptable here, so do it our way.  The reply is that acceptable should be the same across hospitals and therefore my opinion does not outweigh their opinion.  My reply to this “equality of opinion” argument is: change it to our way or expect to be fired.

If a student comes up to me and argues that the answer given on a test question is logically correct and I incorrectly marked it wrong, we will have a discussion about correct answers.  If they argue that MY correct answer is rooted in theory and cannot be proven correct, and therefore THEIR answer is equally accurate, we will have further discussion about correct answers.  Arguing from a hypothesis is not remotely the same as arguing from theory and established principles.  And I can give many examples to show that no one truly believes the contrary.

The world is not driven by each of us figuring out what’s correct based on personal experiences.  Progress is the process of taking existing information and using it to either arrive at new conclusions or, even better, to use that information to develop testable hypotheses and new experiments.  We stand on the shoulders of others.  Going on gut feelings is a remarkably flawed approach.  I may have an opinion, but without testing, it is only worth the imaginary paper it’s written on.

I have a problem with people who argue positions based on no research whatsoever and would rather lazily juggle second-hand information in their big fat brain. Bigger is not better, you know, as the obesity pandemic is demonstrating.  Get some facts, present the facts, identify your sources (and not someone on TV who also failed to support their argument and probably high school science), and let’s compare information.  That’s called a conversation, but it’s a process that can actually lead to greater understanding.

Viral thoughts: Why don’t viruses like Covid just go away?

So, eventually everyone will be vaccinated, or will survive COVID-19, or will be dead, and then things will be back to normal, right?  That’s doubtful.  It’s amazing to me that we got to 2020 without a serious pandemic like COVID.  Given the local densities of the 8 billion people on this planet, this pandemic was long overdue.  The crowding together of all the humans on this planet into very tight places has screamed for epidemic outbreaks.  And there have been MANY epidemics before COVID.  But now, there are about 35 megacities (>10 million people), and the numbers are growing rapidly as we continue to relocate to urbanized areas, and these giant cities are where every new pandemic will begin. 

It’s worth noting that the viruses won’t originate in the cities though.  That’s just where they will find the perfect opportunity for spread and they will spread rapidly once they arrive.  And as the cites get larger and denser, they will spread faster than we can possibly control them.  For COVID, China acted quickly by placing an entire large city under lock-down quarantine and they were able to contain the virus.  But COVD is not very infectious and I suspect they were very lucky this time. China is the ideal location for new viruses given the human densities in rapidly growing megacities, but that still have very close ties to traditional food sources and food production practices.

The prospect of novel and highly contagious viruses is one of the main worries at the CDC and WHO and other international health agencies. Human history is rife with epidemics and pandemics dating back to at least 500 BCE.  The prospect of a new unstoppable pathogen becomes almost inevitable given the conditions that now exist that favor highly virulent and infectious pathogens.

            A few years back there was concern about bird flu in southeast Asia.  The mortality rate was >60%, but all transmission was from ducks and chickens and no transmission had occurred from human to human.  As long as the human link was missing, it was a watch and wait situation.  Ebola was and is very serious, but fortunately containment is the best answer and it works.  However, if ebola escapes to a big city, especially one with an international airport, that picture will change. And then there’s zika, dengue, and measles currently making the rounds.

            However, we’re thinking about life after COVID-19 in the US.  It’s about gone, right?  Nope.  Not going to happen.  The Spanish Flu of 1918 was the H1N1 variant and it has returned with somewhat less ferocity in 1977 (Russian Flu, 1 million dead) and in 2009 (Swine Flu, 300,000 dead).  While it appears to come back weaker each time, part of the lower death toll is the advancements of medical technology and the speed of response.  The Cholera epidemic has returned 6 times in history and it’s an ever-present danger after natural disasters that affect drinking water. Bubonic Plague has never really gone away.  After 40 years, the HIV pandemic is ongoing with no vaccine in sight.

            So, what can we expect?  Humans have a number of resident diseases and a number of recurring diseases that we have to be constantly on the lookout for. Measles, whooping cough, chicken pox, tuberculosis, polio, and diptheria to name just a few.  Fortunately, these have been under control for 50-100 years due to vaccines and antibiotics.  Nonetheless, “resident” means they are with us and we can’t get rid of them, and there are several reasons why.

            First, there are carriers.  Some people can be infected without showing symptoms and yet they can spread the disease.  Second, we don’t always know where they hide.  The cold virus hides in our nose and sinuses; it’s always there.  The flu virus strains hide in pigs and chickens and other birds and emerges with new vigor every few years.  COVID will do the same.  In fact, during the lulls this past year, we have no idea what it was doing, but it was present and spreading.

