Dr. Mercola Interviews the Experts
This article is part of a weekly series in which Dr. Mercola interviews various experts on a variety of health issues. To see more expert interviews, click here.
In this interview, Ronnie Cummins, founder of the Organic Consumers Association, discusses his new book “Grassroots Rising: A Call to Action on Climate, Farming, Food and a Green New Deal.”
“Much of the book talks about how we need to transform our food and farming system, not only in the United States but worldwide, if we're going to solve a lot of these problems that we're seeing — environmental pollution, health problems, the climate crisis and the fact that we have so much poverty in rural areas …” Cummins says.
Regenerative Organic Farming Is the Answer to Many Problems
The transformation Cummins calls for is a transition to regenerative organic farming, which has the ability to solve many if not most of these problems simultaneously.
For example, one of the primary arguments for genetically engineered (GE) crops and foods was that it was going to solve world hunger. Reality, however, has demonstrated the massive flaws in this argument.
GE agriculture actually does the complete opposite, by destroying our soils and making food more toxic and less nutritious. Regenerative farming, on the other hand, has demonstrated its superiority with regard to yield and nutrition, all without the use of toxic chemicals. As noted by Cummins:
“The way we have traditionally grown food for the last 10,000 years and the way we've raised animals the last 20,000 or 30,000 years is really organic and pasture-based.
This wild experiment that industry unleashed on us since the second world war, using toxic chemicals, synthetic fertilizers, genetically engineered seeds and animal factory farms has proven to be a disaster, not just for the farmers, the animals and the land, but our public health has also suffered considerably.
Part of our long-term call to take charge of your health, take charge of your diet [is to] take charge of our environment and really our whole economic system [and] transform this degenerative food, farming and land use system into one that is organic and regenerative.”
Four Drivers of Change
In his book, Cummins details four major drivers of any given system, be it, as in this case, the degenerative system we currently have, or the regenerative system we would like to have:
- Education and awareness raising — This also includes putting the information into practice, meaning, every time you pull out your wallet, you’re considering whether your money is going to support a degenerative or regenerative system. True change comes when people act out their beliefs in the marketplace
- Innovation — This includes innovation of farmers, ranchers, people who take care of our forests and wetlands and people who are innovative in terms of educating the public
- Policy changes — This includes policy changes all the way from local school boards and park districts to the White House. At present, our policies favor corporate special interests like Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Big Pharma and Wall Street. Once we get policies that support organics, regenerative agriculture and natural health, scaling these areas up will be much easier and faster
- Funding and investment — This includes both private investors and public monies
As noted by Cummins, “Education, innovation, policy [changes] and investment are the four things that drive this change of paradigm.” Change, however, is often slow, and one of the reasons Cummins wrote “Grassroots Rising” was to inspire optimism and hope.
“Obviously, we are still in a degenerative phase, but we can move out of this,” he says. “I think this year, 2020, is going to be the beginning of a pretty enormous global awakening.”
Scaling Best Practices
Cummins is co-director of an organic research farm and conference center outside of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where he coordinates a regenerative agricultural system that integrates organic vegetable, seed and forage production with regenerative holistic management of poultry, sheep, goats and pigs. He and others are constantly on the lookout for best practices that can be successfully scaled up and implemented on millions of farms. Cummins explains:
“We have been, for 10 years, running a research and teaching farm [Via Organica] outside of San Miguel de Allende, right smack in the middle of Mexico. It's the high desert area … If you look at the statistics, 40% of the world's surface is characterized as semi-arid or arid, and that's the type of area we're in here, so it's not unusual for the global landscape …
What's difficult as a farmer or rancher, if you live in the semi-arid or arid parts of the world, is that not only is rainfall seasonal and you don't get a whole lot of it, but that it is almost impossible to raise crops on a lot of this terrain.
What people have done for hundreds of years is graze livestock on these degraded semi-arid, arid lands. The problem is that they have overgrazed much of this 40% of the world's surface.”
Simple Innovations Can Solve Serious Problems
During one of Cummins’ workshops on organic compost, two local farmers approached him saying they’d developed a remarkably simple technique using the agave plant and mesquite trees to produce incredibly inexpensive yet nutritious animal fodder.
These two plants, which are naturally found clustered together in arid and semi-arid areas, do not require any irrigation, and the photosynthesis of the agave is among the highest in the entire world. It grows rapidly, producing massive amounts of biomass, and sequesters and stores enormous amounts of carbon, both above ground and below ground, while producing inexpensive, nutritious animal feed or forage and restoring the earth.
As noted by Cummins, the fact that agave plants and mesquite (or other nitrogen-fixing trees) grow together naturally is nature’s way to repair eroded landscapes. The roots of the mesquite tree can reach down to 125 feet, fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil, and absorbing minerals from deep in the ground.
Agave, meanwhile, adds huge amounts of biomass to the land every year, drawing down excess CO2 from the atmosphere. It pulls nitrogen and other minerals from the ground in order to support its rapid growth, but when grown next to a nitrogen-fixing tree, you've got a biodiverse system that will continue to grow and thrive on a continuous basis.
Fermented Agave Is an Inexpensive Animal Feed
The fermented agave animal feed produced in this system costs only 5 cents per kilo (2.2 pounds) to make. The key is fermentation. Raw agave leaves are unpalatable and hard to digest for animals because of their levels of saponins and lectins, but once fermented, they become digestible and attractive to the animals.
The fermentation also boosts the nutrition. I was so impressed with Cummins’ story that I harvested about 10 gallons of aloe plants and applied the process to see if it will convert to great food for my six chickens. A summary of the process is as follows:
- Cut some of the lower agave leaves off the tree and crudely chop them up with a machete. One of the farmers, Juan Frias, invented a simple machine that grinds the leaf into what looks like coleslaw.
- Place the cut-up agave leaf into a large bucket, tamping it down once filled half-way to remove oxygen. Continue filling the bucket to the top. Tamp down again and put a lid on it. (As explained further below, adding mesquite pods at an optimum rate of 20% will approximately double the protein content of the final product.)
- Let it set for 30 days. The fermentation process turns the saponins and lectins into natural sugars and carbs. The final mash will stay fresh for up to two years.
Cummins and other Mexican organic farmers have tested the agave forgage on a variety of animals, including sheep, goats, chickens and pigs, all of which love it.
“The importance of this is, first of all, if you're a small farmer, you can't afford alfalfa, and you can't afford hay during the dry season. It's too expensive … It makes eggs and meat too expensive in the marketplace for people to buy.
When you start looking at … reducing feed costs by 50%, or even three quarters with this stuff that costs a nickel or a dime, then I don’t need to overgraze my animals. They'd still graze because it's good for them … but you wouldn't have to have them outdoors every day, overgrazing on pastures that are not in good shape.
This is pretty amazing stuff … Lab analysis of just the fermented agave [shows] it's about 5% to 9% protein, which is pretty good. Alfalfa is more like 16% to 18%.
What these farmers, who are also retired scientists, figured out is if you put 20% mesquite in your fermentation, the pods of the mesquite trees, it'll shoot the protein level up to about 18% — about the same as alfalfa.
There's a lot of other things too that make it better than alfalfa. One of the things about alfalfa is it takes a lot of water … The agave plant uses one-twenty-sixth the amount of water to produce a gram of biomass as alfalfa.
These desert plants have evolved over millions of years to utilize water and moisture in a really efficient way … The opening in the leaves, called the stomata … only opens at night, after sunset.
These plants literally suck the moisture out of the air all night long, and then when daybreak comes, the stomata closes up … They can go years with no rain, and they can survive pretty harsh temperatures … [and] there's not one chemical required in this whole process. This whole process is inherently organic.”
An organic certifier is now evaluating one of the operations using this agave feed process, which may go a long way toward creating less expensive organics. For example, rather than spending 45 cents per kilo for organic chicken feed, chicken farmers can cut that down to between 5 and 10 cents per kilo.
In the end, that will make organic free-range chicken and eggs far more affordable for the average consumer. Ditto for pork, sheep and goat products.
Additional benefits include improved immune function in the animals — similar to that seen in humans eating a lot of fermented foods. What’s more, about 50% of the fermented agave feed is water, which means the animals don’t need to be watered as much.
Cummins and other organic farm advocates are now trying to convince the Mexican reforestation program to get involved as well. This would solve several problems. First, it’s difficult to reforest in arid climates, which includes 60% of Mexico, as even mesquite trees need water in their first stage of development until they’re established. Growing agave in locations in areas that already have mesquite or other nitrogen-fixing trees would speed the process and lower the water demands.
Secondly, growing agave and mesquite together for reforestation purposes, while incorporating facilities to create fermented agave feed for sale, farmers who aren’t willing to grow their own can still benefit from this inexpensive feed alternative. Thirdly, such a project would also help reduce rural poverty, which is what’s driving immigration into the U.S.
“If people weren't so darn poor, which leads back to if they didn't live in such dry, degraded landscapes, they wouldn't be seeking to come to the U.S. except for a visit,” Cummins says.
“We can solve this immigration problem. We can solve this problem of rural poverty. Many of these small farmers, they can't even afford to eat their own animal, like the lamb, on a regular basis.
They have it for celebrations, but they should be able to eat lamb burgers on a regular basis in the rural countryside. Now, they will be able to. In the long run, if we restore the landscape, things like corn, beans and squash will grow again …”
Yet another little cottage industry is also starting to grow around agave. Its fibers are very strong, so people are now starting to make lightweight construction blocks or bricks from it.
Lastly, Cummins estimates that with 2.5 million agave plants planted on 30,000 acres over the next decade, they’ll be able to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions created by San Miguel county right now.
To learn more about how regenerative agriculture can help solve many of the problems facing the world right now, be sure to pick up a copy of “Grassroots Rising: A Call to Action on Climate, Farming, Food and a Green New Deal.”
“This regenerative practice in dry lands is a game changer,” Cummins says. “There are practices in wetlands and in the global North, [where] we're already seeing things like a holistic management of livestock and biointensive organic practices.
It's all these practices together — the best practices from the different parts of the world, different ecosystems — that are going to make a difference.
It's you the consumer, it's you the reader, that needs to spread these good news messages, and I hope you'll consider buying a copy of my new book, ‘Grassroots Rising,’ where I try to paint a roadmap of how we can regenerate the world's landscapes as quickly as possible so that we can get back to enjoying life.”
In this interview, repeat guest Dr. Andrew Saul, editor-in-chief of the Orthomolecular Medicine News Service, reviews what we currently know about vitamin C (ascorbic acid) for the prevention and treatment of novel coronavirus COVID-19.
As noted by Saul, much of the information about vitamin C for the coronavirus is currently coming out of China. Meanwhile, in the U.S., a lot of nutritional advice is being censored and tagged as “fake news.”
Mortality Rate Is Likely Vastly Overestimated
At the time of this interview, March 17, 2020, COVID-19 has triggered mass hysteria — in the United States at least. Countries around the world, including the U.S., are also quarantining, closing down borders, implementing curfews and generally recommending or enforcing isolation of the populace.
But this is all for the most part a preventive strategy. Are people infected? Yes. Are people dying? Yes. But we’re talking about deaths in the thousands, not hundreds of thousands or millions, as in pandemics of the past (think the 1918 flu pandemic, for example, which killed tens of millions around the world).
I've spent hours each day for the past few weeks reading articles and listening to podcasts about the pandemic, and what hardly is ever mentioned — other than a tiny blurb — is that a massive part of the equation is the need for testing. Testing is the central core of a strategy aimed at flattening the curve, i.e., preventing or slowing the spread of the virus.
Why? Because testing would give you a more accurate account of how many are actually infected. At present, mortality rates simply aren’t accurate, and may appear far more severe than they are. We’re being told what the mortality rate is based only on confirmed or suspected cases.
When I interviewed Francis Boyle — whose background includes an undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago, a juris doctor (lawyer) degree from Harvard and a Ph.D. in political science — he said the mortality rate could be as high as 17%, whereas conventional estimates now say it’s between 2% and 3%.
I believe all of these are wrong, and probably wrong by two or three orders of magnitude. The reason I say this is because there are a limited number of tests and very few people have been tested.
Hundreds of millions of tests are needed to get a real idea of how many people are infected, which would then give us a better understanding of the mortality rate, meaning how many of those who get infected actually die. At present, they’re only testing those who present symptoms, which automatically skews the mortality statistics, giving us a falsely elevated mortality rate.
As noted by Saul, “We may have a very large number of people … that are carrying the COVID-19 virus and having no symptoms whatsoever. And I would argue that if they eat right and take their vitamins, that's going to stop it from spreading.”
There is not even a micro doubt in my mind that, by the time everything is said and done, more people will have died from car accidents than will die from COVID-19 in the U.S. this year.
Natural Immunity Is Lifelong; Artificial Immunity Is Not
In my view, the media have presented a shockingly distorted view of this pandemic, creating unnecessary fear. The entire world is now rapidly heading toward economic collapse, and the question is why, seeing how the death toll doesn’t seem to warrant it.
More than likely, we’ll end up with a COVID-19 vaccine that will be added to the list of mandated annual inoculations. The problem with that is that even if the vaccine works well, it will only confer limited immunity to a virus that's going to mutate anyway. Developing natural immunity is far more ideal. As noted by Saul:
“When you have natural exposure, whether you get sick or you don’t, you have not only immunity to that [viral strain], but you have an applicable broad immunity to more viruses in general. There's nothing like being sick to keep you from getting sick, which sounds a little bit weird but that's the way the human body works.
When we were children we got measles, mumps, chicken pox — you name it, we got it. We were home for two weeks, we watched daytime TV, we went back to school and we have lifetime immunity …
The fact of the matter is that natural immunity really does protect you very well, and your own immune system is the only way you fight any virus. And, the way to make your immune system strong is not, unfortunately, by vaccinating or taking a drug.”
The reason for why recovering from infection confers lifelong immunity while vaccination does not has to do with the fact that your immune system has two branches — the cellular (T-cells) and the humoral (B-cells) — and both need to be activated for long-term immunity to be secured.
When you get a vaccine, you only stimulate your humoral immunity, the B-cells. The T-cells are not stimulated. So, scary as it may sound, the best thing is to get the infection, and have a strong immune system to defend against it so you won’t even display any symptoms.
While COVID-19 is a very nasty virus that can do a lot of damage, most people, and I’m thinking probably more than 98% of infected people, will not die or suffer long-term damage from it.
“I agree with that,” Saul says, “because we're automatically going to be exposed to it and a lot of people aren't going to show symptoms. Some people will have a light case; in fact quite a few people who get it will have a very light case … The danger is the escalation to SARS and pneumonia, and this is the biggest threat for immune-compromised people and the elderly. This is where we have the fatalities; this is the biggest concern.”
A Simple Technique to Quell Fear
With everything that’s currently happening, and media increasing readership and profits by blowing things out of proportion, it’s very easy, even rational, to be afraid and anxious, which will dysregulate your autonomic nervous system.
A simple technique that can help activate your parasympathetic nervous system, thus calming you down, is the Neuro-Emotional Technique’s First Aid Stress Tool, or NET FAST, demonstrated in the video above. Firstaidstresstool.com also provides an excellent printable summary with visuals of the technique,1 which even a young child can do. Here is a summary of the FAST procedure:
- While thinking about an issue that is bothering you, place your right wrist, palm up, into your left hand. Place three fingers of your left hand onto the area of your right wrist where you can feel your pulse.
- Place your open right hand on your forehead. Gently breathe in and out several times while concentrating on feeling the issue that bothers you.
- Switch hands and repeat Steps 1 and 2.
Saul offers another free and simple stress-reducing technique he learned from a Native American. Simply go out, sit on the ground and lean against a pine tree.
Vitamin C Boosts Immunity and Reverses Viral Pneumonia
For now, the only real defense against COVID-19 is your own immune system. There’s no vaccine, and even if one is fast-tracked, there would be cause for caution, as we’d have no proof of effectiveness or safety.
“Your immune system is infinitely adaptable. This is how nature made us,” Saul notes. “However, your immune system works better when it's fed right.” While changing your diet is a more long-term solution, a rapid-response strategy would be to use vitamin C.
“Vitamin C is going to strengthen your immune system. This is in every nutrition textbook ever written, so we start with that,” Saul says. “The RDA in the United States is about 90 milligrams; in Korea and China it's 100 mg; in the United Kingdom it's a miserable 40 mg a day and we are sometimes not even getting that.
Studies have shown that even 200 mg of vitamin C a day will reduce the death rate in elderly people with severe pneumonia by 80%. Studies have shown babies with pneumonia, when they get 200 milligrams of vitamin C — the adult equivalent of about 2,000 to 3,000 mg — they have an improvement in their oxygen levels in less than a day. The mortality goes down and the duration and severity of the illness is less.
Now, it is not coronavirus per se that actually kills people, it is the pneumonia and the SARS, the severe acute respiratory syndrome, that can follow it. Most people that get coronavirus will have a mild case; some will have the virus and not have any symptoms at all. We don't even know how many those people are because they have no symptoms.
Those who get COVID-19 that actually are sick are going to have the flu and it's going to be a nasty flu — it's going to be miserable. People will be sick for a week or two. The people at risk of dying tend to be the elderly and those that are immune-compromised.
The media sort of skirts around this but this is where we have to start because the fear is based on dying. And when we have even a small amount of vitamin C, our risk of dying — even in the most severe cases — goes down.
It is pneumonia and SARS that kills people and vitamin C has been known to be effective against viral pneumonia since the 1940s when Dr. Frederick Robert Klenner published a series of papers and was able to reverse viral pneumonia in 72 hours. Now, Klenner was a board-certified chest physician. He was a specialist and he published over 20 papers on this. The media has been silent on this therapy.”
On Vitamin C Dosing
More recently, Dr. Paul Marik has shown a protocol of intravenous (IV) vitamin C with hydrocortisone and thiamine (vitamin B1) dramatically improves survival rates in patients with sepsis. Since sepsis is one of the reasons people die from COVID-19 infection, Marik’s vitamin C protocol may go a long way toward saving people’s lives in this pandemic.
That protocol calls for 1,500 mg of ascorbic acid every six hours, and appears radically effective. However, I would recommend taking even higher doses using liposomal vitamin C if you’re taking it orally. Liposomal vitamin C will allow you to take much higher dosages without getting loose stools.
You can take up to 100 grams of liposomal vitamin C without problems and get really high blood levels, equivalent to or higher than intravenous vitamin C. I view that as an acute treatment, however.
I discourage people from taking mega doses of vitamin C on a regular basis if they’re not actually sick, because it is essentially a drug — or at least it works like one. Saul adds:
“What I suggest, and have for some 44 years of professional life, is to take enough vitamin C to be symptom free, and when you're well, that isn't very much. I knew one lady who would take 500 mg of vitamin C a day and she was just fine. [Another person] with multiple chemical sensitivity, she needed 35,000 mg a day. Any less and she wasn't fine …
And, while we're [on this topic], a nice little charitable uplifting note is that Dutch State Mines or DSM of the Netherlands has donated 50 tons of vitamin C to [the city of] Wuhan [in China] — 106 million vitamin C tablets. And in China they are running three studies on using high-dose vitamin C as therapy, focusing primarily on people in intensive care.
I'm in contact with Dr. Richard Chang. Chang is a Chinese American physician … He was in Shanghai for Chinese New Year visiting his family when all of this exploded.
So, Chang has stayed in China and has been talking to hospitals and Chinese physicians who are showing tremendous interest in using vitamin C as prevention and cure. He’s been so effective that the government of Shanghai has issued official recommendations that vitamin C should be used for treating COVID-19.
