Caution: Killing Germs May Be Hazardous to Your Health
Our war on microbes has toughened them. Now, new science tells us we should embrace bacteria.
By Jerry Adler
Updated: 4:08 PM ET Oct 20, 2007
Behold yourself, for a moment, as an organism. A trillion cells stuck together, arrayed into tissues and organs and harnessed by your DNA to the elemental goals of survival and propagation. But is that all? An electron microscope would reveal that you are teeming with other life-forms. Any part of your body that comes into contact with the outside world—your skin, mouth, nose and (especially) digestive tract—is home to bacteria, fungi and protozoa that outnumber the cells you call your own by 10, or perhaps a hundred, to one.
Their ancestors began colonizing you the moment you came into the world, inches from the least sanitary part of your mother's body, and their descendants will have their final feast on your corpse, and join you in death. There are thousands of different species, found in combinations "as unique as our DNA or our fingerprints," says Stanford biologist David Relman, who is investigating the complex web of interactions microbes maintain with our digestive, immune and nervous systems. Where do you leave off, and they begin? Microbes, Relman holds, are "a part of who we are."
Relman is a leader in rethinking our relationship to bacteria, which for most of the last century was dominated by the paradigm of Total Warfare. "It's awful the way we treat our microbes," he says, not intending a joke; "people still think the only good microbe is a dead one." We try to kill them off with antibiotics and hand sanitizers. But bacteria never surrender; if there were one salmonella left in the world, doubling every 30 minutes, it would take less than a week to give everyone alive diarrhea. In the early years of antibiotics, doctors dreamed of eliminating infectious disease. Instead, a new paper in The Journal of the American Medical Association reports on the prevalence of Methicillinresistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which was responsible for almost 19,000 deaths in the United States in 2005—about twice as many as previously thought, and more than AIDS. Elizabeth Bancroft, a leading epidemiologist, called this finding "astounding."
As antibiotics lose their effectiveness, researchers are returning to an idea that dates back to Pasteur, that the body's natural microbial flora aren't just an incidental fact of our biology, but crucial components of our health, intimate companions on an evolutionary journey that began millions of years ago. The science writer Jessica Snyder Sachs summarizes this view in four words in the title of her ground-breaking new book: "Good Germs, Bad Germs." Our microbes do us the favor of synthesizing vitamins right in our guts; they regulate our immune systems and even our serotonin levels: germs, it seems, can make us happy. They influence how we digest our food, how much we eat and even what we crave. The genetic factors in weight control might reside partly in their genes, not ours. Regrettably, it turns out that bacteria exhibit a strong preference for making us fat.
Our well-meaning war on microbes has, by the relentless process of selection, toughened them instead. When penicillin began to lose its effectiveness against staph, doctors turned to methicillin, but then MRSA appeared—first as an opportunistic infection among people already hospitalized, now increasingly a wide-ranging threat that can strike almost anyone. The strain most commonly contracted outside hospitals, dubbed USA300, comes armed with the alarming ability to attack immune-system cells. Football players seem to be especially vulnerable: they get scraped and bruised and share equipment while engaging in prolonged exercise, which some researchers believe temporarily lowers immunity. In the last five years outbreaks have plagued the Cleveland Browns, the University of Texas and the University of Southern California, where trainers now disinfect equipment almost hourly. The JAMA article was a boon to makers of antimicrobial products, of which about 200 have been introduced in the United States so far this year. Press releases began deluging newsrooms, touting the benefits of antibacterial miracle compounds ranging from silver to honey. Charles Gerba, a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona, issued an ominous warning that teenagers were catching MRSA by sharing cell phones. Gerba is a consultant to the makers of Purell hand sanitizer, Clorox bleach and the Oreck antibacterial vacuum cleaner, which uses ultraviolet light to kill germs on your rug.
To be sure, MRSA is a scary infection, fast-moving and tricky to diagnose. Hunter Spence, a 12-year-old cheerleader from Victoria, Texas, woke up one Sunday in May with pain in her left leg. "I think I pulled a calf muscle," she told her mother, Peyton. By the next day, the pain was much worse and she was running a low-grade fever, but there was no other sign of infection. A doctor thought she might have the flu. By Wednesday her fever was 103 and the leg pain was unbearable. But doctors at two different community hospitals couldn't figure out what was wrong until Friday, when a blood culture came up positive for MRSA. By the time she arrived at Driscoll Children's Hospital in Corpus Christi—by helicopter—her temperature was 107 and her pulse 220. Doctors put her chance of survival at 20 percent.
