Tag Archives: parasites

Measles: Get A Grip

Mrs. Brady's homegrown vaccination card

Mrs. Brady’s homegrown immunization card – looks like the gang is getting measles!

Oh boy the latest Disneyland measles outbreak is generating some serious name-calling and reprimanding in the newspapers these days and it’s not even limited to the editorials section.

The story is that in January 2015, six people (five unvaccinated) in Southern California came down with measles and they had all been to Disneyland in late December. Since then, the virus has spread to over 100 people. Now there are even 10 cases in Ontario, way up here in Canada and many miles from Disneyland. I guess it really is a small world after all

The way this story is being covered in North America, it sounds like the cause of the outbreak is unvaccinated locals and in particular the parents of unvaccinated children, who are portrayed as selfish, resistant to science and downright stupid.

However the way this story is being covered in Europe is that most likely someone from abroad (Europe, or the Philippines) went to Disneyland and unwittingly spread measles to both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, which is much closer to the truth.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE OLD COUNTRY…

There is currently a slightly larger measles outbreak in Germany, instigated most likely by an influx of unvaccinated Bosnian, Herzegovinian and Serbian refugees – but the Germans have totally got a grip and are not overly concerned about it.

In fact, maybe they are eating ice cream and happily watching translated re-runs of the Brady Bunch episode where the whole gosh darn gang gets measles at the same time! (see link at end of post – you have got to watch this episode to see how completely irrational we have become in the last 40 years).

One thing our media refuses to cover is that some of our unvaccinated people may actually be seeking out measles in order to contract and survive the disease – to give themselves guaranteed lifelong immunity, a stronger immune system, greater resistance to various diseases potentially including some cancers, and if they are women to confer immunity to their newborns until they are at least 6 months old.

However when stories of “measles parties” surfaced in January, they were quickly denied as required in a litigious society like Marin County. Although such a media outcome may have disappointed scores of injury lawyers, it may or may not be true. My guess is that “measles parties” have gone the way of raw milk purchases – something you participate in secretly in the shadows.

MEASLES KILLS! SOME PEOPLE!

Let’s get some things straight: measles can be deadly or cause permanent damage if you are exposed to it when you are in the womb, under the age of one-ish, old-ish and weak-ish, chronically malnourished (that can include you, college kids) or suffering from some other issue like auto-immune disease or anything where your immune system is already compromised, including pregnancy.

And if you look at the people who have died, ever, from measles, you will find that these contributing factors were always involved. It is for these people’s sake that we vaccinate the rest of us, just like it is for the peanut-allergic person’s sake that we don’t eat nuts on planes or schools, and for the disabled person’s sake that our building codes enforce ramps and elevators. It may be irritating that we have to avoid peanuts, spend money on ramps and get a couple dozen immunization shots, but all of those irritations are the cost of living in close quarters and being exposed to globalization.

Most people don’t actually die of measles, they die of pneumonia or encephalitis which can also be brought on by scores of other childhood diseases including the flu, colds, herpes and chicken pox, and also from various mosquito-borne viruses. Famously, the children’s author Roald Dahl tragically lost his daughter to encephalitis after she first contracted measles. He led a compelling pro-vaccination movement in England in the 1960s, spearheaded by a very moving letter which I will link to at the end.

At the time, he was certainly acting on the best recommendations and research available. But we’ve learned a lot since then.

I’m no doctor, but 7 year-old Olivia Dahl’s problem might not have been so much that she contracted measles, but that it progressed to encephalitis which killed her. However, eradicating measles will not eradicate encephilitis, as it can be caused by so many other exposures.

A different measure might be to stop measles from progressing to more complicated and dangerous illnesses by the since-proven method of administering high doses of vitamin A and also starting out with adequate nutritional vitamin A levels (source: PubMed).

MEASLES AS A TEACHER

Measles rashBut let’s get something else straight: if you are healthy and properly nourished, it is actually more beneficial to contract measles between the age of 3 – 10-ish than to never contract it at all.