They are testing up to 24,000 mg a day by IV. Some of us think that's a little on the low side for people that are in the ICU. I would like to see 50,000 mg a day and there is a doctor … who has used 50,000 mg [on] quite a few people and we're getting more reports as we go.
The updates will be at my Facebook page, The MegaVitamin Man. As they come in I put them up there. We can't get this into the mainstream media quite yet, but it's probably going to break and possibly by the time this report airs, it'll be all over the U.S media. Editor’s note: The New York Post, the fourth-largest newspaper2 in the U.S., broke this news March 24, 2020.3
I would like to see that, but real doctors are using vitamin C right now. They're also doing it in Korea. Right in the center of the outbreak in Korea we're in contact with a doctor who has a small hospital and he has given a single shot of vitamin D — a big shot of about 100,000 units to each patient and every staff member — and also about 20 to 24 grams (24,000 mg) of vitamin C by IV. And he's reporting that these people are getting well in a matter of days.”
Valuable Research Resources
The Chinese researchers are also using other traditional Chinese medicines in addition to vitamin C, as well as conventional treatments you would expect to be done for anyone having breathing issues or pneumonia.
For more information, Saul suggests perusing the Shanghai government's website using an online translator (as the website is in Chinese). You can find pertinent web links on the Orthomolecular Medicine News Service website,4 which has published 12 reports on various research findings in the past six weeks.
“We're constantly updating and we have references to the literature and also links to the studies in China, and the names of the doctors doing this. If you go to my website, doctoryourself.com, you can click over and sign up for a free subscription to the peer-reviewed, noncommercial Orthomolecular Medicine News Service ...
We even have the Orthomolecular Medicine News Service releases on this available now in French and Italian … and German, and some are now available in Korean and Chinese and Japanese. It’s also available in Spanish. So, this information is worldwide and it's been everywhere except on the United States television set,” Saul says.
High-Dose Vitamin C Kills Viruses
According to Saul, vitamin C at extremely high doses is an antiviral, it actually kills viruses, but to get that amount, you typically need an IV. So, just how does it kill viruses? Some believe vitamin C’s antiviral potential is the result of its anti-inflammatory activity.
Inflammation contributes to the massive cytokine cascade that can ultimately be lethal. However, that’s not the whole story. Saul explains:
“Dr. Robert Fulton Cathcart, a physician in California, is much more knowledgeable about this than I ever will be, so I always go to him. And Cathcart wrote in his papers — a number of which I have at doctoryourself.com so people can read them — [that] vitamin C is a non-rate-limited free radical scavenger …
He and Dr. Thomas E. Levy also emphasize … that vitamin C is donating electrons and reducing free radicals, and this is primarily what's going on. Now, there are exceptions to that. When vitamin C gets into a cancer cell, it actually acts as if it were a pro-oxidant and that's because of the Fenton reaction. Checked; it is.
And vitamin C will kill a cancer cell because cancer cells are different. They absorb vitamin C because it's very similar to glucose, it's almost the same size … With viruses, it's the same idea. Cathcart’s view is that you simply push in vitamin C to provide the electrons to reduce the free radicals, and this is the way Cathcart and Levy look at vitamin C's function (at very high doses) as an antiviral.
At modest doses, normal supplemental doses … vitamin C strengthens the immune system because the white blood cells need it to work. White blood cells carry around in them a lot of vitamin C … So, vitamin C is very well-known to directly beef up the immune system through the white blood cells.”
Boosting NADPH Is Also Important
Personally, I don’t think this is the whole story, either, as vitamin C is a relatively weak electron donor. I’ll be interviewing Levy about this shortly. But, in my view, the top electron donor of the body is NADPH.
So, boosting your NAD+ and NADPH levels is really important for health, as is inhibiting NADH oxidase (known as NOX). You can learn more about this in “Glycine Quells Oxidative Damage by Inhibiting NOX and Boosting NADPH.”
NOX is what the enzyme in your lysosomes inside your white blood cells use to generate chemicals that actually kill viruses and bacteria. In the process, NADPH is being used up, so while inhibiting NOX is useful, increasing NADPH is key.
If you have a genetic disorder known as G6PD deficiency, it means the pathway your body uses to make NADPH is impaired and, in this case, you have to be careful taking high-dose vitamin C.
“At the Riordan Clinic, founded by Dr. Hugh Riordan, one of my mentors some years ago, they do screen for this,” Saul says.
“And the Riordan clinic has actually said in their protocol — which I have in its entirely as a free download at doctoryourself.com, that People who have G6PD [deficiency syndrome] can take some vitamin C, and they have had safe success at around 15,000 mg a day. Dr. Suzanne Humphries, a nephrologist and internist, has also said that for short periods of time it's not an issue.”
The Importance of Vitamin D
Another crucial nutrient that may be even more important than vitamin C is vitamin D. The required dosage will vary from person to person here as well, and largely has to do with how much sun exposure you get on a regular basis.
I’ve not taken oral vitamin D for over a decade, yet my level is right around 70 nanograms per milliliter, thanks to daily walks in the sun wearing nothing but a hat and shorts. So, the best way to determine your personal dosage is to get tested and to take whatever dosage you need to maintain a vitamin D level between 60 ng/mL and 80 ng/mL year-round.
In the video above, pulmonologist Dr. Roger Seheult discusses the importance of vitamin D for the prevention of COVID-19. While there are no clinical trials investigating vitamin D for coronavirus specifically, there’s plenty of data showing it’s an important component in the prevention and treatment of influenza5 and upper respiratory tract infections.6
As noted by Seheult, while vitamin D does not appear to have a direct effect on the virus itself, it strengthens immune function, thus allowing the host body to combat the virus more effectively.7 It also suppresses inflammatory processes. Taken together, this might make vitamin D quite useful against COVID-19.
As explained by Seheult, robust immune function is required for your body to combat the virus, but an overactivated immune system is also responsible for the cytokine storm we see in COVID-19 infection that can lead to death.
“What we want is a smart immune system — an immune system that takes care of the virus but doesn’t put us into an inflammatory condition that could put us on a ventilator,” Seheult says.
He goes on to cite research8 published in 2017 — a meta-analysis of 25 randomized controlled trials — which confirmed that vitamin D supplementation helps protect against acute respiratory infections.
Studies have also shown there’s an apparent association between low vitamin D levels and susceptibility to viral infections such as influenza. In one GrassrootsHealth analysis,9 those with a vitamin D level of at least 40 ng/mL reduced their risk of colds by 15% and flu by 41%, compared to those with a level below 20 ng/mL.
Magnesium Calms Nerves and Boosts Immune Function
Magnesium is another important immune booster. In addition to taking oral magnesium or eating lots of vegetables that contain it, another way to increase your magnesium level is to take Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) baths.
“This is a wonderful way to relax,” Saul says. “At the end of the day, have a nice hot Epsom salts bath. You do get absorption through the skin. Plus, it feels good, calms you down, it's inexpensive, and no one can tell you that you're going to overdose on Epsom salt [through bathing] … So, an Epsom salts bath is a very pleasant way to get some magnesium.”
Yet another little-known way to get magnesium is through molecular hydrogen tablets. The tablets contain metallic magnesium and when you put them in water, they dissociate into ionic elemental magnesium and form molecular hydrogen gas (which you then drink).
You can get about 80 mg of ionic elemental magnesium from each tablet, which is a considerable amount. For comparison, taking 400 mg of an oral magnesium supplement might only give you 40 mg due to their poor absorption. Magnesium oxide has the lowest absorption rate at only 5% or so, which is why Saul recommends avoiding this form of magnesium.
Zinc Lozenges to Treat Sore Throat and Colds
Chances are, you know zinc lozenges are recommended when you have a cold or sore throat.
“Just last night — again, this is the 17th of March — CBS Evening News in Chicago, Illinois, had a short segment on nutritional prevention of coronavirus, recommending you take vitamin D, vitamin C and zinc. So, we have finally, after seven weeks, gotten past the accusation of false information and fake news, and now it is on CBS.”
Remarkably, prominent physicians have been paraded in the media saying it's impossible to strengthen your immune system to beat this virus. It’s hard to fathom this kind of ignorance still pervades our medical system — and that they can get away with criticizing people who offer proof to the contrary.
Simulating Fever Can Help Kill Viruses
Aside from nutrients, if you own a sauna, now’s the time to put it to regular use. By increasing your core body temperature, which is what happens when you have a fever, your body becomes more efficient at killing pathogens.
So, by taking a daily sauna, you can preventatively treat any lingering pathogens in your system. That’s a very useful strategy and something I do pretty much every day I am home. Saul agrees, saying:
“Nearly 100 years ago, Jethro Kloss, who wrote ‘Back to Eden,’ one of the early health nut books, recommended artificial fevers. They would bundle people up and put them in a hot bath … because fever can be that beneficial.
Or you can do what the native Americans did and do … a sweat lodge, kind of the genuine American version of a sauna. Just one suggestion. When you pick the rocks that you're going to superheat, make sure they are all igneous rocks and not sedimentary rocks, because if they have the layered sediment, they will explode, and that is bad!
So, make sure you have volcanic rocks, igneous rocks … they glow a nice red. It takes a long time to get the glow going, but then it lasts a long time as well. And while they are heating, you can build the lodge. This is a group activity. You're going to need help to build the lodge.”
If you’re in the market for an electric sauna, do your research, as many (if not most) emit very high electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Unfortunately, many advertised as low-EMF saunas still have high magnetic fields, which are just as bad.
I agree with Saul when he says “We have to get the word out to people that prevention is working; vitamin C is working and we haven't heard about it.” For example, in Korea, where the death rate for the COVID-19 virus is below 1%, they’ve disseminated information about vitamin C.
So, part of your preventive measures is to educate yourself about simple measures you can take from the comfort of your own home. Resources where you can find more information include Saul’s website, doctoryourself.com, which is free, noncommercial and peer-reviewed.
“It's been up for 21 years now,” Saul says. “Doctoryourself.com has a very good search engine and it is not a Google search engine. You can use it as a site search and find whatever you're looking for. Without even scrolling down, the screen will show you a series of articles on COVID-19 — nutritional protocols with references to the doctors and the parts of the world where this is being used successfully right now.
You can also go to Andrewsaul.com which is my commercial site. That's where I have my tuition-based courses that I offer, called the Megavitamin Formula Course. And you can go to the Orthomolecular Medicine News Service … and sign up free of charge.
This is peer-reviewed, and I'm happy to say that Dr. Mercola is a member of our 42-member editorial review board. So, when I say peer-reviewed, we really mean it and I love having association with doctors who use, recommend and live good nutrition.
For the most up-to-date information on the COVID-19 situation and nutritional therapies, see my Facebook page. But that will not come to you because it's restricted by Facebook, so you have to go to The Megavitamin Man or my name on Facebook. We have updates several times a day.”
"In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot." ~ Czesław Miłosz1
In recent years, a number of brave individuals have alerted us to the fact that we're all being monitored and manipulated by big data gatherers such as Google and Facebook, and shed light on the depth and breadth of this ongoing surveillance. Among them is social psychologist and Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff.
Her book, "The Age of Surveillance Capitalism," is one of the best books I have read in the last few years. It's an absolute must-read if you have any interest in this topic and want to understand how Google and Facebook have obtained such massive control of your life.
Her book reveals how the biggest tech companies in the world have hijacked our personal data — so-called "behavioral surplus data streams" — without our knowledge or consent and are using it against us to generate profits for themselves. WE have become the product. WE are the real revenue stream in this digital economy.
"The term 'surveillance capitalism' is not an arbitrary term," Zuboff says in the featured VPRO Backlight documentary. "Why 'surveillance'? Because it must be operations that are engineered as undetectable, indecipherable, cloaked in rhetoric that aims to misdirect, obfuscate and downright bamboozle all of us, all the time."
The Birth of Surveillance Capitalism
In the featured video, Zuboff "reveals a merciless form of capitalism in which no natural resources, but the citizen itself, serves are a raw material."2 She also explains how this surveillance capitalism came about in the first place.
As most revolutionary inventions, chance played a role. After the 2000 dot.com crisis that burst the internet bubble, a startup company named Google struggled to survive. Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin appeared to be looking at the beginning of the end for their company.
By chance, they discovered that "residual data" left behind by users during their internet searchers had tremendous value. They could trade this data; they could sell it. By compiling this residual data, they could predict the behavior of any given internet user and thus guarantee advertisers a more targeted audience. And so, surveillance capitalism was born.
The Data Collection You Know About Is the Least Valuable
Comments such as "I have nothing to hide, so I don't care if they track me," or "I like targeted ads because they make my shopping easier" reveal our ignorance about what's really going on. We believe we understand what kind of information is being collected about us. For example, you might not care that Google knows you bought a particular kind of shoe, or a particular book.
However, the information we freely hand over is the least important of the personal information actually being gathered about us, Zuboff notes. Tech companies tell us the data collected is being used to improve services, and indeed, some of it is.
But it is also being used to model human behavior by analyzing the patterns of behavior of hundreds of millions of people. Once you have a large enough training model, you can begin to accurately predict how different types of individuals will behave over time.
The data gathered is also being used to predict a whole host of individual attributes about you, such as personality quirks, sexual orientation, political orientation — "a whole range of things we never ever intended to disclose," Zuboff says.
How Is Predictive Data Being Used?
All sorts of predictive data are handed over with each photo you upload to social media. For example, it's not just that tech companies can see your photos. Your face is being used without your knowledge or consent to train facial recognition software, and none of us is told how that software is intended to be used.
As just one example, the Chinese government is using facial recognition software to track and monitor minority groups and advocates for democracy, and that could happen elsewhere as well, at any time.
So that photo you uploaded of yourself at a party provides a range of valuable information — from the types of people you're most likely to spend your time with and where you're likely to go to have a good time, to information about how the muscles in your face move and alter the shape of your features when you're in a good mood.
By gathering a staggering amount of data points on each person, minute by minute, Big Data can make very accurate predictions about human behavior, and these predictions are then "sold to business customers who want to maximize our value to their business," Zuboff says.
Your entire existence — even your shifting moods, deciphered by facial recognition software — has become a source of revenue for many tech corporations. You might think you have free will but, in reality, you're being cleverly maneuvered and funneled into doing (and typically buying) or thinking something you may not have done, bought or thought otherwise. And, "our ignorance is their bliss," Zuboff says.
The Facebook Contagion Experiments
In the documentary, Zuboff highlights Facebook's massive "contagion experiments,"3,4 in which they used subliminal cues and language manipulation to see if they could make people feel happier or sadder and affect real-world behavior offline. As it turns out, they can. Two key findings from those experiments were:
- By manipulating language and inserting subliminal cues in the online context, they can change real-world behavior and real-world emotion
- These methods and powers can be exercised "while bypassing user awareness"
In the video, Zuboff also explains how the Pokemon Go online game — which was actually created by Google — was engineered to manipulate real-world behavior and activity for profit. She also describes the scheme in her New York Times article, saying:
"Game players did not know that they were pawns in the real game of behavior modification for profit, as the rewards and punishments of hunting imaginary creatures were used to herd people to the McDonald's, Starbucks and local pizza joints that were paying the company for 'footfall,' in exactly the same way that online advertisers pay for 'click through' to their websites."
You're Being Manipulated Every Single Day in Countless Ways
Zuboff also reviews what we learned from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Cambridge Analytica is a political marketing business that, in 2018, used the Facebook data of 80 million Americans to determine the best strategies for manipulating American voters.
Christopher Wylie, now-former director of research at Cambridge Analytica, blew the whistle on the company's methods. According to Wylie, they had so much data on people, they knew exactly how to trigger fear, rage and paranoia in any given individual. And, by triggering those emotions, they could manipulate them into looking at a certain website, joining a certain group, and voting for a certain candidate.
So, the reality now is, companies like Facebook, Google and third parties of all kinds, have the power — and are using that power — to target your personal inner demons, to trigger you, and to take advantage of you when you're at your weakest or most vulnerable to entice you into action that serves them, commercially or politically. It's certainly something to keep in mind while you surf the web and social media sites.
"It was only a minute ago that we didn't have many of these tools, and we were fine," Zuboff says in the film. "We lived rich and full lives. We had close connections with friends and family.
Having said that, I want to recognize that there's a lot that the digital world brings to our lives, and we deserve to have all of that. But we deserve to have it without paying the price of surveillance capitalism.
Right now, we are in that classic Faustian bargain; 21st century citizens should not have to make the choice of either going analog or living in a world where our self-determination and our privacy are destroyed for the sake of this market logic. That is unacceptable.
Let's also not be naïve. You get the wrong people involved in our government, at any moment, and they look over their shoulders at the rich control possibilities offered by these new systems.
There will come a time when, even in the West, even in our democratic societies, our government will be tempted to annex these capabilities and use them over us and against us. Let's not be naïve about that.
When we decide to resist surveillance capitalism — right now when it is in the market dynamic — we are also preserving our democratic future, and the kinds of checks and balances that we will need going forward in an information civilization if we are to preserve freedom and democracy for another generation."
Surveillance Is Getting Creepier by the Day
But the surveillance and data collection doesn't end with what you do online. Big Data also wants access to your most intimate moments — what you do and how you behave in the privacy of your own home, for example, or in your car. Zuboff recounts how the Google Nest security system was found to have a hidden microphone built into it that isn't featured in any of the schematics for the device.
"Voices are what everybody are after, just like faces," Zuboff says. Voice data, and all the information delivered through your daily conversations, is tremendously valuable to Big Data, and add to their ever-expanding predictive modeling capabilities.
She also discusses how these kinds of data-collecting devices force consent from users by holding the functionality of the device "hostage" if you don't want your data collected and shared.
For example, Google's Nest thermostats will collect data about your usage and share it with third parties, that share it with third parties and so on ad infinitum — and Google takes no responsibility for what any of these third parties might do with your data.
You can decline this data collection and third party sharing, but if you do, Google will no longer support the functionality of the thermostat; it will no longer update your software and may affect the functionality of other linked devices such as smoke detectors.
Two scholars who analyzed the Google Nest thermostat contract concluded that a consumer who is even a little bit vigilant about how their consumption data is being used would have to review 1,000 privacy contracts before installing a single thermostat in their home.
Modern cars are also being equipped with multiple cameras that feed Big Data. As noted in the film, the average new car has 15 cameras, and if you have access to the data of a mere 1% of all cars, you have "knowledge of everything happening in the world."
Of course, those cameras are sold to you as being integral to novel safety features, but you're paying for this added safety with your privacy, and the privacy of everyone around you.
Pandemic Measures Are Rapidly Eroding Privacy
The current coronavirus pandemic is also using “safety” as a means to dismantle personal privacy. As reported by The New York Times, March 23, 2020:5
“In South Korea, government agencies are harnessing surveillance-camera footage, smartphone location data and credit card purchase records to help trace the recent movements of coronavirus patients and establish virus transmission chains.
In Lombardy, Italy, the authorities are analyzing location data transmitted by citizens’ mobile phones to determine how many people are obeying a government lockdown order and the typical distances they move every day. About 40 percent are moving around “too much,” an official recently said.
In Israel, the country’s internal security agency is poised to start using a cache of mobile phone location data — originally intended for counterterrorism operations — to try to pinpoint citizens who may have been exposed to the virus.
As countries around the world race to contain the pandemic, many are deploying digital surveillance tools as a means to exert social control, even turning security agency technologies on their own civilians …
Yet ratcheting up surveillance to combat the pandemic now could permanently open the doors to more invasive forms of snooping later. It is a lesson Americans learned after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, civil liberties experts say.