Hunter needed eight operations over the next week to drain her infections, and an intravenous drip of two powerful new antibiotics, Zyvox and Cubicin. She did survive, and is home now, but her lung capacity is at 35 percent of normal. "We are seeing more infections, and more severe infections" with the USA300 strain, says Dr. Jaime Fergie, who treated her at Driscoll. In many cases, there's no clue as to how the infection was contracted, but a study Fergie did in 2005 of 350 children who were seen at Driscoll for unrelated conditions found that 21 percent of them were carrying MRSA, mostly in their noses. Then all it may take is a cut … and an unwashed hand.
And there are plenty of unwashed hands out there; Gerba claims that only one in five of us does the job properly, getting in all the spaces between the fingers and under the nails and rubbing for at least 20 seconds. Americans have been obsessed with eradicating germs ever since their role in disease was discovered in the 19th century, but they've been partial to technological fixes like antibiotics or sanitizers rather than the dirty work of cleanliness. Nancy Tomes, author of "The Gospel of Germs," believes the obsession waxes and wanes in response to social anxiety—about diseases such as anthrax, SARS or avian flu, naturally, but also about issues like terrorism or immigration that bear a metaphoric relationship to infection. "I can't protect myself from bin Laden, but I can rid myself of germs," she says. "Guarding against microbes is something Americans turn to when they're stressed." The plastic squeeze bottle of alcohol gel, which was introduced by Purell in 1997, is a powerful talisman of security. Sharon Morrison, a Dallas real-estate broker with three young daughters, estimates she has as many as 10 going at any time, in her house, her car, her purse, her office and her kids' backpacks. She swabs her grocery cart with sanitizing wipes and, when her children were younger, she would bring her own baby-seat cover from home and her own place mats to restaurants. Sales of Purell last year were $90 million, so she's clearly not alone. There's no question it kills germs, although it's not a substitute for washing; the Centers for Disease Control Web site notes that alcohol can't reach germs through a layer of dirt. Alcohol gels, which kill germs by drying them out, don't cause the kind of resistance that gives rise to superbugs like MRSA. But they're part of the culture of cleanliness that's led to a different set of problems.
In terms of infectious disease, the environment of the American suburb is unquestionably a far healthier place than most of the rest of the world. But we've made a Faustian bargain with our antibiotics, because most researchers now believe that our supersanitized world exacts a unique price in allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases, most of which were unknown to our ancestors. Sachs warns that many people drew precisely the wrong conclusion from this, that contracting a lot of diseases in childhood is somehow beneficial. What we need is more exposure to the good microbes, and the job of medicine in the years to come will be sorting out the good microbes from the bad.
That's the goal of the Human Microbiome Project, a five-year multinational study that its advocates say could tell us almost as much about life as the recently completed work of sequencing the human genome. One puzzling result of the Human Genome Project was the paltry number of genes it found—about 20,000, which is only as many as it takes to make a fruit fly. Now some researchers think some of the "missing" genes may be found in the teeming populations of microbes we host.
And the microbe project—which as a first step requires sampling every crevice and orifice of 100 people of varying ages from a variety of climates and cultures—is "infinitely more complex and problematic than the genome," laments (or boasts) one of its lead researchers, Martin Blaser of NYU Medical School. Each part of the body is a separate ecosystem, and even two teeth in the same mouth can be colonized by different bacteria. In general, researchers know what they'll find— Escherechia (including the ubiquitous microbial Everyman, E. coli) in the bowel, lactobacilli in the vagina and staphylococcus on the skin. But the mix of particular species and strains will probably turn out to be unique to each individual, a product of chance, gender (men and women have different microbes on their skin but are similar in their intestines) and socioeconomic status and culture. (Race seems not to matter much.) Once the microbes establish themselves they stay for life and fight off newcomers; a broad-spectrum antibiotic may kill most of them but the same kinds usually come back after a few weeks. The most intriguing question is how microbes interact with each other and with our own cells. "There is a three-way conversation going on throughout our bodies," says Jane Peterson of the National Human Genome Research Institute. "We want to listen in because we think it will fill in a lot of blanks about human health—and human disease."