            Here is a prediction about COVID-19.  First, we will see weaker strains in the sense that they might still be lethal, but the time to death will be slower and that will give hospitals more time to deal with it.  As more and more people become immune to the current strains, it means the stronger ones will fail to be transmitted to new hosts and they will die with their current host.  That will leave only the weaker strains that do not kill the host as quickly.  This, by the way, is why quarantines are so important; they allow the hosts to recover or die before passing on the stronger strains.  Herd immunity basically means there are few susceptible people moving around and they rarely encounter each other while also being infectious.  Thus, the epidemic stops.  But that doesn’t mean the virus is eliminated.

             COVID and other viruses are always mutating and that results in new and different strains that vary in their infectiousness and their virulence.  The second thing we will see is more highly infectious strains which are less lethal.  If this happens, COVID will become a new “flu” in the sense that as new strains emerge, we will have waves of outbreaks, which we will begin to refer to as “COVID season” just as we do with “flu season”.  And vaccinations will become a standard protection procedure for the most at-risk people.

            We just had a spectacularly successful flu season thanks to COVID.  By wearing masks and following other protocols to reduce transmission, we not only beat COVID, but the flu as well.  Guess what?  We should have been doing this with every flu season.  Oh wait, that’s exactly what they do in hospitals to reduce flu exposure.

18. Will human longevity continue to increase?

I predict NO……once the pre-WWII babies are all gone.    

A little background.  I’ve seen a number of recent articles about human longevity, and the rapidly growing number of centenarians alive, and some extrapolations from the recent trends.  The number of US centenarians is about 90,000 and is expected to pass 500,000 in about 30 years.  Globally, there are about 500,000 today and will reach perhaps 3.5 million in 30 years.  These projections are based not so much on the increasing longevity of humans, but on our ability to prevent “early” death which causes people to live longer.  The actual maximum longevity of humans is still hovering around 110-115 but only a very small number of people make it that far.  However, here is a huge difference between the number of people who live to the maximum longevity and an actual change in expectancy.

In 1900, the life expectancy of Americans was about 46-48 and rose slowly over the next couple of decades until 1945.  The end of WWII was a tipping point for longevity; we gained control over bacterial infections with penicillin and medical technology experienced major advances.  Over the next 20-25 years human life expectancy hit ~80 years, our ability to slow and control the debilitating aspects of aging underwent a quantum leap forward.  However, that number has not changed since.  What has changed is that mortality due to infectious disease, especially for infants and the elderly, diminished tremendously.  Since 1945, we die of heart disease, strokes, cancers, and diseases related to cardiovascular issues, but we are now able to stave off death which means more people make it to the magical age of 100. So, although expectancy is increasing, longevity is not.

So, why do I think that longevity is not going to increase? 

First, I think the both expectancy and loingevity for humans may decrease relatively soon.  And I predict this will happen as the number of people born before 1945 decreases.  The youngest of that group turn 76 this year. 

Second, I may be wrong because of tremendous intervention by medical technology. However, technology keeps us alive not by increasing longevity, but by preventing death and I argue this is not the same thing.

As to the first point, I will be posting extensively about the human microbiome including what it is, what it does, and how to keep it healthy and working for you.  To be brief, the human microbiome is the collection of bacteria in our colon (primarily) and it has an incredibly complex relationship with our immune, nervous, circulatory, and digestive systems.  It is an integral and essential part of our long-term health.  And since 1945, we have been killing it without regard for any short or long-term consequences.  We’ve done this in different ways, but mainly via antibiotics.  As an analogy, we came to a fist fight with a machine gun.

The babies born after 1945 were born into a world of antibiotics in which even the possibility of bacterial infection is met with overwhelming lethal force.  For an earache in infants, we douse the entire body with a broad-spectrum antibiotic. For a simple infection on our foot, we take antibiotics for 7 days through our mouth.   We will kill all bacteria to eliminate a single kind.  Bacteria are bad and our mission since 1945 has been to sterilize.

We are now finding that we need the 1000-1500 species of bacteria in our colon.  We need them every day, we need to feed them good food, we need to let them do their work on our behalf.  The more times we hammer them with antibiotics and the less diverse they are, the less work they can do on our behalf, and the more we open ourselves up to pathogenic behavior by some of the species.  It is estimated that a 20-year-old today has been subjected to 17 courses of antibiotics in their short life, with many of those courses before the age of two, which is when very important physical, physiological, neurological development was taking place.