Nearly two decades later, law enforcement agencies have access to higher-powered surveillance systems, like fine-grained location tracking and facial recognition — technologies that may be repurposed to further political agendas …
‘We could so easily end up in a situation where we empower local, state or federal government to take measures in response to this pandemic that fundamentally change the scope of American civil rights,’ said Albert Fox Cahn, the executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a nonprofit organization in Manhattan.”
Humanity at a Cross-Roads
Zuboff also discusses her work in a January 24, 2020, op-ed in The New York Times.6,7 "You are now remotely controlled. Surveillance capitalists control the science and the scientists, the secrets and the truth," she writes, continuing:
"We thought that we search Google, but now we understand that Google searches us. We assumed that we use social media to connect, but we learned that connection is how social media uses us.
Our digital century was to have been democracy's Golden Age. Instead, we enter its third decade marked by a stark new form of social inequality best understood as 'epistemic inequality' … extreme asymmetries of knowledge and the power that accrues to such knowledge, as the tech giants seize control of information and learning itself …
Surveillance capitalists exploit the widening inequity of knowledge for the sake of profits. They manipulate the economy, our society and even our lives with impunity, endangering not just individual privacy but democracy itself …
Still, the winds appear to have finally shifted. A fragile new awareness is dawning … Surveillance capitalists are fast because they seek neither genuine consent nor consensus. They rely on psychic numbing and messages of inevitability to conjure the helplessness, resignation and confusion that paralyze their prey.
Democracy is slow, and that's a good thing. Its pace reflects the tens of millions of conversations that occur … gradually stirring the sleeping giant of democracy to action.
These conversations are occurring now, and there are many indications that lawmakers are ready to join and to lead. This third decade is likely to decide our fate. Will we make the digital future better, or will it make us worse?"8,9
Epistemic inequality refers to inequality in what you're able to learn. "It is defined as unequal access to learning imposed by private commercial mechanisms of information capture, production, analysis and sales. It is best exemplified in the fast-growing abyss between what we know and what is known about us," Zuboff writes in her New York Times op-ed.10
Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft have spearheaded the surveillance market transformation, placing themselves at the top tier of the epistemic hierarchy. They know everything about you and you know nothing about them. You don't even know what they know about you.
"They operated in the shadows to amass huge knowledge monopolies by taking without asking, a maneuver that every child recognizes as theft," Zuboff writes.
"Surveillance capitalism begins by unilaterally staking a claim to private human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data. Our lives are rendered as data flows."
These data flows are about you, but not for you. All of it is used against you — to separate you from your money, or to make you act in a way that is in some way profitable for a company or a political agenda. So, ask yourself, where is your freedom in all of this?
They're Making You Dance to Their Tune
If a company can cause you to buy stuff you don't need by sticking an enticing, personalized ad for something they know will boost your confidence at the exact moment you're feeling insecure or worthless (a tactic that has been tested and perfected11), are you really acting through free will?
If an artificial intelligence using predictive modeling senses you're getting hungry (based on a variety of cues such as your location, facial expressions and verbal expressions) and launches an ad from a local restaurant to you in the very moment you're deciding to get something to eat, are you really making conscious, self-driven, value-based life choices? As noted by Zuboff in her article:12
"Unequal knowledge about us produces unequal power over us, and so epistemic inequality widens to include the distance between what we can do and what can be done to us. Data scientists describe this as the shift from monitoring to actuation, in which a critical mass of knowledge about a machine system enables the remote control of that system.
Now people have become targets for remote control, as surveillance capitalists discovered that the most predictive data come from intervening in behavior to tune, herd and modify action in the direction of commercial objectives.
This third imperative, 'economies of action,' has become an arena of intense experimentation. 'We are learning how to write the music,' one scientist said, 'and then we let the music make them dance' …
The fact is that in the absence of corporate transparency and democratic oversight, epistemic inequality rules. They know. They decide who knows. They decide who decides. The public's intolerable knowledge disadvantage is deepened by surveillance capitalists' perfection of mass communications as gaslighting …
On April 30, 2019 Mark Zuckerberg made a dramatic announcement at the company's annual developer conference, declaring, 'The future is private.' A few weeks later, a Facebook litigator appeared before a federal district judge in California to thwart a user lawsuit over privacy invasion, arguing that the very act of using Facebook negates any reasonable expectation of privacy 'as a matter of law.'"
We Need a Whole New Regulatory Framework
In the video, Zuboff points out that there are no laws in place to curtail this brand-new type of surveillance capitalism, and the only reason it has been able to flourish over the past 20 years is because there's been an absence of laws against it, primarily because it has never previously existed.
That's the problem with epistemic inequality. Google and Facebook were the only ones who knew what they were doing. The surveillance network grew in the shadows, unbeknownst to the public or lawmakers. Had we fought against it for two decades, then we might have had to resign ourselves to defeat, but as it stands, we've never even tried to regulate it.
This, Zuboff says, should give us all hope. We can turn this around and take back our privacy, but we need legislation that addresses the actual reality of the entire breadth and depth of the data collection system. It's not enough to address just the data that we know that we're giving when we go online. Zuboff writes:13
"These contests of the 21st century demand a framework of epistemic rights enshrined in law and subject to democratic governance. Such rights would interrupt data supply chains by safeguarding the boundaries of human experience before they come under assault from the forces of datafication.
The choice to turn any aspect of one's life into data must belong to individuals by virtue of their rights in a democratic society. This means, for example, that companies cannot claim the right to your face, or use your face as free raw material for analysis, or own and sell any computational products that derive from your face …
Anything made by humans can be unmade by humans. Surveillance capitalism is young, barely 20 years in the making, but democracy is old, rooted in generations of hope and contest.
Surveillance capitalists are rich and powerful, but they are not invulnerable. They have an Achilles heel: fear. They fear lawmakers who do not fear them. They fear citizens who demand a new road forward as they insist on new answers to old questions: Who will know? Who will decide who knows? Who will decide who decides? Who will write the music, and who will dance?"
How to Protect Your Online Privacy
While there's no doubt we need a whole new legislative framework to curtail surveillance capitalism, in the meantime, there are ways you can protect your privacy online and limit the "behavioral surplus data" collected about you.
Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist for the American Institute of Behavioral Research and Technology, recommends taking the following steps to protect your privacy:14
Use a virtual private network (VPN) such as Nord, which is only about $3 per month and can be used on up to six devices. In my view, this is a must if you seek to preserve your privacy. Epstein explains:
Nord, when used on your cellphone, will also mask your identity when using apps like Google Maps.
Do not use Gmail, as every email you write is permanently stored. It becomes part of your profile and is used to build digital models of you, which allows them to make predictions about your line of thinking and every want and desire.
Many other older email systems such as AOL and Yahoo are also being used as surveillance platforms in the same way as Gmail. ProtonMail.com, which uses end-to-end encryption, is a great alternative and the basic account is free.
Don't use Google's Chrome browser, as everything you do on there is surveilled, including keystrokes and every webpage you've ever visited. Brave is a great alternative that takes privacy seriously.
Brave is also faster than Chrome, and suppresses ads. It's based on Chromium, the same software infrastructure that Chrome is based on, so you can easily transfer your extensions, favorites and bookmarks.
Don't use Google as your search engine, or any extension of Google, such as Bing or Yahoo, both of which draw search results from Google. The same goes for the iPhone's personal assistant Siri, which draws all of its answers from Google.
Alternative search engines suggested by Epstein include SwissCows and Qwant. He recommends avoiding StartPage, as it was recently bought by an aggressive online marketing company, which, like Google, depends on surveillance.
Don't use an Android cellphone, for all the reasons discussed earlier. Epstein uses a BlackBerry, which is more secure than Android phones or the iPhone. BlackBerry's upcoming model, the Key3, will be one of the most secure cellphones in the world, he says.
Don't use Google Home devices in your house or apartment — These devices record everything that occurs in your home, both speech and sounds such as brushing your teeth and boiling water, even when they appear to be inactive, and send that information back to Google. Android phones are also always listening and recording, as are Google's home thermostat Nest, and Amazon's Alexa.
Clear your cache and cookies — As Epstein explains in his article:15/span>
Don't use Fitbit, as it was recently purchased by Google and will provide them with all your physiological information and activity levels, in addition to everything else that Google already has on you.
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder that is predicted to affect 930,000 people by the end of 2020 and 1.2 million by 2030.1 The disease triggers tremors, slowing movements, balance problems and rigidity. There is no known cause or cure and the first line of treatment usually involves drugs that don't slow the associated neurodegeneration.2
About 60,000 are diagnosed in the U.S. each year and to date there are more than 10 million with the disease worldwide.3 The Parkinson's Foundation Prevalence Project also finds men are more likely to be diagnosed than women and the number who develop PD rises with age, regardless of gender.
Researchers have found that being around any number of toxins may increase the risk by 80% in some cases.4 Pesticides are an example; exposure can result in mitochondrial dysfunction that may be responsible for some of the damage. As noted in Environmental Health Perspectives:5
"In experimental models, the pesticides paraquat, which causes oxidative stress, and rotenone, which inhibits mitochondrial complex I, both induce loss of nigral dopaminergic neurons and behavioral changes associated with human PD."
People with a genetic mutation in the synuclein gene, associated with an increased risk of Parkinson's, may be more susceptible to the damaging effects of pesticides. Misfolded alpha-synuclein proteins may cause nerve cell damage leading to dead brain matter called Lewy bodies.6
These are associated with the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, including problems with movement and speech. As you can imagine, PD affects the quality of life.
Unfortunately, depression is common in patients with PD; this influences functional disability, cognitive deficits and other comorbid psychiatric disorders.7 Reducing the symptoms of PD not only may enhance the quality of life and levels of independence, but it may also alleviate symptoms of depression.
Playing Ping Pong Improves Symptoms of Parkinson’s
Many of us think of actor Michael J. Fox when we think about Parkinson’s disease. His foundation funds research aimed at improving the lives of people with the disease.8
The challenges of living with PD can sometimes feel overwhelming, but researchers from Fukuoka, Japan, have discovered that seniors can manage their symptoms more effectively when they play ping pong. The game is otherwise known as table tennis and can be challenging for anyone, but even more so for those who live with a movement disorder.
However, those who took part in a study over six months experienced improvements in their symptoms.9 The researchers engaged 12 patients with an average age of 73 whose Parkinson's disease had been diagnosed within the past seven years.
The results of the study10 are to be presented at the 2020 American Academy of Neurology 72nd annual meeting in Toronto.11 The participants were tested at the start of the study, after three months and again at the end for the number and severity of symptoms.
Activities in the program, developed by experienced players, improved the participants’ speech, handwriting, walking and ability to get out of bed. In the beginning it took participants an average of more than two tries to get out of bed; by the end of the study the average participant could get out of bed on the first try. In a press release one researcher was quoted as saying:12
“Pingpong, which is also called table tennis, is a form of aerobic exercise that has been shown in the general population to improve hand-eye coordination, sharpen reflexes, and stimulate the brain. We wanted to examine if people with Parkinson’s disease would see similar benefits that may in turn reduce some of their symptoms.
While this study is small, the results are encouraging because they show pingpong, a relatively inexpensive form of therapy, may improve some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. A much larger study is now being planned to confirm these findings.”
Balance issues are common in those with PD. One treatment option has been the use of vestibular rehabilitation therapy; ping pong is one suggested balance training sport.13 Head movements and visual stimulation are important to the rehabilitation process.
The authors of one 2016 case study14 found that using a caloric vestibular stimulation (CVS)15 in an individual with Parkinson's disease helped with motor and non-motor symptoms.
In another study involving 33 people who received CVS at home twice a day for eight weeks, scientists found greater reductions in motor and non-motor symptoms than those in the placebo group.16 The improvements lasted for five weeks after the last treatment. Ear stimulation appears to be an effective and safe form of treatment, which may also have been triggered in those playing ping pong.
Proteins Travel From Your Gut to Your Brain and Back Again
Unfortunately, diagnosis usually happens after symptoms occur and brain cells have died. Researchers have been studying ways to detect the condition earlier, which may positively impact treatment and prevention. The known link between the gut microbiome and Parkinson's disease may be an important factor.
An animal study17 from Johns Hopkins Medicine was built on observations made in 2003 showing an accumulation of alpha synuclein proteins were appearing in parts of the brain that control the gut.
Interested in whether these proteins could travel along the vagal nerve, the researchers used an animal model over 10 months and demonstrated when the vagal nerve connection had been cut there was no cell death in the brain. It appeared that severing the vagal nerve could stop the advance of misfolded proteins and thus the development of Parkinson's disease.
Levodopa is a drug often used to help reduce symptoms in those with Parkinson's disease as it acts as a precursor to dopamine. However, researchers have found it's not effective for everyone and may depend on the composition of your gut microbiome. Some microorganisms may metabolize the medication and therefore render it ineffective.
Researchers have identified a specific enzyme produced in the microbiome that works to metabolize levodopa. By blocking one or both enzymes, the drug's effectiveness could be improved.18
In addition to the impact the microbiome has on drug effectiveness, it may also regulate movement disorders through changes to alpha-synuclein protein folding.19 The connection makes sense, as gastrointestinal symptoms, such as constipation, may begin decades before the onset of symptoms in Parkinson’s disease.
The communication between your gut and brain is bidirectional, and it appears the misfolded proteins triggering neuron cell death in the brain may travel in both directions. While it may contribute to symptoms in several ways, the aberrant alpha-synuclein cells are toxic to cellular homeostasis, triggering neuronal death and affecting synaptic function.
Using an animal model, one group of researchers found there was an increasing expression of alpha-synuclein inhibiting the release of neurotransmitters, which essentially produced Parkinson-type symptoms.20 Researchers were then able to identify the specific protein transmitted from the brain to the gut,21 demonstrating the bidirectional communication.
Certain Foods May Help Prevent or Boost Treatment
As described in this short video, compounds found in certain nightshade vegetables in the Solanaceae family, specifically bell peppers, may help inhibit the development of Parkinson’s disease. Researchers theorize it may be the nicotine that helps reduce your risk. Of course, the risks associated with smoking are not enough to justify taking up the habit to lower your potential risk of Parkinson’s.
In one study22 researchers enrolled 490 newly diagnosed people with Parkinson's disease against another 644 people without the disease. At the end of the study they found eating vegetables in the Solanaceae family was inversely related to the risk of developing Parkinson's disease.
The study’s authors found no other food had a higher positive relationship, which suggested eating these vegetables two to four times per week may provide a protective effect. A second plant that may help battle the effects of Parkinson’s disease is the climbing legume, M. pruriens.
In tropical areas of the world they are a well-known protein source but also used as medicine. The plant contains levodopa, the precursor to dopamine found in medications used to treat Parkinson's disease. Without sufficient amounts of dopamine, you may feel lethargic, unfocused and potentially depressed.
Karen Kurtak, department head of longevity nutrition at Grossman Wellness Institute in Denver, says, "M. pruriens has an almost magical ability to improve motivation, well-being, energy and sex drive, along with decreasing the tendency to overeat."23
Evidence from clinical trials24 has demonstrated that the legume produces equivalent or better results than L-dopa medications, and without the side effects. However, Western medicine practitioners continue to use and promote the synthetic form to boost dopamine levels in your brain and reduce the effects of Parkinson's disease.
Beyond Parkinson's treatment, Ayurvedic medicine practitioners use it as an aphrodisiac, and to reduce nervous disorders and infertility.25 If you have the disease and would like to investigate this, consult with your doctor or an Ayurvedic medicine practitioner before taking M. pruriens, especially if you are currently taking prescription medication, to ensure this remedy is right for you.
Reduce Gut Permeability and Improve Autophagy
It may also be possible to prevent neurodegenerative diseases or reduce symptoms by naturally addressing your gut permeability and autophagy dysfunction. Improve the health of your gut microbiome through small lifestyle changes such as eliminating sugar, using a cyclical ketogenic diet and eating fiber-rich foods.
For a more complete list, see my article, "Gut Microbiome May Be a Game-Changer for Cancer Prevention and Treatment."
The combination of these strategies and improving autophagy through cycles of feast and famine may help reduce your risk and improve genetic repair and longevity. Fasting also has a beneficial impact on your brain and boosts brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).26 This protein may help protect brain cells from changes that are associated with Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.
If you are under the care of a physician or on medication, you need to work with your doctor to ensure safety since some medications need to be taken with food. Diabetics on medication also need to use caution and work with a health care professional to adjust medication dosage.
Activating adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK) through proper diet and nutritional supplements also supports natural autophagy. You can learn more about this process in my previous article, “Autophagy Finally Considered for Disease Treatment.”
In an effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, many schools, offices and social venues have shut down, and many governments have issued more or less strict “social distancing” recommendations.1 As a result, people around the world are faced with the prospect of having very limited human interactions for a period of time.
While introverts may be silently celebrating, many others may struggle with feelings of isolation and loneliness. On top of that, many are feeling worried and anxious about getting infected,2 or worry about the health of immune-compromised or elderly family members3 who are at greatest risk for serious infection and complications.
In the video above, Julie Schiffman demonstrates how to use the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) to relieve anxiety and other challenging emotions brought on by news and uncertainty about this pandemic and/or self-quarantining.
The FAST Technique
Another easy alternative is the Neuro-Emotional Technique’s First Aid Stress Tool, or NET FAST, demonstrated in the video above. Firstaidstresstool.com also provides an excellent printable summary with visuals of the technique,4 which even a young child can do. Here is a summary of the FAST procedure:
- While thinking about an issue that is bothering you, place your right wrist, palm up, into your left hand. Place three fingers of your left hand onto the area of your right wrist where you can feel your pulse.
- Place your open right hand on your forehead. Gently breathe in and out several times while concentrating on feeling the issue that bothers you.
- Switch hands and repeat steps 1 and 2.
Loneliness Epidemic Looms Large
Even without social distancing and self-quarantining requirements, a staggering number of people report feeling lonely. According to a 2018 Cigna insurance health survey5,6,7 of Americans aged 18 and over, 46% report sometimes or always feeling lonely, 47% say they do not have meaningful in-person social interactions or extended conversations on a daily basis and 43% report feeling isolated.
Self-quarantining will likely worsen these sentiments and drive percentages up even higher. Remarkably, in Cigna’s survey, young adults between the ages of 18 and 22 were the loneliest. Even the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) acknowledges8 there’s an “epidemic” of loneliness in the U.S. and that it’s taking a mounting toll on public health.
According to HRSA,9 a panel presentation by the National Institute for Health Care Management — a nonprofit research firm for the health insurance industry — revealed social isolation among seniors is costing the federal government $6.7 billion each year in added health care spending, as “poor social relationships” are associated with a 29% higher risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
The aggressive social isolation approaches currently being advocated for COVID-19 will only worsen this scenario for seniors. Research by the AARP Foundation — an organization dedicated to empowering American seniors — presents a similar picture. In its 2018 survey,10 “Loneliness and Social Connections,” the AARP reports that 35% of adults over 45 struggle with loneliness.
Financial and Social Recession
Seniors making less than $25,000 a year have an even greater loneliness ratio — 1 in 2 — according to the AARP.11 Considering stock markets are crashing all around us and store shelves are emptying of necessities, the financial and emotional disparities between the rich and the poor may widen even further.
Working adults who are in financial dire straits may also end up promoting the spread of infectious disease. As noted by Josephine Tovey in an article for The Guardian:12
“In the U.S., where there is no guaranteed sick leave, experts have warned many workers will defy pleas to stay home during the current outbreak, even if ill, out of pure economic necessity.”