Measles is yet another essential agent in stimulating and teaching young immune systems how to react to greater threats later in life (mechanism works similarly to benefits from parasites, helminths and germ exposure).

Contracting measles has reversed some cancers and has even eliminated a tumor in only two weeks (source:Nature), and prompted pharmaceutical companies to pursue a super-measles “vaccine” as a cancer therapy, which has been used successfully in those patients who didn’t die from the lab-created super-measles. (source: CNN)

So are “anti-vaxxers” really selfish and stupid? In some ways, for sure. But it’s not black and white like that. There is a sweet spot for not vaccinating your kid, and the risk-reward is different for every disease. Since we’re talking about measles though, let’s start there.

If all the adults in the household have either had measles or are up-to-date on their vaccines, you could consider not vaccinating your children for measles. But ideally you also live in a small community of like-minded people, who are super health-conscious, devoted to biodynamic farming and bioavailable vitamin A, and do not plan on traveling the world or going to the Big City.

In addition, you and your community need to have “measles parties” where you force your 3 – 10 year olds to catch measles together and remain quarantined from the younger kids and the pregnant women and oldies. You also want to make sure that no one in your community has any allergies or other immune compromised issues, or at least keep your quarantine very, very tight.

I have to be very clear here: the point of not vaccinating your kid should only be because you intend for them to catch and survive the wild virus. You can’t not vaccinate and then avoid measles – it will catch up to your kids when they are adults and the complications can be much worse, or lethal. In addition, later in life you could catch measles and be a carrier who then goes on to infect vulnerable people.

There is NO BENEFIT to avoiding the vaccine unless you are determined to catch and survive wild measles in your youth. So if “anti-vaxxers” do not intend to give their children wild measles at the appropriate age, then yes I agree they are stupid.

BUT GETTING MEASLES IS HARD NOWADAYS

However even if you do plan to introduce wild measles to your kids,  the isolation of your idyllic community (hell let’s just call it a commune) means that you might have trouble contracting the disease in the first place.

In that event, you may have to fly a few of your commune’s 3 – 10 year olds to Switzerland for a few weeks, or maybe to EuroDisney if that’s even still around. It’s a lot easier to get measles in Europe, and nearly impossible to find it in North America. However it is also nearly impossible to bring your measles infection home on the airplane while simultaneously following adequate quarantine protocols, so this solution creates a huge risk to other people.

A better compromise might be to get your kids a season pass to Disneyland and tell them to seek out European-looking people presenting with a respiratory infection, until they catch wild measles. For all we know, this is just what the “anti-vaxxers” did.

STILL, MEASLES KILLS!

I have to be very clear on another thing: not every 3 – 10 year old survives wild measles!

Things that will help are super nutrition, especially natural fats and fat soluble vitamins like A and D. In fact at the first indication of measles (respiratory infection with white spots in the mouth), anyone should immediately start taking at least 10,000 IU of retinol (vitamin A) every hour for at least three days but probably for the duration of the disease.

There are also herbal preparations that can curtail the cytokine cascade, like Chinese skullcap, houttuynia, ginger and licorice. (Okay post-collapse in Ontario you would have to settle for local wild solutions like blue cohosh rhizome, the invasive kudzu root and elder berry tincture.)

The other question, are “anti-vaxxers” selfish, requires stepping back a little further. In the small picture, it is certainly selfish to risk exposing the young/old/immune compromised to measles knowing that these sick-prone members of the community can literally die or get compilations like brain damage.

However in the much bigger picture, it’s a different story.

WELCOME TO THE BIG PICTURE

If you subscribe to the idea that we are going to suffer through a collapse event in the next 100 years (or much sooner), then these “anti-vaxxers” who expose their children to wild viruses on purpose are in fact preserving a gene pool of potentially higher resistance to plagues and pestilence, and also passing on a learned immune response to disease. If collapse comes for us, the “anti-vaxxers'” immune systems may be better prepared to survive disease, and you might want to consider breeding with them to ensure the viability of your offspring.