The vast majority of human microbes live in the digestive tract; they get there by way of the mouth in the first few months of life, before stomach acid builds to levels that are intended to kill most invaders. The roiling, fetid and apparently useless contents of the large intestine were a moral affront to doctors in the early years of modern medicine, who sought to cleanse them from the body with high-powered enemas. But to microbiologists, the intestinal bacteria are a marvel, a virtual organ of the body which just happens to have its own DNA. Researchers at Duke University claim it explains the persistence of the human appendix. It serves, they say, as a reservoir of beneficial microbes which can recolonize the gut after it's emptied by diseases such as cholera or dysentery.
Microbes play an important role in digestion, especially of polysaccharides, starch molecules found in foods such as potatoes or rice that may be hundreds or thousands of atoms long. The stomach and intestines secrete 99 different enzymes for breaking these down into usable 6-carbon sugars, but the humble gut-dwelling Bacterioides theta produces almost 250, substantially increasing the energy we can extract from a given meal.
Of course, "energy" is another way of saying "calories." Jeffrey Gordon of Washington University raised a colony of mice in sterile conditions, with no gut microbes at all, and although they ate 30 percent more food than normal mice they had less than half the body fat. When they were later inoculated with normal bacteria, they quickly gained back up to normal weight. "We are finding that the nutritional value of food is pretty individualized," Gordon says. "And a big part of what determines it is our microbial composition."
We can't raise humans in sterile labs, of course, but there's evidence that variations between people in their intestinal microbes correspond to differences in body composition. And other factors appear to be at work besides the ability to extract calories from starch. Bacteria seem able to adjust levels of the hormones ghrelin and leptin, which regulate appetite and metabolism. Certain microbes even seem to be associated with a desire for chocolate, according to research by the Nestlé Research Center. And a tiny study suggests that severe emotional stress in some people triggers an explosion in the population of B. theta, the starch-digesting bacteria associated with weight gain. That corresponds to folk wisdom about "stress eating," but it is also a profoundly disturbing and counterintuitive observation that something as intimate as our choice between a carrot and a candy bar is somehow mediated by creatures that are not us.
But these are the closest of aliens, so familiar that the immune system, which ordinarily attacks any outside organism, tolerates them by the trillions—a seeming paradox with profound implications for health. The microbes we have all our lives are the ones that colonize us in the first weeks and months after birth, while our immune system is still undeveloped; in effect, they become part of the landscape. "Dendritic" (treelike) immune cells send branches into the respiratory and digestive tracts, where they sample all the microbes we inhale or swallow. When they see the same ones over and over, they secrete an anti-inflammatory substance called interleukin-10, which signals the microbe-killing T-cells: stand down.
And that's an essential step in the development of a healthy immune system. The immune reaction relies on a network of positive and negative feedback loops, poised on a knife edge between the dangers of ignoring a deadly invader and over-reacting to a harmless stimulus. But to develop properly it must be exposed to a wide range of harmless microbes early in life. This was the normal condition of most human infants until a few generations ago. Cover the dirt on the floor of the hut, banish the farm animals to a distant feedlot, treat an ear infection with penicillin, and the inflammation-calming interleukin-10 reaction may fail to develop properly. "Modern sanitation is a good thing, and pavement is a good thing," says Sachs, "but they keep kids at a distance from microbes." The effect is to tip the immune system in the direction of overreaction, either to outside stimuli or even to the body's own cells. If the former, the result is allergies or asthma. Sachs writes that "children who receive antibiotics in the first year of life have more than double the rate of allergies and asthma in later childhood." But if the immune system turns on the body itself, you see irritable bowel syndrome, lupus or multiple sclerosis, among the many autoimmune diseases that were virtually unknown to our ancestors but are increasingly common in the developed world.
That is the modern understanding of the "Hygiene Hypothesis," first formulated by David Strachan in 1989. In Strachan's original version, which has unfortunately lodged in the minds of many parents, actual childhood illness was believed to exert a protective effect. There was a brief vogue for intentionally exposing youngsters to disease. But researchers now believe the key is exposure to a wide range of harmless germs, such as might be found in a playground or a park.