Amid a growing financial recession, Vox13 rightfully points out that the implementation of social distancing will also cause “what we might call a ‘social recession’: a collapse in social contact that is particularly hard on the populations most vulnerable to isolation and loneliness …”
The true cost of “social recession” could be enormous, as lack of social contact and loneliness are drivers of ill health, both mentally and physically, and early death, both from disease and suicide. In “Work and the Loneliness Epidemic: Reducing Isolation at Work Is Good for Business,” Vivek Murthy writes:14,15
“Over thousands of years, the value of social connection has become baked into our nervous system such that the absence of such a protective force creates a stress state in the body.
Loneliness causes stress, and long-term or chronic stress leads to more frequent elevations of a key stress hormone, cortisol. It is also linked to higher levels of inflammation in the body.
This in turn damages blood vessels and other tissues, increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, joint disease, depression, obesity, and premature death.”
Easing Feelings of Isolation
If you’re currently self-isolating, what can you do to ease the pain? In her article, Tovey addresses the issue of loneliness brought on by the current outbreak, highlighting some emerging coping trends:16
“Nicole Gadon, an American woman forced into lengthy home quarantine by tuberculosis in 2014, told the New York Times the loneliness was palpable …
Looking back, she wished she had said yes when her brother offered to simply stand outside on her lawn and keep her company. Her two pieces of advice? ‘Ask for help’ and ‘get an indoor pet.’
Already in China during this outbreak, we have heard stories about the most dire consequences of social isolation17 — but so too we have seen a wellspring of creativity as people stay connected however they can.
Live-streamed DJ sets to turn apartments into satellite nightclubs, online book clubs and recipe forums where millennials can learn to cook together are some of the ways people are not just fighting boredom but are staying tethered to the outside world and each other.”
What’s It Like Living in Isolation?
In a BBC News article,18 Nuala McCann writes about her two-week long self-isolation two decades ago, noting that while not joyful, a couple of weeks did pass rather quickly.
Ian Pannell, a senior foreign correspondent for ABC News also writes about what it’s like living in isolation.19 After spending two days on assignment in Daegu, South Korea, where coronavirus infection was rampant, he had to self-quarantine for 14 days. Pannell writes:20
“Think of all the things you could do — reading, writing, studying, watching, listening. All the things you never normally have time to do, right? Wrong.
I am now convinced that there is some unwritten mathematical equation or scientific law that proves an inverse relationship between time and achievement. The more of one we have, the less of the other we accomplish, and vice versa.
The other fallacy is that peace and quiet will be a welcome relief from the incessant noise of 24/7 modern life. Again, I can report this is also wrong.
It is an unusual and sometimes lonely sensation being entirely on your own … It is also sometimes claustrophobic not being able to just step outside the front door … And the silence can be uncomfortable … It is surprising what you do hear when there's nothing to listen to.”
Looking Out for Others — Every Day
Time will tell whether people will learn a truly valuable lesson from the current bout of self-isolation. In the future, will you perhaps be more mindful to look out for people who are isolated?
Will you call an aging parent or elderly grandparent more often? Will you check on a neighbor or co-worker who strikes you as lonely and a bit forlorn? Empathy often grows from personal experience and, globally, we’re now getting a taste of what it’s like for some people every day.
While making full use of technology during this time is being stressed by most experts, for those who were already isolated to begin with, the recommendation to Facetime with family and friends won’t help much since they lack that social network.
Many of the most vulnerable, such as the elderly and disabled, also lack the technical know-how. For these individuals in particular, the answer really lies in a compassionate reaching out by others, perhaps complete strangers — perhaps by you.
“This is an area where government can help by funding and supercharging community organizations,” sociologist Eric Klinenberg tells Vox.21
“A lot of my work is premised on the idea that extreme situations like the one we’re in now allow us to see conditions that are always present but difficult to perceive. We’re going to learn a lot about who we are and what we value in the next few months.”
Robust Immune Function Is Your First Line of Defense
Again, if you struggle with worry or anxiety, please check out Schiffman’s video and the FAST technique at the top of this article. If you’re worried about getting sick, remember that your immune system is your first line of defense. This is true for all infections.
While proper handwashing, masks, hand sanitizers and social distancing will all help to limit the spread of the virus (and are ways to protect others as well as yourself), keeping your immune system strong needs to be at the top of your list of personal prevention methods. To boost and support healthy immune function, consider:
Cutting out sugar and avoiding processed foods — Replace these with real (unprocessed or minimally processed) foods.
Getting enough sleep each night — It's well-known that lack of sleep can increase your chances of getting sick, and research22 has shown approximately 10% of your genome is under circadian control, including genes that influence your immune function. Your immune cells are also under circadian control.
Taking a high-quality probiotic — The health benefits derived from probiotics are rooted in the balancing of your intestinal bacteria. One of the easiest and quickest ways to do that is by eating fermented vegetables. Other beneficial fermented foods include kefir, natto, kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh and yogurt made from raw grass fed milk (avoid commercial yogurt as most are loaded with added sugar).
Increasing your fiber intake — Not only does fiber help balance your gut microbiome, it also helps improve your immune system, as resistant starches act as prebiotics that feed healthy bacteria in your gut.
Taking one or more immune-boosting supplements — While a healthy whole food diet is foundational for health, you may in some cases need a supplement or two. Nutrients that are important for healthy immune function include vitamins A, C, D3, K1, K2, zinc, selenium and B vitamins. Quercetin is another supplement that appears particularly promising for the prevention of viral illnesses, including COVID-19.
Drinking chaga tea — The high antioxidant levels in chaga tea may help boost your immune function. Chaga mushrooms are also chockful of beta-d-glucans that increase macrophage and killer cell efficiency.
A recently released survey from Mattress Firm revealed some disturbing facts about sleep patterns in America, as shown in this short video. This is important since the effects of sleep deprivation can range from mild to devastating.
For instance, the Anchorage Daily News1 recounts the story of third mate Gregory Cousins, who had slept a mere six hours between 8 p.m. on March 22, 1989, until just after midnight on March 24, when he ran the supertanker Exxon Valdez aground.
The accident devastated 23 species of wildlife and nearly 1,300 miles of coastline habitat. Many people may remember that the skipper of the ship was allegedly drunk (a jury later acquitted him of the charge), but what most don’t know is that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that sleep deprivation was an important factor in this accident. In fact, it not only was a known issue on the Valdez, but across the board in the shipping industry.
As it turned out, several of the Valdez’s crew members were sleep-deprived, and the oil spill was an accident waiting to happen. The problem was a direct result of Exxon trying to save money by not providing enough crew to provide breaks for sleep. In its report the NTSB said:2
“The mates on the Exxon Valdez were usually fatigued after cargo operations in Valdez, and the vessel usually put to sea with a fatigued crew … The financial advantage from eliminating officers and crew from each vessel does not seem to justify incurring the foreseeable risks of serious accidents.”
Unfortunately, sleep deprivation isn’t limited to sea vessel crews. According to the American Sleep Association,3 37.9% of people report inadvertently dropping off to sleep during the day at least once a month, and 4.7% have nodded off while driving.
Most people cut their sleep hours short because they feel the need to "get things done" — not unlike the Valdez situation. However, like the Valdez, the evidence clearly shows that you are not productive when sleep-deprived.
Average Sleep Hours Fall as More Report Exhaustion
For several years Mattress Firm has commissioned a survey on sleep habits and the number of hours people are sleeping each night. This year, results show Americans are sleeping less and less. They asked 3,000 adults about their sleep habits, how satisfied they were with their sleep and about the frequency of sleeping and naps. They compared those results to those from 2018.4
What they found was a sad commentary on the speed at which modern society has chosen to live. It seems that getting at least six hours has become more challenging with each passing year. In 2018 results from the survey showed the average person asked was sleeping six hours and 17 minutes each night, but by 2019 that had dropped to 5.5 hours.5
Experts currently recommend adults from 18 to 65 years sleep consistently from 7 to 9 hours each night.6 In other words, most people are sleeping at least one- and one-half hours less each night than the minimum that experts think is important for optimal health.
While the number of hours you sleep is important, so is the quality. So, it’s even more disheartening to read that 25% of the respondents reported they also “consistently slept poorly in 2019.”7 Since the amount of quality sleep at night was on the decline, it makes sense the respondents reported they took more naps in 2019 than 2018. But, while more were taken, survey findings indicate there were many planned naps that didn’t get taken.
The survey defined a “great night’s sleep” as “quickly falling asleep and staying that way until morning.'' There were about 120 nights fitting that criteria. Americans are so desperate for a good night of sleep they said they were willing to “pay $316.61 for just one night of perfect sleep.” This was $26.16 more than in 2018.8
Interestingly, the people who reported the best sleep were those who slept on their back or slept with a pet in their bed. While side sleeping was the more common position reported in the survey, these were the same respondents who had the most difficult time getting to sleep.
The survey also asked about bedtime rituals that respondents used to help them fall asleep. The top rituals included reading, taking a bath, drinking warm milk, meditating and having sex.9
Have You Been Too Tired to Cook or Go Out?
Sleep is an important foundation to your health and wellness and yet a significant number of people are having trouble accomplishing this seemingly simple task. A separate survey10 asked 2,000 British adults about their habits and found many reported being too tired to do everyday tasks.
The results showed the top two activities that respondents avoided when they were tired were house cleaning and working out. Half of those asked ordered their dinner out and 25% of women said they went to bed with their makeup on because washing their face before bed required more energy than they felt they had.
Of the 2,000 asked, 30% had canceled social plans and many reported avoiding grocery shopping, reading, driving and having sex because they were too tired. While Americans planned naps that weren’t taken,11 Brits were taking three naps a week and still reported feeling “as though they have ‘no energy at all’ four times” every week.12
In Britain, energy levels were at their highest mid-morning and their lowest midafternoon. As the authors of other studies have found13 more were the most tired on Mondays. Researchers have theorized a lack of sleep is one of the reasons there are more heart attacks on Mondays than other days of the week.14
In addition to these details, 25% of survey respondents thought their lethargy was related to long working hours, stress or depressing weather.15 They also found 20% had visited their doctor with complaints of sleepiness and more than 50% felt their exhaustion affected their mood. These results are discouraging since the effects of sleep deprivation are significant.
Sleep Quality and Quantity Important to Health and Safety
Both the quantity and quality of your sleep are important to your health and safety — indeed, the safety of others as well. Not getting enough sleep slows your reaction time and leaves you cognitively impaired. In 2013, drowsy driving caused 72,000 car accidents, killing 800 people and injuring 44,000.16
In one study17 from 2018 a researcher found that sleeping less than four hours in the previous 24 hours increased the odds of having a car accident by 15.1 times, compared to those who slept seven to nine hours in the previous 24. Statistically:18
"Drivers who slept for less than 4 hr were found to have crash risk comparable to that reported in previous studies for drivers with blood alcohol concentration roughly 1.5 times the legal limit effective in all US states."
The researcher explained:19
"Being awake isn't the same as being alert. Falling asleep isn't the only risk. Even if they manage to stay awake, sleep-deprived drivers are still at increased risk of making mistakes — like failing to notice something important, or misjudging a gap in traffic — which can have tragic consequences."
Despite these statistics, many say they push through their sleepiness to complete what needs to be done. One significant problem is when construction workers, medical professionals and pilots decide to “push through” — like the Valdez, it can have lethal consequences.
Other research shows that sleeping less than six hours a night will also dramatically increase your risk of insulin resistance, which is at the core of many chronic diseases.20 And, the list of health problems related to poor sleep continues to grow. The results of one study21 linked poor sleep with excessive aging of your heart; less than seven hours a night was enough to trigger that.
The lead researcher on the study from the Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said:22
“Prolonged periods of insufficient sleep have negative effects on multiple body systems including the cardiovascular system. Studies have shown significant relationships between sleep duration and heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity.
The difference between a person’s estimated heart age and his or her chronological age is ‘excess heart age.’ Higher excess heart age indicates a higher risk of developing heart disease."
However, sleeping a healthy number of hours may not protect you if the quality of your sleep is poor. Sleep quality has a significant impact on your risk of high blood pressure and inflammation of your blood vessels, also associated with heart disease.23 The researchers found “Systolic blood pressure was associated directly with poor sleep quality … "
They believed the findings demonstrated direct evidence neglecting sleep problems could increase your blood pressure and blood vessel inflammation even if you get adequate amounts of sleep.
EMF Affects Heavy Metal Toxicity and Thus Sleep Quality
One factor affecting sleep quality is your exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) and heavy metal toxicity associated with it. As Wendy Myers, functional diagnostic nutritionist, and I discuss in this short video, heavy metals are particularly detrimental to your mitochondrial function and when you have heavy metal toxicity you attract more EMF.
It’s a vicious cycle that ultimately damages your health. It also increases your levels of fatigue. In this short clip we talked about the interaction between fatigue, mitochondrial dysfunction and heavy metal toxicity.
In her research she discovered studies demonstrating how a variety of metals could affect the ability of the mitochondria to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of the body. There are several heavy metals Myers finds are of particular concern, including aluminum, arsenic, tin and thallium.
You can test for heavy metal toxicity using hair, urine or stool samples. Myers typically begins with a hair analysis as it’s easy, inexpensive and provides significant information. However, no one test is perfect, so I recommend doing all three. No one is exempt from heavy metal exposure as I found out when I tested positive for each of these metals in 2018.
Cycles of Light and Dark Affect Sleep Quality
Sleep has been a great mystery. It was once thought to be a waste of time, but as researchers discover more about how the brain functions, it’s become apparent sleep is a crucial component of a healthy lifestyle. Sleep deprivation can affect people of all ages, and unfortunately the effects are cumulative.24
By maintaining a natural rhythm of exposure to daylight and darkness you affect the quality of your sleep. Light helps synchronize your biological master clock in your brain that helps wake you in the morning and improves your sleep at night.25 Going outside in the morning hours and at lunch can help provide you with the light needed to anchor a healthy circadian rhythm.
However, just as important is the other end of the day. By using digital equipment after sunset, you stop the production of melatonin, important in getting quality sleep.26 In one study27 researchers found 99% of participants exposed to room light before bed produced melatonin later than expected.
In addition, light exposure during your usual hours of sleep can also suppress production by 50%. You’ll experience the greatest benefit by dimming your lights after sunset, using incandescent light bulbs and wearing blue blocker sunglasses indoors that help block blue light most responsible for blocking melatonin production.
While the list of health challenges associated with sleep loss is significant, you have options to help you improve the quantity and quality of your sleep. See “Top 33 Tips to Optimize Your Sleep Routine” for how to make a real difference in your overall health.
Alcohol is an accepted part of almost all societies. It is so engrained in socializing and entertainment, easy to obtain and relatively inexpensive that few think twice about taking a drink or two. Certainly, we know about alcoholism and recognize alcoholics, especially when they are on "skid row," but we don’t usually think of alcohol as a dangerous drug. But perhaps we should.
Scientific reports reveal that alcohol may be among the most dangerous drugs, illegal or legal, that exist. In the U.S., approximately 88,000 people die a year from alcohol-related causes — including more than 4,300 deaths among underage youth1 — and in 2014, alcohol caused 9,967 driving fatalities in the U.S.2 Worldwide, 5.9% of deaths are attributable to alcohol.3
Why is alcohol not demonized the way tobacco is? There are at least two reasons, say public health experts. One is that the alcohol lobby has bought favorable media coverage through donations and partnerships with public health groups and even government agencies. The other reason is that illegal drugs usually receive the brunt of bad publicity even when the legal drug, alcohol, may do more damage.
Alcohol Is More Harmful Than Many Realize
While most people are aware of drunk driving fatalities and the possible effects of excessive alcohol consumption on the liver, there are other serious consequences from drinking alcohol that are less well publicized. For example, alcohol is strongly linked to mouth cancers and cancers of the pharynx, larynx, esophagus, rectum, colon and breast. It is even linked to cancers of the pancreas and lung.4
The carcinogenic effect of alcohol "is unmistakably proportional to the daily/weekly dosage," according to research published in the Hungarian journal Magyar Onkologia.5 Alcohol, or ethanol as it is called in the medical profession, metabolizes into the known carcinogen acetaldehyde, which exerts negative actions:6
"Among other things chronic alcohol consumption promotes the production of endogen hormones, affects the insulin-like growth factor-1, alters several biological pathways, raises oxidative stress, and damages the genes. Even modest daily alcohol intake will increase the risk of breast cancer."
Further, alcohol can encourage colon cancer, according to a report in the journal Evidence Report/Technology Assessment:7
"One human tissue study, 19 animal studies … and 10 cell line studies indicate that ethanol and acetaldehyde may alter metabolic pathways and cell structures that increase the risk of developing colon cancer. Exposure of human colonic biopsies to acetaldehyde suggests that acetaldehyde disrupts epithelial tight junctions.
Among 19 animal studies the mechanisms considered included: Mucosal damage after ethanol consumption. Increased degradation of folate. Stimulation of rectal carcinogenesis. Increased cell proliferation. Increased effect of carcinogens."
Alcohol Can Contribute to Breast Cancer
The most common cancer in U.S. women is breast cancer and it is the second biggest cause of their cancer deaths. There is a strong correlation between the consumption of alcoholic beverages and breast cancer, according to a study published in the journal Alcohol:8
"Results of most epidemiologic studies, as well as of most experimental studies in animals, have shown that alcohol intake is associated with increased breast cancer risk.
Alcohol consumption may cause breast cancer through different mechanisms, including through mutagenesis by acetaldehyde, through perturbation of estrogen metabolism and response, and by inducing oxidative damage and/or by affecting folate and one-carbon metabolism pathways … Acetaldehyde is a known, although weak, mutagen."
Because of the oxidative damage alcohol causes and its effects on the insulin-like growth factor-1 and genes, "Even modest daily alcohol intake will increase the risk of breast cancer," concludes the journal Magyar Onkologia.9 The heightened breast cancer risk likely comes from alcohol's increase of estrogen, suggests research in Evidence Report/Technology Assessment:10
"Increased estrogen levels may increase the risk of breast cancer through increases in cell proliferation and alterations in estrogen receptors. Human studies have also suggested a connection with prolactin and with biomarkers of oxidative stress.
Of 15 animal studies, six reported increased mammary tumorigenesis … Other animal studies reported conversion of ethanol to acetaldehyde in mammary tissue as having a significant effect on the progression of tumor development."
Alcohol Is Often Linked to Violence
"Rape culture" and rapes on U.S. campuses are increasingly reported but their link to alcohol consumption is not always included. Social researchers do not think that alcohol, in and of itself, makes people violent or rapists but rather that it boosts the behavior in those with violent tendencies.11 According to research in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs:12
"College men's alcohol consumption is positively associated with sexual aggression perpetration … In the present study … heavy episodic drinking (HED) [was] … hypothesized to contribute to sexual aggression perpetration via more frequent attendance at drinking venues (parties, bars).
College men who more frequently attended drinking 'hot spots' were more likely to perpetrate subsequent sexual aggression, supporting a growing body of evidence on the importance of drinking venues in college sexual assault."
Children also experience violence as the result of alcohol consumption, a study published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect found:13
"This study is a detailed examination of the association between parental alcohol abuse … and multiple forms of childhood abuse, neglect, and other household dysfunction, known as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) …
Compared to persons who grew up with no parental alcohol abuse, the adjusted odds ratio for each category of ACE was approximately 2 to 13 times higher if either the mother, father, or both parents abused alcohol … exposure to parental alcohol abuse is highly associated with experiencing adverse childhood experiences."
