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Ebola Big Picture

colobus

Western Red Colobus Monkey, Cote d’Ivoire

Here we go again, spending millions and millions of dollars on symptoms of a viral epidemic without bothering to look at the cause.

Let’s say we actually manage to raise enough money so that every victim of Ebola gets a quarantined bed, a chance at an antidote or at least compassionate palliative care – where does that lead? The next obvious step in the medical industrial complex is to create another vaccination that can be sold around the world and mandated so that we have global herd immunity from this deadly virus.

If this seems like the best case scenario to you, then you are firmly stuck in a world view that chases symptoms without considering cause. And your money, your effort and your worry will always be chasing the next batch of symptoms because the cause is never going to be addressed.

WHAT’S THAT NOW?

What is the biological purpose of a virus? The medical industrial complex, and the media, would have us believe that viruses are simply a form of abstract evil unleashed in the world, and that our only response is to fight their aberrant evil.

This overlooks the fact that viruses have a purpose. They are some of the oldest life forms and they are sophisticated and wise with experience of the world. All life forms contract viruses, parasites, helminths and various types of pathogens from time to time. In fact it is so necessary for us to encounter these pathogens, that if we don’t, our immune systems fail to develop properly which results in auto-immune system diseases (immature immune system attacks itself) or chronically weak immune systems, which of course leads to premature death.

As viruses are living like us (though often dormant), their plan is to reproduce and stay alive. This doesn’t work very well when their host dies. Over a very, very long timeframe, if a virus doesn’t completely kill off its host species first, it will eventually adapt and change (in response to the host’s immune system adapting and changing) so that the host can stay alive and the virus can remain in place (though again often dormant), but kept in check by antibodies that have been developed by the host.

But let me get back on track with my statement that viruses have a purpose, because it’s hard to see through the media’s frenzied terror of Ebola that it could serve a purpose.

THE ROLE OF EBOLA

The Ebola we are dealing with right now has adapted to live in some African fruit bats and Western Colobus monkeys without killing them. This immunity would have taken thousands of years to establish. In both cases, the virus offers each species a protection against excess predation.

Specifically, Ebola offers a unique benefit to the Western Colobus monkeys – as a shield against chimpanzee attacks. Chimpanzees only go after colobus monkeys to display dominance for the purpose of attracting a mate or upending hierarchies, not as a staple source of food. These displays seem to occur rarely enough that the two species can both survive alongside each other. However when the habitat of the chimpanzees and the colobus monkeys is shrunk or stressed, the chimpanzees become increasingly aggressive against the monkeys; at that point, the Ebola virus comes out to save the day (for the colobus monkeys, anyway).

In a stressed habitat, when chimpanzees over-prey on colobus monkeys, the virus makes itself active and infects the chimpanzees. This is a very elegant way for a small monkey to attack a larger primate. While the Ebola virus has little effect on the colobus monkey, it is absolutely deadly in the chimpanzees.

Upon eating infected monkey meat, a chimpanzee will recognize its illness (often before exhibiting symptoms) and isolate itself from its tribe. Usually the chimpanzee goes off into the forest by itself and curls up to die. These dead chimpanzees can be found with internal organs reduced to mush and blood. In fact this is exactly what happened in 1994 when researchers discovered that 25% of the wild chimpanzee population they had been studying in Taï National Park, Cote d’Ivoire, suddenly died or disappeared.

At that time, a human researcher also contracted Ebola from a dead chimpanzee she was autopsying. Incredibly, she was given supportive care and managed to survive. It is unknown whether she contracted a very light variant or whether she had an incredible immune system, but it is very rare to survive a viral attack like Ebola when it first jumps species. Usually neither the virus nor the immune system has the time to evolve antibodies at first jump, so she was extremely fortunate.

Eventually, with enough time, a vibrant population of wild chimpanzees would also adapt and learn to live with Ebola. But while their habitats remain intact and they only rarely cross paths with the colobus monkeys, this adaptation will not be forced. In fact there are too few chimpanzees left in the wild for this adaptation to ever be successful at this point. Rather, if chimpanzees and colobus monkeys are forced into close enough quarters with enough confrontations, the few bands of chimpanzees left will simply all succumb to Ebola.

chimpanzee

SAME SAME THROUGHOUT HISTORY

This happens with all viruses. The Black Plague was originally so destructive that it would consume its host in a matter of days; there are reports of victims going to bed healthy and never waking up because the plague acted on them so quickly (those were the lucky ones). Incidentally although the Black Plague started as a bubonic plague spread by marmots in China, it mutated into a respiratory-style Ebola-like virus, which is how it was able to spread so quickly throughout Europe.