The task is complicated, in part because some bacteria seem to be both good and bad. The best-known is Helicobacter pylori, a microbe that has evolved to live in the acid environment of the stomach. It survives by burrowing into the stomach's mucous lining and secreting enzymes that reduce acidity. Nobel laureates Barry Marshall and Robin Warren showed it could cause gastric ulcers and stomach cancer. But then further studies discovered that infection with H. pylori was protective against esophageal reflux and cancer of the esophagus, and may also reduce the incidence of asthma. H. pylori, which is spread in drinking water and direct contact among family members, was virtually universal a few generations ago but is now on the verge of extinction in the developed world. The result is fewer ulcers and stomach cancer, but more cancer of the esophagus—which is increasing faster than any other form of cancer in America—more asthma, and … what else? We don't know. "H. pylori has colonized our guts since before humans migrated out of Africa," says Blaser. "You can't get rid of it and not expect consequences."
Blaser questions whether eliminating H. pylori is a good idea. Someday, conceivably, we might intentionally inoculate children with a bioengineered version of H. pylori that keeps its benefits without running the risk of stomach cancer. There is already a burgeoning market for "probiotics," bacteria with supposed health benefits, either in pill form or as food. Consumers last year slurped down more than $100 million worth of Dannon's Activia, a yogurt containing what the Web site impressively calls "billions" of beneficial microbes in every container. The microbes are a strain of Bifidobacterium animalis, which helps improve what advertisers delicately call "regularity," a fact Dannon has underscored by rechristening the species with its trademarked name "Bifidus regularis." Other products contain Lactobacillus casei, which is supposed to stimulate production of infection-fighting lymphocytes. Many others on the market are untested and of dubious value. Labels that claim ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANT ought to be considered a warning, not a boast. Bacteria swap genetic material among themselves, and the last thing you want to do is introduce a resistant strain, even of a beneficial microbe, into your body.
And there's one more thing that microbes can do, perhaps the most remarkable of all. Mycobacterium vaccae, a soil microbe found in East Africa that has powerful effects on the immune system, was tested at the University of Bristol as a cancer therapy. The results were equivocal, but researchers made the startling observation that patients receiving it felt better regardless of whether their cancer was actually improving. Neuroscientist Chris Lowry injected mice with it, and found, to his amazement, that it activated the serotonin receptors in the prefrontal cortex—in other words, it worked like an antidepressant, only without the side effects of insomnia and anxiety. Researchers believe M. vaccae works through the interleukin-10 pathway, although the precise mechanism is uncertain. But there is at least the tantalizing, if disconcerting, suggestion that microbes may be able to manipulate our happiness. Could the hygiene hypothesis help explain the rise in, of all things, depression? We're a long way from being able to say that, much less use that insight to treat people. But at least we are asking the right questions: not how to kill bacteria, but how to live with them.
Suzanne Macguire (ArriveNet Editorials - Aug 03, 2007) -- There is no dearth of people who want to lose weight in the wink of an eye. With growing health consciousness among them worldwide, there has been a rapid increase in the number of health clubs, gyms, and fitness centers. However, the result is often not so encouraging. This might happen due to negligence of following your regular exercise routine or following a wrong diet pattern. Most of the people suffer from a misconception that physical exercise is the only effective solution for losing weight. The truth is physical exercise in combination with a good diet pattern lends you effective results.
Your diet should be chalked out in proportion to your BMI (Body Mass Index), i.e. the ratio between your height and weight. Calorie consumption of individuals depends on their BMI. People having a high BMI need to adhere to a strict diet pattern by cutting down on calories through the inclusion of more fruits and vegetables. The role of fruits in your diet chart is extremely important to allow your bodies consume less extra calories from food. The benefits of fruits can hardly be debated upon. Loaded with all the essential vitamins and minerals, this natural resource possesses the capacity to pump out all the toxins from the body. Consumption of fruits and vegetables in appropriate quantities gives the body a healthy glow.
