Thursday, December 17, 2015

Bronchiectasis: An Early Christmas Gift

Today turned out to be a really really good day. But before I tell you why, let me first give you the backstory.

It all started with really bad news. I contracted pneumonia in February 2014 while training for a triathlon that month. Since then my lung function decreased by more than 25% and I continually picked up one respiratory infection after another.

I eventually went to a specialist three weeks ago. The accompanying x-ray literally lit up like a Christmas tree. What it revealed was widened damaged inflamed bronchi, with prominent mucus cysts. The diagnosis was Bronchiectasis and the prognosis for it wasn’t good. Essentially it is degenerative and that I would in all likelihood be dead by 60. The most likely cause of death: suffocation by lung fluids; or a heart attack because it would be battling to transport the limited oxygen.

Typically when I receive bad news I usually give myself half a day to be depressed or down-cast—usually from the time I receive the news until I go to bed. In this case, however, there was no feeling of despondency, just relief. I’ve been battling this for almost two years and I was happy to know the cause of my discomfort. This allowed me to do my homework in order to know what I was dealing with. To cut a long story short my plan of action was to buy a nebulizer, a focused diet, and lots of exercise.

Now to the good news. Went for a CT-scan on Tuesday and awaited the response. Well, this was it: My lungs were perfectly healthy, let alone that there was ever any signs of Bronchiectasis. I.e. there was no widening, inflammation, or any other damage shown in the bronchi, and no mucous cysts.

One cannot ask for a better Christmas gift, the gift of health. I know it’s cliché, but once you’ve received such a scare, there’s nothing better.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Pondering the “Vaccines cause Autism” Debate

At first glance the preponderance of credible evidence does point into a particular direction. It is that vaccines do not cause autism, or in the very least, that it is not a significant contributor that possibly could account for the dramatic increased incidence over recent years. Vaccines were also largely administered in the US long before then, thus the dramatic increase since 2000 does not coincide with the wide administration of vaccines in the US over more than 40 years.

I generally did not pay this issue much heed but an interview with Dr Stephanie Seneff, a MIT computational researcher, prompted some investigation. In another article she convincingly argues that glyphosate herbicide could be a contributing factor in causing autism, though not vaccines per se. She however is considered by activists against vaccination as strongly providing an argument against it. Her argument against glyphosate herbicide, used in common household weed killer, makes sense and she appears to have the statistical data to back it up. And surely, she would’ve been fired from MIT if she had made spurious assertions. It also is not helpful to call her a quack since most great pioneering scientists were indeed referred to with such derogatory language. She however does not definitively point to vaccines as a primary causative factor, although she does lead towards it as they too contain similar harmful chemical components.  

Notwithstanding her argument, the increase incidence in the US is far more marked than elsewhere though they vaccinate worldwide. Given the steady increase, particularly in the US and other industrialized nations relative to less developed nations, there must be a direct environmental cause not prevalent to the same extent there. This therefore points to a greater environmental causal factor in the US other than vaccinations. The volume of supposed causative chemicals is additionally small relative to other agents generally found in the environment. Another diminishing factor is that vaccines are usually administered for one year olds and older, and the dose of harmful chemicals administered at that stage could most likely not be as detrimental as earlier childhood environmental factors would’ve.

Providing some clarity on the cause, a 2014 University of Chicago study suggests:
Essentially what happens is during pregnancy… there are certain sensitive periods where the fetus is very vulnerable to a range of small molecules – from things like plasticisers, prescription drugs, environmental pesticides and other things. Some of these small molecules essentially alter normal development. Autism appears to be strongly correlated with rate of congenital malformations of the genitals in males across the country, this gives an indicator of environmental load and the effect is surprisingly strong. The strongest predictors for autism were associated with the environment; congenital malformations on the reproductive system in males (that is given that males have a more than 5 times greater incidence).
The following extract from extract from the Harvard Health Review is also quite revealing:
Factors may also be responsible for the increasing rates in post-industrial countries… This immune dysregulation is post-industrial specific because of the way our immune system evolved. According to the “Biome Depletion Theory,” our immune system co-evolved alongside microbes and parasites, of which are lacking in urban, post-industrial societies. It is therefore our lack of parasites or microbes interacting with our immune system that is causing our immune response to overreact. This is consistent with the observation that in some developing populations, such as in Cambodia, rife with parasites and infections, the autism incidence is extremely low. In this case, a probiotic drug that is able to control the inflammatory response in pregnant women may be able to prevent some of the onset of autism.
Perhaps what the above suggests is that the obsession with health and cleanliness in industrial nations, therefore, may ironically well be the indirect cause. This applies to other diseases as well. For instance pig farmers, but children exposed to farm animals in general, have a much lower risk of developing asthma and other respiratory diseases. This, as in Cambodia, is most likely because of their ubiquitous exposure to disease which consequently boosts their immune systems.

In fact that is exactly what vaccines do: providing a controlled exposure to disease to mitigate actually getting it.

I do however think that, other than the basic dread disease vaccinations, flu vaccinations and the like are mostly unnecessary and often may well be driven by profit. The problems experienced by Pakistan because of the Taliban’s killing of vaccination officials on the other hand is an example of the consequences of not vaccinating against polio for example, and highlights the incredible human suffering that could result if we do not do so.  

The definitive study that could answer this question would be to determine the ratio of autistic kids who were vaccinated against those who are not. A study from the Philippines indicates that those who are vaccinated do significantly better, even cognitively, than those who were not.  Why the Philippines is an important study sample is that it has a relatively high unvaccinated population. This is opposed to the US where the benefits of vaccination are spread to the relatively small unvaccinated population because the general susceptibility of getting the disease is significantly decreased in advanced societies. So in a way, the unvaccinated individuals in industrialized societies are immunized by the significant population that is.

In the final analysis it is clear that the issue is not with the vaccines – i.e. the genetic organic compounds that counter the disease. Rather it is the chemicals used to administer it that appears to be the problematic factor cited by scientists as the concern.

Thus for me the solution to the problem appears to be obvious. Instead of spending vast amounts of money developing new and largely unnecessary vaccines, perhaps big pharmaceutical conglomerates should err on the safe side and take the claims made by Seneff and others seriously.  Thus to rather change focus towards manufacturing less harmful, though perhaps more expensive, alternatives to safely deliver the  life-saving vaccines that are already out there. 

Newton Fortuin, 21 February 2015

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Media & Other

A philosopher to take note of…
I had the fortune to read some of Newton Fortuin’s work and find it very incisive, imaginative and courageous, given the fact that he has little formal training in the many branches of academic philosophy.
At the end of the day, people like us are all lovers of wisdom and seekers of truth, so we should help one another, since we are a rare species, almost on the brink of extinction in the present consummerised world…
The Scourge of our Time is a very original and provocative work.
WL van der Merwe, Ph.D.

Professor:  Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Culture and Metaphysics – Free University of Amsterdam