The Urgent Need to Investigate Chronic Dementia

In the 17th century, even though peasants were strong, healthy and robust, they wanted to emulate the powerful and elite and be “refined” like the rich. This was the milieu in which processed food was born and glorified. Sugar had become the chief crop of the West Indies in the second half of the seventeenth century because of the dramatic fall of tobacco, which had become the main crop of the 16th century. (The stiff competition of Virginian tobacco created the downfall of the West Indian tobacco.) The new industrial workers diet shifted to more fat, sugar, and refined flour. A biscuit or cake is a good example. Flour was refined so that it would not support weevils and, like refined sugar, and saturated fat would not go rancid. These cheap, energy-providing foods were considered ‘fuel’ for the Industrial Revolution. Not surprisingly, health declined during the 19th century.

During the 19th century Britain became an urban nation. Because of the smoke of the Industrial Revolution, the working-class women and children did not spend a lot of time outdoors, nor were they exposed to much direct sunlight. In addition, they subsided on a diet of bread, tea, sugar and margarine. The screening of recruits for the Boer War identified the poor health of many recruits. Over 40% of recruits in some jurisdictions, were found to be unfit for military service, most suffered from poverty-related illnesses, such as rickets. This hidden disease of the 19th century didn’t appear among the certified causes of death; not being a killer it was not on the public health radar. The poor health of recruits focused the attention to the state of the poor in Britain and led to the introduction of population screening. Based on folklore from coastal towns of Britain, cod liver oil was recommended in the 1930s to combat rickets.

The diet of North Americans has changed more in the past fifty years than the last 5,000 years. The average supermarket carries over 47,000 products. Multi-national corporations are involved in processing foods in assembly-line fashion. Choice becomes a challenge for consumers: Where is their food coming from and how is it processed?  In the 1970s high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) replaced cane sugar as the sweetener of choice. From 1970 to 1990 the annual intake of HFCS increases 1000%, greatly exceeding the changes of any food or food-group in history. With the appearance of an epidemic of obesity and metabolic syndrome legislation required foods containing HFCS to be labelled. In the 1970s the switch from grass-fed beef to corn-fed beef changed the ratio of omega-6 (that is associated with heart disease and other chronic diseases, to conjugate linoleic acid (CLA), a naturally occurring nutrient associate with lower cancer rates.) Grass-fed beef has more CLA than grain fed. Now vendors label grass-fed beef for consumers. However, GMO is not labelled.1

Studies done by the WHO identified that pesticides remain on wheat after harvest, and milling does not remove them. This means there can be long-term exposure to low-level pesticides and now there is a need to know the long-term cumulative health impacts of long-term exposure in food. These studies need to take into account that glyphosate sequesters in the bone and internal organs. Regulatory bodies raised the maximum permitted residue on crops directly sprayed with glyphosate such as GM corn, by 200% in the 1990s. These changes coincided with the introduction of glyphosate-resistant crops. The result is resistant insect pests and increased appearance of a chemical which is very toxic to fish and aquatic life. A study of 7955 samples of fresh fruits and vegetables, milled grain products, pulse products, and finished foods collected from April 2015 to March 2017 in the Canadian retail market identified 3366 samples (42.3%) contained detectable glyphosate residues. This study did not rule out the long-term cumulative health impacts of long-term exposure.2

GMO crops produced in North America include apples, canola, corn, eggplant, potatoes, soybeans, squash, and sugar beets. Soybeans, corn, and canola dominate the GM crop market today. New research shows that GMO crops, with heavy herbicide use, destroy the microbiome of the soil, reduce the nutritional content of the food (organic food is more nutritious) and leave higher residues of chemicals on the food. This means that GMOs are substantially different and warrant labeling.  GMOs and related pesticides have been wrongly classified a process, not an additive, to intentionally get around the requirement that additives are safety tested and labeled on the package. When a herbicide classified as a probable carcinogen is sprayed on your food and it does not dry off, wash off for cook off, you might want to know that it is there and be given the choice to buy that food or not.

Numerous new studies nullify the 40-year-old science which claims these chemicals are safe. These studies show that glyphosate, atrazine, 2,4-D and many more chemicals are neurotoxins, destroy the gut bacteria which is where 70 percent of the immune system lies, cause liver and kidney damage, cause organ damage, increase antibiotic resistance, cause placental cell death and breast cancer cell growth. The fact that RNAi GMOs have promoters and “silencers” that silence the function of genes should be of grave concern to everyone. How do you know that those promoters are not “waking up” rare disease genes or silencers are not “silencing” the functioning of organs in your loved ones which could fight rare diseases? The problem is that we will never know, because we cannot retroactively prove that the bite of GMO corn led to the “waking up” of a rare disease gene in your child.

