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Monday, June 4, 2012

Can 'being healthy' make you sick?

If you have been fully vaccinated, wash your hands regularly and take antibiotics when you are sick, most would consider that a picture of 'health.' But there could be a cruel irony in this: are we actually sicker because of it?

Does it seem like it's getting
 to the point where you can name
more people with cancer than without?
Photo credit: Virus,
Andrzej Pobiedzinski
Last month was Brain Tumor Awareness Month, and this month is Congenital Cytomegalovirus Awareness Month. What do the two have to do with each other? Apparently a lot.

I've read two interesting articles that link the two - one is a common virus that produces flu-like symptoms and occurs in many children and about four out of five adults; another is a potentially deadly condition that claims the lives of adults every day. Back in April my husband and I said goodbye to a friend who had suffered through treating brain cancer, losing his battle after about 14 months (the average) and at age 40. In reading up on his condition, I was alarmed to learn that this type of brain tumor, a glioblastoma, is the most aggressive form of brain cancer there is and affects about 10,000 people per year.

Groundbreaking research has been ongoing to determine the cause of these tumors, with fascinating results. One physician took his own time, off the clock, to analyze the tumors of dozens of victims. What he found was no doubt shocking: each tumor was "riddled" with CMV, or cytomegalovirus. Could the cause of these invasive tumors be viral?

The samples that Dr. Cobbs studied came from
mostly older, well-educated and from higher socioeconomic backgrounds. Their “hyper-hygienic” lifestyles had possibly left their immune systems susceptible to more common viruses, such as the human cytomegalovirus, or CMV, a herpes virus so ubiquitous that it infects 4 of 5 Americans.
His research - and an article by Dr. Amy, of all people - asked the same question I was thinking in my mind: would treating these tumor patients with an antiviral medication improve their outcomes?

The words "older, well-educated, higher socioeconomic background" and "hyper-hygienic" made me think of a type of person in particular: someone who is educated, reasonably affluent with a good job - and good insurance. Someone who is likely to have regular access to a physician when they are sick, perhaps asking for antibiotics - and a regular source of income to pay for those medications.

Could be a hunch, but I'm sure there are lots of us - myself included - who probably fit that mold.

Now doctors are seeing more and more of these aggressive cancers in young people - especially among teenagers. According to this article, the numbers are steady despite increased mobile phone use, and some teens don't even use, or own, a cell phone. Could the cause of tumors in people so young be congenital CMV - acquired before they were even born?

One thing that has increased since our parents and grandparents were small: the sheer number of vaccinations each generation is "required" to get. My kids are vaccinated, and I think some are necessary, but the absolute absurd number of shots that you're expected to give your child is insane, and if I had it to do all over again I would definitely reconsider. I'm obviously not a pathologist, but one thing that caught my attention was the fact that this virus is also part of the herpes simplex virus - which is in the same family as chicken pox. Is it merely a coincidence that kids old enough to receive the first line of chicken pox vaccine back in 1995 also have a prevalence for these types of tumors?

In the 1980s, the "yuppie flu," or Epstein-Barr virus, made the news, fitting a similar profile to those who Dr. Cobbs studied. Several factors could be considered: our changing population tends to rely heavily on antibiotics and medicines now more than ever; more people tend to have more sexual partners (as the virus can be spread through bodily fluids, including through sexual contact), and vaccines are used more widely. Antibacterial hand soaps, in use since the 1980s, could have an impact on upsetting the balance of good bacteria in our bodies and our response to illness. And on top of that, now we have hand sanitizer (made with good old fashioned grain alcohol, which our kids can promptly lick off their hands and get drunk off of - wonderful).

Interestingly enough, researchers have found that there is virtually no decline in illness despite the widespread use of antibacterial hand soaps. Realizing that eating your pound of dirt was probably good for my kids, I stopped using them altogether.

It strikes me that perhaps those "yuppies" most afflicted are people with decent jobs who make good money and have great benefits - who don't want to lose work. Down time from an illness takes you away from projects and important business events, and means time lost - I don't begrudge anyone that. The chicken pox vaccine, for example, also seems more like a way to "guarantee" no lost work time taking care of a child, and no lost school days, either.

But what if the tremendous load on our bodies - whether it be from crap in our food that our body doesn't know how to process or get rid of, to the good-germ killing soap we bathe in, to the medications we take to keep us "healthy" - is actually doing more to kill us than keep us well?

Just because your arm didn't swell up, wither and fall off days after you received a vaccine or antibiotic doesn't mean that in the course of a lifetime or two the damage isn't being done, silently, invisibly, inside our own bodies. Years of "research" and studies that tell us one thing are being refuted - ideas are continually being challenged about what 'healthy' means, and how it can be obtained when we are so engrained, so entrenched in a world that is full of chemicals, pesticides, substances that surely have to be changing us - maybe not for the better - with every passing year, every decade, until we no longer recognize who we are and have no idea how to get back to the "roots" of our ancestors: because we can't. When the very fiber of our being - our unborn selves - is now contaminated with something we can't identify, how can you ever go back?

More reading:

Cancer cells? Brain Tumor Numbers Steady Despite Increased Mobile Phone Use: Scientific American
Viral brain cancer theory comes of age - Mind Hacks