Category: Health

Stomach Ulcers: Do Natural Remedies Work?

Posted by – June 21, 2011

Fascinating Experiments proudly presents …. Squiffy’s guide to stomach ulcers, stomach infections and their treatment.

Before we start, let me tell you how I got into this strange subject in the first place. To cut a long story short, a while ago I took to drinking vast amounts of coffee for reasons that are best left unexplored. Eventually I developed some kind of stomach infection. Lots of my acquaintances also had stomach infections around the same time. I saw a doctor who assured me it wasn’t serious and prescribed antacids, but they didn’t help much ….

The up-side of this is that I gathered the information that I now present to you here. The murky and confusing world of stomach ulcers and infections is a surprisingly interesting one with a rather interesting history, even if you don’t have a stomach ulcer.

As you might imagine, given that stomach problems are just about the commonest reason for people going to see a doctor, there is a thriving alternative health industry that aims to sell people all kinds of herbs and potions for their stomach complaints. But do they actually work? Here, Fascinating Experiments takes a look at some of these alleged cures and explores the science (or lack thereof) behind them.

A quick disclaimer is in order: I am not a doctor and this page should not be taken to constitute medical advice. If you have a stomach problem, please see a doctor. If your doctor can’t help you but he or she is sure there’s nothing too badly wrong with you, welcome to the whacky world of alternative stomach health treatments.

Please also note that we’re going to be talking here about a fairly specific problem, as discussed in the following paragraphs. To your chagrin or possibly relief, this page does not deal with diarrhoea, intestinal problems or anything that occurs below the stomach.

A Brief History of Stomach Ulcers

A stomach ulcer is much like a mouth ulcer, except you find it – no prizes for guessing this – in the stomach. Or in the duodenum, which is the part of the intestine that the stomach empties into. Duodenal and gastric (stomach) ulcers are known collectively as peptic ulcers. Unfortunately peptic ulcers are rather more serious than mouth ulcers, due to the fact that they are exposed to stomach acid and digestive enzymes. Some people say that a stomach ulcer will be worse after eating (when the stomach pumps in acid to digest food), while a duodenal ulcer will be worse when the stomach is empty. Whether this is actually true or not is however somewhat unclear.

It used to be thought that stomach ulcers were caused by stress and bad diet. If you’re old enough, or watch enough old TV, maybe you can recall TV series from the 70s or 80s in which a hard-working whisky-swigging man frequently gripped his stomach and complained about the ulcer that his stressful work had given him. Probably the same guy would have a drinks cabinet in his office and would automatically offer a shot of scotch to anyone who stopped by, before tucking into a cigarette. Interesting time, the 70s. And we haven’t even touched on the green-and-brown decor that prevailed throughout.

In 1982, two Australian doctors published a paper in which they claimed that stomach ulcers were in fact caused by a nasty little bacterium, Helicobacter pylori. It had long been observed that this bacteria colonised stomach ulcers, but it was thought that the colonisation was secondary to the development of the ulcer. After all, the stomach contains hydrochloric acid capable of dissolving steel. How could any bacteria possibly survive such harsh conditions for long enough to cause a stomach ulcer? The paper wasn’t well received. Undeterred, Marshall drunk a culture of Helicobacter and promptly developed an ulcer, which he cured using antibiotics. Pretty impressive. Nevertheless, medical science as practised on you and me tended to rather ignore these findings well into the 90s.

Now it is considered well-established that 90% of stomach ulcers are caused by Helicobacter. The other 10% are largely caused by drugs that erode the lining of the stomach, such as aspirin. The stomach is covered in a wall of mucus that protects it from the deadly acid that it uses to digest food. The cunning little Helicobacter drills into this mucus and produces neutralising ammonia to protect itself. Crafty! We now know, in fact, that other bacteria too can infect the stomach, but Helicobacter is one of the most common. Actually, most people who are infected with Helicobacter don’t develop an ulcer and are unaware of the infection. The infection rate in Western countries apparently pretty much matches age; that is, at age 20, 20% of people are infected, at age 40, 40%, and so on. Presumably if you live to be 101, the laws of physics break down ….

If you haven’t got an ulcer (and if you have you may not even know about it — although if you’ve got hideous gnawing pain in your stomach coupled with terrible bloating, that could be a bit of a giveaway), should you worry about Helicobacter? Hard to say. Since Helicobacter doesn’t cause stomach ulcers in most people, it would seem that other factors are at work; possibly stress and bad diet being among them. High salt intake (irritating the stomach lining), alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking are all risk factors, which brings to mind the stressed hard-drinking 70s TV series guy mentioned above. You may well have a Helicobacter infection and suffer not a stomach ulcer, but other stomach infection symptoms — pain, nausea, etc. Or you may have no symptoms at all.

Over time, Helicobacter can weaken and thin the stomach lining. It can also, most worryingly, dramatically increase your chances of eventually dying of stomach cancer, and stomach cancer is already a very common form of cancer. This is possibly the most worrying thing about Helicobacter. On the other hand, it appears to decrease your risk of esophageal cancer, if that’s any consolation. Maybe this is due to the ammonia it produces neutralizing stomach acid.

Humankind has clearly lived with Helicobacter for a very, very long time. Our stomachs have sort of come to expect it. Without it, they may even feel a little lost. Maybe your immune system relishes having some such thing to work on.

On the negative side, stomach ulcers appear to be associated with Parkinson’s Disease (they produce toxins which seem to destroy cells in the brain) and heart disease.

OK, the positives are looking vague and intangible, while the negatives are pretty damn negative. But what can you do to get rid of Helicobacter, or at least suppress it? That would seem to be a very apposite question, given that being infected with it can really screw you up in ways that you may not even have considered before reading this article.

For God’s Sake Go and See a Doctor

If you actually have anything more than mild stomach problems, please go and see a doctor. Antibiotics, coupled with antacids, can actually eradicate Helicobacter in most cases (at least two thirds). That’s right, eradicate. You can be completely rid of the thing. However, antibiotics carry their own risks, so doctors won’t usually prescribe them unless it looks to be pretty clear that you’ve got a stomach ulcer and not, say, acid reflux from eating too much late at night, or gastritis from boozing too much (possibly while smoking) or some kind of general irritation of the stomach lining due to drinking twenty cups of coffee a day or whatever.

That leaves a large number of people who may suffer periodically with mild-to-annoying stomach problems, which they may suspect are caused by Helicobacter, but who are not in line to be given antibiotics. Maybe you sometimes suffer hyperacidity, mild nausea or stomach ache. Maybe your grandomother died of stomach cancer and you’ve decided you’d rather not go the same way, but would prefer to take your chances with, say, a heart attack when you get ready to pop your clogs.

Or maybe, more worryingly, you’ve already take antiobiotics, you’re seeing a doctor regularly because you have stomach ulcer-type symptoms, your doctor tells you he can’t find anything seriously wrong and can’t help you any further ….

In short, what can you do to eradicate or suppress a stomach infection and hopefully decrease your chances of it developing into something more serious? Now you’re into the territory of “alternative health”, but that doesn’t mean you have to throw all reason out of the window, become a hippy and take to wearing sandals at all times. Far from it. Science still has a lot to tell you.

Stomach Ulcer, Gastritis and Heartburn – Good Things and Bad Things

The remedies we’ll consider here can be lumped into two categories; remedies aimed at alleviating symptoms and remedies aimed at curing the underlying condition by somehow eradicating or suppressing stomach bacteria. These two categories aren’t completely separate, because treating the symptoms (excessive stomach acid leading to burning sensations, for instance) may allow the stomach to heal and throw off any infection.

Let’s also take a look at some things that tend to make stomach infections worse or to cause them in the first place.