Wait, collapse? All civilizations have collapsed, and those that haven’t are simply in the “yet” category. It doesn’t really matter what the cause is, we have so many potentials to choose from: antibacterial resistance, climate change, resource scarcity leading to increased warfare, ecosystem impoverishment, pandemic resulting from factory farming, robot overlord enslavement, financial and political collapse… whatever! The fact is, all civilizations try to squeeze the most out of the short term that they can, and pretend the bigger picture is never gonna happen.

It doesn’t mean civilization won’t come back again; we always do! But your position on vaccinations has to include whether you are willing to sacrifice your genetic lineage for the short-term right to be a beloved member of polite society’s herd immunity protocols. Since most of us live here, in this polite society, we have made the choice to vaccinate our children.

I’m just begging everyone to stop hating the “anti-vaxxers”; those that survive wild measles and respect quarantine protocols are doing a service for the bigger picture post-apocolyptic scenarios. Systems may be more efficient when there is homogeny, however they are safer and more durable when there is diversity.

The “anti-vaxxers” are that diversity for us, because if they are doing it right, they are catching diseases and developing immunities and then passing those learned responses along to their children. When the next pandemic hits, they will fare better than us and basically inherit the earth.

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF MEASLES?

We are the ebola bats in this case, harboring pestilence! We can successfully live with measles! Although we don’t have any predators or species left who might encroach on us, measles may have helped us deal with encroachment in the past. For example you can spread measles to your pet monkey by coughing on him. Likewise a primate invading your territory could tear your body to bits and feast on your raw, measles-infected flesh and then catch and spread measles to his invading brethren, which would be more virulent in his species than in humans.

And who knows? Maybe an alien army will land on our planet and try to invade us. All we have to do is expose them to our measles and they will drop like flies, having no ability to survive it nor create natural immunity as we do. Alien attack = thwarted!

WHAT YOU CAN DO

If you come down with measles tomorrow and you are not in a particularly high risk group (not pregnant, not auto-immune, not an oldie etc), then there is nothing that a doctor will do for you except advise rest and fluids, and there is nothing a hospital will do for you except give you an IV of sugar water so you don’t get dehydrated.

If your case progresses or you are in a high risk group, you may be treated to pharmaceutical antivirals and anti-inflammatories which should limit the disease. The doctors will probably not ask about or test your vitamin A levels. However here is my quick checklist for a nutritional approach to vitamin A:

  • do you take cod liver oil?
  • do you eat liver or pate at least once a week?
  • do you add generous amounts of grass-fed butter to your diet?
  • if you eat dairy, is it always high fat, grass-fed (organic) versions?
  • do you eat fish and eggs at least a couple times a week?
  • do you always add butter or natural fat to yellow and orange vegetables?
  • do you always add butter or natural fat to green leafy vegetables?

If you can honestly answer yes to most of those bullets, then you are going to coast through measles. If you are missing more than three of those bullets however, then you have probably also noticed that you get sick frequently and have trouble fighting off viruses. In addition, your long term health will suffer.

Low-fat vegetarians in particular are at risk of low levels of vitamin A. There is some dogma that suggests beta-carotene in yellow and orange vegetables, and also in green leafy vegetables, is a good enough pre-cursor to vitamin A. Part of that depends on how the vegetables are prepared (for example, steaming carrots increases the bio-availablility of beta-carotene whereas it is virtually locked up in a raw carrot), but also on whether or not they are consumed along with fat.

Vitamin A is a “fat soluble vitamin”, which means if you consume vegetables high in beta-carotene without fat you are essentially wasting them.

Now let’s say your diet checks out just fine, but now you have measles. The very first thing to do is start taking at least 200,000 IU of vitamin A for at least two days and probably for the duration of your illness. The cheapest and easiest way to administer this mega dose is with synthetic Vitamin A capsules (retinol). I would start with 20,000 IU (two pills) every hour for the first five hours and then reduce to 10,000 IU every hour for the remaining ten or so waking hours. Then I would repeat the next day and every day after that.

