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The Poisoning of AmericansA Tale of Congress, the FDA, the Agricultural Department, and Chemical and Pharmaceutical Companies and How They Work Together to Reduce the Health and Life Span of Americans
By Jacob Silver
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Jacob Silver, PhD
All right reserved.
Humans and Human Food
Humans share about 98.5% of our genes with the Bonobo, otherwise known as the Pigmy Chimpanzee. That is closer than the genetic relationship we have with any other species. Minimally that implies that we share a common ancestor with the Bonobo. Our main differences are our brain and our neotenic body shape. But our organs, including our digestive system, are practically identical, implying that the joint evolution that brought us here equipped us for similar diets.
What does the Bonobo eat?
This primate is mainly frugivorous, but supplements its diet with leaves and sometimes small vertebrates (such as flying squirrels and infant duikers) and invertebrates.
So, our nearest evolutionary relative eats mainly a vegetarian diet, with an admixture of some meat. Our mutual digestive system is quite suited to such a diet. We have a slightly acidic stomach which can break down meat, provided it is surrounded with vegetable matter. Our digestive system is twelve times the length of our body, a long digestive tract suited to break down fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts. We no longer have a functioning appendix, which Bonobos still do have. Thus, the only safe way for us to digest meat, particularly a substantial clump of meat, is to first break it down by heating, broiling, grilling, baking, or frying. But our long digestive system tells us that our body does not expect to have to digest a large quantity of meat; it is designed for fruits, nuts, grains, and vegetables.
Persons who enjoy eating meat have occasionally compared humans with carnivores. This, of course, is biological nonsense. But it may be instructive to make a brief comparison of the diets and digestive systems of carnivores, as compared to humans. First of all, using the Grey Wolf as an example, carnivores have a very acidic stomach, containing hydrochloric acid, as does the stomach of human, but wolves' stomach contains 20 times the acidity of human stomachs. And the digestive tract of carnivores is much shorter than that of humans, about three times the length of their bodies. This is well suited to the normal diet of carnivores, which is almost the exclusive consumption of raw meat. The only exception is their consumption of the vegetable contents of the digestive tracts of their prey. So, with a diet which is 98% or 99% raw meat, it is essential that it be processed quickly, and expelled quickly, before the meat spoils. Thus, the digestive system and diet of carnivores is very unlike that of humans. And to the degree that humans may try to eat in the manner of carnivores, making the single concession of having their largely meat diet cooked, the consequences are the consumption of saturated fat, higher cholesterol, and heart disease. Heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are not natural or unavoidable. They are largely attributable to diet.
Cattle were domesticated about seven thousand years ago, during the early neolithic period, probably in what is now northern Greece. Cattle are bovine animals, and the word 'cattle' derives from the Latin caput, meaning head, and from the middle English chattel, meaning a unit of personal property. The people originally domesticating cattle undoubtedly noticed that these animals subsist on grasses, and could be maintained on land too poor to grow other crops. So, while the best land produced legumes, grains, and vegetables, the sparse grasslands could now produce milk and/or meat and leather. But right from the beginning, cattle were valuable possessions, and the slaughter of cattle for meat and leather was not a frequent thing. People did not eat meat frequently. They subsisted mostly on fruits, nuts, grains, legumes, and vegetables.
So, what are cattle, evolutionarily and taxonomically? First they are mammals, just as humans are. Their sub-order is Ruminantia, including grazing animals which chew their cud. Their family is Bovidae, and that is made up of cattle, goats, sheep, and antelope, and a few others. All of these members of the family Bovidae are grass eaters. They have long and complex digestive systems, with four compartments, otherwise known as four 'stomachs' or one stomach with four chambers. The first compartment is called the rumen. The rumen contains bacteria which break down the cellulose of the grass. This is a difficult process; thus, Bovidae regurgitate the contents of the rumen and continue to chew them. This is 'chewing the cud.' This is swallowed again, and the bacteria work further on the process of breaking it down. Then it progresses to the other compartments, and then through the digestive tract. Because the breakdown, to extract needed nutrients, involves fermentation, the digestive system of ruminants, those who 'chew the cud,' is PH neutral.
This circumstance, of Bovidae not having an acidic digestive system, allowed lions, tigers, and wolves to eat these animals without aggravating their already highly acidic digestive systems. When humans eat antelope or cattle, which are grass fed, they also do not get acidic poisoning. For thousands of years humans have eaten cattle with no danger of acidic poisoning.