These consequences are correlated with a long list of emerging “epidemics” such as obesity, allergies, diabetes, autism, and auto-immune diseases.  These diseases all have the appearance of the body turning on itself or of the body behaving in an unnatural way.  It will take decades to unravel how these diseases develop, the relationship with the microbiome, the interactions with the toxic world we live in, and effects of the disastrously low-quality diet the western world subsists on. 

I predict that the emergence of Modern Medicine and antibiotics after 1945 will be reflected in a decline in average longevity and life expectancy in humans because of a decline in human vitality stemming from childhood.  This will be based on a decline in the ability of the human body to mend itself.  I predict that an important underlying contributor is the damage we have wrought on the microbiome.  We are all damaged.  But there are ways to alleviate the damage and I am going to suggest (in upcoming blogs) that it begins with microbiome health and that we have the understanding we need to begin today.

Viral thoughts for Monday

My workplace has decided to keep an indoor mask mandate in place until September despite the city council deciding to rescind the city-wide mask mandate.  So, I think I will not be going to my office this summer.  Do I oppose the mandate?  No, masks kept literally thousands of people in this city from getting sick all at the same time.  But a mask is not necessary for me or anyone else at this point. 

I’ve been fully vaccinated.  I can’t get the virus, I can’t give the virus; I am neutral.  Everyone I work with has either been vaccinated or has decided not to go that route.  If they are vaccinated, they can neither give nor get the virus. If they aren’t vaccinated, they had ample opportunity to do so and have intentionally decided to take their chances, most likely because of erroneous information concerning side effects…. or out of sheer stupidity. 

The decision by my workplace is intended to protect people from the spread of the disease, but we are either neutral and unable to spread it or we have declared that we are willing to take our chances. Either way, I’m offended that I would be forced to change my behavior when I have done the right thing, the danger is past, and the only ones at risk are choosing to be.  So, I won’t play because I have no desire to protect idiots against themselves.

Perhaps I sound petulant or boorish, but…….

Let’s be clear about this or ANY virus.  If it’s a NOVEL virus, and COVID-19 is novel and we knew it was novel from the start, there are only two ways to reach immunity: wait for a vaccine or get sick.  That’s it. For novel viruses, EVERYONE on the planet is susceptible, everyone will get it sooner or later.  Vaccines are the only way to avoid the disease.  If you don’t get vaccinated, you WILL get the disease.

I’m a very healthy person; I haven’t been sick in bed since 1988 when I caught something while teaching high school. I believe I would have no problems with COVID because I don’t think I have any underlying undiscovered health issues.  You are welcome to believe that as well and apparently a lot of people in the world do believe that.  You might be right, but what if you’re wrong? 

Here’s what happens.  The fastest and most effective way to learn of any undiscovered health issues is simple and cheap: get yourself a virus.  Preferably a NOVEL virus because you will have no way to stop its progress once you get infected. Such a virus will run a full scan of your system; it will look for and find your weak points.  For COVID-19, it will report back to you in about four days with a diagnostic analysis and present you with some choices that include: asymptomatic (you’re safe), stay at home (deal with it), go to the hospital (you’re in trouble), or contact all of your relatives and make end-of-life arrangements. 

However, regardless of the diagnosis, the virus will stay with you for at least 10-14 days.  Why not kill you immediately?  Because the virus buys time for you to visit with friends and family and to offer each of them a free diagnostic check-up too.  The 10-14 day window of infectiousness more or less guarantees that others will be able to take advantage of the free offer.

But wait a minute, what if I don’t get the virus.  Oh, but you will because there is no immunity to it.  But what if I have natural immunity?  Oh, really?  How does that work?  It requires a mutation such that the virus is unable to infect cells in your body.  Are you that person?  No, you are not.  You will get the virus.  And the younger you are, the better, and so getting it sooner is better than getting it later.  By the way, mutations are random and a random mutation that happens to impart immunity to a never-before-seen virus is pretty close to not possible.

So, you of the non-vaccinated (and probably not masked), you’re getting this virus.  You’ll receive one free viral diagnostic screen to detect any underlying physiological weaknesses.  And then you’ll go from there.  Whatever reason you have for not getting the vaccine now, although basically it’s just fear of the unknown, you will soon join the ranks of either the immune or the dead.  It sounds like the ultimate adventure, not unlike spinning the Roulette Wheel and putting every cent you own on black.

So, back to my original point.  I’m done wearing a mask for people who refuse to get vaccinated.  If you didn’t get jabbed yet, you probably aren’t going to, and I’m not going to spend the next several months in a meaningless exercise to somehow prevent you from getting infected.  Anyway, you are going to get COVID and you’re likely going to get it from one of the others in your social circle.  You eventually will be part of a little community of sick and dying vax-resisters, but please keep it to yourself.