People all over the world are widely appreciating the benefits of fruits. This has led to the emergence of the trend of juicing bars. Be it Seattle, Washington or South Carolina, one can find people from different age groups or professions lined up to have a pick from their favorite fruit juices. Many people argue that fruit juices lose much of their nutrients than raw fruits. Without doubt, consuming raw fruits is the best solution but there are few of us who would actually like to do so. Fruit juices are ideal for those who do not like to consume fruits as a whole. Besides, it is easier for the body to absorb nutrients when consumed in liquid form. Fruits, when pressed, do not lose their nutrients. Fruit juices content the same nutrients and fibers as compared to their raw counterpart.
Apart from the consumption pattern of fruits, it is also important to glance at some of the other benefits provided by fruits and their juices. According to a research carried by a team of the Glasgow University, a diet rich in fruits and fruit juices reduces the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Fruits contain antioxidants that help in reducing cell damage caused by free radicals. Adequate amount of fruit consumption can help combat against ageing and diseases in general. Besides, the fiber content in fruits does not allow the body to consume more calories, thus cutting down on extra consumption.
The benefits of fruits can be talked about indefinitely. Fruits can provide resistance from almost every disease possible. Talking about some of the favorite fruit drinks, watermelon, pineapple, mango, apple, peach, grapes, orange are the most popular. Watermelon ("http://www.sundiacorp.com") juice is particularly popular in America for its high water and lycopene content. Citrus juices like orange juice is popular all over the world, not to overlook the other flavors. These natural drinks are a lot healthier and safer than aerated water or other artificial drinks. So drink your way to health by switching on to fruits. Don't just be a vegetarian... be a fruitarian!
Devvy Kidd authored the booklets, Why A Bankrupt America and Blind Loyalty, which sold close to 2,000,000 copies. Devvy appears on radio shows all over the country, ran for Congress and is a highly sought after public speaker. Get a free copy of Why A Bankrupt America from El Dorado Gold. Devvy is a contributing writer for www.NewsWithViews.com.
In a stunning turnabout, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to let food producers drop the "irradiated" label and radiation symbol from foods that have been treated with radiation, except when the treatment changes a product's material characteristics like taste, texture, or smell. Some irradiated foods may not be labeled at all; others may be labeled "pasteurized," a term that refers to heating to a high temperature, a process completely different from exposure to radiation. The proposed change will mislead and confuse consumers, making it impossible for them to avoid irradiated food. Tell the FDA to continue to require the term "irradiated" on irradiated food! Visit Regulations.gov, enter docket ID FDA-2007-0189-0001, click on one of the two "Views" options to read more about the FDA's proposal, and click on the yellow balloon to add your comments.
* Raw Food tastes better. If you're into gourmet and blessed with sensitive taste buds, Raw Food is the only way to satisfy your true commitment to decadent dining. After Raw Food, cooked food tastes like cardboard.
* Raw Food is a massive time saver. Once you get the hang of Raw Food Diet planning/preparing, you'll be amazed at the time you save cooking and cleaning. Since Raw Food is easier to digest, you'll sleep better and sleep less, giving you more productive hours. Your big win is your increased quality of life and longevity.
* Raw Food is a massive money saver. Raw Food is nutrient dense which means you'll eat less, so you'll buy less. Raw Food dramatically transforms mental ability, so you'll be on a faster track to turning your $1,000,000 ideas into a lifetime of $1,000,000 cashflows.
* Raw Food is enzyme rich. Enzymes are the spark of life. Bodies work on priorities revolving first around enzymes. As an example, the pancreas can produce either metabolic enzymes to fight Cancer or digestive enzymes to break down cooked food. When cooked food is present, the pancreas stops producing Cancer fighting enzymes and shifts it's entire energy to producing digestive enzymes. A sobering thought, if you're planning a long, comfortable life.
* [Many raw food items], when ripe, are alkalizing. If blood and lymph become even slightly acidic, bodies transition into emergency mode. First Calcium is leeched from bone. If this fails, over production of cholesterol begins and cells pack cholesterol in cell walls to cut off fluid exchange with the acid. The familiar cycle begins - Insomnia, Arthritis and finally full blown Cancer. Continuous emergency mode operation creates adrenal/thyroid exhaustion and sets the stage for Insomnia. Calcium leeching sets the stage for Arthritis. Cholesterol packing sets the stage for Cancer by cutting off nutrient uptake and toxin elimination.