Mega-doses of vitamin A prevent the measles virus from replicating. (source: Pubmed) Taking vitamin D, say 6000 IU per day, will help protect you from the mega dose of vitamin A. And taking vitamin C, say another 1000mg every hour, will add antiviral power.

In addition, there were the herbs I mentioned earlier and there are some homeopathic protocols that people rave about.

But these nutritional and herbal additions are not the only interventions you are going to have to make…

QUARANTINE COURTESY

So now let’s take a moment and talk about quarantine. You may know logically that when someone in your household gets sick you are supposed to quarantine them, but chances are you have been playing fast and loose with this rule.

Do you sleep in a separate bed from your spouse when he’s sick? Do you use separate toilets? Good for you if you do, but not everyone lives in a palace with all these extra beds and toilets, so it may not be possible.

My point is that we have become super casual about sickness, as if 4 inches of space and super-high thread-count sheets is enough of a quarantine. Frankly I don’t care if you quarantine during the cold or flu – in fact I prefer if everyone goes for it and gets sick together, has intense symptoms and then recovers with the resulting stronger immune system. Again, this can be a risk if anyone in your household is less than one, pregnant, super old or already compromised. However we should at least understand the basics of quarantine in case a more serious disease emerges in our households.

Fly this Quarantine flag if you want people to leave you alone

Fly this Quarantine flag if you want people to leave you alone

The word quarantine is loosely derived from the Italian “forty days”, which is how long ships had to remain isolated before coming to shore during the various plague, yellow fever, smallpox and cholera years. Sanitation

The town of Leicester in England perfected land-based quarantine in the late 1800s with their “Leicester Method”, which they employed in lieu of mandatory smallpox vaccinations. A doctor would investigate any initial cases, get full reports on travel and whereabouts and then contact each and every potential person who had been exposed, and ask them to voluntarily quarantine.

Quarantine could take place in a hospital or in the person’s home, and it was shown that there were better results by keeping the infected people isolated in their own homes due to segregation and reduced travel.

Further elements of the Leicester Method included thoroughly sanitizing the home, maintaining civic sanitation standards, and burning exposed clothing and bedding when necessary. Quarantines for smallpox lasted 14 days.

QUARANTINE WORKS

Just last year a village of 30,000 people in China was quarantined after a 38 year-old man died of the bubonic plague. Yes, I said the freaking bubonic plague in 2014!  He caught it from an infected marmot that he cut up to feed his dog. No one else was infected, and after about a week the quarantine was lifted.

I think quarantine is an essential skill, and requires far more empathy and courtesy for others than just relying on a vaccine.

THE BC CASE: FIRST GENOTYPING TO DETERMINE MEASLES STRAIN

Consider that in the fall of 2013 in British Columbia, the MMR vaccine itself was at last shown to actually cause measles (source: Eurosurveillance). In most cases where vaccinated children acquire measles, it is assumed that they caught the wild virus and that for some reason their vaccine didn’t take.

However in this case in British Columbia, for the first time genotyping was performed to determine that the infecting measles strain was not wild but from the vaccine itself, and infected the toddler a full 5 weeks after she had been vaccinated.

Obviously this begs the question, should MMR-vaccinated children be self-quarantined for at least 5 or 6 weeks? Is there a way to tell who is and isn’t shedding the virus? Is there a way to tell who is and isn’t susceptible to vaccine-virus shedding?

Could there be more sense in requiring recently vaccinated children to stay home from school and self-quarantine than requiring unvaccinated children to do so? Is there any chance that would ever happen? Of course not.

OUR CRUDE INTERVENTIONS

Vaccines are an awesome idea – I mean there are so many wretched diseases out there that may have been prevented by this invention.

In addition to the many regular vaccinations I have received, I also did a slew of them before an extended trip around Nepal, Thailand and Laos. After all of these various shots, I had no adverse reactions and then proceeded not to catch the diseases I was vaccinated for. From my experience and point of view, vaccines have not been a problem and may have even been a lifesaver, or at least given me the convenience of traveling without catching typhoid, Japanese Encephalitis or yellow fever.