Alcohol is also correlated with depressive effects in its users and problems in their daily lives, such as trouble in interpersonal relationships including marriage.14
Alcoholic Beverage Makers Have Spun a Good Image
As I mentioned before, alcohol has not been demonized like tobacco and street drugs. In fact, you do not have to look too far to see reports that alcohol is even healthful and that moderate drinkers live longer than non-drinkers. How has alcohol's positive image been created and maintained?
Two years after launching its Global Smart Drinking Goals campaign in 2015,15 Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest beer brewer,16 debuted its Ab Inbev Foundation.17 "Built around the idea that partnerships can play an important role in reducing the harmful use of alcohol,” it "works through a collaborative model, with our staff, the City Pilot Steering Committees, and our partners," says the brewer.18
But, according to a commentary in the British journal The Lancet, the Ab Inbev Foundation is no different in intent and hypocrisy than Philip Morris International's Foundation for a Smoke-Free World.19
You could even add the hypocrisy of Juul Labs claiming to "transition the world’s billion adult smokers away from combustible cigarettes, eliminate their use, and combat underage usage of our products" while hooking children on vaping.20 The Ab Inbev Foundation betrays unabashed conflicts of interest says the Lancet:21
"In fact, the foundation attracts senior UN and former US government officials to its board and funds and engages in policy making processes. Despite obvious conflicts of interest, the Anheuser-Busch InBev Foundation sponsors a US National Academies of Science forum on global violence prevention."
For example, a member of the Institute of Medicine's Forum on Global Violence Prevention in 2011 was Amie Gianino who was identified as "Senior Global Director, Beer & Better World, Anheuser-Busch InBev."22 Why is the alcohol industry considered a valid government presenter on these topics?
Anheuser-Busch InBev is not the only alcohol giant pretending to be concerned with global health while selling health-destroying products. The Carlsberg Foundation, one of the world's leading brewery groups,23 created UNLEASH for young people working on "solutions to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals."24 It also works with government groups, says the Lancet commentary.25
More Deception From Alcohol Beverage Manufacturers
How have alcohol beverage makers been able to minimize the considerable cancer links to their products? According to Drug and Alcohol Review:26
"Three main industry strategies were identified: (i) denial/omission: denying, omitting or disputing the evidence that alcohol consumption increases cancer risk; (ii) distortion: mentioning cancer, but misrepresenting the risk; and (iii) distraction: focusing discussion away from the independent effects of alcohol on common cancers …
These activities have parallels with those of the tobacco industry. This finding is important because the industry is involved in developing alcohol policy in many countries, and in disseminating health information to the public, including schoolchildren."
At least one partnership between government and the alcohol industry was flagged as a conflict of interest. In 2018, Heineken, the world's second biggest brewer, and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria announced a partnership to tackle infectious diseases in Africa. But, according to a Lancet editorial:27
"The proposed partnership is a clear conflict of interest, offering the alcohol industry — already keen to tap into emerging markets such as in Africa — an opportunity to divert attention from the harms of its products, while also lending it an air of responsibility with policy makers and attracting further visibility and brand recognition."
Other public health groups such as the NCD (noncommunicable disease) Alliance concurred.28
"'We have made it clear from the outset that we believe that the Global Fund´s partnership with an alcohol company such as Heineken is incompatible on the grounds of public health,' said Katie Dain, CEO of the NCD Alliance.
'It is unacceptable that a company whose core business is based on promoting products and choices that are of detriment to people´s health and wellbeing, should be seen as a viable partner by an organization like the Global Fund that is charged with bettering the health of so many millions of people around the world.'"
The partnership was suspended in 2018, not due to public health concerns but, rather, amid allegations that Heineken’s use of female beer promoters was sexually exploitative and unhealthy.29
Other Alcohol Conflicts of Interest Exist
Public health organizations have seen the value in taxing tobacco and sugar-sweetened beverages because of the clear harm they do. Yet alcohol taxes and control strategies lag behind, says the Lancet. For example:30
"Bloomberg Philanthropies, a worldwide leader in tobacco control, convened a high-level task force with former heads of state and finance ministers to consider fiscal policies for health.
The philanthropic organization recognized that alcohol taxes were underused, and, if implemented, could indirectly save up to 22 million lives over the next 50 years. Yet, Bloomberg Philanthropies has not devoted resources to alcohol control programs."
Moreover, some research-based charities like the U.K.-based Wellcome Trust actually invest in alcohol beverage makers, says the Lancet commentary.31
"The Wellcome Trust, which announced a major commitment of £200 million to transform research and treatment for mental health, has also invested £171 million in Anheuser-Busch InBev as of 2017.
No global health charity has allocated substantial resources or prioritized investment in alcohol control, despite the fact that this neglected issue needs leadership."
We have long seen how junk food manufacturers like Coca-Cola have skewed research about the health effects of their products and tried to form partnerships that made them look health conscious. It is no surprise that alcoholic beverage makers would sink to the same dirty tricks. It’s important to take their messages with a grain of salt.
COVID-19, the novel coronavirus identified in Wuhan City, China, in December 2019, is part of a family of viruses with a crown- or halo-like (corona) appearance.1 As explained on the Virginia Department of Health website, seven human coronaviruses have currently been identified:2
• Types 229E, NL63, OC43 and KHU1 are quite common and cause mild to moderate respiratory infections such as the common cold.
• SARS-CoV (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus), discovered in China in 2002, spread to 26 countries3 before disappearing in 2003. No SARS cases have been reported since 2004, anywhere in the world. As the name implies, SARS-CoV is associated with severe respiratory illness4 and had a mortality rate of approximately 10%.5
• MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus), discovered in 2012, originated in Saudi Arabia and spread to 27 countries before being contained. Like SARS, MERS causes more severe respiratory infections than the four common coronaviruses and has a mortality rate of about 35%.6
• SARS COV-2 (initially called 2019-nCoV) has, since December 2019, spread to 127 countries and regions.7 While causing milder symptoms than SARS, and having a far lower mortality rate than either SARS or MERS, its infection rate appears far more accelerated.
There may be several reasons for this. According to preliminary findings, SARS COV-2 can remain airborne for three hours, and can survive on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for up to three days, thus facilitating its spread.8
Bioweapons expert Francis Boyle also believes SARS COV-2 has been weaponized with so-called "gain of function" properties that allow it to spread through the air up to 7 feet, which is greater than normal.
SARS COV-2 appears to affect a disproportionate number of older people; the older you are, the greater your susceptibility.9 At present, the mortality rate for SARS COV-2 is estimated to be between 3% and 6%.10
Due to it being an enveloped virus (meaning its single-strand RNA is enveloped in a bubble of lipid or fatty molecules), COVID-19 (as all other coronaviruses) is highly susceptible to soap and disinfectants, which is good news. Some disinfectants are more effective than others, however, which is the focus of this article.
While there are many chemical disinfectants, I'll focus on those that are most readily available for home use. You can learn more about other disinfectants and sterilizing agents used in health care settings on the CDC's Chemical Disinfectants for Infection Control webpage.11
Alcohol-based disinfectants will contain either ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol at various levels of strength (50% or greater). While alcohol primarily kills bacteria, it also has potent fungicidal and viricidal activity at concentrations above 60%.12
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,13 the microbial action of alcohol is thought to be due to its ability to denature proteins. Straight ethyl alcohol is less bactericidal than alcohol mixed with water, as the presence of water allows proteins to be denatured more rapidly.
When it comes to viruses, different alcohols are more or less effective depending on the type of virus in question.
- Ethyl alcohol — Provided the concentration is higher than 60%, ethyl alcohol effectively inactivates lipophilic viruses such as influenza viruses, coronaviruses and many (but not all) hydrophilic viruses
- Isopropyl alcohol — While killing lipid viruses such as coronavirus, isopropyl alcohol is ineffective against nonlipid enteroviruses
If using an alcohol-based disinfectant to inactivate and protect against coronaviruses on surfaces around your home, make sure it contains between 60% and 80% alcohol. According to the World Health Organization:14
"Alcohol solutions containing 60–80% alcohol are most effective, with higher concentrations being less potent. This paradox results from the fact that proteins are not denatured easily in the absence of water …"
What's more, while alcohol-based disinfectants are highly effective against gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, they can be more or less effective against viruses, depending on the type of virus.
They're quite ineffective against nonenveloped (nonlipophilic) viruses, but tend to work better against enveloped viruses,15,16 which is what SARS COV-2 is. Keep in mind that for hand sanitation, soap and warm water is the most effective. Only use alcohol-based hand sanitizers if soap and water are unavailable.
Chlorine disinfectants such as household bleach, which typically contains 5.25% to 6.15% sodium hypochlorite, have broad antimicrobial activity and effectively kills bacteria, fungi and viruses, including influenza viruses.17,18 It has several major biological drawbacks, however. For example, bleach:19
• Can irritate your mucus membranes
• Decomposes, forming deadly gasses, when exposed to heat or light
• Can damage some household surfaces
• Can be highly reactive if mixed with other chemicals. Never mix bleach with another product as deadly gasses can form, and make sure you have good ventilation in the area. Examples of common household cleaning agents that should never be mixed with bleach to avoid serious injury or death include:
◦ Bleach and vinegar — forms highly irritating chlorine gas
◦ Bleach and ammonia — forms toxic chloramine gas
◦ Bleach and rubbing alcohol — forms highly toxic chloroform gas
• Decomposes over time, so buy recently produced stock and avoid overstocking
Also make sure you dilute bleach with cold water, as hot water will inactivate it, rendering it ineffective for sterilization.20 Ideally, use mask and gloves when using bleach. You should also dilute it before using. "Infection Prevention and Control of Epidemic- and Pandemic-Prone Acute Respiratory Infections in Health Care" recommends diluting bleach containing 5% sodium hypochlorite to 0.05% before using.21
Hydrogen Peroxide and Accelerated Hydrogen Peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide has the ability to kill or inactivate bacteria, viruses, spores, yeast and fungi. A list of brand name sterilants and disinfectants cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that contain 1% to 7.5% hydrogen peroxide can be found on the FDA's website.22 As explained by the CDC:23
"Hydrogen peroxide works by producing destructive hydroxyl free radicals that can attack membrane lipids, DNA, and other essential cell components.
Catalase, produced by aerobic organisms and facultative anaerobes that possess cytochrome systems, can protect cells from metabolically produced hydrogen peroxide by degrading hydrogen peroxide to water and oxygen. This defense is overwhelmed by the concentrations used for disinfection."
Commercially available 3% hydrogen peroxide is stable and effective for disinfecting a wide variety of surfaces. Contrary to bleach, hydrogen peroxide is molecularly very similar to water — it just has an additional oxygen atom — so it doesn't produce any dangerous compounds when breaking down. Its inherent safety (provided you don't drink it) makes it an excellent choice for home sanitation.
An even better alternative is accelerated hydrogen peroxide (AHP), sold under the brand name Rescue and some others. Compared to pharmaceutical grade 3% hydrogen peroxide, AHP works much faster, so you don't need to wet the surface for as long. AHP can kill viruses in as little as 30 seconds.24 According to Solutions Designed for Health Care:25
"AHP® is composed of hydrogen peroxide, surface acting agents (surfactants), wetting agents (a substance that reduces the surface tension of a liquid, causing the liquid to spread across or penetrate more easily the surface of a solid) and chelating agents (a substance that helps to reduce metal content and/or hardness of water).
The ingredients are all listed on the EPA and Health Canada Inerts lists and the FDA Generally Regarded as Safe List (GRAS). All chemicals used in the formulation of AHP® are commonly found in commercial and industrial cleaners and disinfectants."
According to Virox Technologies Inc. (a manufacturer of AHP), Health Canada named AHP the surface disinfectant of choice for health care facilities during the 2003 SARS outbreaks.26 Overall, AHP appears to be one of the best and safest broad-spectrum viricidals available.
Malt Vinegar and Plain Soap Both Work
Another common household staple that can be used to disinfect viruses is 10% malt vinegar (made from malted barley grain, which is also used to make beer; a second fermentation turns the ale into vinegar27).
As noted in the 2010 article, "Effectiveness of Common Household Cleaning Agents in Reducing the Viability of Human Influenza A/H1N1," published in PLOS ONE:28
"Our findings indicate that it is possible to use common, low-technology agents such as 1% bleach, 10% malt vinegar, or 0.01% washing-up liquid to rapidly and completely inactivate influenza virus.
Thus, in the context of the ongoing pandemic, and especially in low-resource settings, the public does not need to source specialized cleaning products, but can rapidly disinfect potentially contaminated surfaces with agents readily available in most homes …
The addition of any of 1% bleach, 50% and 10% malt vinegar and 1%, 0.1% and 0.01% washing up liquid were all effective at rapidly reducing viable virus below the limit of detection, while a low concentration of vinegar (1%) was no more effective than hot water alone …
While a strong oxidizing agent such as bleach is effective at reducing both genome detection and virus infectivity, low pH and detergent are equally efficacious virucidal agents. These results also indicate that whilst vinegar and detergent disrupt the viral envelope proteins reducing infectivity, only bleach disrupts the viral genome."
White Vinegar Is Not a Good Disinfectant
While 10% malt vinegar appears to be effective enough as a viral disinfectant, distilled white vinegar with an ascetic acid range of 4% to 8% is a rather poor choice, according to Talk CLEAN to Me, a blog by experts in chemical disinfection for infection prevention:29
"… the various organic acid disinfectants … typically lack a broad spectrum of kill compared to higher level disinfectants such as bleach and hydrogen peroxide … You may be thinking 'Hey, wait! Vinegar and acetic acid have been used for hundreds of years as methods of disinfection and sanitization.'
However, it is important to note that these only show strength against relatively easy to kill organisms such as pseudomonas. There is no current data that concludes that organic acids bolster a broad spectrum of kill."
How to Safely Use Vinegar With Hydrogen Peroxide
In short, white vinegar has a low speed of disinfection (you'd have to leave it on for at least 10 minutes), and kills only the most easily destroyed microbes. That said, you could boost the effectiveness of white vinegar by using it in combination with hydrogen peroxide.
An important caveat here is that you must use them separately and not mixed together, as the chemical reaction will form a highly corrosive and unstable form of peracetic acid. A recipe by Susan Sumner, associate dean of College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, is offered by Cleaning Business Today:30
- Pour 3% hydrogen peroxide into one spray bottle and distilled white vinegar (5% ascetic acid) into a second bottle. Do NOT mix together in one bottle as they will create an unstable and highly corrosive form of peracetic acid
- Clean the surface with soap and water. Dry with clean cloth or paper towel
- Spray the surface with either the hydrogen peroxide or the vinegar. The order does not matter; just don't spray them on at the same time as when mixed they will create an unstable form of peracetic acid
- Let it set for at least five minutes before wiping off with a clean cloth or paper towel
- Repeat with the second bottle
Clean First, Disinfect After
If your aim is to disinfect and sterilize, keep in mind that you need to clean the surface first. Soap and water is likely one of the best alternatives here, as the soap will effectively inactivate viruses.
Once the surface is clean of dirt and sticky grime, spray you chosen disinfectant on the surface and let it set for up to several minutes before wiping. The time required will depend on the disinfectant you use.
The question of where and how to give birth is a relatively new one for women. Up until the early 20th century, fewer than 5% of women gave birth in a hospital. In the 1950s the birth of a baby, an event that had once been a family affair and attended by a midwife, became more medicalized.1
Pregnancy and birth were seen more as a sickness than a natural part of life. One mom described the birth of her first child in the 1960s as occurring without pain medication, with minimal interaction from medical staff and a forced two-week hospital stay.2
Dads began attending births in the 1970s and by the 1990s childbirth was swinging back toward being a natural part of life. More women are now offered choices that are respectful of their wishes, without repeating the horror stories of past generations. This is an important factor in the future health of mother, child and family as recognized by the World Health Organization.3
The outcome not only affects the mother but may also be important in the development of the mother’s and child's relationship and mom’s future childbearing experiences. Researchers have found that a woman's positive and negative perceptions of birth are related more to her ability to control the situation and have a choice in her options, than specific details.
Low-Risk Home Birth as Safe as Hospital Birth
Evidence doesn’t back the long-held belief that low-risk deliveries are better served in the hospital where medical intervention may be used to speed delivery.
The safety debate surrounding home births is not a new one. Nearly 11 years ago data showed when a home birth was planned by a woman with a low-risk pregnancy and attended by a midwife, there were:4
" … very low and comparable rates of perinatal death and reduced rates of obstetric interventions and other adverse perinatal outcomes compared with planned hospital birth attended by a midwife or physician."
In 2008 the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) published a statement in opposition to home births, writing that “Choosing to deliver a baby at home, however, is to place the process of giving birth over the goal of having a healthy baby.”5
Despite evidence to the contrary, their statement published nearly 10 years later did not change: In 2017 they recommended women be informed of the risks, specifically that there are a lower number of risks to the woman but a higher rate of perinatal deaths.6
In another study of 530,000 births in the Netherlands,7 researchers found no differences in the rate of death in mother or baby between those born at home or in a hospital. The study was sparked by the suggestion that the high rate of infant mortality may be due to the high number of home births. The review of medical records did not bear out the hypothesis. Professor Simone Buitendijk commented to the BBC:8
"We found that for low-risk mothers at the start of their labour it is just as safe to deliver at home with a midwife as it is in hospital with a midwife. These results should strengthen policies that encourage low-risk women at the onset of labour to choose their own place of birth."
Safety Data Positive With Well-Educated Midwives
It should be noted data were published long before the 2017 policy statement from ACOG mentioned above. In 2014, a review of 16,924 home births recorded between 2004 and 2009 were examined. Researchers noted the rise of home births by 41% from 2004 to 2010, writing there is a9 “need for accurate assessment of the safety of planned home birth.”
The scientists found that of the participants who planned a home birth, 89.1% did in fact do so. Most of the transfers to the hospital during labor were for failure to progress. However, 93.6% went on to have a spontaneous vaginal delivery, and 86% of infants were breastfeeding exclusively by 6 weeks of age. The overwhelming majority — 87% — of 1,054 who attempted a vaginal delivery after cesarean section at home were successful.
Researchers recently conducted an international meta-analysis to evaluate the safety of home and hospital births with the primary outcome measurement of any perinatal or neonatal death. They chose 14 studies including approximately 500,000 intended home births attended by a midwife.10
The information was pulled from outcomes from eight Western countries, including the U.S., in studies published since 1990.11 What they found fit many of the previous studies:12 "The risk of perinatal or neonatal mortality was not different when birth was intended at home or in hospital." Eileen Hutton from McMaster University, one of the researchers, commented:13
"More women in well-resourced countries are choosing birth at home, but concerns have persisted about their safety. This research clearly demonstrates the risk is no different when the birth is intended to be at home or in hospital."
Conditions Best Addressed at the Hospital
Of course, there are high risk pregnancies better served inside a hospital environment. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, factors that potentially create a high-risk pregnancy include existing health conditions and lifestyle choices. While this list is not all-inclusive, these are factors your midwife or doctor will consider as you discuss your birth plan. Some include:14
High blood pressure — If this is the only risk factor and blood pressure is only slightly elevated, it may not be enough to stop a home delivery plan. However, uncontrolled blood pressure is dangerous to mother and baby.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) — PCOS can increase the risk of gestational diabetes, cesarean section, preeclampsia and pregnancy loss before 20 weeks.
Diabetes — Moms who have diabetes are more likely to have babies that are larger than most; their babies may also have low blood sugar after being born.
Kidney disease — Depending upon the extent of the disease, it may impact fertility and the ability to carry a pregnancy to term. Nearly 20% of women with preeclampsia during pregnancy go on to be diagnosed with kidney disease.