Things That You Might Want to Avoid

Alcohol: There have always been people around who insist that alcohol is ‘good for you’. I’ve got news for you: it isn’t. It never has been. In recent years a lot of retrospective studies have been done on groups of people, to try to determine how the death rate from various diseases compares to the amount the group drinks. The results of these studies are horribly difficult to interpret. Initially it seemed as though teetotalers were far more likely to die of various causes than drinkers. Then it was realised that teetotalers as a group includes people who don’t drink because they are recovering alcoholics or because they can’t afford to drink, or because their health isn’t strong enough to withstand alcohol. Unfortunately it’s very difficult to reliably account for these kinds of statistical nuisances. Alcohol in moderate amounts may reduce the risk of a heart attack in people with certain types of heart problems — or it may not, depending on how you dice and slice the statistics.

One thing can definitely be said: alcohol is bad for the lining of the stomach and will increase your risk of a stomach ulcer or chronic stomach infection of the type that can lead to stomach cancer. If you already have a stomach ulcer, cut the booze — unless you have a death wish.

Smoking: I know this page is starting to sound like it was written by a puritan, but smoking is also a major risk factor for stomach ulcers. The precise reason for this is unknown. One possibility is that enough smoke manages to make its way down the esophagus, at least in some smokers, to mess with the stomach lining. Another possibility has to do with vitamin C: as we’ll see later, for reasons that are entirely unknown, vitamin C seems to be powerfully protective against stomach ulcers, and smoking destroys vitamin C. In an effort to combat the “oxidative stress” that smoking places on your body, your body ends up using more vitamin C than you can shake a stick at.

Stress: Once fingered as the cause of stomach ulcers, stress has now been relegated to a back seat, and debates continue to rage over whether or not stress is implicated in allowing Helicobacter and its friends to get a hold. Certainly stress causes adrenalin (epinephrine) to be produced, which slows or stops digestion and has a generally profound effect on the stomach. If you’re very stressed, consider taking up meditation. Or something.

Caffeine: Oh no! Don’t say it’s true. Even tea and coffee are bad for stomach ulcers and heartburn. Caffeine increases stomach acid levels and relaxes the sphincter (valve) that stops acid from your stomach getting into your esophagus. Which means pain.

Tomatoes and tomato-based foods: OK so you’ve had to lay off the booze, fags and coffee, but surely you can still kick back with a nice tomato in the evening, right? Wrong! Whether tomatoes are bad for gastric ulcers is not entirely clear (they are generally said to be so, but I have no idea why); they are however certainly bad for heartburn and probably for duodenal ulcers too. The reason for this is that tomatoes, like caffeine, cause a relaxation of the sphincter muscles that keep your stomach acid where it’s supposed to be.

Overeating: Overeating, it goes without saying, puts undesirable stress on your digestive system, encourages the production of stomach acid and tends to cause acid reflux (heartburn). Don’t do it.

Cured meats: Cured meats are generally cured with nitrates, which can turn into cancer-causing nitrosamines in your stomach. This may be especially likely if your stomach acid levels are low due to having a persistent Helicobacter infection. So while cured meats may not bother your ulcer, if you have an ulcer you’d be well advised to go easy on them, due to your already hugely-enhanced chances of getting stomach cancer. Bad news, I know. Sorry! Cured meats means bacon, ham and even sausages. But the good news is, if you literally follow all the advice on this page, you will probably achieve enlightenment by next week due to the extreme monk-like purity of your lifestyle. So that’s something.

Milk and milk products: Bit of a double-edged sword this one. Milk and yogurt temporarily neutralize stomach acid, but also encourage the stomach to produce more of the stuff — meaning you might feel OK for a while, then end up in a worse state an hour or two later on.

NSAIDS: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen are capable of causing stomach ulcers in themselves, without any other risk factors being present. If you have gastritis or a stomach ulcer, don’t take them. Unless you have a death wish. And you like pain. A lot.

Salt: There’s some evidence that salt is a risk factor for stomach ulcers, surprisingly. In fact, some research suggests that coffee, long fingered as a prime suspect, may be relatively blameless when compared to salt. Excess salt presumably irritates the lining of the stomach, allowing Helicobacter to get a hold.

Remedies that Treat the Symptoms

Apple cider vinegar: Now here’s a strange thing. You’d think that acid of any sort would be the last thing a person with heartburn, gastritis or stomach ulcer would want to consume. Apple cider is of course rather acidic; and yet a search on Google quickly reveals that lots of people with stomach problems swear that apple cider relieves their symptoms and can even, in some cases, effect a cure. Some say that unpasteurized apple cider vinegar is the stuff you need. For those without a degree in apple ciderology, basically apple cider vinegar is vinegar made from apple cider, instead of from wine or by synthetic methods. You can buy apple cider in supermarkets; it looks and tastes pretty much like normal vinegar except it’s more apple-colored. If you go to a health food shop, you can buy the unpasteurized hippy variety; this generally has a cloudy appearance.

Why would would apple cider vinegar help with stomach problems of a type that are made worse by acid? A popular theory floating about on the Internet says that people who think they have too much stomach acid, in fact have too little of it. By consuming apple cider vinegar, the acidity of your stomach is increased and your esophageal sphincter then starts closing properly.

I think this theory sound batty. It’s possible, of course, that apple cider contains substances that actually kill Helicobacter, but given the relatively-swift relief that this vinegar is claimed to provide, this seems unlikely. More likely, it seems to me, is that the addition of apple cider vinegar to the acid in your stomach actually makes it less acid. The acid in your stomach is known as hydrochloric acid and it has a pH of 1. That means that it’s as acid as acid can be. Certainly it could be a lot more concentrated, but concentrated or not, your stomach acid can eat through steel given enough time. Add water to it and it still has a pH of 1; it’s just more dilute and so will take longer to dissolve steel nails, or your stomach lining.

But add a weak acid (such as the acetic acid in vinegar) to a strong acid such as hydrochloric acid, and the pH actually goes up; in other words, it becomes less acid.

At least — I think that’s the case; it would be nice if a chemist could confirm or refute this theory; it’s a long time since I studied this stuff. Or better still, someone with some hydrochloric acid, some vinegar and pH testing papers.

Why? Acids actually consist of groups of atoms that include at least one hydrogen atom. The core of a hydrogen atom is a thing called a proton. What happens is, these protons — think of them as being not unlike biting ants, but smaller — tend to wander off and randomly attack whatever’s around, be it your stomach lining or whatever. Normally of course your stomach protects itself using a layer of mucus, but an ulcer is fully exposed to these nasty little critters.

In a strong acid, such as the hydrochloric acid that your stomach produces, pretty much all the protons in the acid are wandering around freely at any given time. That’s what makes the acid strong. Dilute it and they’re still out there, looking for trouble; it’s just that they are more widely dispersed.

In a weak acid, lots of these protons are stuck to other atoms and can’t get away to cause trouble. Mix a strong acid with a weak acid and, if I remember my chemistry correctly, the clusters of atoms that make up the weak acid tend to attract the protons of the strong acid and, in a nutshell, limit the amount of damage they can do.

If this theory is correct, of course, ordinary vinegar may be as effective as apple cider vinegar. Or else perhaps apple cider vinegar contains an acid — malic acid, perhaps — that somehow does the job more effectively. Or perhaps the taste of apple cider vinegar is just a lot less repulsive than that brown stuff you put on your chips.

Whatever the whys and wherefores, if you want to try apple cider vinegar for your indigestion or heart burn, do not drink it neat. That’s asking for trouble. Mix one or two tablespoons with a glass of water (warm water is typically mentioned) and drink it through a straw, trying not to let it touch your teeth. Repeat two or three times as necessary. Pain relief is said not to be instant, but to occur over some period of time. Some people recommend drinking one glass of this concoction morning and evening, an hour before eating. Does it work?

Well, it’s unlikely to cure your stomach ulcer, if that’s your problem. Really you need antibiotics for a permanent cure. But it really does seem to work extremely well when it comes to settling an acid stomach. It works for acid reflux, and probably it can reduce the pain of a stomach ulcer. The relief generally isn’t immediate, but when it comes, it lasts longer and seems more complete than if you’d taken antacids. This may be due to the acid-buffering effects of vinegar, who knows. If your stomach is too acid or you have heartburn, I strongly recommend this stuff.