However eventually, after some 200 million human deaths globally and over centuries of infection and adaptation, the virus that started the Black Plague evolved with its human hosts into an illness that was survivable. In fact everyone on Earth today is here because our ancestors were able to evolve their immune systems enough to create and pass on the antibodies to tolerate and live in harmony with that particular viral strain from the 1300s. Nice work, ancestors. (Actually there is a longer story here about natural selection for a gene that was immune to viral plagues, but it plays out to the same basic tune).

While one particular antibody is really only associated with one particular strain of virus, an inherited antibody can at least inform the immune system on creating and evolving new antibodies for new viruses. This is an intelligent system that needs to be challenged to evolve in every generation. In the absence of inherited antibodies, the immune system has less information to draw on. Consider that for a minute, because our whole world view of artificial immunizations does not account for what we are losing by not passing on our collective inherited antibodies.

(As a side note, artificial immunizations or vaccines stimulate the humoral immune system – the part that creates antibodies. While this is a totally brilliant biohack, that’s all it is – an artificial hack which confers temporary and transient resistance. To create a lasting and legacy immunity, both sides of the immune system need to be stimulated – the humoral as well as the cell-mediated response. Cell-mediated immunity is the system of white blood cells that attack the pathogens and also create the feelings of sickness inside you, and this also has to evolve with every pathogen. At this point in time, a total immunity can only be generated by responding to an actual disease. This is the kind of immune system intel you want to pass on to your children, provided you can survive the diseases that teach it).

GET TO THE POINT

So what is the point of a virus? A virus wants to replicate. It wants to keep its host alive and will confer benefits to the host for the opportunity (like killing predatory chimpanzees).

What is the biological purpose of Ebola? Ebola protects African fruit bats from habitat encroachment and over-predation. Ebola protects Western Colobus monkeys from over-predation by chimpanzees when their habitats become unstable. In turn, Ebola spreads from bats and chimpanzees to humans when humans encroach on their habitat. In short, the way to end Ebola is not by coming up with a vaccine. The way to end Ebola is to stop encroaching on chimpanzee habitat.

butchered

Maybe we should stop butchering chimpanzees

If you don’t think you have anything to do with this, then maybe you have never used a prescription medication in your life – tested on kidnapped chimpanzees and other primates. We may not be the ones specifically encroaching on chimpanzee habitat or stressing their populations, but everything we do in the West to ensure our comfort and continuity seems to indirectly lead there.

Ebola is not unique in this way. Responding to habitat encroachment is simply what viruses do, and there are millions of them in the world laying dormant waiting to act. The logical solution is to restore wild habitats all around the world.

However the more economically exciting solution is to keep extracting resources from habitats while simultaneously developing vaccinations for countless viruses on the horizon, and then selling them around the world and enforcing herd immunity. So of course that is what we will do, to great profit.

The big picture is that a vaccine against Ebola is really just a way of buying more time to continue with habitat destruction and resource extraction. If you want to help or raise money, the best thing you can do is direct it towards saving and restoring habitat. Any habitat will do, as viruses aren’t choosy. However the damp, wet jungle habitats seem to release the deadliest viral pathogens when disturbed.

If you are too cynical to believe that saving or restoring habitat is in the cards anymore, then you can at least prepare yourself for a future with higher incidence of viral pandemics. In the case of a viral pandemic, the last place you will want to venture is a hospital or clinic – which will always be the ground zero for viruses and their adaptations, and are also fraught with bacterial super bugs from antibiotic resistance. So in a world where you can’t get your hands on any medical drugs or care, potentially, you will need to know what foods and plants can confer some antiviral assistance to your immune system.