The alternative might have meant being bitten by a Laotian mosquito, catching Yellow Fever, and in the best case recovering after a few days despite a yellow cast of jaundice. Next I might have caught Japanese Encephalitis from a different mosquito living near domestic pigs or herons. In that best case I may have avoided the acute brain swelling which leads to retardation and death, and perhaps started to feel better after 5 days. Only next to catch typhoid from essentially eating bacteria-infected feces in food. This best case scenario would be roughing it out for a few weeks without antibiotics, or for about a week with antibiotics.  So even the best case scenario with catching all of these diseases would have made my trip much more expensive and uncomfortable.

The benefit, if you’ll let me call it that, would have been that then I would have developed real life-long immunity to those diseases and could thereafter travel with much more impunity. Of course, I also could have died of those diseases, which would have sucked harder.

And so because of our profound fear of dying and our nearly as profound fear of being inconvenienced, we have this wonderful invention of vaccines.

But that doesn’t change the fact that our vaccines are just a crude hack on our immune system, and an incomplete, transient and sometimes dangerous hack at that. Vaccines are viruses made benign (attenuated). They aren’t supposed to make you sick, but they are meant to stimulate the humoral immune system just enough that it will create antibodies.

The whole faith in vaccines is based on the idea that synthetically increasing antibodies confers immunity.

DOES IT?

From as long ago as 1974, it was well-documented that antibodies were in fact not required to survive the measles virus – survival was dependent on the “other arm” of the immune system, known as the cell-mediated response. In P.J. Lachmann’s paper “Immunopathology of Measles“, he writes:

“Thus, children with antibody deficiency syndromes (specific deficiencies of the B cell system) have quite unremarkable attacks of measles with the characteristic rash and normal recovery. Furthermore, they are not unduly prone to reinfection. It therefore seems that serum antibody, at any rate in any quantity, is not required for the production of measles rash; nor for the normal recovery from the disease; nor to prevent reinfection. Nevertheless, as has already been discussed, there is no doubt that antibody given passively can provide a perfectly adequate protection against measles infection. Anti-measles antibody thus provides a sufficient but not a necessary mechanism for anti-measles immunity.”

So the measles vaccine works, but it’s not in the usual way the body chooses to create immunity. It is a hack that has been adopted around the world without considering the consequences of ignoring the essential role of cell-mediated immunity, the other arm of the immune system.

This research is ongoing, though more subtly in mice. Recent studies confirm that no antibodies at all are required to confer immunity. While humoral B-cells (which produce antibodies) are essential at fighting off viral infection, it appears they can do it independently of actually producing antibodies.

In other words, maybe the source of “immunity” is further upstream and more complicated than just downstream antibodies. (source: PubMed study on mice bred with B-cells that don’t make antibodies). In addition, many people continue to suffer from diseases despite having been vaccinated for them and having created adequate antibodies against them. (source: PubMed paper on severe tetanus cases in people despite high antibodies against it).

HOW DOES NATURAL IMMUNITY WORK?

To create a lasting and legacy immunity, both arms of the immune system need to be stimulated – the humoral as well as the cell-mediated response – but the most essential one is the cell-mediated response. Cell-mediated immunity is the system of white blood cells that attack pathogens and also create the feelings of sickness inside you – from fevers to rashes to inflammations, and this also has to evolve with every pathogen.

At this point in time, a guaranteed immunity can only be generated by responding to an actual disease. Immunization is a word that specifically means you have cell-mediated immunity to a disease; it is not the same as mere vaccination or introduction of serum antibodies. However the words immunization and vaccination are frequently bandied about the by the government, the media and the CDC as if they are equally powerful actions. They are not even close.

Another day, I will get into what the possible consequences could be of filling people with viral antibodies without teaching their bodies the corresponding cell-mediated response. While the viral antibodies (vaccinations) can prevent specific diseases, they are simultaneously dumbing down the cell-mediated immune system. Now that’s an interesting conversation!

In the meantime, understand that cell-mediated immunity is the kind of immune system you want to pass on to your children, provided you can survive the diseases that teach it.