Apples: Some people, including me, find that apples are incredibly effective at relieving heartburn. As to why — maybe the acid in them actually somewhat neutralizes stomach acid, as outlined in the above theory, and I suspect that chewed-up apples, which contain a “gelling agent” called pectin, actually act as a mechanical barrier to stomach acid getting into your esophagus, floating on top of your stomach contents. At any rate, apples are good for you so don’t hesitate to give them a try.

Milk: As mentioned above, milk is a double-edged sword. A glass of milk and an apple may relieve heartburn symptoms, but milk may actually make your symptoms worse later on by stimulating your stomach to produce more acid.

Probiotic Fermented Milk Products: A double-edged sword, for the same reason as milk. However, there is some evidence that “probiotic” yogurts and milk products, especially those containing live bacteria, may facilitate the healing of gastric ulcers and increase the thickness of the mucus that lines the stomach to a modest extent.

From hereon in I’ll include a few references to scientific studies where appropriate, but don’t hesitate to search Pubmed yourself if you want more information.

Yogurt containing Lactobacillus gasseri OLL 2716 (LG21 yogurt) accelerated the healing of acetic acid-induced gastric ulcer in rats.
Probiotic bacteria Escherichia coli strain Nissle 1917 attenuates acute gastric lesions induced by stress.
Effect of Bifidobacterium bifidum fermented milk on Helicobacter pylori and serum pepsinogen levels in humans.

Antacids: Not necessarily a natural product of course, but antacids are helpful in healing stomach ulcers. They neutralize the stomach’s acid, allowing your ulcer to get a little breathing space to heal.

Proton Pump Inhibitors and H2 antagonists: OK, these are totally unnatural and don’t entirely fit with the theme of this article, but I’m including them here for the sake of completeness. Proton pump inhibitors and H2 antagonists (Zantac for instance) are pharmaceuticals that decrease the amount of acid in your stomach. Proton pump inhibitors are commonly prescribed as part of a stomach ulcer treatment regime, along with antibiotics, while H2 antagonists are available from your local chemist. Both can potentially have side-effects, but the side effects generally aren’t as bad as those due to an untreated stomach ulcer! (There’s a little British understatement going on there, in case you missed it …)

Changing Your Diet: This is really a subject that deserves a whole website all to itself. Needless to say, it’s best to avoid anything that makes your stomach hurt, and try to eat things that don’t make it hurt. A stomach ulcer is unfortunately a huge risk factor for stomach cancer, which is already one of the most common cancers around, so you might want to think about changing your diet long-term to lower your risk of stomach cancer. See below for more details. Basically you might want to consider getting plenty of fruit and vegetables, most especially vegetables in the cabbage family such as broccoli, cauliflower and of course cabbage. Consider eating raw onions if your stomach feels OK with them, and get plenty of fibre and vitamin C. If you’re careful, you can eventually die of a stroke or heart attack rather than having your insides dissolved by stomach acid as the cancer eats you away from the inside. Sweet.

Remedies Intended to Cure the Problem

Garlic and Raw onions: It’s crazy but it’s true, a diet high in raw onions seems to significantly decrease your risk of dying of stomach cancer, which is something you should be grateful for if you have a stomach ulcer. Or of course it could just be that only people with strong stomachs eat raw onions. Garlic actually kills Helicobacter in vitro. Here, a side note is in order. Many substances kill germs in vitro, that is to say, in a test tube. Sadly most of these prove useless in vivo, that is, in actual living organisms. Garlic kills Helicobacter in vitro, at concentrations that could be reached in your stomach via the consumption of one clove of raw garlic (enough to clear a 2-meter space around you even in the London Tube). For that matter, hydrochloric acid kills Helicobacter in vitro, but is sadly ineffective in vivo. In vitro results therefore have to be taken with a big pinch of salt. Nevertheless, consumption of allium vegetables (onions, shallots, leeks, garlic — but especially onions) does seem to correlate negatively with stomach cancer, so if you like raw onion and your partner has no sense of smell, consider eating it a lot.

Consumption of Large Amounts of Allium Vegetables Reduces Risk for Gastric Cancer in a Meta-Analysis.
Allium vegetables and stomach cancer risk in China
Consumption of onions and a reduced risk of stomach carcinoma

Expensive herbal preparations: While one can’t rule out that there could be some kind of herbal preparation unknown to science that secretly cures stomach ulcers, most cases of alleged cures through dodgy herbal preparations are mostly likely cases where Nature did the healing and the herbs were merely an expensive bystander. Save your money. As you’ll see if you read this page, your best chances of staving off or even curing ulcer- or bacteria-related stomach problems, aside from antibiotics, lie with foods and substances that are cheap and widely available.

Manuka honey: Manuka honey is honey from New Zealand from bees that have fed off the manuka tree (also known, along with other plants, as the “tea tree”). Manuka honey kills Helicobacter in vitro, but it might well be useless in vivo. It’s also expensive, so unless you have money to burn, you might be better off spending your cash on something more effective. Manuka honey does, according to some studies, help to heal certain types of leg ulcers when applied directly, but the prospects of it curing your stomach ulcer are dubious. In summary, manuka honey can’t be written off, yet, but at the moment it’s unclear whether it actually helps stomach problems or not.

Mastic: Mastic is a kind of gum obtained from a certain tree and used in Greek cooking. As with manuka honey and lots of other things, it kills Helicobacter in vitro. Mastic is a traditional remedy for dyspepsia, and does seem to help calm the stomach. Now, I’ll be honest with you. I was all ready to pen a summary writing mastic off. It’s just too easy to get carried away with the idea that traditional remedies, proven effective in vitro, might actually help in vivo, when in fact often they don’t. But there’s enough scientific evidence now to suggest that mastic actually does help to suppress and even eradicate Helicobacter. On the other hand, some studies find that it doesn’t help at all. What’s going on here? I don’t know.

The effect of mastic gum on Helicobacter pylori: a randomized pilot study.
The effect of mastic gum on Helicobacter pylori: a randomized pilot study
Is Chios mastic gum effective in the treatment of functional dyspepsia? A prospective randomised double-blind placebo controlled trial.
Monotherapy with mastic does not eradicate Helicobacter pylori infection from mice.
A double-blind controlled clinical trial of mastic and placebo in the treatment of duodenal ulcer.

Green tea: Green tea is another of those things that can kill Helicobacter in a test tube, but probably not in human beings. A large study in Japan failed to find any inverse relationship between green tea consumption and deaths from stomach cancer, which you’d expect to find if green tea had any effect on Helicobacter

A prospective study of stomach cancer death in relation to green tea consumption in Japan.
Inhibitory Potential of Tea Polyphenolics and Influence of Extraction Time Against Helicobacter pylori and Lack of Inhibition of Beneficial Lactic Acid Bacteria.
Green tea and the risk of gastric cancer in Japan.

Cruciferous Vegetables: Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower etc) suppress Helicobacter and seem to be associated with a decreased risk of dying of stomach cancer. Great news. Sadly this confirms the terrible truth that you already suspected …. we should be eating less sausages and more cabbage. “But sausages are so tasty!” I hear you cry. Don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger ….

Cruciferous vegetables, mushrooms, and gastrointestinal cancer risks in a multicenter, hospital-based case-control study in Japan.
Baby broccoli ‘controls gut bug’

Cranberry juice: Cranberry juice can apparently suppress Helicobacter in vivo, in addition to suppressing bladder infections. Whether or not that sugary stuff sold in supermarkets as “cranberry drink” has the same effect is another matter. The effect isn’t massive, but it’s strong enough to make cranberry juice worth drinking if you have gastritis or a stomach ulcer.

Efficacy of cranberry juice on Helicobacter pylori infection: a double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial.