Studies have shown preliminary evidence that chronic, low-dose exposure to pesticides increases the risk of cognitive impairments and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s later in life.  A study of 50 pesticides and more than 30,000 licensed pesticide applicators linked exposure of seven pesticides that contain chlorinated compounds (including two herbicides, two organophosphate insecticides, and two organochlorines) to increased risk of diabetes.  Exposure to pesticides has also been associated with increased infertility in women and developmental problems in children. Pesticides are well-known neurotoxins and are associated with many neurodegenerative disorders, including mild cognitive impairment and dementia, which are strongly linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Mild cognitive impairment is a prodromal phase of cognitive decline that may precede the emergence of Alzheimer’s disease. Some research has suggested that mild cognitive impairment and late-onset Alzheimer’s disease are essentially part of the same pathophysiological process, sharing a number of etiological factors.

Epigenetic risk is not merely a medical risk, but implicates the fundamental principles of fairness and justice underlying the present social contract. The role of epigenetics provides high quality evidence supporting the importance of DNA in shaping people’s lives. While epigenetic changes can be passed on from parents to children, they can also be altered by stress, diet, environment and behavior. Early life stress alters how DNA is packaged, which makes cells function differently than their original mandate. These epigenetic switches are triggered by many factors such as our lifestyle, environment, diet, stress, emotional deprivation or hormones and our age, and as the development of a growing fetus in the womb is totally dependent on these signals, it can alter the function of its cells. Epigenetics explains how environmental factors such as prolonged exposure to low does chemicals can switch genes on and off, based on choices we make.

Two of the most clinically problematic classes of disease impacting the world’s aging populations are cancer and neurodegenerative disorders. Although there are stark differences between cancer cells and neurons, with the former dividing rapidly and the latter relatively quiescent and non-replicating, a growing body of evidence supports common genetic mechanisms involved in dysregulated cancer cell growth and the progression of neurodegenerative disease. Mutations in a variety of genes involved in regulation of the cell cycle, DNA repair pathways, protein turnover, oxidative stress, and autophagy have been implicated in both of these otherwise dichotomous diseases. Most gene mutations occur after you’re born and aren’t inherited. A number of forces can cause gene mutations, such as smoking, radiation, viruses, cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens), obesity, hormones, chronic inflammation and a lack of exercise. Trends in incidence, on the other hand, would suggest changes in risk. Existing studies of trends in the incidence or prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease need further analysis.

In his influential article on the social and cultural framing of disease, historian Charles E. Rosenberg argued, “In some ways disease does not exist until we have agreed that it does, by perceiving, naming and responding to it”. From mid-1930s through the 1950s, a number of American psychiatrists led by David Rothschild responded to the challenge of dementia in the state hospitals by framing dementia as a psychosocial problem rather than a brain disease. Rothschild and his followers argued that the observation of inconsistent correlations between clinical manifestations of dementia and pathological findings could best be accounted for by people’s differing ability to compensate for brain damage. Seen this way, age-associated dementia was more than the simple and inevitable outcome of a brain that was deteriorating due to aging and/or disease. It was the interaction between the brain and the psychosocial context in which the aging person was situated.3

Research has confirmed widespread exposure and bioaccumulation of chemical toxicants. The problem of toxicant exposure and bioaccumulation in the population appears to be rising rapidly, yet this escalating health threat remains insufficiently recognized by many within the medical community. This is best studied with respect to formaldehyde. However, many other classes of common bioaccumulative organic compounds have also been recognized to have neurotoxic effects including brominated flame retardants (PBDEs), solvents, “nonstick” perfluorinated compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and various types of pesticides. With further research, it remains to be seen which organic pollutants alone or in combination will be significant determinants of the growing epidemic of dementia. If toxicant bioaccumulation is evident, interventions should be undertaken to eliminate the toxicant burden. These factors lead to the need for the introduction of population screening for several toxic chemicals such as pesticides which are widespread in the food chain.

Alzheimer’s disease is a leading cause of mortality in the developed world with 70% risk attributable to genetics. The remaining 30% of Alzheimer’s disease risk is hypothesized to include environmental factors and human lifestyle patterns. Knowing about contributing factors is especially important for the study and development of prevention strategies, and prevention is often key to better control of epidemics, including those of chronic diseases. While certain modifiable risk factors have been identified for dementia, there remains a substantial proportion of unexplained risk. Research must focus on a short list of environmental risk factors for dementia. These need to be longitudinal studies with repeated measures of environmental exposure in order to confirm these associations. Mammalian laboratory experiments demonstrate that neuronal nicotinic acetyl cholinesterase receptors are susceptible to toxicity induced by carbamate pesticides and may contribute to long-term disruption of the nervous system. Though environmental exposures are known to play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease, the specific agents and exposure thresholds remain an area of both investigation and speculation.

1 7 Reasons Why the U.S. Government Must Label GMOs (8 March 2016) https://www.ecowatch.com/7-reasons-why-the-u-s-government-must-label-gmos-1882188137.html

2 Analysis of Glyphosate Residues in Foods from the Canadian Retail Markets between 2015 and 2017 by Beata M. Kolakowski*, Leigh Miller, Angela Murray, Andrea Leclair, Henri Bietlot, and Jeffrey M. van de Riet, J. Agric. Food Chem. 2020, 68, 18, 5201–5211 https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.jafc.9b07819

3 Jesse F. Ballenger (July 2017) Framing Confusion: Dementia, Society, and History https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/framing-confusion-dementia-society-and-history/2017-07

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