* Raw Foods protect against protein poisoning. Many people have fallen prey to the "too little protein myth". They continually focus on and over eat protein which results in acidosis (highly acid body fluids). During our life cycle we mature fastest between birth and 18 months when our only food should be mother's milk which is 3-5% protein. When we are mature, we require even less protein as we've finished building on our primary bone and tissue. The abundance of high quality, protein in greens, nuts and seeds is perfect to keep our body running at peak performance without the protein poisoning problems of fish, foul, meat, dairy, rice, grains and soy.
* Raw Foods retain nutrient integrity. Heat denatures (renders toxic) even the highest quality food nutrients. Denatured nutrients setup small imbalances which accumulate and amplify over entire lifetimes. When you hear someone has died of "natural causes", this usually means one imbalance has intensified so far, death has resulted. Years ago I read a research paper stating 99% of non-accidental deaths from less than 5% tissue failure. In other words, small imbalances lead to small failures of tissue, which result in most deaths.
* Raw Food promotes ethical treatment of animals. Visit any commercial farm, fishery, hatchery or meat packing plant and if you have a conscience, you'll be a Raw Fooder for life. Nothing like the torture of small animals to put you on the Raw Food Diet for life.
>From Zahira: I haven't been raw fooding it for very long but I'm already hooked on this way of living. It has made such a difference in my outlook on life. It is a naturally cleansing diet so harmful substances are literally washed away from the body. Raw foods are the most delicious, rich, and beautiful foods on the earth. I encourage anyone, EVERYONE, no matter how skeptical you are to try a raw food diet for 1 week and assess how you feel.
Some people consider a raw food way of life extreme. To this I say that what people consider to be "normal" eating habits in the United States are the true extremity. People are committing gradual suicide because they are addicted to deleterious substances mistakenly labeled as foods. As a raw foodist, I am not deficient or even craving cooked food.
In addition to spearheading this global petition drive and grass roots mobilization, C-FAM is working with its friendly contacts within the German government to press the case against the massive, state-sponsored abuse of women during the World Cup games.
C-FAM Joins Other Groups in Opposing Exploitation of Women at World Cup Games in Germany.
Visit this site often to see updates on the progress of our Petition drive!
Visit web pages below so see the true, shocking extent of the problem of forced prostitution in Europe and worldwide.
The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women CATW) is a non-governmental organization that promotes women's human rights by working internationally to combat sexual exploitation in all its forms. Founded in 1988, CATW was the first international non-governmental organization to focus on human trafficking, especially sex trafficking of women and girls.
"Increased trafficking of women for prostitution is akin to slavery... women are bought and sold like cattle." (Anita Gradin, European Commissioner, European Race Audit Bulletin No 25, The Institute of Race Relations, London UK, 25 November 1997)
Approximately 500,000 women are annually trafficked into Western Europe. (International Organization for Migration, Michael Specter, "Traffickers' New Cargo: Naive Slavic Women, New York Times, 11 January 1998)
The slave trade in women for sexual purposes is growing, and organized crime is more often behind this trade. Smuggling in humans is much less risky than smuggling drugs and it is highly profitable. (Commissioner Anita Gradin, "Conference on Trafficking in Women" European Commission, 10-11 June 1996)
The United States Department has issued its fifth annual Trafficking in Persons Report, along with the $82 million in anti-trafficking assistance our nation provided to foreign governments and non-government organizations last year, demonstrates our strong commitment to this cause. See the Report here: http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2005/
The TIP Report serves to expose these despicable aspects of trafficking. It provokes, lauds, and challenges. Countries including the United States, which is dealing with its own trafficking problem, have been inspired to greater action against human trafficking as a result of this unique compendium. By reading it, we hope you are joining with us in the abolitionist movement of the 21st century to advance freedom for the world's most vulnerable citizens." - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Read This True Life Horror Story from Germany
Prostitution was legalised in Germany just over two years ago and brothel owners - who must pay tax and employee health insurance - were granted access to official databases of jobseekers.
When compassion for all living beings is a core value in your life, it can be disturbing to feel your commitment to a vegan lifestyle is compromised by your desire to feed canine and feline family members the best possible diet. You may have eliminated animal products from your own diet, sworn off buying leather shoes, and never ever buy cosmetics that are not cruelty free - but the meat you buy for your dogs and cats is the one relic of the so-called "livestock" industry that still shows up in your home.