Vitamin C: Finally we come to a surprise late entry in the semi-natural Helicobacter suppression championships: vitamin C. Vitamin C has an interesting history even aside from Helicobacter, from the gradual emergence of the recognition that cetain foods contain something that can prevent that dreaded disease of sailors — no not syphilis, but the other one, scurvy — to its isolation by Hungarian and American researchers around 1930. In the 1960s, twice Nobel prize winner Linus Pauling became somewhat irrationally convinced that massive doses of vitamin C were important for good health and have the ability to prevent colds. Years of research proving that vitamin C cannot prevent colds has subsequently failed to eradicate the association in people’s minds between vitamin C and cold prevention. Vitamin C occupies a similarly controversial position with respect to Helicobacter, some studies finding that vitamin C can help to eradicate Helicobacter (one study even claimed that vitamin C alone at 5g per day eradicates Helicobacter in 30% of subjects), while other studies find no effect at all.

What the devil is going on here? Damned if I know. Maybe it’s the usual story — wishful thinking skewing research results in favour of remedies that the researchers want to work. Or maybe vitamin C works on some types of people, under some circumstances. Hard to say.

Effects of high dose vitamin C treatment on Helicobacter pylori infection and total vitamin C concentration in gastric juice.
The efficacy of Helicobacter pylori eradication regimen with and without vitamin C supplementation.
The effect of 5-year vitamin C supplementation on serum pepsinogen level and Helicobacter pylori infection.
[Effect of vitamin C administration on gastric colonization by Helicobacter pylori].
Adjuvant effect of vitamin C on omeprazole-amoxicillin-clarithromycin triple therapy for Helicobacter pylori eradication.
Effect of addition of vitamin C to clarithromycin-amoxicillin-omeprazol triple regimen on Helicobacter pylori eradication.

The Squiffy Method for Not Dying of Stomach Cancer

No prizes for guessing that vitamin C gets my star recommendation when it comes to substances that might actually eradicate or seriously suppress Helicobacter, short of antibiotics. Unfortunately it might easily be totally useless since the studies on it are contradictory, but at least it’s cheap, and there’s as much or more evidence to support its efficacy than for more expensive remedies such as manuka honey and mastic. Apples can also be very useful in preventing heart burn, and to really increase your stomach health long term, consider eating cruciferous vegetables, raw or cooked, several times a week. Raw onions are also a good idea for your long-term stomach health, if your stomach will tolerate them; just don’t breathe on anyone within 24 hours of eating them if you want to keep your friends. Mastic gum capsules may or may not help — it’s very unclear. Given the expense of mastic, you might be better off sticking with vitamin C, which is dirt cheap. And finally, apple cider vinegar may help settle your stomach and stave off those gut-wrenching acute attacks — you know, the ones where you’re rolling about in pain with a hideous bloated feeling in your stomach, while a small animal gnaws at your insides. And staving off those can’t be a bad thing, can it? If there’s one “natural” remedy on this whole page that I can heartily recommend to help with acid-related symptoms (although it probably won’t cure an ulcer), it’s apple cider vinegar.

An Important Footnote

I’ve spoken throughout this article as though all forms and manifestations of Helicobacter infection — gastritis, stomach ulcers and duodenal ulcers — are basically the same; that is, they have similar symptoms and result in similar outcomes. But this is really not the case, and in fact I became aware after completing most of this article that while gastric (stomach) ulcers are a significant risk factor for stomach cancer, duodenal ulcers are not, and in fact may even protect against stomach cancer!

The risk of stomach cancer in patients with gastric or duodenal ulcer disease.

Duodenal ulcers (occurring in the upper part of the intestine where the stomach empties into it) occur typically in younger people than gastric ulcers and are regarded as far less serious. As mentioned earlier, some say that a stomach ulcer will hurt when you eat, while a duodenal ulcer will hurt when your stomach is empty. This may or may not be true. Only an endoscopy can tell you for sure whether you’ve got an ulcer or not, and what kind if so.

You can also find many references to heartburn in this article. A gnawing pain in your stomach could easily be due to heartburn (acid reflux), stomach ulcer, duodenal ulcer or something else. Of course, go and see a doctor — but if you’ve seen a doctor already or your problem isn’t serious enough to warrant a doctor, maybe the ideas on this page can help you sort your stomach out.

And finally, before you panic too much about your real or imagined H. pylori infection, it’s worth bearing in mind the wise words of Professor Kenneth McColl, quoted here from the UK’s Daily Mail in regard to the home testing kits that you can find, for instance on Amazon: “Half the world’s population is infected by the H. pylori bacteria, so a positive test would not mean an ulcer”.

Test Your Brain Instantly: Are You A Genius?

Posted by – March 18, 2011

Can You Make This Image Spin Both Ways?

Spinning woman. But which way is she spinning?

Recently a friend of mine sent me an email that contained this image. The email said that:

  • If you see the woman spinning to the left, the left side of your brain is most active.
  • If you see her spinning to the right, the right side of your brain is most active.
  • If you can see her spinning both ways, you have an IQ of over 160.

Now, I know and you know that the IQ stuff is ridiculous. Why bother with all those lengthy IQ tests if measuring IQ was that simple (assuming there even is any such thing as IQ). But, well …. once you’re presented with a challenge like that, who can resist? After five minutes of hard effort, finally I could make her spin either way at will.

The trick is to concentrate on her feet. Suppose at a given moment you see one foot passing in front of the other foot. Imagine that the same foot is in fact passing behind the other foot, at the same moment when you previously saw it passing in front. After a few minutes of effort, suddenly she’s spinning the other way!

A bit of practice and you can make her spin whichever way you please. Congratulations, we’re all geniuses now!

Sadly I now can’t stop looking at the image, trying to make her spin first one way and then another. Aaarghh, it’s so annoying! Worse than those magic eye things!

After a bit of research, I’ve discovered that the originator of this optical illusion is the Japanese web designer Nobuyuki Kayahara. Kayahara’s creation, known as the spinning dancer or Silhouette Illusion and often found titled See Her Spin has achieved a considerable degree of fame and notoriety, deservedly so. What I find particularly imaginative about Kayahara’s work is that he (or she?) has paired an optical illusion with that other staple of viral web content — the naked woman (albeit not a real naked woman!). The originator of the chain email further added the clever viral idea that you have a really high IQ if you can see the illusion spin either way — providing a further incentive to try to do just that!

In spite of the original image being copyrighted, this image (or a close replica) has made its way all over the web and even appears on the New York Times blog.

But before you tear your hair out, tell me — which way do you think she’s spinning? Assume she’s facing you; does she turn towards your right or your left?

Which way is the woman spinning when you first look at her?

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Ritalin vs Street Drugs: Is There Really Much Difference?

Posted by – February 27, 2011

Ritalin

Ritalin. Photograph courtesy of the US Drug Enforcement Agency.

Perhaps as much as 10% of American children are currently taking Ritalin. They are taking Ritalin not because they have a physical medical problem, but because they can’t concentrate in schools or are too “hyper” at home. But a growing body of evidence indicates that many of these children may suffer long-term health problems as a result of the drugs they are being prescribed. Maybe it’s time to ask whether giving children Ritalin is really any different to a pusher selling them amphetamines on the street.

What Is ADHD?

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, as we all know is characterized by a tendency to fidget “excessively”, an inability to concentrate and a general tendency to be too “hyper”. A century ago such children were likely to be physically punished or assigned tiring work until they calmed down, but today we live in a society where physical exercise is becoming a scarce commodity that one can obtain only by attending expensive gyms.

But how did ADHD come to be seen as a medical problem?

After the First World War, the world was struck by a massive influenza epidemic that killed more people than the war itself. Less well known today is that another, stranger epidemic followed in the heels of the influenza outbreak. Little is known about this second epidemic, and we still don’t know if it was caused by the ‘flu or was an entirely separate illness, but large numbers of people developed a strange affliction that, in the worst cases, left them alive but paralysed and inert, seemingly vegetative. This second illness has been called sleeping sickness, but it is unrelated to African sleeping sickness, an illness spread by a type of fly.

Decades later, neurologist Oliver Sacks was able to awaken some of these patients from their inert state by giving them L-Dopa, a Parkinson’s disease medication — an event that inspired the film Awakenings. But not all sleeping sickness sufferers were completely paralyzed by the illness; many appeared to largely recover. Yet some of these recovered victims were tragically left with permanent brain damage that ruined their ability to concentrate.