Autoimmune disease — Medications used to treat autoimmune diseases may be harmful to the baby; such conditions also increase risks of pregnancy and delivery.
Thyroid disease — Uncontrolled disease may increase stress on the baby and cause poor weight gain, heart failure or problems with brain development.
Obesity — Obesity before becoming pregnant is associated with high risk and poor outcomes, including large for gestational age babies, difficult birth and a risk for heart defects.
Age — Teens and first-time moms over 35 fall into high-risk categories.
Lifestyle factors — Alcohol, tobacco and drug use increase the risks to mom and baby during the pregnancy and delivery.
Pregnancy conditions — Women carrying multiples, who have had a previous premature birth or who have gestational diabetes, preeclampsia or eclampsia are at high risk.
Comparing the Risks of Home and Hospital Births
The decision to give birth at home or in a hospital is a personal one. While ACOG claims the hospital is the safest place, research evidence shows low-risk pregnancies delivered at home or in a hospital with a qualified midwife have the same risks and outcome potential. Just as important are the risks for low-risk women who give birth inside a hospital setting.
For instance, while a home birth rarely if ever includes the use of drugs or interventions to speed delivery, many women who are hospitalized may receive Pitocin, a synthetic form of oxytocin. The drug is used to induce labor or start contractions and it may be used to intensify labor contractions to speed the process.
However, the use of the medication must be balanced against outcomes, such as a higher rate of analgesia and cesarean section,15 both of which affect mother and baby. In any pregnancy, oxytocin may also increase the risk of fever in the woman, low pH values in the umbilical cord and a shorter first stage of labor.16
Data from the CDC show the rate of cesarean sections in 2018 were 31.9% of all births.17 However, this includes a number of cesarean sections considered medically unnecessary. The rate for Nulliparous, Term, Singleton, Vertex (NTSV) Cesarean Birth Rate is 25.9%.18
This means that of all the women who had a cesarean section, 25.9% were having their first baby, beyond 39 weeks gestation and carrying one child who presented normally, in the vertex position with the head down.19
Having had a first cesarean section nearly guarantees the following births will also be a cesarean section as the repeat rate is 86.7%.20 As explained by the American Pregnancy Association, cesarean section introduces multiple risks for mother and baby. For the mother, these include infection, hemorrhaging, injuries, lengthy stays in the hospital and emotional reactions as well as those related to medicine.
Moms can also have adhesions, or scar tissue that causes a blockage in the stomach area. Babies can have a low birth weight, a low APGAR score, breathing difficulties and even injuries.21
Type of Birth Influences Future Health
As you likely know, the gut microbiome is an intricate living foundation for your immune system that plays a role in your risk of chronic disease, weight management and how well your body absorbs nutrition. As you may imagine, during a vaginal birth a baby's microbiome is first “seeded” and developed.
During the process a baby is passed the mother's microbiome, which is why it's so important for the woman to have a healthy gut before, during and after pregnancy. The makeup of the mother's gut will influence how the baby's microbiome grows.
A cesarean section bypasses this important step, which may be compounded by bottle feeding, a lifetime of processed foods and an overuse of antibiotics. These factors all have led to a steep loss of biodiversity in the human gut making many vulnerable to disease. Skin-to-skin contact after birth and breastfeeding are two ways to pass along a healthy microbiome if you've had a cesarean section.
For more information about how to more effectively help seed your baby's gut microbiome see "How the Method of Birth Can Influence Lifelong Health."
Scientists at the National Institutes of Health are working with a biotech company to quickly start clinical trials of an experimental messenger RNA vaccine and fast track it to licensure.1 The FDA has not yet licensed messenger RNA vaccines that use part of the RNA of a virus to manipulate the body’s immune system into stimulating a potent immune response.2,3
It looks like the coronavirus vaccine will be the first genetically engineered messenger RNA vaccine to be fast tracked to licensure, just like Gardasil was the first genetically engineered virus-like particle vaccine to be fast tracked to licensure.4,5
There likely will be lots of questions about whether the fast-tracked coronavirus vaccine was studied long enough to adequately demonstrate safety, especially for people who have trouble resolving strong inflammatory responses in their bodies and may be at greater risk for vaccine reactions.6,7,8,9,10
However, there is no question about what will happen if the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)11,12 recommends that all Americans get the newly licensed coronavirus vaccine.
The government has a national vaccine plan. It is a plan designed to make sure you, your child and everyone in America gets every dose of every vaccine that government officials recommend now and in the future.
1986 to 1996: Establishing and Creating the Plan
Established under the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act during the Reagan Administration,13 the plan didn’t really get traction until Congress funded the Vaccines for Children program in 1993 under the Clinton administration14,15 and gave the Department of Health and Human Services authority to fund a network of state-based electronic vaccine tracking registries16 that can monitor the vaccination histories of children without the informed consent of their parents.
In 1995, then Secretary of Health Donna Shalala used rule-making authority to authorize the Social Security Administration to disclose the Social Security number of every baby born in the country to state governments without parental consent.17
Federal officials explained that “public health program uses of the Social Security numbers would include, but are not limited to, establishing immunization registries” and that new routine use of Social Security numbers would help the government operate “a national network of coordinated statewide immunization registries.”18
By 1996, when Congress established a national Electronic Health Records (EHR) system under HIPPA,19 the stage had been set for a government-operated electronic surveillance system to monitor the personal medical records and vaccination status of all Americans.20,21,22,23
The justification for this big data grab by the government, which clearly violated the privacy of Americans, was to “protect the public by reducing disease.”
Nationwide Electronic Health Records and Vaccine Tracking
Today, the nationwide federally funded Electronic Health Records system captures the details of every visit you make to a doctor’s office, hospital, pharmacy, laboratory or other medical facility; every medical diagnosis you get; every drug you have been prescribed and every vaccine you accept or refuse.
Your Electronic Health Record can be accessed not only by government health agencies like the Social Security Administration, Medicaid and federal and state health and law enforcement agencies,24,25 but also can be shared with authorized third parties such as doctors, health insurance companies, HMOs and other corporations, hospitals, labs, nursing homes and medical researchers.26,27,28
A new Health Information Exchange29,30,31 initiative funded by the government will make it even easier for computerized health and vaccine records databases to tag, track down and sanction Americans who do not go along with the National Vaccine Plan in the future.32,33,34,35,36,37,38
What Happened to the Duty to Prevent Adverse Reactions?
Ironically, when Congress directed the Department of Health and Human Services to create the National Vaccine Program in the 1986 Act, federal health officials were told to put together a plan to “achieve optimal prevention of human infectious diseases through immunization and to achieve optimal prevention against adverse reactions to vaccines.”39
The plan was not supposed to focus solely on vaccine development and promotion but to equally focus on preventing vaccine reactions. Yet, in the very first 1994 National Vaccine Plan only four out of 25 “objectives” and only two out of 14 anticipated “outcomes” addressed preventing vaccine reactions.40
The 2010 version of the Plan41 also largely ignored the legal duty of HHS to conduct vaccine safety research to fill in long standing knowledge gaps and take steps to make vaccines and vaccine policies less likely to cause harm.42,43,44,45,46,47,48,49,50,51,52
Looking back, it appears Congress was not really committed to funding research and creating substantive initiatives to reduce vaccine risks, regardless of what was stated in the 1986 Act, or there would been congressional oversight and federal agencies would have been directed to follow the law rather than ignore it for more than 30 years.53
Government’s Vaccine Marketing Plan for Big Pharma
Instead, government agencies have brazenly forged lucrative public private business partnerships with the pharmaceutical industry and the medical establishment to:
- Develop many new vaccines54,55,56,57
- Increase public demand for vaccines58
- Raise vaccination rates among children to nearly 100%59
- Create and expand electronic vaccine tracking registries60,61,62,63,64
- Promote global vaccination programs,65,66 even though the primary purpose of the 1986 Act was to reduce vaccine reactions and protect the U.S. childhood vaccine supply,67 not fund and expand global vaccination programs
In fact, federal health officials accurately characterize the U.S. vaccination system in the 21st century as a business. A decade ago they admitted that “The 2010 National Vaccine Plan provides a vision for the U.S. vaccine and immunization enterprise for the next decade.”68
That’s because they know the National Vaccine Plan is really a Vaccine Marketing Plan for the pharmaceutical industry.69,70,71,72
So, if you are wondering why many states are trying to pass laws eliminating all vaccine exemptions and mandate every vaccine the pharmaceutical industry produces and the CDC recommends,73,74,75,76 you don’t have to look any further than the government’s well-financed National Vaccine Plan.
Implementation of the Plan Accelerated in 2011
Implementation of the Plan was accelerated in 2011 after the U.S. Supreme Court declared FDA licensed vaccines to be “unavoidably unsafe” for the purpose of removing almost all remaining liability from drug companies when vaccines hurt people.77,78
Since 2011, two powerful CDC-appointed vaccine advisory committees influenced by members associated with the pharmaceutical and medical trade industries — the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)79,80,81,82,83 and the National Vaccine Advisory Committee (NVAC)84,85,86 — have been busy coming up with new ways to meet strategic goals of the National Vaccine Plan.
When highly publicized cases of measles were reported in California’s Disneyland in 201587 and in New York in 2019,88,89 with military precision pursuit of the plan was kicked into even high gear.90,91 During the past five years, California, Vermont, New York, Maine and Hawaii have lost vaccine exemptions, even though tens of thousands of Americans rose up in protest.92
In 2019, the people managed to hold on to exemptions in Oregon, Arizona and New Jersey93 but this year, bills to force vaccine use are already threatening parental, civil and human rights in Virginia, Massachusetts, Florida, Washington, Pennsylvania and more.94
Five Main Types of Vaccine Laws Being Proposed in States
These are the five main types of laws being proposed in the states and your state may be one of them:
1. State laws that eliminate all personal belief vaccine exemptions allowing you to follow your conscience or religious beliefs and make it illegal for physicians to grant a medical exemption unless it strictly conforms to very narrow CDC-approved contraindications to vaccination.
National vaccine coverage rates among school children are at 95% for core vaccines like polio, pertussis, measles and chickenpox, yet, government health officials are not satisfied.95 They have narrowed vaccine contraindications so that almost no medical history or health condition qualifies as a reason for a medical exemption.96
If you or your child have had previous vaccine reactions, are vaccine injured, have a brother or sister who was injured or died after vaccination, or are suffering with a brain or immune system disorder that the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) does not consider to be a contraindication to vaccination, states like California97,98 denying physicians the right to exercise professional judgment and give children a medical exemption to vaccination are threatening human rights.99
No wonder less than 1% of vaccine reactions are ever reported to the federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System100 and doctors feel free to discriminate against and deny medical care to anyone who is not vaccinated according to CDC schedules.101
Laws that eliminate medical, religious and conscience exemptions to vaccination and ban citizens from getting a school education — even a college education — violate civil and human rights and so do vaccine mandates by employers who fire or refuse to hire workers based on their vaccination status.102,103,104
The two professions being targeted first for workplace vaccine mandates are health care105,106,107 and child care workers,108,109 but they certainly will not be the last.110
2. State laws that turn unelected members of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices into de facto lawmakers and automatically mandate all current and future federally recommended vaccines without any public discussion or vote by duly elected state legislators.
Under the U.S. Constitution, state legislatures hold the majority of power to pass public health laws, so vaccine laws are state laws.111,112
If states hand that constitutional authority over to an unelected federal government committee, the people no longer can work through their elected state representatives to make sure laws do not force involuntary medical risk taking and punish citizens exercising civil and human rights.113
It is clear that Pharma and medical trade lobbyists partnering with government officials to implement the National Vaccine Plan are unhappy they have to spend so much time and money trying to strong arm state legislators into mandating every CDC recommended vaccine.
At the same time, some politicians are not happy that a growing number of Americans are showing up in state Capitols to oppose oppressive vaccine mandates. Today, it costs a staggering $3,000 to give a child every one of the 69 doses of 16 vaccines on the federal government’s schedule.114
In addition to coronavirus vaccine, there are more than a dozen experimental vaccines being fast tracked to market for TB, influenza, HIV/AIDS, gonorrhea, herpes simplex, strep A and B, E. coli, RSV, salmonella and malaria,115 with several hundred more being developed in a global vaccine market estimated to balloon to nearly $100 billion by 2026.116,117
State laws that automatically mandate all federally recommended vaccines are handing Big Pharma a big blank check and putting an unknown number of vaccine vulnerable children and adults at risk for serious health problems if they are forced to use every one of them.118,119,120,121,122
3. State laws that allow doctors to declare minor children mentally competent to consent to vaccination so children can be vaccinated without the knowledge of their parents.
There is plenty of scientific evidence that children’s brains are not developed enough before or during teenage years to support rational benefit and risk decision-making, especially if they are subjected to pressure.123,124
Giving doctors the legal authority to, in effect, go behind parents’ backs and persuade a minor child to get liability-free vaccines violates the legal right of parents to consent to medical interventions performed on their children.125 It also puts vaccine vulnerable children at greater risk for suffering reactions.126
Parents know their child’s personal and family medical history best and if parents are left in the dark, not only are they blocked from preventing vaccine reactions but there is no way for them to monitor a child after vaccination for signs of reactions so they can immediately take their child for treatment.127
4. State laws requiring schools to publicly post vaccine coverage rates for the purpose of shaming schools that allow students with vaccine exemptions to receive a school education.
Publicly posting school vaccination rates and numbers of students with exemptions creates a hostile community environment by targeting certain schools and families, whose children have vaccine exemptions, for discrimination and abuse.128,129,130
It is an illusion that some schools are safer based on vaccination rates. For example, even schools with 100% vaccination rates and zero exemptions have had outbreaks of pertussis131 and schools with very high vaccination rates have had outbreaks of measles and mumps.132,133
That is because vaccinated children and adults can get infected with and transmit infectious diseases but sometimes show few or no symptoms and are never diagnosed or reported.134,135,136,137,138,139,140 Children and teachers interact with many other vaccinated and unvaccinated people outside of the school setting.
It is discriminatory to require public posting of the numbers of healthy students with vaccine exemptions, when schools are not required to publicly post the numbers of students who are infected with transmissible diseases like hepatitis B and C, HIV, streptococcal, mononucleosis, cytomegalovirus, E. coli, Fifths disease, herpes simplex and more.
5. State laws that operate vaccine tracking registries and integrate them into Electronic Health Records systems without the consent of those being tracked.
The National Vaccine Information Center has a two-decade public record of opposing the creation of national or state based electronic surveillance systems that automatically enroll children and adults without their informed consent to monitor their vaccination status and health histories.141
Not only have there been past security breaches with electronic databases dumping personally identifying information into the public domain,142 but there is legitimate concern that the government should not be conducting electronic surveillance on citizens while pursuing a National Vaccine Plan that encourages punitive societal sanctions, such as the inability to get a school education or a job, for individuals who refuse to go along with the Plan.
Federal and State Police Powers to Compel Vaccine Use
For more information on the history and types of public health laws that allow the federal government and states to use police powers to compel vaccine use, go to NVIC’s website at NVIC.org.
To learn more about vaccine legislation pending in your state and talking points you can use to educate your legislators, go to NVIC Advocacy.org and become a user of NVIC’s free online Advocacy Portal.
You will be put into direct contact with your own state and federal representatives and sent emails when bills that threaten or expand your freedom to make voluntary vaccine choices are moving in your state so you can make your voice heard, including showing up at scheduled public hearings.
Making Government Work for You
In America, we are governed by laws that the representatives we elect make, so it is important to vet all candidates for positions on issues you care about before going to the polls.
Already this year, there have been more than 50 good bills introduced in a number of states that defend voluntary vaccine choices. This is a time for positive action. It’s your health. Your family. Your choice.
Bananas are one of the world’s most popular fruits, with 114 million tons produced globally in 2017.1 While there are more than 1,000 varieties of bananas, most commercialized bananas sold in U.S. and European grocery stores are the Cavendish type. This variety accounts for about 47% of global banana production.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Cavendish bananas are more resilient to the effects of global travel, making them popular for international trade. Further, they achieve high yields per hectare and are less prone to damage from storms due to their short stems. Cavendish plants are also valued for their ability to recover quickly from natural disasters.2
Taken together, Cavendish bananas may see like the perfect fruit, but there’s a downside to the lack of diversity that comes from widespread production of just one variety of banana: it’s incredibly prone to diseases and has even been said to be at risk of extinction.3
While genetic engineering has been touted as the only way to save the banana, the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) has announced the development of a new, 100% organic, disease-resistant banana that’s non-GMO and coming to commercial markets in March 2020.
New Non-GMO Banana Is Naturally Disease Resistant
CIRAD launched an initiative to diversify bananas in order to impart natural disease resistance. The new variety, called Pointe d’Or, was developed through crossing in partnership with the banana industry in Guadeloupe and Martinique and the Tropical Technical Institute, and was selectively bred to be resistant to black Sigatoka, a leaf-spot disease caused by the fungus Mycosphaerella fijiensis.
The disease ravages banana leaves, reducing photosynthetic capability and yields.4 CIRAD explained in a press release:5
“Currently, just one variety of dessert banana is grown throughout the world for the export market: the Cavendish. But this variety is particularly sensitive to some diseases, such as black Sigatoka, which is present in many production areas, including the French West Indies, and has so far required phytosanitary treatments.
To combat this disease, several actions have been undertaken in partnership with the French West Indian sector, including the creation of a resistant variety … ”
Pointe d’Or, which was previously called Number 925, is naturally resistant to black Sigatoka and was described by CIRAD as a “triumph of research, since past attempts to create new varieties of banana by different international teams have ended in failure.” The new banana variety is entering a commercial testing phase in metropolitan France and was introduced commercially in early March 2020 in the Ile-de-France region.
“This is an opportunity for consumers to obtain a new organic product that meets their expectations in terms of health and environment,” CIRAD noted. Frédéric Salmon, a geneticist and plant breeder at CIRAD in Guadeloupe, added:6
“The natural resistance of the Pointe d’Or to black Sigatoka, which now affects all production zones throughout the world, is a considerable advantage since it avoids the need for any phytosanitary treatments against this fungus and paves the way for organic banana production in the French West Indies.”
There are now 35 hectares (86.5 acres) of Pointe d’Or bananas being grown in Guadeloupe and Martinique, and between 1,000 and 1,200 tons are expected to be produced in 2020.
In addition to Pointe d’Or, the CIRAD partnership has also undertaken additional actions to combat black Sigatoka disease in bananas, including developing an agro-ecological cropping system that integrates prophylaxis and biological control methods.7
Panama Disease Triggering Race for GMO Banana
While black Sigatoka is susceptible to fungicides, another fungal threat also exists for bananas. Panama disease, i.e., Fusarium wilt, is also ravaging bananas, prompting calls that only genetic engineering can save them. In August 2019, the Colombian government confirmed that a new outbreak of Panama disease caused by the strain Tropical Race 4, or TR4, had emerged.8
This is especially problematic considering that growers in this part of the globe are major contributors to the world's banana supply. This situation has created a race to genetically engineer a fruit to withstand the fungus, although this problem has been seen before.
In fact, the Gros Michel was the first banana variety sold in the U.S., but it disappeared due to the TR1 fungus. The Cavendish was introduced next, in part because it was resistant to TR1, but it’s vulnerable to TR4. Researchers have not yet found any fungicide capable of killing the fungus and have determined it is able to live in the soil for up to 30 years.