And that’s a tough lesson, but it should be your takeaway:

Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. 

—————————

FURTHER READING

Why is Germany So Calm About Its Measles Outbreak?” – The Atlantic, February 2015

Is There a Doctor In The House?” – The Brady Bunch episode from early 1970s where the whole family comically succumbs to the measles and is generally treated with ice cream sundaes

Roald Dahl’s moving letter to implore parents to vaccinate their children against measles as a way of preventing the complications of measles.

Vitamin A prevents the measles virus from replicating by up-regulating elements of the innate immune response in uninfected bystander cells.

Read about The Leicester Method of quarantine, which proved more effective against mortality than the early smallpox vaccine.

Bubonic plague kills man in China, and whole town is appropriately quarantined – 2014.

Case report of a 2013 B.C. measles infection caused 37 days after a toddler was given the MMR vaccination, and genotyped to show that her infection was the same strain as the vaccination, and therefore a direct result of the vaccination.

Mice bred with B-cells that don’t make antibodies survive deathly virus despite not having antibodies – are antibodies as essential as we thought?

So many cases like this, but here’s Severe Tetanus in people regardless that they were vaccinated and created strong antibodies.

And finally, please re-read my review of “An Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Auto-Immune Disease” for a recap on how childhood infections with parasites, helminths and germs informs the immune system and prevents auto-immune diseases and allergies later in life.

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Luckily I Had Worms

That’s what my mother keeps telling everyone at cocktail parties. She seems to think that as guests are sipping their Opus One bordeaux and nibbling on canapés that they also want to hear about how I got intestinal pinworms not once, but twice as a child. Their eyes say stop talking, but my mother persists because she really wants everyone to know how lucky I am that I had worms.

In Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases, the author Moises Velasquez-Manoff explains, among other things, that a childhood infection with pinworms can protect you from developing allergies and autoimmune diseases.

SO I SCORED THE BIG ONE!

epidemic of absence

If you have a kid in school right now, you know that peanuts are no longer allowed on the property, that fun-zones have been replaced by nut-free-zones, and that probably a quarter of the kids in your child’s classroom has some kind of allergy to nuts, apples, dairy, wheat, shellfish or all of the above. And you might also remember that in your day, these allergies were extremely rare. And that in your mom’s day, they were completely unheard of. And so you’re probably wondering, like I was, what gives?

A lot of people have jumped on the foods themselves: maybe peanuts are different than they used to be, more prone to aflotoxins and full of concentrated pesticides or genetically modified to some shady degree or other. These factors could all be true, but they don’t explain why some children react to modern peanuts and some children don’t. In Epidemic of Absence, Vlasquez-Manoff attempts to get to the bottom of this discrepancy.

There are probably three ways a person can become allergic to peanuts, for example. The first is if they are introduced to the peanut protein through the skin, in a baby cream let’s say, before the protein is introduced orally. There is a reason babies put everything in their mouths – they are introducing proteins and foreign bodies in the correct order, so that their digestive system can file it away as what it is. When the order of introduction is backwards, the filing goes awry and when a peanut is ingested it will trigger an autoimmune response or allergy. This is why some doctors are now suggesting peanuts should be introduced earlier, not later, to babies and toddlers – revising the introduction time from 2 years to 7 months.

The second way a person can become allergic to peanuts, or anything really, is if their gut lining is compromised and allows proteins to “leak” through the lining into the bloodstream where they act as toxins to both the body and brain. A gut lining becomes compromised when good bacteria is minimized or eradicated by antibiotics or a diet high in carbohydrates or excessive fiber.

The common denominator in allergies and autoimmune diseases is the gut. Not just the health of the gut, the bacterial balance in the gut or the nutritional inputs into the gut – but also the residents of the gut like parasites, helminths and worms. We have co-evolved with these little guys for hundreds of thousands, say millions, of years. And it has only been extremely recently that we decided to get aggressive about expelling them from our guts for good. And yet in every case where well-meaning philanthropic foundations went into poor countries and eradicated their parasites and worms, it only took about five years for autoimmune diseases and allergies to appear for the first time.