LET’S DO A LIST

  1. Vitamin A deficiency is linked to higher death rates from all diseases. This is precisely why children in the third world die of measles but rarely do in the first world. Vitamin A is in liver and organ meats, butter, egg yolks, cod liver oil and a slightly less bio-available form in orange and yellow vegetables and fruits. IF YOU SUDDENLY COME DOWN WITH EBOLA OR A SIMILAR DEADLY VIRUS, take at least 200,000 IU for 2 – 4 days, spaced out 10,000 IU every hour. I am basing this recommendation on World Health Organization treatment for malnourished measles sufferers; however they only did 2 days of doses at 200,000 IU in their tests. Later trials showed even more reliable results with 400,000 IU over 2 days. Synthetic vitamin A gets pretty toxic quickly, but it will do the trick in a pinch. Even better news, Vitamin A is super cheap! (Remember not to take synthetic vitamin A when pregnant – basically only take this if your alternative is dying from Ebola). Also:
  2. Super doses of Vitamin C or ascorbic acid are incredibly active against viruses. Low doses (1000mg/day) are routinely tested and shown to do nothing. High doses are similarly tested and proven useless, when administered all at once (because the excess is “peed out”). We can only metabolize about 750mg/hour. In the case of any viral illness, take 1000mg/hour for the duration. If you don’t have supplements (hello Apocolypse) and you live in the north like me – you can substitute pine needle tips, cedar tips, sumach and small herbs like sheep sorrel – though you will need a lot.
  3. Antiviral foods like coconut oil, ginger, cayenne, honey and royal jelly – and herbs like Chinese skullcap, licorice, lomatium, cordyceps, isatis, astragalus, boneset, elder, houttuynia. There are lots of others, find out what is in your specific area.
  4. I don’t really want to get into the whole vaccine debate, not at all. But certain childhood infections like measles and mumps seem to confer benefits like lower chance of ovarian cancer and lymphatic cancers, among other things. There may be a price to pay for our vaccine hack, and the price might be weakened, immature immune systems and an eroded immunization legacy to pass on to our children. It could be that after a few generations of vaccines, all our collective immune system work to evolve beyond the Black Plague is for nothing. On a more practical note:
  5. When you and your children get sick, allow yourselves to get sick. Don’t mask the symptoms as far as you are able. Those bad feelings (fever, stuffy nose, cough, congestion, runny eyes) are the result of your cell-mediated immune system firing up white blood cells to attack the invading pathogen. If you suppress the symptoms, you suppress the cell-mediated response and stifle the precious experiential learning that your immune system requires. You can boost the immune system with nutrients and herbs, but don’t suppress the symptoms. (Of course if your fever runs dangerously high, do something about it. You obviously need to live through these experiences for them to be any good to you.)
  6. Try to find some wild habitat near you and examine it. Is it really very wild? Are there very many insects, birds and animals? Are there any large predators, which are the keystone species? Cultivate a reverence for these wild spaces and you might be a little closer to understanding the big picture.

For everyone who doesn’t take the time to respect their wild habitats, there will be an #AndNowIHaveEbola hashtag at the ready. You can count on it.

FURTHER READING

Again, I only post links at the end of my write-ups because of research from the book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, which I reviewed here.

Details on the Ebola Outbreak Among Chimpanzees in Cote D’Ivoire 1994, Journal of Infectious Diseases

Detail about the surviving ethologist who contracted Ebola in 1994, Journal of Infectious Diseases

My post on a Quick and Dirty Antiviral, with links to further reading

Treating third world children with measles with inexpensive, high dose Vitamin A – from the Committee on Infectious Disease at the American Academy of Pediatrics

Why You Are Still Alive – the Immune System Explained, a great info cartoon on youtube

New research on the Plague/Black Death as an Ebola style virus, Biology of Plague: Evidence from Historical Populations by Susan Scott and Christopher Duncan

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What About Scurvy???

What About Scurvy???

We all know the story, or at least we think we know it. Some early sailors got scurvy – showing up as spongy gums, loose teeth, skin lesions, bone pain and lethargy – which then led to some two million sailor deaths between 1500 and 1800. Who knew there were even two million people sailing around back then? Luckily Admiral Sir Richard Dawkins discovered that drinking orange and lemon juice prevented the disease. Subsequently British sailors became known around the world as Limeys because they were always eating limes (which were cheaper but less effective than oranges and lemons) to ward off the dreaded scurvy.

This account is generally correct and has been translated into a rigid belief that if citrus fruits and specifically vitamin C can cure scurvy, then the cause of scurvy must be a lack of vitamin C. This is essentially true, but it is not the whole story.

You may have even wondered to yourself, if you are from a Northern latitude, how on earth your forebears managed to get enough Vitamin C from fresh vegetables and fruits during the long winter, when they didn’t have daily deliveries from California and Florida?  Considering our Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) is from 40mg/day (UK) to 90mg/day (Canada), how were we possibly getting enough back then? One easy answer is that 2 cups of traditionally lacto-fermented sauerkraut contain about 80% of the daily RDI. So possibly our northern ancestors knew to eat an awful lot of preserved cabbage and other winter vegetables. Possibly they did as the Indians did and made themselves pine needle or cedar tips tea, or they harvested the dry red flower of the sumach bush and made “Indian lemonade”, which is similarly high in Vitamin C.  We’ve also heard the story about settlers being saved from scurvy by rose hip tea.

I’ll come back to a defining dietary similarity between the sailors and the settlers in a moment. First I want to return to a culture that never had access to fruits and vegetables and yet did not develop scurvy.