Using breeding methods to modify the Cavendish is not possible, as the variety is sterile and propagated only by cloning. Now, several teams are employing genetic alterations to save the banana crop, using the gene editing tool CRISPR, which comes with its own set of problems.
However, with the introduction of Pointe d’Or, it’s now been shown that disease-resistant bananas can be created without the use of genetic engineering and even without the need for fungal treatments.
Eric de Lucy, president of The Union of Banana Producer Groups of Guadeloupe and Martinique, said during a press conference, “What we are experiencing is a global revolution in the history of the banana. This banana is unique in the world. It is quite an adventure and I am personally emotional about the fact that we developed such an exceptional product.”9
The Pointe d’Or banana, by the way, is said to have a smoother flavor than the Cavendish, with a taste that stays longer in your mouth. And while it’s also said to be more fragile and prone to browning than the durable Cavendish, stores are already training their employees about careful handling and signs will educate consumers about the differences.
“The Pointe d’Or is not the same banana. It doesn’t behave the same, it is not grown or packaged in the same way,” Tino Dambas, a Pointe d’Or producer based in Guadeloupe, told Fresh Plaza — and that’s precisely the point.10
Greater Diversity, Not GMOs, Will Save Bananas
It’s important to reiterate that Pointe d’Or is organic and non-GMO, suggesting that the decadeslong rhetoric that only genetic engineering can save the banana from extinction is wrong.11 What’s more, as far back as 2003, when media reports were warning that bananas could be extinct within 10 years, FAO noted that greater genetic diversity in commercial bananas was necessary:12
“The Cavendish banana is a ‘dessert type’ banana that is cultivated mostly by the large-scale banana companies for international trade … Virtually all commercially important plantations grow this single genotype.
Its vulnerability is inevitable and not unexpected. The Cavendish's predecessor, the Gros Michel, suffered the same fate at the hands of fungal diseases, so this is a warning that we may need to find a replacement for the Cavendish banana in the future.”
At the time, FAO noted that small-scale farmers had maintained a broad genetic pool that could be used to improve future banana crops. In calling for the development of more diversity in banana crops, particularly for export bananas, they noted that while the development of resistant bananas would also be important, this did not necessarily mean the use of transgenics.
Further, back in 2003, they called for the promotion of awareness of the “inevitable consequences of a narrow genetic base in crops and the need for a broader genetic base for commercial bananas.”13 If this advice had been heeded then, bananas would be in a much better place today.
Promote Diversity — Try Something Besides Cavendish
It’s possible that your only reference point of a banana is the Cavendish — a variety that’s known more for durability during travel than taste. In fact, the Cavendish is said to be mild and mushy, not necessarily tasty, which means you could be in for a treat when it comes to trying one of the many other banana varieties available. These include:14,15,16
Cooking bananas — Sold green, these are almost considered potato-like and can be roasted or steamed like a starchy vegetable.
Red — This one wins the "most delicious" prize most often in the U.S. and is similar to a Philippine staple variety known as Lacatan. Sweet and creamy, this one has a dark magenta shade with dark streaks, and bruises easily.
Churro — Like a squatty version of the Cavendish, these are sometimes marketed as "chunky bananas." Grown in Mexico and found in Latin American markets in the U.S., they taste best very ripe for sweetness with a hint of sour.
Pisang Raja — Also known as Musa Belle bananas, these are popular in Indonesia and often used to make banana fritters.
Plantain — Dryer and not as sweet as the Cavendish, these are often used as an entrée food rather than a dessert. They're cooked so often in the tropics where they're grown that some aren't aware they can be eaten raw.
Manzano — Native to Central and South America, it's often sold in Asian specialty stores and is actually a subspecies of apple bananas; it's firmer than a Cavendish with a strong tart apple aroma that quickly turns sweet.
Lady Fingers — Smaller and sweeter than the longer, milder Cavendish, these 5- to 6-inch treats are good for portion control, especially for kids. They can even be grown in a pot.
Baby — A small variety, these are marketed with different names; Chiquita markets it as the Pisang Mas, from Malaysia. Dole has two types: Orito and Ladyfinger, the latter being the sweetest. The skins are brown with dark streaks when ripe.
Pisang lemak manis — Aka 40-day bananas, they mature quickly, have green, tapered tips when they're unripe and are suitable both fresh and cooked.
Pisang rastali or kesat — This variety is just 4 to 6 inches long and sturdy, with reddish black mottled skin, jelly-like flesh and an apple-like acidity.
Ae Ae — One of the most visually interesting varieties, their peels are green, white and variegated; they can be eaten raw or cooked, and are usually more expensive.
Praying hands — This is one of the oddest-looking types, especially in a bunch. It's very fat with a creamy texture; the flavor is very sweet-tart and fruit-like.
Pitogo — Definitely an odd-looking variety, these look more like a fig than a banana, grow on 10- to 12-foot high plants in tight clusters, and are more flavorful and nutritious than the Cavendish.
Pisang merah — Plump and rather small, these are mild and creamy, blacken only slightly and are quite soft when ripe.
As for nutrition, bananas are an excellent source of vitamin B6, with plenty of dietary fiber and potassium, manganese, vitamin C, biotin and copper. They’re quite high in sugar, however, which is why they should be eaten only in moderation or even unripe, when they contain higher amounts of digestive-resistant starch, which can benefit your gut health.
Safety testing for vaccines typically leaves much to be desired to begin with, but when it comes to fast-tracked pandemic vaccines, safety testing is accelerated and becomes even more inadequate. It looks like that will be the case with plans underway to fast-track a COVID-19 vaccine to market.
As reported by STAT News,1 researchers are foregoing some of the normally required safety testing in order to get a genetically engineered coronavirus vaccine out in record time. What’s more, at least one vaccine manufacturer is relying on an entirely novel technique to produce their coronavirus vaccine in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, while by-passing traditional animal testing before conducting human clinical trials. STAT News reports:2
“‘I don’t think proving this in an animal model is on the critical path to getting this to a clinical trial,’ said Tal Zaks, chief medical officer at Moderna, a Cambridge, Mass.-based biotech that has produced a Covid-19 vaccine candidate at record speed …
Yet ethicists aren’t so sure that the eventual benefits of rushing this unproven vaccine into clinical trials will outweigh the risks. ‘Outbreaks and national emergencies often create pressure to suspend rights, standards and/or normal rules of ethical conduct.
Often our decision to do so seems unwise in retrospect,’ wrote Jonathan Kimmelman, director of McGill University’s biomedical ethics unit, in an email to STAT.
The question is complicated by the newness of the science at play. The technology that has allowed Moderna to craft an experimental vaccine so fast has not yielded a single immunization that’s made it to market so far.
It’s a trendy idea: Instead of injecting people with a weakened pathogen or proteins from the surface of a pathogen, so that our bodies will learn to fight off such infections in the future, scientists are betting on a kind of genetic hack, a lab-made concoction that gets the body to produce its own virus-like bits which it will then train itself to combat.”
Fear Surrounding Pandemics Makes for Good Testing Grounds
Ethical questions really should be in the forefront of everyone’s mind, considering pandemic hysteria can easily make people take risks they normally might never consider.
Right now, the British company hVIVO,3 which conducts influenza research, is offering healthy volunteers £3,500 (approximately $4,500) in exchange for being infected with a mild coronavirus (strains 0C43 and 229E specifically), both of which cause milder symptoms than COVID-19 and have been in circulation for quite some time.4,5
Infected volunteers will receive antiviral medications and undergo testing in the hopes of finding something that will assist researchers in developing a vaccine against COVID-19. Moderna, however, is using a technology to develop a vaccine that has never been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Moderna is using synthetic messenger RNA (mRNA) to instruct DNA to produce the same kind of proteins COVID-19 uses to gain access into our cells. As reported by STAT News, the idea is that “Once those … dummy virus particles are there … our bodies will learn to recognize and clobber the real thing.”
Moderna is partnering with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and started recruiting healthy volunteers March 3, 2020.6 In all, 45 men and non-pregnant women between the ages of 18 and 55 will be paid $1,100 to receive two injections of the vaccine, 28 days apart.
The side effects at three different dosages will be evaluated. These clinical trials are taking place before there’s any scientific evidence that the vaccine actually works as intended and doesn’t cause severe side effects in animals.
Considering COVID-19 infection has a high survival rate, with 80% suffering asymptomatic or only mild illness,7 is it really wise to use this outbreak as a testing ground for experimental, untested vaccine manufacturing methods?
Mice Don’t Respond to COVID-19 the Way Humans Do
According to the NIAID, an animal trial using conventionally bred mice also began March 3, 2020, with supposedly promising results. The problem is, regular mice do not have the same susceptibility to the virus as humans,8 so testing on regular mice is unreliable and may cause a false sense of security if this type of animal is used to prove safety and effectiveness.
During the SARS epidemic 15 years ago, mice engineered to be susceptible to that virus were developed, but once the SARS epidemic and related research died down, most of the colonies were destroyed.
Researchers are now working on breeding new litters of these SARS susceptible mice, but that takes time, and Moderna isn’t waiting. Even so, the fact that phase 1 human trials are starting before animal testing has been completed does not mean there will be a vaccine available for the general public any time soon.
STAT News points out it will likely be at least one year before a COVID-19 vaccine would be released for use by the public. Still, that’s a significantly shorter wait time than the 15 to 20 years it normally takes to bring an experimental vaccine to market.
“Moderna itself acknowledges that the task is daunting, and this effort might not succeed,” STAT News writes.9 “‘We have not previously tested our rapid response capability and may be unable to produce a vaccine that successfully treats the virus in a timely manner, if at all,’ the company wrote in a document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
What the company doesn’t say is that it has not yet brought a single product to market, even in non-emergency times. The majority of candidate vaccines fail.
If against all odds, this rushed project does work out, then the company needs to be extra careful about monitoring what happens to those people who get it, said Arthur Caplan, head of medical ethics at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine. ‘The more you speed it up … the greater the obligation you have to track what’s going on when you get it out into the real world.’”
Fast-Tracking Vaccines Is Risky Business
Fast-tracking vaccine development has considerable risks. It might be ineffective (which is typically the case for the seasonal influenza vaccine), or it might cause serious side effects (as was the case with the fast-tracked 2009-2010 H1N1 swine flu vaccine), or it just might worsen infection rather than prevent it. As reported by Reuters:10
“Studies have suggested that coronavirus vaccines carry the risk of what is known as vaccine enhancement, where instead of protecting against infection, the vaccine can actually make the disease worse when a vaccinated person is infected with the virus.
The mechanism that causes that risk is not fully understood and is one of the stumbling blocks that has prevented the successful development of a coronavirus vaccine.
Normally, researchers would take months to test for the possibility of vaccine enhancement in animals. Given the urgency to stem the spread of the new coronavirus, some drugmakers are moving straight into small-scale human tests, without waiting for the completion of such animal tests.
‘I understand the importance of accelerating timelines for vaccines in general, but from everything I know, this is not the vaccine to be doing it with,’ Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told Reuters.”
Coming from a staunch pro-mandatory vaccination propagandist like Hotez, that’s really saying something. The possibility of vaccine-induced immune enhancement became evident during the development and testing of a SARS vaccine.
As reported by Reuters, some vaccinated animals got sicker than unvaccinated animals when exposed to the virus. A more reliable way to determine whether this might be a risk for a COVID-19 vaccine is to use an appropriate animal model during the trials, before the vaccine is given to humans.
Fast-Tracked Swine Flu Vaccine Caused Serious Harm to Youths
One excellent example of what can go wrong when a vaccine is fast-tracked is that of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine released in Europe during the swine flu pandemic of 2009-2010. As reported by WebMD,11 in July 2009, the U.S. National Biodefense Safety Board unanimously decided to forego most safety and efficacy tests to get the vaccine out by September of that year.
Europe also accelerated its approval process, allowing manufacturers to skip large-scale human trials12 — a decision that turned out to have tragic consequences13 for an untold number of children and teens across Europe.
Over the next few years, the ASO3-adjuvanted swine flu vaccine Pandemrix (used in Europe but not in the U.S. during 2009-2010) was causally linked14 to childhood narcolepsy, which abruptly skyrocketed in several countries.15,16
Children and teens in Finland,17 the UK18 and Sweden19 were among the hardest hit. Further analyses discerned a rise in narcolepsy among adults who received the vaccine as well, although the link wasn’t as obvious as that in children and adolescents.20
A 2019 study21 reports finding a “novel association between Pandemrix-associated narcolepsy and the non-coding RNA gene GDNF-AS1” — a gene thought to regulate the production of glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor or GDNF, a protein that plays an important role in neuronal survival.
They also confirmed a strong association between vaccine-induced narcolepsy and a certain haplotype, suggesting “variation in genes related to immunity and neuronal survival may interact to increase the susceptibility to Pandemrix-induced narcolepsy in certain individuals.”
The fact that health authorities seem to have conveniently forgotten this travesty is shocking, considering it was only a decade ago. Do we really want to conduct the same kind of global mass experiment for a relatively mild disease again?
If there were an outbreak of a disease where death was rapid and horrifying, and the lethality high, such as with a hemorrhagic fever virus like Ebola, where the mortality rate can be as high as 50 percent, many people would be willing to risk even lifelong side effects from a fast-tracked vaccine.
But that’s not what we’re facing with COVID-19. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “the immediate health risk from COVID-19 is considered low.”22 Nor was the H1N1 outbreak a “global killer.”
Yet here we are, facing yet another (potentially mandatory?) fast-tracked vaccine for a disease that will likely have run its course by the time the vaccine comes out. Have we really learned nothing from the Pandemrix debacle?
Flu Immunization May Increase Risk of Coronavirus Infection
A study23 in the January 10, 2020, issue of the Vaccine journal also offers food for thought. As noted in this study, “Influenza Vaccination and Respiratory Virus Interference Among Department of Defense Personnel During the 2017-2018 Influenza Season”:
“Receiving influenza vaccination may increase the risk of other respiratory viruses, a phenomenon known as virus interference. Test-negative study designs are often utilized to calculate influenza vaccine effectiveness.
The virus interference phenomenon goes against the basic assumption of the test-negative vaccine effectiveness study that vaccination does not change the risk of infection with other respiratory illness, thus potentially biasing vaccine effectiveness results in the positive direction.
This study aimed to investigate virus interference by comparing respiratory virus status among Department of Defense personnel based on their influenza vaccination status. Furthermore, individual respiratory viruses and their association with influenza vaccination were examined.”
Results were mixed. Interestingly enough, while seasonal influenza vaccination did not raise the risk of all respiratory infections, it was in fact “significantly associated with coronavirus and human metapneumovirus” (hMPV). Those who had received a seasonal flu shot were 36% more likely to contract coronavirus infection and 51% more likely to contract hMPV infection than unvaccinated individuals.24
Looking at the symptoms list for hMPV25 is telling, as the main symptoms include fever, sore throat and cough. The elderly and immunocompromised are at heightened risk for severe hMPV illness, the symptoms of which include difficulty breathing and pneumonia. All of these symptoms also apply for COVID-19.
Recommended Infection Prevention Strategies
Based on the evidence, the odds of creating a safe-for-all vaccine without rigorous long-term studies are slim to none. Some people are bound to get hurt, which is why it doesn’t make sense to rush a vaccine unless the disease is severe and has a high death rate.
Time will tell what the outcome here will be. At present, health authorities recommend using the following strategies to minimize the spread of infection:26
- Frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. For further details, see “The Impact of Effective Handwashing Against Infection”
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- If you need to cough, cough into your flexed elbow or disposable tissue. Discard the tissue in a trash can and wash your hands
- If feeling unwell, stay home and avoid public spaces
If you have symptoms of illness such as coughing or sneezing, be sure to wear a surgical mask to contain the spread whenever you’re around others. For additional details about the use of surgical or N95 respiratory masks, see “Will Wearing a Mask Protect You Against Coronavirus?”
With the novel coronavirus COVID-19 spreading across the world at a rapid clip, health authorities are stressing the importance of frequent hand-washing. Indeed, strategic hand-washing is one of the simplest yet most effective ways to reduce the spread of the virus and your own risk of illness.
Airport Hand Hygiene Can Significantly Reduce Pandemic Risks
As noted in a December 2019 study1 in the Risk Analysis journal, which investigated the spread patterns of flu-type viruses, intercontinental flights allow infectious pathogens to spread like wildfire.
Aside from the speed of which an infected person can travel from one country to the next, the risk of spreading pandemic disease is exacerbated when traveling by air for the simple reason that airplanes crowd large groups of people together in a confined space with scarce opportunities for proper hygiene.
Were people to more frequently wash their hands during travel, the risk of pandemic infection could be significantly reduced — by as much as 69% according to this study — which is nothing to sneeze at. As explained by the authors:2
"Here, we use epidemiological modeling and data-driven simulations to elucidate the role of individual engagement with hand hygiene inside airports in conjunction with human travel on the global spread of epidemics.
We find that, by increasing travelers' engagement with hand hygiene at all airports, a potential pandemic can be inhibited by 24% to 69%.
In addition, we identify 10 airports at the core of a cost-optimal deployment of the hand-washing mitigation strategy. Increasing hand-washing rate at only those 10 influential locations, the risk of a pandemic could potentially drop by up to 37%.
Our results provide evidence for the effectiveness of hand hygiene in airports on the global spread of infections that could shape the way public-health policy is implemented with respect to the overall objective of mitigating potential population health crises."
The most germ-ridden surfaces frequently touched by passengers at airports and inside aircraft include self-service check-in screens, gate bench armrests, railings, water fountain buttons, door handles, seats, tray tables and bathroom handles. The 10 key airports with the greatest infection spread rate, according to this study, are:
LHR — London Heathrow
LAX — Los Angeles International
JFK — John F. Kennedy International
CDG — Paris-Charles de Gaulle
DXB — Dubai International
FRA — Frankfurt International
HKG — Hong Kong International
PEK — Beijing Capital International
SFO — San Francisco International
AMS — Amsterdam Airport Schiphol
Face-Touching Is a Vector for Disease Transmission
If you think your hands are clean simply because they look and feel clean, it's time to rethink. Viruses and bacteria are microscopic, and there's absolutely no way to ascertain whether your hands are germ-free. The assumption needs to be that they're not.
Frequently washing your hands during influenza season and other pandemic outbreaks is a crucial safety measure, in part because most people touch their face an average of 23 times per hour.3
As noted in the American Journal of Infection Control,4 habituated face-touching behavior is a vector for self-inoculation and transmission of infectious diseases. In other words, each time you touch your face, you run the risk of introducing disease-causing pathogens into your body as they transfer from your hands to your face. According to this study:5
"On average, each of the 26 observed students touched their face 23 times per hour. Of all face touches, 44% involved contact with a mucous membrane, whereas 56% of contacts involved nonmucosal areas. Of mucous membrane touches observed, 36% involved the mouth, 31% involved the nose, 27% involved the eyes, and 6% were a combination of these regions."
The take-home message here is that mouth, nose and eye touching is a common, and largely unconscious, behavior by which infectious diseases are spread. The remedy for this behavior is to make sure you wash your hands on a regular basis, and especially after certain activities, such as:
- Anytime you visit a health care facility — Before entering a patient's room and before leaving the premises, be sure to wash your hands. An estimated 1 in 4 patients also leave the hospital with a superbug on their hands, suggesting patients also need to become more mindful about hand-washing when in a health care setting6
- Directly before you eat
- After you've used the restroom, and after each diaper change
- Before and after caring for someone who is ill, and/or treating a cut or wound
When out in public, the opportunities for picking up germs on your hands are incalculable. Door knobs, door and cart handles, counters, railings, airport security bins — every conceivable surface has the potential for contamination.