A common constituent in mammalian digestive systems is the bacterium Escherichia coli, also known as E coli. Cattle have Escherichia coli, as do humans. It is a normal part of our digestive system's bacterial colony. But in recent years there has been a concern, and a number of victims, of ' E-coli poisoning.' Reference is the E-coli emanating from slaughtered cattle. Now, it must be understood that E-coli are bacteria, and are very small. And traditionally, when cattle were slaughtered and butchered, some of the E-coli got out, and on and in the muscle or meat of the animal, which people consume. But, as I have stated in the preceding paragraph, there is no danger of poisoning from the eating of E-coli from grass fed cattle. But most of the cattle which are slaughtered and butchered in the United States today are not grass fed. They are confined in feed lots, and fed corn, along with antibacterial drugs, animal protein, and ground up plastic. These will be discussed below. But now it should be understood that the feeding of corn to cattle, a member of Bovidae, is unnatural. The digestive system of cattle is not structured to digest corn. The bacterial colony within the rumen cannot process corn. But if the only food they receive is corn, and normal E-coli cannot process it, a reversion occurs to an earlier type of E-coli, referred to as Escherichia coli 0157:H7. This is an acidic bacterium, and it is poisonous to consume.
Bacteria are all about us. In terms of distribution and biomass, bacteria are the dominant life form on Earth. And when considering multi-celled animals, bacteria are an integral part of just about all of them. Certainly for people and cattle, the bacteria in our gut are an integral part of our system. Consider an adult human. She has about 100 billion cells of her own, with her own DNA. She also has about one trillion bacteria in her gut, and elsewhere in the body. She, as is true for all humans, and probably all large animals, has ten times more bacterial cells in her body than her own cells. This is a sobering thought. What, then, are people? We are not simple individuals. We are a commensal-life form, encompassing many different lives. And, of course, these bacteria are friendly, in the sense that your arm is friendly. They are an essential part of our system. They participate in the digestion of our food.
Beyond the symbiotic bacteria in our intestines, scientists are discovering symbiotic bacteria throughout our skin. A recent finding is that there are several million bacteria inhabiting the inner elbow of every human. These are symbiotic, they receive shelter and nourishment in exchange for moisturizing our elbows by processing the raw fats. They are also called commensal bacteria. They are part of our system. When a person says "I," she means all of her own cells plus all of her symbiotic bacterial colonies. It is one system.
Other friendly bacteria include those which make cheese or yogurt. Gardeners and farmers who grow beans, inoculate their bean seeds with bacteria which fix nitrogen from the air, and bacteria are the essential elements in sewerage treatment plants, where they break down sewerage to harmless components. These are only the most conspicuous bacteria that people are acquainted with and employ.
There are hostile bacteria, bacteria whose functioning in our lungs or gut would make us ill. There are bacteria which are lethal to people. But, for the most part, bacteria in the air, on the ground, and on and in the food we eat are, mostly, harmless, neutral. There is constant interaction with hostile bacteria, but we are armed with antibodies, which destroy those bacteria before they get a chance to do any mischief. It is the nature of life, and of human life, to be in a constant state of challenge. We are always experiencing new bacteria, and we build, in response, new antibodies.
Finally, there are pathogenic bacteria which are associated with serious illnesses. Some of the most common of these have names we recognize: Anthrax, Tuberculosis, and Cholera. Anthrax enters to lungs and skin of a human who comes in contact with an infected animal or other human. It migrates to the lungs and lymph glands. It is often fatal. Cholera enters the gastro-intestinal system from the ingestion of contaminated food or water. Tuberculosis, caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis, generally enters a person's lungs by inhalation. But 25% of all cases involve the attack of the person's neural system, or lymph system, or circulatory system, or the genitourinary system. About 1.6 million deaths occur annually from tuberculosis, primarily in developing countries.
To counter these, and other, pathogenic bacteria, antibiotic drugs have been developed. The name was chosen to indicate that the original intent was to have a pharmaceutical agent to kill hostile fungi as well as bacteria. However, the current roster of antibiotics are anti-bacterial only. Antibiotics work, generally, by attacking the cell wall. Of all the cells operating in the human system, only bacteria have cell walls. Humans, and animals, have cell membranes, which are chemically different. The pathogenic bacteria have cell walls, but the commensal bacteria, which are part of our intestinal system, also have cell walls. Antibiotic drugs are, therefore, a threat to us. Harm to the human system can be mitigated with targeting the area of the antibiotic as well as the type of antibiotic. Our lungs are, obviously, aerobic. Our digestive tract is anaerobic. Thus, all of our beneficial bacteria in our large intestine are anaerobic. If an antibiotic is effective against tuberculosis or another lung affecting bacterium, it does not affect processes in our digestive tract. However if an antibiotic is used against a pathogen in our digestive tract, harm can be avoided, or limited, if it is restricted to the stomach, where Heliobacter pylori usually resides, or its effectiveness is restricted to the particular pathogen. Another way of saying this is whether the antibiotic is narrow or broad spectrum. Broad spectrum antibiotics administered in the digestive tract usually also kill many commensal bacteria. The immediate symptoms of this are abdominal distress and diarrhea. Usually, some of the beneficial bacteria survive, and, in a few days, they can reconstitute their ranks. If a particularly large dose of a broad spectrum antibiotic were administered, all of the symbiotic bacteria could be killed. The consequence would continuing severe abdominal stress and diarrhea, and a deficiency in vitamin K. There would also be a growing deficiency in amino acids and nutrients normally processed by the intestinal bacteria. Until such bacteria are replaced, life for that person would not be normal.