Many of these people were children who were left unable to concentrate on their schoolwork. Desperate for some kind of pharmacological fix for these unhappy kids, doctors turned to a relatively new class of drugs that were believed to be relatively free from side-effects and addiction potential: the amphetamines.

Amphetamines: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know

Byron

Byron. A severely hyperactive man who was fit only for writing poetry.

Amphetamines are a type of chemical stimulant, first marketed in 1932. Under the influence of a sufficient dose of amphetamines, a person can read a telephone book and find it interesting and engaging. Amphetamines have the power to turn boring activities into interesting ones, and for children suffering from the effects of sleeping sickness, initially they must have appeared to be a godsend.

We have a somewhat different view of amphetamines these days. As we now know, amphetamines are highly addictive; tolerance to their effects quickly builds up, necessitating ever-larger doses to achieve the same effect, and they can take a savage toll on your health. The Western world has been shocked in recent years by photographs of ‘meth’ users before and after they started abusing meth. Meth is nothing other than an amphetamine, and while the method of ingestion and pattern of use that meth users prefer renders it particularly destructive to their health, at root its effects are those common to all amphetamines. Meth can damage the brain and the heart, in children it retards growth, and it can cause outright death. The same is true of all amphetamines.

These considerations, however, didn’t stop both pharmaceutical companies and worried parents seizing on amphetamines as a possible way to get their hyperactive children to concentrate.

In the 1960s, “Hyperactive Child Syndrome” was invented — or described, depending on your perspective. Sufferers were treated with another newly-discovered drug, Ritalin. Ritalin is virtually identical in its effects to amphetamines; it is a stimulant and can also cause addiction, heart problems, retarded growth and death, but it has the great advantage of not having the word ‘amphetamine’ in its name. By the 1960s, people were well aware that amphetamines were dangerous, and few parents wanted to feed them to their children.

Roll forward a few decades, and Ritalin is now being prescribed to astonishingly-large numbers of children, most of whom probably do not have any kind of brain damage. Equally astonishing is the fact that amphetamines have made a come-back, with the drug Adderall (a mixture of amphetamines) now also widely prescribed.

Given that the side-effects of these drugs have now long since been known, how did they become so popular?

If It’s a Stimulant, How Come It Calms Them Down?

Adderall

Perhaps one factor in the popularity of Ritalin is that many parents insist that ADHD is a “real” illness, like polio or tetanus, which can be “cured” by ADHD medication. For these parents, it’s hard to understand how a stimulant drug could calm their children down. Surely a stimulant would cause hyperactive children to become more hyper, not less?

But in fact, as the success of Adderall shows, drugs that are purely stimulant in their effect can indeed calm hyperactive children down. The reason is that hyperactive children generally want to sit down and concentrate in order to please their parents and teachers, but their state of mind makes it hard for them to do so. The stimulant effect of amphetamines enables them to more easily carry out their own wishes.

In exactly the same way, an adult who is assigned the task of reading the telephone directory from front to back might yawn, fidget and lose himself in daydreams. But if the same adult takes an amphetamine, it may become possible for him to read the telephone book with rapt attention, losing all signs of his previous “hyperactive” or “inattentive” behaviour.

The widespread view that Ritalin must genuinely and objectively cure an illness is further promoted through the unscrupulous and unthinking use of brain scans by scientists and pharmaceutical companies. Using technologies such as MRI, scientists can show that hyperactive children have discernibly different brain activity patterns to non-hyperactive children. A scientist can take a copy of an “abnormal” hyperactive brain scan and compare it with a brain scan of the same child after taking ADHD medication. The medication appears to make the pattern of activity in the brain more normal, to judge by the scans.

brain

PET Scan of human brain

Why do I call this work “unscrupulous”? Because if you think about it for a minute, this research doesn’t tell us anything that we didn’t know to start with. All our thoughts and emotions correspond to activity in the brain, and indeed are regarded by most scientists as being generated by the brain itself. A person who is feeling sad will show a different pattern of brain activity to a person who is feeling happy. A person who is habitually nervous will have a visibly different pattern of brain activity to one who is habitually relaxed. And … a child who tends to be hyperactive or fidgety will have a different pattern of brain activity to one who is calm most of the time.

Take a child who is, for any reason, currently in a state of restlessness, give him amphetamines and – voilà – his brain scan starts to look more like that of a child who is not restless; because he is no longer restless. It is quite wrong to think that either an initial disease state or a subsequent cure have been proven by this kind of research. Except in the cases of the relative handful of children who who do have actual physical damage to their brains, ADHD continues to be purely a matter of definition.

How Severe Are the Long-Term Side-Effects of Ritalin?

The potential long term effects of Ritalin may include permanent damaging brain changes, heart damage and even death. As long ago as 2006, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that 51 children had died in the US as a result of being prescribed Ritalin. Yet there are those who believe that the real figure may be ten times higher than this, with many Ritalin-induced deaths being chalked up to genetic heart defects or unknown causes. While death is a rare side-effect of Ritalin, other side effects such as undesirable brain changes and growth retardation may be far more common.

Western society likes to draw a sharp line between drug “abuse” — where a drug is taken in a relatively uncontrolled fashion for recreational reasons — and the doctor-prescribed use of medications. Yet the side effects of drugs like Ritalin are largely the same whether they are prescribed by a doctor or taken for kicks. Indeed, a person may illegally use Ritalin recreationally once or twice and then stop, whereas children prescribed ADHD medication may take their drugs day after day, year after year during sensitive developmental periods.

OK – Ritalin Can Have Dangerous Side-Effects: But Does It Help Children To Concentrate?

children

If Ritalin really helped hyperactive children, those who feel that the importance of good school results overrides the necessity to maintain physical health may well decide to give their children Ritalin anyway. And yet, the hard truth is that Ritalin does not improve long-term school results.

In 1999, Professor William Pelham, a world authority on ADHD, helped author a study that showed that after one year, hyperactive children did much better in school when given Ritalin that unmedicated hyperactive children. It seemed that the old adage “drugs are never the answer” had been proven wrong in this case.

Scientific opinion for a while rested on the side of medicating hyperactive children using stimulant drugs. But then in 2007, Professor Pelham and his colleagues published the results of a longer-term study that had continued to follow the medicated children who were the subject of the first study. They discovered that after three years, the children were no longer doing any better than the unmedicated kids, and their health had suffered as a result of their Ritalin use: many of them were short and underweight compared to their peers.

Pelham’s study appears to confirm what our grandparents already knew: drugs are never the answer. Adults who turn to powerful stimulants to help them pass an exam or concentrate in their work are liable to find, several years down the line, that they have health problems and an addiction; children, it seems, fare no better when prescribed these drugs by a doctor. In fact the health effects of stimulants are worse for children than for adults, since children are still developing.

Why Are There So Many Hyperactive Children?

Perhaps we should have asked ourselves why one in ten of our children have trouble concentrating in school, instead of rushing to medicate them. Could it be — and I know this is a wild and crazy theory but bear with me for a second — could it be that allowing children to drink caffeinated beverages, watch endless amounts of TV and eat and sleep at irregular times, could in fact destroy their ability to concentrate? Recently a study showed that exposure to light near bedtime worsens the quality of sleep by interfering with the production of melatonin in the brain, and yet in the Western world, many children are daily glued to computer screens and TV sets even until late at night.

The same children are then expected, against all their instincts, to sit still for hours every day, attempting to absorb information from dull and ultimately often completely pointless school lessons. Children come out of school overweight, depressed and frequently nurturing the beginnings of a lifelong hatred of the subjects that they were supposed to be learning about.

Perhaps we should spend a little less time worrying about children who won’t conform to the demands our society places on them, and instead spend a little more time worrying about whether our society might have diverged so far from the basic needs of human beings that children can no longer fit into it without losing the very thing that ultimately really matters — their health.