I’m not just talking about some gentle sneezing and watery eyes. I mean suddenly children were coming down with multiple sclerosis, type-1 diabetes, lupus, Crohn’s disease and autism in populations that had never seen these diseases before. It’s worth reading Velasquez-Manoff’s book just for the incredible research into these parallels.

His thesis is that when we get a parasite or worm, it wakes up our immune system and forces it to develop. If your immune system doesn’t wake up and strengthen, the parasite will make you very sick and probably kill you (weeding those weak genes from the pool). But for all of those that are up to developing their immune systems and learning to keep their parasites at bay, and to live with a very low level of symptoms, those immune systems are better for it. These parasitically-infested people will live to become adults, reproduce and pass their genes along to the next generation. In a land of parasites and worms, you definitely want those fighter genes, and you want to epigenetically turn them on with your own parasite infestation.

But in a land without parasites and worms, having those fighter genes with nothing to fight leaves them untrained, fidgety and aggressive. Those fighter genes cause your immune system to attack innocent inputs like peanuts, or pollen, or even immunization shots, which will then present as a host of symptoms of autoimmune diseases.

Our autoimmune diseases and allergies are essentially adaptations to parasites that have gone awry in the absence of parasites.

So our third most probable way of developing a simple peanut allergy is by inheriting an immune system that is really well adapted to parasites, but has not been exposed to them. The immune system is hot on the trigger to attack a parasite, but in the absence of parasites, attacks a simple peanut protein.

Now if you are lucky enough to be on “rabbit cage cleaning duty” and the hand sink is really really far away, chances are you might come in contact with some pinworm eggs on the rabbit fur, unknowingly lodge them under your fingernails, chew on them later that night, and finally welcome them into your body. The pinworm eggs travel through the digestive system until they reach the duodenum at the entrance to the small intestine. After about 2 – 8 weeks, the eggs hatch into larvae, which grow rapidly, moult twice and migrate to the colon. The adults mate over the next few weeks. The males die and the females attach themselves to the intestinal wall to feed. When full, the females make their way to the rectum because their growing eggs need oxygen to fully mature. So they start wiggling their way out of your body, and then when you scratch at them, they release their eggs all over you. The eggs can live in virtually any environment for up to 3 weeks. Now you know all about my childhood, and if you catch my mom at cocktails she’ll tell you the rest.

These crawl out your bum

These crawl out your bum

USE IT OR LOSE IT

The thing about the immune system is that it is like a muscle or a brain neuron – if you don’t use it, you lose it. The body is a merciless pruner so that it can provide you with the exact body and mind you essentially order up through environmental inputs. If you are a Polynesian pearl diver from a young age, your eyes will develop the ability to see clearly underwater simply because your repeated actions of diving deep underwater and straining to see have told your body what you need. Our body is miraculous in what it will respond to. But as far as the immune system goes, if you encounter parasites your body will jump to the challenge to develop a stronger support system against the parasite, and eventually to live peacefully with the parasite. We have co-evolved for so long and are so co-dependent with parasites, that not having them is like missing an organ.

Does that mean we all have parasites, even here in the big city in my modern house? Probably we are all living with a very, very low level of pretty benign parasites. Go for a colonic at The Fenomen Clinic in Toronto and Tamara will probably show you a few parasites in your feces. Good times. The traditional perspective of colonic hydrotherapy is that it’s preferable to get rid of your parasites. Now we know better, so let’s bring them on.

REALLY, BRING ON THE PARASITES?

No, not really. I mean, if you are already weak and sick (with something other than autoimmune disease, like cancer or heart disease) or have some other problems, parasites might not be for you. However the author of Epidemic of Absence travels down to Mexico to infect himself with black-market hookworms, in hopes of healing his autoimmune alopecia and allergies. It’s a remarkable story, worth reading for yourself.