As more and more people adopt a vegan diet for themselves, they also consider eliminating animal products from their dogs' and cats' diets. But is this really a healthy option? Didn't they evolve as predatory carnivores, existing on the raw flesh of their prey? Yes - and no. It's true that their ancestors were wild hunters whose diets consisted primarily of the animals they killed. But the animals we share our homes with today are genetically far removed from their wild counterparts. Think about it - does a dachshund appear to have the identical genetic profile of a wolf? Does the kitten curled up on the pillow of your bed really look like she's ready to take down an ibex? Of course not. Due to centuries of selective breeding and adaptation, the dog and cat who sleep at your side are substantially different from their ancestors. What's more, the meat we feed them is substantially different from the wild game consumed by their predecessors. The cows and chickens of today are also the result of extensive selective breeding, and their flesh carries the residue of hormones, antibiotics, and the pesticides applied to the grain they eat - hardly the same as a freshly killed jackrabbit.
Let's consider the canine diet. The fact is, even a wolf or a coyote is not a true carnivore. He's actually more of an omnivore, or an animal that consumes both animal and vegetable foods. A wild canine nibbles on grasses and other vegetation, as well as the stomach contents of his vegan prey. All things considered, it's reasonable to assume that our dogs can rely on non-animal sources for a healthy diet.
The same is true for our cats. Their predecessors, too, eat grasses and vegan stomach contents. Some supplementation is essential if meat is eliminated from a cat's diet (see below), but there's no question they draw nutrition from vegetable sources just like the rest of us.
The truth is, many dogs and cats actually blossom when switched to a meatless regimen, with glossier coats, fresher breath and cleaner teeth, more energy at play, and a more peaceful disposition overall. Removing animal products from the diet may even help overcome some health problems, including allergies, behavioral disorders such as aggression, hypersensitivity or anxiety, and even seizures. In some cases, eliminating meat from the diet will help an overweight animal trim down while still enjoying ample, satisfying meals. Consider, too, the benefits of eliminating the possibility your companion might be exposed to toxic residues in the flesh of farm animals that are not raised organically. And of course, you'll feel much more at peace knowing your household really is cruelty free.
To make the switch to meatless fare for your animal family members, simply choose vegetable sources for the protein component of their meals. Vegetable proteins are not digested as completely as those derived from meat or dairy, so the proportions may need to be a little higher. Feeding a variety of ingredients is particularly important, to be sure your dog and cat get the balance of amino acids and other nutrients they need. Here are a few additional guidelines you may find helpful:
- The high-protein vegan foods you eat yourself will replace the meat your dog and cat used to eat. Tofu, tempeh, lentils, beans, and split peas are among your options. - When using beans as your protein source, soak them overnight, rinse well, then cook them until they're soft, and purée the bigger, firmer varieties like garbanzos. Adding a small potato to the cooking pot will help reduce "gassiness." - Supplement with either a vitamin B12 tablet weekly, a daily multivitamin, or B12-rich spirulina on a regular basis. Cats must receive the amino acid taurine as a supplement, as a deficiency can cause blindness. The company called Harbingers of a New Age, at http://www.vegepet.com , offers supplements designed specifically for vegan dogs and cats. - Don't forget to include fruits as well as vegetables in the diet, to provide a broad range of nutrients - and, of course, because they taste so good! - Since your cat may be a little fussier than your dog, you may need to flavor her vegan meals with a bit of the meat-based food she's accustomed to. Just decrease the amount gradually till she doesn't even notice it's gone. Also try adding interesting flavors like nutritional yeast, spirulina, or a touch of tomato sauce. Cats also seem to love yellow and orange foods like melon, corn, sweet potatoes, and winter squash. - Remember to follow the golden rule of nutrition: Variety, variety, variety. Give her lentils on Tuesday, black beans on the weekend, tofu on Sunday morning. If providing a varied diet is difficult for you, follow a balanced, recipe formulated by a qualified veterinarian. Customized diets are available from a veterinary nutritionist at most veterinary schools or from http://www.PetDiets.com and other veterinary nutrition resources. - If you need to rely on a commercial dog and cat food, there are vegan varieties available. However the same concerns about processing, preservatives, chemical additives, quality of ingredients, and lack of variety apply just as they do for meat-based diets. Scrutinize package labels and manufacturers' websites for lists of ingredients and company policies on ingredient sources and quality, processing, and so forth. Companies that offer quality vegan foods include Nature's Recipe, Natural Life, PetGuard, Three Dog Bakery, Wow-Bow, and Evolution.