As generations gone by used to say, as long as you’ve got your health, the world is your oyster. But lose your health and you’re in a whole different ballgame. The tragedy of giving Ritalin to children is that while it may make them easier to control and improve their exam results in the short term, in the long term it may damage them before they ever had a chance to find their own feet.

Selected References:

DEA REPORT: ADD/ADHD Statement of Drug Enforcement Administration

The Mind Traveller: Oliver Sacks interview

Amphetamines – History

History of ADHD — Part I

Adderall [Wikipedia article]

Methylphenidate [Wikipedia article]

Ritalin heart attacks warning urged after 51 deaths in US [UK Guardian Newspaper, 2006]

Ritalin Linked With Sudden Death of Children

Death from Ritalin: The Truth Behind ADHD

Long-Term Side Effects of Ritalin

Cardiac arrest with pulseless electrical activity associated with methylphenidate in an adolescent with a normal baseline echocardiogram.

Impact of long-term treatment of methylphenidate on height and weight of school age children with ADHD.

Ritalin of no long-term benefit, study finds

Melatonin production falls if the lights are on [BBC News]

A third of children leaving primary school are overweight, report reveals

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Multiple Sclerosis: Could This Common Brain Disorder Be Caused By Mercury?

Posted by – February 25, 2011

Skull and Crossbones

Mercury

In the first half of the twentieth century, a strange illness attacked children seemingly at random, its cause unknown. The illness was known as acrodynia, or Pink Disease. Affected children developed pain in their hands and feet; their noses and hands turned pink, they became moody and unstable and they failed to thrive. Pink Disease was a difficult illness to diagnose and for decades its cause evaded medical scrutiny. Some suggested the disease was caused by a virus that infected the brain. Others thought that a bad diet might be the problem. The illness was present in all developed countries, baffling parents and doctors alike.

Finally in 1953 the cause was ascertained. Pink Disease was caused — probably solely and entirely — by mercury, which incredibly was being used in infant toothing powders among other things.

One factor that had made mercury particularly difficult to trace as the cause was the fact that there appeared to be no relation between blood mercury levels or known mercury intake and the appearance of the disease. The only thing that was clear was that a child who had been exposed to mercury had a greatly-raised chance of developing Pink Disease.

Even outright death caused by mercury followed an unpredictable pattern. It was noted that among people receiving mercury injections as a diuretic, a small number of people would literally drop dead — but not on the first injection. A person might receive many injections with no apparent ill-effect, until eventually an injection would kill them.

Hard to Avoid

Mercury is still used in dental filling throughout most of the world today. It seems to cause few problems. And yet, mercury is a known toxin; mercury damages the brain, impairing the senses and reasoning ability, as well as affecting many other organs.

Even more disturbing is the fact that mercury is widely present in the fish we eat. Various industrial activities, including gold mining, and battery and energy-saving lamp manufacture, have led to mercury being spread throughout the oceans, where it has entered the marine food chain. Fish near the top of the food chain concentrate mercury in their bodies; levels can become so astonishingly high that a single fish can cause outright mercury poisoning. Consumption of large amounts of certain kinds of fish is now believed to be linked to heart disease; a deeply ironic fact given that scientists were — until quite recently — actually recommending that people at a lot of fish to protect from heart disease.

Mad Hatter

The Mad Hatter: hat makers traditionally used mercury in hat manufacture, leading to high levels of neurological disorders.

We know that mercury is widely present in our food and environment and even in our mouths, and we know that blood levels do not correspond directly to symptoms of poisoning. While some studies attempt to correlate fish consumption with known illnesses, for the most part we can only guess what harm mercury does to us — but we may be sure that it does do some harm.

Possibly the Greatest Mystery in Neurology

One intriguing possibility is that mercury is a cause of multiple sclerosis, or MS. MS is one of the most common neurological disorders, affecting roughly one in a thousand people in the USA and much of Europe. The illness usually starts slowly, causing numbness in the face and hands, muscular weakness, problems with balance and eyesight, and unstable moods. Many victims of MS eventually require a wheelchair to get around.

The proximate cause of MS is known; the nerves that conduct signals from our brain to our body and from our body to our brain are coated with a fatty substance called myelin, which acts much like the plastic insulation on electrical cables. In MS this insulation becomes eroded, meaning the nerves can no longer do their job effectively.

Since the brain contains huge numbers of such nerves, much of the brain is made up of myelin. In MS, the myelin and associated tissues in the brain become inflamed and develop ‘scars’ — actually soft areas that are depleted of myelin and do not function effectively.

The ultimate cause of MS, however, is completely unknown. No-one knows what causes myelin to become inflamed. Some suspect that a virus causes the immune system to attack nerve tissue; others argue that the immune system is not involved directly in MS, but merely tries ineffectually to clear up damage that has already been done.

Interestingly, mercury is known to damage myelin and to disrupt myelin growth in children. Could mercury be the cause of MS?

Unfortunately, it is possible to construct equally plausible-sounding explanations as to why various other substances or organisms could cause MS. MS may even have many causes — myelin disruption merely being the common factor.

Nevertheless, to allow such a toxic and unpredictably dangerous substance to build up in our environment in this way seems like a surefire recipe for disaster. While the world worries itself about a non-toxic, harmless gas called carbon dioxide causing global warming — in the middle of an interglacial period in the quaternary ice age, no less — dangerous chemicals like mercury are being allowed to flow into the environment all but unchecked.

Selected References:

The Rise and Fall of Pink Disease

Are all cases of Pink Disease actually “idiopathic” infantile acrodynia?

Medical Journal Extract from 1934

A Review of Infantile Acrodynia (Pink Disease)

Mercury Diuretc [Wikipedia article]

Warning over fish mercury levels [BBC News]

Evidence that mercury from silver dental fillings may be an etiological factor in multiple sclerosis.

Changes in fatty acid elongation in developing mouse brain by mercury–comparison with other metals.

Peripheral neuropathy following intraneural injection of mercury compounds.

THE CAUSES OF PINK DISEASE (A really fascinating article on the history of Pink Disease!)


UPDATE: I just discovered this. Someone else called Squiffy, who blogs to raise money for multiple sclerosis resources. Check it out!


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The Three Top Preventable Cancer Risks

Posted by – February 18, 2011

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was registered with the U.S. Copyrights Office or published before January 1, 1923.

Neck Tumour. Ouch! Source: Wikipedia

Yesterday I posted an article about the news reported recently that the colorings in cola may pose a cancer risk. One of the comments on the original newspaper article suggested that “everything” causes cancer according to scientists, and that we therefore ought to stop listening to scientific advice.

There’s some truth in this. Scientists often seek to promote their own work by raising alarm about certain lifestyle choices without fully considering all ramifications of their advice; journalists are of course only too willing to help out when they smell a good story.

A great example of this is the advice that was handed out in the UK in the 90s to “slip, slop, slap”* whenever you go out in the sun. Sunshine, previously considered essential to all life on Earth, was now considered to be a cancer risk and something to be avoided. Indeed it’s true that people who sporadically bake themselves on sunbeds or in strong sunshine on foreign holidays are taking a bit of a risk. But we need sunshine, as the subsequent re-emergence of the bone-growth problem rickets in the UK now tells us. Lack of sunshine has been further linked to a range of diseases, from MS to schizophrenia to …. cancer.

But in fact while many things may, just may cause cancer, there are only three common main lifestyle factors that predispose people to cancer. They are:

Three Top Preventable Cancer Risks

  1. smoking
  2. alcohol
  3. obesity

There are, it’s true, other sources of preventable cancer. We’ve already covered excessive sun exposure. Cured meats may also raise your risk of cancer; they’re usually cured using potentially cancer-causing chemicals (see my post Five Surprising Facts About Gunpowder). Invisible radon gas affects some houses and contributes to lung cancer statistics. And of course, many foods have the potential to cause cancer if you go overboard with them; just don’t go overboard with them!

While the plethora of possible sources of cancer may alarm some, most possible causes are disputed or very minor in their likely impact on society, and the old adage of a little of what you fancy does you no harm certainly applies. It’s the big three that you have to worry about …. as long as you don’t do anything stupid like attempting to live on a diet of burnt toast and sausages while daily using a sunbed, and you’ll probably be OK.