My takeaway is that there are definitely some risks involved with purposely exposing an adult immune system to parasites and worms. But that if you don’t mind taking that risk, and potentially feeling like you have the flu for 6 months to a year while worms course through your organs reproducing and feeding – you could be cured to some degree, if not totally. There are a ton of people trying this right now, with mixed results. But you will have to read their individual stories on the internet and decide for yourself. It will be years and years (or never) before any kind of clinical trial comes out on this. It’s not a medicine, after all – this cure is just a naturally occurring parasite which you can basically acquire by walking barefoot in Africa (which is how the black-market hookworms were originally smuggled back to Mexico).

EMBRACE BACTERIA

But my more general takeaway is that we all need to look at bacteria differently. It is who we are. Using anti-bacterial sprays and soaps is like using anti-human sprays and soaps. If they were labelled that way, would you still use them?

We need to be very careful with our use of antibiotics. That means not just avoiding prescriptions whenever possible, but also avoiding factory meat which is loaded with them even if it says it’s not. By law, commercial meat can state that it is “antibiotic-free” if antibiotics haven’t been administered for the two weeks prior to slaughter. That’s not enough, and there are tons of studies showing those antibiotics are still present in our food supply. Not to mention our water supply – full of antibiotics because of the huge doses given to factory animals. Basically you can do us all a favor by rejecting factory farming.

For your children and yourselves, the act of waiting out a fever, cough or cold is actually the work that the body and the immune system need to do to develop. By constantly curing our maladies and nipping them in the bud, we don’t let our immune system learn to do its job. And if we don’t use it, we lose it.

If you have to take antibiotics, at least get your fill of probiotics to replenish your gut. Go for kefir, unsweetened whole fat yoghurts, Bio-K, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and those acidophilus pills. Build yourself back up every way you can.

But let your kids be sick, let them play in dirt and barnyards, let them attend crowded sickly nursery schools, let them be slobbered all over by pets, and let them get pinworms and whatever. I mean, don’t let it get so bad that they end up in the hospital or worse. But lay off on all the worrying and the wiping and the cleaning. Humans evolved rolling around in dirt for the first year of their lives and ingesting crazy amounts of bacteria. Indoor plumbing is still a super new adaptation for us. I’m not saying I want to return to using a chamber pot and dumping it out my window every day, and then walking barefoot in it a few minutes later – but it’s worth recognizing that when we had those low levels of sanitation, autoimmune diseases and allergies were virtually non-existent.

The most important time to be exposed to bacteria, saprophytes, and parasites is probably while you are pregnant, for the sake of your fetus. The next most important time is passing through the birth canal, then the next six months to a few years or so of nursing, and then finally all through early childhood. If you weren’t able to be exposed to a birthing canal, breastfeeding, a farm, raw milk, forests or other stables of endotoxins and bacteria at those crucial stages in utero and in early childhood – then chances are extremely high that you suffer from allergies or autoimmune disease. Sorry about that. Let me know how your helminth therapy works out.

There is so much information in this book that just thinking about it makes me want to go back and re-read the whole thing again. I have barely summarized it, and I really hope you read this book over the summer. It’s not too late to change our behavior about microbes, bacteria and our gut – and epigenetics has left us a window to modify our genetic destiny. Even if you are riddled with autoimmune diseases and allergies, and your children are going the same way – there are still modifications you can make to ease their symptoms and more importantly to revise the genes they pass on.

WHAT HAPPENED TO MY WORMS?

I’m so glad you asked. Both times I acquired the pinworms, I was able to get to a doctor within a week of their exit strategy and started taking de-worming medicine. I feel for anyone who can’t get de-worming medicine, because they would most certainly reinfect themselves over and over again. If my worms weren’t completely gone, I would know about it. It was an itchy hell. But even though they are gone, my immune system benefited immensely by our time together. Whether the full life cycle was four weeks or ten weeks, their pinwormy presence in my gut alerted my immune system to wake up and start fighting. I don’t know if that brief romance was enough to keep autoimmune disease and allergies at bay for good, so I will also do my best to absorb bacteria from the environment wherever I can. This summer I’m considering drinking water straight from the lake all season for a handy dose of free saprophytes.

My daughter is going to be so excited about all the fun plans I have.

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