Get Into the Habit of Cleaning Your Cellphone Too
Cellphones, by the way, are another significant vector of infectious disease. Even if you wash your hands frequently, as soon as you touch your cellphone you've contaminated your hands again and can deposit those germs on everything you touch.7
So, getting into the habit of regularly cleaning your cellphone would be in your best interest too. For instructions on how to safely sanitize your cellphone, see the video above.
PC Magazine suggests using alcohol-containing lens wipes, typically used for cleaning camera lenses. Also, remember to wipe down the case of your phone, and pay attention to the back if you use a fingerprint reader to unlock your phone.
Proper Hand-Washing Technique
Now, even people who wash their hands on a regular basis may not do it correctly, thus missing an important opportunity to quell the spread of germs. To make sure you're actually removing the germs when you wash your hands, follow these guidelines:
- Use warm water
- Use a mild soap
- Work up a good lather, all the way up to your wrists, for at least 20 seconds
- Make sure you cover all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and around and below your fingernails
- Rinse thoroughly under running water
- Dry your hands with a clean towel or let them air dry
- In public places, use a paper towel to open the door as a protection from germs that the handles may harbor
Why Soap Is Most Effective Against Viruses
You also want to make sure you're using the most effective products. Contrary to popular belief, antibacterial soap is NOT ideal for killing disease-causing viruses on your hands. Like antibiotics, antibacterial soap only affects bacteria, not viruses.
Even for bacteria, research has demonstrated that antibacterial soap provides no additional benefit over nonantibacterial soap. As noted in a 2007 systematic review8 published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases:
"The lack of an additional health benefit associated with the use of triclosan-containing consumer soaps over regular soap, coupled with laboratory data demonstrating a potential risk of selecting for drug resistance, warrants further evaluation by governmental regulators regarding antibacterial product claims and advertising."
When it comes to viruses, regular soap works the best. As detailed in a series of Twitter posts9 by professor Palli Thordarson,10 who specializes in bio-mimetic, supramolecular and biophysical chemistry and nanomedicine, soap very effectively kills the COVID-19 virus, "and indeed most viruses."
The reason for this is because the virus is "a self-assembled nanoparticle in which the weakest link is the lipid (fatty) bilayer." Soap dissolves this fat membrane, causing the virus to fall apart, thus rendering it harmless. Not even alcohol is as effective for inactivating viruses, although it may be more practical for using surfaces other than your hands and body.
Soap Mechanics 101
A soap molecule is suited for mixing oil and water as it shares qualities of each. Soap molecules are amphipathic,11 meaning they have both polar and nonpolar properties, giving them the ability to dissolve most kinds of molecules.
As noted by Thordarson, the amphiphiles (fat-like substances) in soap are "structurally very similar to the lipids in the virus membrane," so "soap molecules 'compete' with the lipids in the virus membrane." In short, the soap dissolves the "glue" that holds the virus together.
The alkalinity of soap also creates an electric charge that makes the soap hydrophilic (water-loving).12 Hydrogen atoms in water molecules have a slightly positive charge, so when you wet your hands and then use soap, this molecule will readily bond with the nearest water molecule. Hence, when you wash your hands under running water, the now deconstructed virus is easily washed away. The New York Times explains the process this way:13
"When you wash your hands with soap and water, you surround any microorganisms on your skin with soap molecules.
The hydrophobic tails of the free-floating soap molecules attempt to evade water; in the process, they wedge themselves into the lipid envelopes of certain microbes and viruses, prying them apart.
'They act like crowbars and destabilize the whole system,' said Prof. Pall Thordarson, acting head of chemistry at the University of New South Wales. Essential proteins spill from the ruptured membranes into the surrounding water, killing the bacteria and rendering the viruses useless."
Using Alcohol-Based Disinfectants
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing your hands with soap and water. Only when soap and water are unavailable are alcohol-based hand sanitizers recommended. As noted on the CDC website:14
"Many studies have found that sanitizers with an alcohol concentration between 60–95% are more effective at killing germs than those with a lower alcohol concentration or non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
Hand sanitizers without 60-95% alcohol 1) may not work equally well for many types of germs; and 2) merely reduce the growth of germs rather than kill them outright.
When using hand sanitizer, apply the product to the palm of one hand (read the label to learn the correct amount) and rub the product all over the surfaces of your hands until your hands are dry."
As noted by Thordarson, the drawback of ethanol and other alcohols is that they cannot dissolve the lipid membrane holding the virus together. This is precisely why soap and water works best.
That said, a 2017 review15 in the Journal of Hospital Infection found 80% ethanol solutions were "highly effective" against 21 different viruses within 30 seconds, although some viruses (poliovirus type 1, calicivirus, polyomavirus, hepatitis A virus and foot-and-mouth disease virus) were hardier and required a 95% solution.
According to the authors, "The spectrum of virucidal activity of ethanol at 95% … covers the majority of clinically relevant viruses." A hand sanitizer with an alcohol content of at least 60% is also thought to eliminate the COVID-19 virus.16
Just keep in mind that frequent use of alcohol-based products is rough on your skin and can dry it out. This could actually make things worse, as cracked skin renders you more susceptible to infection, as it provides germs a perfect entryway into your body.
Does Bar Soap Harbor Germs?
Another common misconception is that liquid soap is more hygienic than bar soap, since many different hands might touch a single bar of soap. The fear that bar soap may harbor germs is unfounded, however. While occasional studies have documented environmental bacteria on bar soap, no study has demonstrated bar soap to be a source of infection.17
The first rigorous study to look into this question was published in 1965.18 Researchers intentionally contaminated their hands with nearly 5 billion bacteria, including disease-causing strains such as staphylococcus and E. coli.
They then washed their hands with bar soap, after which a second person washed with the same bar of soap. The second person's hands were cultured and researchers found the bacteria were not transferred. The researchers concluded:19
- Bar soaps do not support the growth of bacteria under usage conditions
- Bar soaps are inherently antibacterial by their physical-chemical nature
- The level of bacteria that may occur on bar soap, even under extreme usage conditions (heavy usage or poorly designed nondrainable soap dishes), does not constitute a health hazard
Nearly 20 years later, another study20 (sponsored by a soap manufacturer) confirmed these findings. Here, they inoculated bars of soap with pathogenic bacteria; 16 participants washed their hands with those bars. After washing, none of the participants' hands had detectable levels of bacteria.
According to the researchers,21 "little hazard exists in routine hand-washing with previously used soap bars and support the frequent use of soap and water for hand-washing to prevent the spread of disease."
Towel Dry or Air Dry — Which Is Better?
Many believe using an air dryer is preferable to using a towel when in a public restroom. Surprising as it may seem, air dryers may actually spread far more germs than paper towels.
In the 2017 paper "Cleanliness in Context: Reconciling Hygiene With a Modern Microbial Perspective,"22,23 microbial ecologists at the University of Oregon examine different methods of hand drying, noting that "most research has shown that warm air dryers may increase the number of bacteria on the hands after use." The reason for the increase in bacterial load is thought to be due to:
- Bacteria inside the dryer mechanism being blown out during use
- Bacteria-enriched air being recirculated
- Bacteria found in the deeper layers of skin being liberated when rubbing your hands together beneath the hot air stream
- Some combination of the above
Other research24 found high-speed jet dryers spray 1,300 times more viral material into the surrounding area than paper towels, dispersing the viral load up to 10 feet from the dryer.25,26 A 2012 meta-analysis in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, which looked at a dozen studies, came to a similar conclusion, noting:27
"Most studies suggest that paper towels can dry hands efficiently … and cause less contamination of the washroom environment. From a hygiene viewpoint, paper towels are superior to electric air dryers. Paper towels should be recommended in locations where hygiene is paramount, such as hospitals and clinics."
The take-home message here is that when using a public restroom, you may be better off forgoing the air dryers and using a paper towel instead. Be sure to dispose it properly, in the trash bin, and use a clean paper towel to open the door when exiting.
The drawback of paper towels is the environmental impact. In the video below, Joe Smith of Oregon outlines how you can reduce the amount of paper towels you use, while still getting your hands dry. Two key points: First, shake your hands to eliminate as much water as possible. Next, fold the paper towel to increase absorbency.
Avoid Cloth Towels and Rags During Pandemics
Cloth towels are the least hygienic alternative during influenza season or pandemics, as they have the highest risk of cross-contamination. According to a 2014 University of Arizona study,28 towels may be the most germ-ridden item in your home.
Tests revealed a staggering 89% of kitchen towels and nearly 26% of bathroom towels were contaminated with Coliform bacteria — microbes associated with food poisoning and diarrhea. The primary reason for this is the moisture cloth towels retain, which serves as a perfect breeding ground for germs.
Moist towels and rags are also hospitable places for viruses. As noted in a 2012 study29 in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, cloth rags can easily spread viruses from one surface to another.
So, when sanitizing your home (which is advisable when someone in the household is ill), it's best to use a paper towel. Once the immediate risk of infection has passed, you can go back to using reusable rags for everyday cleaning.
1 Which of the following nutraceuticals is currently being investigated as a potential treatment against COVID-19 infection?
2 Which of the following statements is accurate?
3 How much of the plastic waste created since 1950 has been recycled at least once?
4 According to CDC data, what ratio of U.S. adults has experienced four or more types of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), placing them at increased risk for at least five of the top 10 leading causes of death?
5 Which of the following will allow you to burn more calories during your workout?
6 Which of the following has been shown to adversely influence gut bacteria, such that it promotes obesity and diabetes?
7 Which of the following is a scientifically documented effect of blood flow restriction (BFR) training?
People have relied on honey for centuries for its health benefits and the enjoyment of its taste. Scientists have found that honey has antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus epidermidis, Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Salmonella enterica.1 It has demonstrated activity against antibiotic-sensitive and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.2
It has been used to treat infected wounds, and some researchers have even suggested its use on difficult-to-heal wounds, while being careful to select those that will do well with honey.3 It's also been infused into wound dressings but only recently has evidence been presented to explain honey's effectiveness in health care.
Specifically, Manuka honey has been used in wound care products because of its ability to inhibit bacterial growth and stimulate a local immune response, all while suppressing inflammation.4
When compared to dextromethorphan and diphenhydramine in the treatment of coughs and upper respiratory illnesses, researchers found a 2.5 ml dose of honey before sleep was more effective than either drug.5 However, take care to never give honey to children younger than 1 year as their digestive system can't process some common contaminants, including botulism.
The benefits of using honey externally and internally are significant, but as I've warned in the past, do not use the processed honey you find on the grocery store shelves, as it's often little more than fructose syrup. That honey should never be used on wounds as it may increase your risk of infection.
Manufacturers Latch Onto Honey as Next Great Food Enterprise
With a growing recognition of the health benefits associated with raw honey, sales of the product have grown by over 40% in the past 20 years. In 2018, the Honey Council reported sales had reached 575 million pounds,6 a significant jump from the 350 million pounds sold in 1997.
Yet, the numbers may be artificially low as the council says, "There are reasons to believe that honey consumption is higher because certain arenas of sales are not fully captured in the data." Part of the attraction honey holds is its use as a sugar replacement packed with enzymes and pollen to help reduce allergies.
It's become a growing luxury foodstuff in high demand, which may lead you to believe the price is rising. Yet, as Vice reports,7 the price of honey is falling, in large part due to adulterated "fake" honey that's been processed, heated, diluted with sugar or syrups and then resin-treated to remove contaminants that include unpalatable smells and tastes that would otherwise make it difficult to sell.
Resin treatments remove healthy enzymes in honey. Jim Gawenis, a biochemist and owner of the only honey testing facility in the U.S., uses up-to-date technology at Sweetwater Science. He explains how this process can take Indian gum honey that "tastes and smells like old gym socks," and make it sellable.8
"You can't sell it because nobody wants it. Well, dissolve it in water, run it through this, now you've gone three shades lighter into an amber. You get rid of the malodors, and now you have a sellable honey."
On the other hand, ultrafiltration helps manufacturers hide the country of origin. As Gawenis explains:9
"What they do is they would take, say, a Chinese honey, put it through that filtration, and then dust it with Argentine pollen, mix it up. All of a sudden, you have Argentinian honey."
The production and sale of fraudulent honey is the focus of a series of class action lawsuits filed in 2019 by two Chicago-based lawyers. After testing honey from more than 50 companies they found that 50% to 60% of the product was not pure honey as advertised.
In other words, the honey on the grocery store shelves is not the honey you think you're buying. One group named in the lawsuits was created to protect the industry and has failed miserably.
Self-Regulation Results in Failure
The Inside Hook boils the situation down. On the one hand is a growing market for honey, driven by a market looking for health products. On the other hand, there continues to be a global drop and collapse in bee populations.10 It isn't logical that a rising demand and supply could be supported by a collapsing bee population.
That is, unless the honey you're buying isn't all the honey it's cracked up to be. True Source Honey is the industry certification organization founded in 2010 when Chinese honey appeared on the U.S. market after tariffs were imposed. The executive director of True Source Honey, Gordon Marks, explained to Vice:11
"This circumvented and mislabeled honey was being shipped into the United States at well below world market price, undercutting fair market pricing. Thus the need for an origin-based certification body to certify that the declared country of origin is in fact true."
Marks qualified the organization's intent, saying they address where the honey originates and not the quality of the product. But their website says differently:12
"Other honey is found to contain added syrups or sweetener extenders that are not made by bees in the hive. As with any food, when you're not sure of the origin, you can't be sure of the quality.
True Source Certification ensures that honey is truthfully labeled as to its origin, that there is a transparent record of the honey's sources, back to the hive. Honey has earned a special place in people's hearts and minds as a wholesome, natural food."
Beekeepers and Packagers Fear Retribution
In dozens of conversations with beekeepers, honey importers and packers, Vice reporter Shayla Love learned that True Source is being used as a shield to provide adulterated and "fake" honey without repercussions. They spoke anonymously in fear of retribution in a market that is slowly losing profitability.
Importers knew they were buying adulterated honey since the prices were lower than market value. The group said the certification agency existed in name only and not practice. But most wouldn't speak openly fearing they wouldn't be able to buy or sell honey. One importer was quoted in Vice, saying:13
"Sophisticated and large scale adulteration has thus been able to make a mockery of the honey industry's feigned attempt at 'self-policing' through True Source."
Kent Heitzinger is one of the Chicago attorneys involved in the lawsuits. He and his partner have tested many of the certified products. Love wrote this about their conversation:14
"One honey they tested was so fermented from all the excess water added to dilute it 'that in my opinion, you couldn't sell this to a minor because there's so much alcohol it would be illegal,' Heitzinger said."
Deceit Goes Deep in the Honey Industry
As of the publication of the Vice article, there have been several lawsuits filed by Heitzinger and his partner. Several companies, including Kroger, True Source Honey and Strange Honey Farms have filed court motions to dismiss the claims that the honey has been heated and sugars have been added.
The companies are scrambling to find arguments to dispute the allegations. Nature Nate's claims their honey is "gently warmed" and not heated, while Kroger alleges there is no consensus on the meaning of "raw." The Nashville distributor for Strange Honey Farm took another step in a press release indicating the Illinois Bar Association (IBA) was investigating complaints against the attorneys.
However, Love found the IBA doesn't regulate these matters and the regulatory agency that does handle them has no record of discipline or pending proceedings. In other words, it wasn't the truth.
In an effort to get to the truth herself, Love sent four bottles of honey for testing to Gawenis and QSI lab in Germany. Both labs used nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMR) to image the honey and test for 36 different components. The results were compared to a database of samples used to identify the country of origin.
Gawenis first tests the scent of the honey. Next, he observes the viscosity or thickness of the product. Pure honey is thick and sticky. Currently Sweetwater Science is the only lab in the U.S. utilizing NMR technology to test honey. At the time of the article, Gawenis estimated he was testing less than 1% of all the honey packaged and sold in the U.S.
However, when True Source Honey was asked if they use NMR testing in their audits, they said they did. Gawenis is confident in his ability to test all honey passing through customs to date, estimating there would be a minimal additional charge per pound to the honey sold.
After testing, Gawenis found the Strange Farm honey labeled from Tennessee was from Vietnam, Whole Foods honey had been heated and the Busy Bee brand honey appeared to have been resin treated, which confused test results. The only honey that tested just as it was labeled was the Great Value honey from Walmart.
In addition to originating from Vietnam, QSI lab classified the Strange Farm honey as "… basically syrup with a pinch of honey." After reaching out to Strange Farm, Love was told "random testing from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture in May of 2019 did not find added sugar."
However, the department said no samples were collected during their safety inspection. Hagen wrote to Love in an email, saying:15
"These are not simple times. There are legal challenges and climate challenges that we have not experience[d] before and have no explanation for. We are not the criminals in this story, we are just attempting to raise bees and sell honey and support our families. Now I have to go stand in the cold to sell honey at a farmers market."
Multiple Reasons Hives Collapse, Affect Food Supply
Hiatt Honey, in business for over 50 years, lost half their hive a year ago.16 In the 2018-2019 winter season scientists recorded a 37.7% loss in bee population,17 and in the 2015-2016 winter season the loss was a record 44.2%.18
Just a few weeks after the Honeybee Colonies survey report was released, the Trump administration stopped collecting data in order to save money. The last survey completed by the governmental agency showed nearly half of all managed bee colonies had been lost in the past winter.19
Devastating to the environment, the loss of these pollinators is also affecting crop production. Commercial beekeepers live a nomadic life, traveling with their bees to pollinate crops. For eight months each year Hiatt hoofs his 10,000 hives to California and then sends them to his brothers in Washington, all at a cost of $3.50 each mile.
His bees are responsible for pollinating almonds in California, the largest almond producing state in the world20 and apples in Washington. Each time the bees are moved it costs $250,000.21
Losses to the hives likely have multiple factors, including the use of pesticides such as neonicotinoids and glyphosate. Most soybeans, corn and other GE crop seeds are coated with neonics that travel through the plant system and kill the insects that feed on the pollen, roots and leaves.22
Test Your Honey at Home
Instead of grocery store honey, seek your liquid gold from local producers at farmers markets. Since honey doesn't ever expire — even after opening23 — it's safe to purchase enough in the summer to last until the following spring. It also pays to know how to test your honey at home.
You may not have access to NMR testing, but there are precautions you can take to help determine if the honey you're buying is honey. These are some of the physical properties you may test at home:24
Scent — Your first test is the aroma coming from the jar, which should be reminiscent of the flowers and grasses the bees collect pollen from; industrial honey has an industrial smell.
Thickness — The movement should be slow and dense. Place a droplet on your thumb. If it starts to spread, the honey is not pure. Dense, pure honey will remain intact.
Taste — When eating pure honey, the taste disappears quickly, but adulterated honey is sugary rich.
Dissolving — When added to water, pure honey will form a lump and stick together, while adulterated honey dissolves. Pure honey will not be absorbed into blotting paper or cloth, but adulterated honey will leave stains as it absorbs.
Sticky — Pure honey is not sticky, even in your hands.
Heat and flame — When heated on the stove, adulterated honey will form bubbles. Try dipping the end of a match in honey and lighting it. If it lights, the honey is likely pure since the added moisture in adulterated honey makes it nearly impossible to light.
Tests — Consider these additional tests:
• Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of vinegar to a glass of water. Add honey and stir well. Adulterated honey will foam.
• Spread on a piece of bread; pure honey will solidify the bread while adulterated honey will make it wet and soft.
• Check for impurities by looking at it through a clear container. Adulterated honey will be clear while pure honey will have particles from pollen or bee parts.