*that is: slip on a long-sleeved shirt, slop on sun lotion and slap on a hat …. or something like that. Why not wrap your head in aluminium foil while you’re at it, just to be on the safe side?

References:

MODIFIABLE RISK FACTORS STILL MAJOR CAUSE OF CANCER DEATHS WORLDWIDE

Radon gas linked to cancer deaths

Middle class children suffering rickets

Cancer is a Preventable Disease that Requires Major Lifestyle Changes

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Is Cola A Cancer Risk?

Posted by – February 17, 2011

The UK’s The Daily Mail (a slightly right-wing newspaper that some say delights in scaring people) today published an article arguing that the brown coloring used in Coca-Cola, Pepsi Cola and various other drinks is a cancer risk.

Source: Hariadhi [Wikipedia]; This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

It seems that what the cola guys call “caramel” isn’t quite what you or I would call caramel. You or I might make caramel by gently browning sugar in a saucepan; these fellas make it by “reacting sugar with ammonia or sulphites under high pressure”.

Lovely!

While this kind of “caramel” is apparently a potential cancer risk, I’d like to argue that it’s the caffeine in coke that we should really be worried about. Millions of children all over the world are daily consuming drinks containing as much caffeine as tea or coffee, potentially ruining their sleep and hence their concentration. Many of the same children are then fed further stimulating drugs (as discussed in my article on psychosis) in an effort to get them to concentrate.

Does this really make sense? While I myself enjoy cola in moderation, young children should not be exposed to caffeine. And on top of this, now we hear that cola is a potential cancer risk!

To those who argue that “everything” these days causes cancer: well, everything doesn’t! Some things do. Hmmm, I can feel a new blog post coming on …

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Psychosis: Little Understood But Out To Get You

Posted by – February 17, 2011

In 1991, British sports presenter and celebrity David Icke appeared on a popular TV chat show dressed from head to foot in turquoise and claimed to be the son of God. It emerged that Icke now felt that presenting sports programs was no longer what his life was about; now he was on a mission to prevent the world from being destroyed by the forces of darkness, and a key part of his mission was the wearing of turquoise at all times.



David Icke: Madman, Genius or Both? The document that Icke refers to can be found here [PDF].

Icke initially drew ridicule from the British public, but as time went on, many people came to appreciate his interesting and unique theories, which he presented to audiences of thousands. While few could swallow Icke’s assertion that the world was ruled by a clan of three-meter-high lizards from another dimension, other aspects of Icke’s message appealed to the sensibilities of a public rapidly growing disenchanted with corrupt politicians and the shenanigans of high finance.

But perhaps the most intriguing question that Icke’s life raises is the one that springs to mind first: what on earth happened to David Icke to make him undergo such an apparently abrupt transformation? Can we find any pattern in Icke’s behaviour that might explain his behaviour? Of course, one possible explanation is some unseen force decided to use Icke to enlighten the world. Another explanation, not incompatible with the first, is that Icke was in the grip of a state of mind known as psychosis.

The word psychosis conjures up images of axe murderers and raving maniacs in many people’s minds. And yet in reality the word describes a unique state of mind that many people have experienced and that around 2.4 million people are currently unfortunately stuck with, in the United States alone.

What Is Psychosis?

Although the precise symptoms and manifestation of psychosis varies from person to person and depends upon the way in which psychosis is induced, nevertheless the psychotic experience has a number of common factors that arguably seem to stem from a discernible common mechanism in the brain.

From an outside perspective, psychosis typically includes hallucinations, delusions, confused thoughts and a lack of full insight into the condition by the sufferer or the pleasure-seeker — because as we’ll see shortly, while psychosis may be one of the most horrifying conditions to be stuck with permanently, nevertheless the state of mind can be pleasurable under certain circumstances and may be induced using a certain class of drugs.

In a person experiencing a psychotic state of mind, it is as if all emotions are ramped up. It is as if someone has found the emotional thermostat in the brain and turned it up to maximum. A psychotic person who, under normal circumstances might feel happy, may feel ecstatic while psychotic. Sadness may turn to severe melancholy, and minor paranoid thoughts that would ordinarily be dismissed may turn to a horrifying sense of certainty that “they” are out to get you.

But that’s not all; the consequences of increasing the emotional receptivity of the brain in this way are far-reaching. Sounds, tastes, smells and physical sensations may all intensify either to the point of becoming highly pleasurable, or to the point of becoming unbearable. Ideas that ordinarily would seem trivial may assume a profound importance, and these ideas may be anything from trivial observations (“poems are songs without music”) to observations about life that ordinarily the subject may not chose to dwell on (“no-one really knows why we are here”) to paranoid thoughts (“that guy just looked at me funny”). Colors may also appear more intense, with certain colors appearing to glow or shine.

In ordinary life we constantly receive a barrage of information from our senses and we constantly theorize about possible patterns in this information. A non-psychotic person may look at wallpaper and see faces in it; the faces however do not really look much like faces and are usually ignored. In psychosis, the same patterns may look really like faces, even to the point that the person may become convinced that they actually are faces. The same thing can happen with sounds. An ordinary person may hear the buzzing of a refrigerator and for a split second think that it sounds like a human voice; in a psychotic state, the same person may insist that the buzzing definitely is a voice, and may even believe the voice is talking to him.

Since all these little ideas that pass through the mind are magnified into things that strike the psychotic person forcefully instead of being quickly discarded, a psychotic person can gradually build up elaborate paranoid fantasies around ordinary situations, each new “realization” striking the sufferer with the force of a revealed truth.

Finally, a person who is suffering from psychosis will typically experience confused thoughts and will have difficulty reasoning logically or mathematically. Since the brain is leaping to conclusions left, right and center, logical thought becomes difficult or impossible and the sufferer may even experience racing thoughts, where one idea leapfrogs over another. The inability to reason logically in a detailed way tends to worsen the sufferer’s delusions, since delusional ideas can no longer be dismissed by the force of logic. Furthermore, the sheer power of the emotions the sufferer experiences may overwhelm any rational train of thought that is still present.



Alan Watt: Professional Paranoiac.

We can see that although the symptoms of psychosis initially appear to be disparate and to have no common thread, in fact there is a common thread, since all the symptoms appear to stem from this ramping up of the brain’s sensitivity to ideas and emotions. Perhaps for this reason, one popular explanation of why psychosis occurs is that the brain produces too much dopamine, a chemical transmitter than enables brain cells to talk to each other. Too much dopamine, so the theory goes, and brain cells will chatter to each other continuously when they ought to be more circumspect. Unfortunately there’s not much evidence in favor of this theory scientifically; the main piece of evidence in its favor is that anti-psychotic drugs such as Haloperidol and Quetiapine appear to work by damping down the brain’s neurotransmitters, especially dopamine.

In the light of these symptoms, David Icke’s behavior takes on new significance. Here is a man who was for a while obsessed with the color purple and who saw strong connections between all kinds of symbols and events that others dismissed as coincidence. Icke readily leapt upon ideas and theories that others dismissed. Fascinatingly, Icke had started out his career as a professional footballer, retiring due to arthritis. Could the same thing that caused Icke’s arthritis also have brought about the unusual change in his state of mind? Could some change in his metabolism, some stray chemical in his bloodstream perhaps, have caused both sets of phenomena, both the arthritic problems and his apparent delusions — if delusions they be?

What Causes Psychosis?

There are basically two main ways that a person can end up in a psychotic state of mind, either temporarily or permanently: mental illness and “psychedelic” drugs.

Various mental illnesses are associated with psychosis. If psychosis is present without any other significant symptoms, typically schizophrenia is diagnosed. Unfortunately, attaching the label “schizophrenia” to a condition doesn’t really tell us anything new about the nature of the disorder. Schizophrenia is essentially the name given to the condition of being psychotic for unknown reasons. An astonishing one in a hundred people develop schizophrenia at some point in their lives throughout the world. Of these, approximately one third recover fully, one third recover enough to carry on a fairly normal life, and one third tragically remain deranged enough to require care throughout their lives. While antipsychotic drugs help massively over the first few months after a person becomes psychotic, it is somewhat unclear whether they help over the long term, with some observers asserting that the drugs retard the development of coping strategies in the sufferer.