THE TRADITIONAL INUIT: NO SCURVY IN SIGHT

It would be too easy to just say that the Inuit peoples of the Arctic only ate fat and meat and didn’t get scurvy. The fact is, they ate most of their meat and seafood raw, and in their raw forms, these foods are relatively high in Vitamin C. They also ate a staple of muktuk, which is the high Vitamin C skin of the Beluga whale.  In addition, it has been suggested that the Inuit enjoyed eating the fermented vegetal contents of caribou stomachs, which were similarly high in Vitamin C. The fatty adrenal glands of animals are also usually full of Vitamin C. We’re not talking thousands of milligrams, but nearly enough to make the suggested RDI.  They probably also made teas out of herbs that were full of ascorbic acid. Simple enough explanation.

But that doesn’t explain Vilhjalmur Stefansson and Karsen Anderson’s 1928 year-long experiment at New York’s Bellevue Hospital where they consumed only fatty meat and organs (like brains, liver, kidneys) and yet did not develop scurvy. They did not consume muktuk, fermented caribou stomachs or herbal teas. The whole point of their experiment was that they exclusively ate meat and fat. And furthermore, they ate all of their meat and fat cooked; they did not follow the Inuit protocol of consuming most of it raw. This is not a magic trick, but it does illuminate the key limiting factor in the body’s ability to absorb Vitamin C.

COMPETING FOR CELL RECEPTORS

The scoop is: both Vitamin C and glucose compete for the same receptors to enter the cell membrane, and those receptors favor glucose. The GLUT-1 receptor is activated by insulin, and pairs with the similarly structured Vitamin C and glucose molecules to allow them to enter the cell. But what that means plainly is that if you have a lot of glucose in your diet in the form of carbohydrates, the glucose is going to enter your cell membranes instead of the Vitamin C. So most of your ingested Vitamin C is going to be wasted, and you are going to have to supplement with quite a lot in order to get any past the GLUT-1 receptor gates and into your cells. However if you just keep on, keep on supplementing with Vitamin C, eventually some will get through to those receptors, and you will not get scurvy.

This fact leads to the belief that not only does Vitamin C prevent scurvy, but that a lack of Vitamin C causes scurvy. The first statement is true, the second statement is merely correlated.

A more correct way of looking at scurvy is that it is a deficiency disease caused by excessive carbohydrates.

SCURVY IS CAUSED BY EXCESSIVE CARBOHYDRATES

I really had to make that a heading, to let it sink in.

So it’s a win if you happen to be in the business of selling Vitamin C, because people on a high carbohydrate diet are going to need to buy a lot of it for basic functioning and also to prevent scurvy.

Now I want to return to the defining dietary similarity between sailors and early settlers. What unites them is that they largely lived on rations that were heavy in carbohydrates. In the sailors’ case, their diet consisted of salted preserved meat and hardtack, which is also known as a “sea biscuit”. This was an inexpensive and long-lasting flat brick of flour, water and sometimes salt. The large ratio of hardtack (and sugary rum for that matter) in the sailors’ diets meant that glucose from carbohydrates were getting to their cell receptors before any scarce Vitamin C from their salted meat rations could get close. Hence: scurvy. Similarly settlers used flour and bread as their energy staple, which inhibited Vitamin C absorption. Take away the hardtack, rum, flour and bread – and you take away the scurvy.

SO HOW MUCH VITAMIN C DO WE NEED?

Here’s the rub. On a fat and meat diet, you only need about 10mg of Vitamin C/day. But that kind of diet is not really affordable, necessary, or in any way sustainable these days. However the fact remains that if you restrict your carbohydrates, you do not need the huge amounts of Vitamin C that are recommended by the governments of the world.

However, the governments of the world would generally like to support not only their farmers (yeah, right) but their commodities markets of sugar, wheat, soy and grains. So in order to recommend a high carbohydrate diet to the people, it is absolutely necessary to simultaneously recommend a high Vitamin C supplementation.

I just need to say this one more time: Vitamin C is not the cure for scurvy, it is the cure for a diet high in carbohydrates.

This is the reason why the supplement section doesn’t even carry Vitamin C pills lower than 500mg/pill – and that most of them are at least 1000mg/pill. Why would we need ten times our RDI of Vitamin C? Maybe because our carbohydrate consumption tends to be ten times higher than our bodies have evolved to manage.

STILL THERE?

Why not read Stefansson’s first-hand account that he wrote up for Harper’s magazine in 1935?

Or read a 316-page pdf of Stefansson’s 1946 book “Not By Bread Alone”, renamed “The Fat of the Land“. You will really learn a lot about pemmican!

Maybe you also want more details about the relationship between Vitamin C, glucose and insulin receptors.

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