So, remembering who we are, that we are bacterial colonies as well as own cells, we should not be cavalier or mindlessly careless about the use of antibiotics in our system. And when they have to be used, they should be very carefully targeted. The specific thing to remember is that we, all of us, are permanent walking alliances of human cells and bacterial colonies. The health of a person depends on the health of all of the members of this alliance. Certainly, we should not take poison which would hurt any part of us, because any part of us is us.
The Great Plains of the United States
We have just discussed humans, Bonobos, cattle, and bacteria, all living things. And now the subtitle says we are going to discuss a geographic phenomenon. Well, the subtitles of this chapter are the topics which are relevant to our discussion of the major food production system in America. And the great plains of the United States is a major factor in this system. The Great Plains of the United States is an extensive prairie land east of the Rocky Mountains. It includes eastern Montana, western North Dakota, most of South Dakota, the eastern third of Wyoming, half of Colorado, most of Nebraska, and the western two thirds of Kansas. To the north it extends to Canada, and to the south it extends to the Rio Grande.
Before Europeans came to North America, the Great Plains, except for the flood plains of rivers and the foothills of the Rockies, were totally covered in grass. This provided a habitat for very large herds of bison, a member of the cud chewing, grass eating Bovidae family of which cattle are members. Trees did not grow because the Great Plains is a semi-arid area, receiving only 20 inches or less of rain annually. Such an arid area can also only support a sparse human population, and the Native American population of the Great Plains, as compared to the Native American populations around the Great Lakes and along the East Coast, was sparse indeed.
Beneath most of the Great Plains is a huge aquifer, one of the world's largest. It lies beneath 174,000 squared miles (450,000 km2) in portions of the eight states of South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. This aquifer was named the Ogallala Aquifer after the name of the town, Ogallala, Kansas, where it was discovered in 1899. It has also been referred to as the Oglala Aquifer. "About 27 percent of the irrigated land in the United States overlies this aquifer system, which yields about 30 percent of the nation's water taken from the ground and used for irrigation. In addition, the aquifer system provides drinking water to 82 percent of the people who live within the aquifer boundary."
The water permeated thickness of the aquifer varies from 1,000 feet (300m) to 100 feet (30m). The deepest water is in the northern plains. Generally, the water below the surface ranges from 400 feet (122m) in the north to between 100 to 200 feet (30 to 61m) in the south. "Present-day recharge of the aquifer with fresh water occurs at a slow rate; this implies that much of the water in its pore spaces is paleowater, dating back to the last ice age." The last ice age ended about 12,000 years ago.
An aquifer may be conceived as a groundwater storage reservoir in the water cycle. Aquifers renew much more slowly than does groundwater. Yet inflow to a aquifer has to also come from the surface. Outflow can be baseflow to streams. In recent years major outflow has also occurred by pumping.
The rate at which recharge water enters the aquifer is limited by several factors. Much of the plains region is semi-arid with steady winds that hasten evaporation of surface water and precipitation. In many locations, the aquifer is overlain, in the vadose zone, with a shallow layer of caliche that is practically impermeable; this limits the amount of water able to recharge the aquifer from the land surface. However, the soil of the playa lakes is different and not lined with caliche, making these some of the few areas where the aquifer can recharge. The destruction of playas by farmers and development then decreases the available recharge area.
The 'vadose zone' is the geologic zone between the surface layer and the saturated area of the aquifer. It is also, therefore, known as the unsaturated zone. " Caliche" is a hardened crust or layer of calcium carbonate. It is formed by the evaporation of water solutions of the mineral. Deserts and semi-arid areas are often covered with caliche. " Playa lakes" or areas refer to the bottoms of dry lakes. In semi-arid regions, a playa lake may be full of water during the winter or rainy season, and then soaks in and evaporates to leave a dry lake during most of the rest of the year.
Excerpted from The Poisoning of Americans by Jacob Silver Copyright © 2012 by Jacob Silver, PhD. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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