Once your dog and cat start their new diets, watch for changes - for better or worse - in health or behavior. A brittle coat, low energy, or weak muscles may be a sign she's not getting enough protein. If so, be sure the protein source is easily digestible and of good quality. Cook beans a little longer or purée them; increase the amount of protein, or try different sources such as tofu and lentils.
Chances are, though, you'll find that your friends' coats become softer and shinier, their energy increases, she's less afraid of those thunderstorms, his breath is fresh, and that nasty build-up on her teeth seems to be going away. If that's the case - celebrate and carry on!
Do you have a comment or a question? Is there a topic you'd like to see addressed in this column? If so, send a message to Jan at AskJan@idausa.org . It won't be possible to respond to all emails personally, but she will welcome and read every one.
New research on common food additives, including the controversial sweetener aspartame and food colourings, suggests they may interact to interfere with the development of the nervous system.
Researchers at the University of Liverpool examined the toxic effects on nerve cells in the laboratory of using a combination of four common food additives - aspartame, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and the artificial colourings brilliant blue and quinoline yellow. The findings of their two-year study were published last week in the journal Toxicological Sciences (read full study here)
The Liverpool team reported that when mouse nerve cells were exposed to MSG and brilliant blue or aspartame and quinoline yellow in laboratory conditions, combined in concentrations that theoretically reflect the compound that enters the bloodstream after a typical children's snack and drink, the additives stopped the nerve cells growing and interfered with proper signalling systems.
The mixtures of the additives had a much more potent effect on nerve cells than each additive on its own.
The study reported that the effect on cells could be up to four times greater when brilliant blue and MSG were combined, and up to seven times greater when quinoline yellow and aspartame were combined, than when the additives were applied on their own. "The results indicate that both combinations are potentially more toxic than might be predicted from the sum of their individual compounds," the researchers concluded.
The tests used are the same as those applied when testing combinations of pesticides for toxicity. "They are recognised as predictive of developmental outcomes in humans," said Vyvyan Howard, a toxicopathologist and expert in foetal development who led the study.
Exposure to food additives during a child's development has been associated with behavioural problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Additives are licensed for use one at a time, but the study's authors believe that examining their effect in combinations gives a more accurate picture of how they are consumed in the modern diet.
"Although the use of single food additives is believed to be relatively safe in terms of development of the nervous system, their combined effects are unclear," Professor Howard said. "We think there are signs that when you mix additives, the effect might be worse."
The colours used in the research are synthetic dyes certified as safe food additives in the EU. However, brilliant blue (E133) has been banned in several European countries in the past. Quinoline yellow (E104) is banned in foods in Australia, Norway and the US. Previous research has shown that MSG (E621) and aspartic acid, one of the breakdown compounds in aspartame (E951), are neurotoxins, according to the authors of the study.
Brilliant blue is found in sweets, some processed peas, some soft drinks and some confectionery, desserts and ices. Quinoline yellow is found in some smoked haddock, some confectionery and some pickles. MSG, which is banned in foods for young children, is found in some pasta with sauce products, a large number of crisps, processed cheese, and prepared meals. Aspartame is found in diet drinks, some sweets, desserts and medicines.
The Food Standards Agency said it would need further details and clarification on the research before making a full assessment. "All of the additives included in the study are permitted for use in food under current EU legislation following a rigorous safety assessment," it said in a statement. The agency added it was funding research on the effects of mixtures of colourings on children's behaviour and kept the safety of additives under review.
Speaking for manufacturers, the Food and Drink Federation said the additives in the study had all been approved as safe by the EU's expert scientific committee.
The Aspartame Information Service, which represents the sweetener industry, dismissed the research, saying that it "did not provide any meaningful information" because it exposed mouse cells in the laboratory to undigested aspartame. "When we consume aspartame it is broken down in the digestive system to common dietary components. Aspartame has been in safe use for 25 years and has been reviewed and approved by more than 130 countries," it said.
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