Interestingly schizophrenia appears to take a more severe course in developed countries than third-world countries, and it tends to affect people more strongly in towns than in the countryside. When one considers the difficulties inherent in coping with modern life or complex lifestyles when unable to think clearly, this may not be altogether surprising.

Certain drugs also induce a state of mind that may fairly be called a temporary psychosis if taken in sufficient quantities. These drugs are known collectively as psychedelics, and include mescaline, LSD, psilocybin and cannabis. While none of these drugs are known to cause organic brain damage as such (contrary to popular belief), some people appear to be driven mad by them. The scientific question of whether cannabis can cause permanent psychosis is a complex one, since people who are beginning to experience schizophrenic symptoms frequently take to smoking large quantities of cannabis in order to gain relief, stymieing attempts to find statistical connections between cannabis use and subsequent psychosis; furthermore, certain components of cannabis appear to exert anti-psychotic effects.

Moto by Workman (Wikipedia); This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Magic Mushrooms: Madness in fungal form

When psychedelic drugs are used recreationally (note that such usage is illegal in most countries), the picture is complicated by the outlandish and even terrifying nature of the experience that these drugs can bring about. Are people driven mad by the chemical effects of LSD, or are unstable minds simply pushed over the brink by their difficult experiences while under the influence, in much the same way that a certain proportion of people become psychotic during their first year at college? Scientifically, the question currently appears unanswerable, especially since even scientists are widely banned from studying these drugs.

More worryingly, various stimulant drugs can certainly cause long-lasting psychoses to develop if taken regularly in large doses. These drugs include amphetamines, cocaine and the much-misunderstood drug Ritalin, a drug which many believe to be a tranquilizer but which in fact stimulates the mind, enabling a superior degree of concentration until the user becomes habituated to its use (and is then stuck merely with the drug’s potentially life-threatening side-effects).

The psychoses experienced under these widely differing circumstances are not all identical; people who have experienced two separate forms of psychosis, for example a schizophrenic episode and an LSD “trip”, say that they feel qualitatively different. And yet in all these different experiences we frequently see the delusional thoughts, paranoid ideas and glowing colors that are characteristic of a psychotic state of mind.

Despite the discovery of antipsychotic drugs in the 1950s and the rise to prominence of the “psychotomimetic” or psychedelic drugs in the West, beginning with the isolation of mescaline from the peyote cactus in 1896, little is still know about the underlying causes of psychosis or why it occurs. No-one knows why some people develop an ongoing, chronic psychosis even in the total absence of suspect drugs or any apparent infection or injury to the brain.



The late, great Terence McKenna: a sort of professional explorer of psychosis.

When LSD was discovered, it was found to bring about a psychotic-like state of mind even in minuscule quantities; many consequently suggested that schizophrenia may be caused minute quantities of some “Factor X” produced unintentionally by the body itself; as yet, no such substance has been discovered. Others suggest that a virus may cause schizophrenia, or developmental problems in early childhood or even in the womb, while yet others argue that the illness is psychological in origin and that faulty thought patterns induce a state of instability in the brain. Some even point the finger at modern society itself, arguing that our modern lifestyle breeds madness.

Whatever the answer, the naturally-occurring form of psychosis known as schizophrenia remains one of the great mysteries of our time, destroying the lives of millions of people worldwide. Perhaps one day, possibly with the advent of medical imaging technology capable of scanning the brain to a finer resolution than is currently possible, the riddle of schizophrenia will be solved.

While a cure is eagerly awaited by those whose lives have been ruined by psychotic symptoms, it’s also possible that psychosis is with us for a reason. Why, some scientists ask, has psychosis not been weeded out of the gene pool by the processes of evolution? The answer could of course be that psychosis is caused by an infection — some germ or virus that has its own evolutionary goals (metaphorically speaking) — or that madness is somehow just an inevitable consequence of being human, a sort of inevitable side effect of having developed such massive brains, which evolution cannot overcome. But it could also be the case that the same genes that predispose us to madness also give us creativity, inventiveness and a healthy degree of paranoia that has served us well throughout our past history as a species. In fact, research shows that the relatives of schizophrenics are more likely to be in high-flying creative professions than those who do not have a little madness in the family. If this theory is correct, schizophrenia is the high price we pay for our continued survival.



Appendix A: What To Do If You Are Temporarily Psychotic Due To Ingesting ‘Psychedelic’ Drugs

If you are currently under the influence of a ‘psychedelic’ drug such as LSD, mescaline or magic mushrooms, or a large dose of cannabis, and you are scared or feel like you are losing your mind, here’s what to do.

  • Go with the flow. You will be fine. The drug will wear off eventually. Meanwhile don’t worry.
  • Do not be tempted to leave your house.
  • If your heart beats fast, don’t be afraid of panicking. You will not “lose control”; a fast heartbeat is normal under the influence of these drugs.

Appendix B: What To Do If You Are Psychotic For No Clear Reason

If you experience symptoms of psychosis and the cause is unclear, here’s what to do.

  • See a doctor. Doctors can prescribe anti-psychotic medication which in many cases greatly decreases psychotic symptoms.
  • Avoid all mind-altering drugs (other than anti-psychotic medication), especially stimulant drugs (including caffeine and Ritalin).
  • Try to get plenty of sleep. Psychosis usually interferes with sleep, but lack of sleep may worsen psychosis. Therefore try to sleep as much as you can and don’t be tempted to cut back on sleep for any reason.
  • Try to maintain as calm and stable a lifestyle as possible. Try to be around calm people as much as you can, and avoid stressful situations. Meditation and regular vigorous exercise may help.
  • Try to keep your friends. You may misinterpret things they say and believe that they are attacking you when they aren’t. Studies show that the prognosis for people who are suffering from psychosis is much better among people who can hang on to at least one close relationship.

Selected References:

Psychosis – Symptoms [UK National Health Service]

Caffeine-induced psychosis.

David Icke

Alan Watt

Antipsychotic [Wikipedia article]

David Icke [Wikipedia article]

Cannabis chemical curbs psychotic symptoms, study finds [Guardian newspaper, UK]

Strong Imagination: Madness, Creativity and Human Nature

Effect of long-term treatment of hyperactive children [PDF]

Psychotic symptom and cannabis relapse in recent-onset psychosis. Prospective study.

Peyote & Mescaline: History Lessons

Ritalin heart attacks warning urged after 51 deaths in US [Guardian Newspaper, UK]

You might also be interested in ….

Beethoven’s Psychedelic Danube Journey

Are You Targeted: An orientation and survival guide for targets of covert state-sanctioned terrorism [external link; paranoid or not? -- decide for yourself].

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Antidepressants: The Multi-Billion Dollar Scam

Posted by – February 14, 2011

It’s the dirty little secret at the heart of a multi-billion dollar industry: double-blind trials, considered the gold standard of medical research, have repeatedly shown that antidepressant drugs barely work at all, with some studies even finding that placebos are more likely to cheer people up than antidepressants.


Fluoxetine HCl 20mg Capsules (Prozac); Author Tom Varco; Attribution to Tom Varco required. Notification of use is strongly requested with an e-mail to tomvarco@gmail.com, but not required; License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


In 1993, psychiatrist Peter D. Kramer published a book that was to have a profound effect on society. The book was called Listening to Prozac, and it purported to represent a balanced view of the effects of an antidepressant drug, Prozac, and its reputed ability to transform the lives of some people for the better. Kramer described how some of his patients appeared to transform under the influence of Prozac, developing the outgoing, go-getting type of personality that Kramer believes we need to have in order to thrive in modern society.

Listening to Prozac, together with a massive marketing campaign by the pharameutical giant, Eli Lilly, helped to convince much of the Western world that Prozac and other anti-depressant drugs were the answer to many of life’s problems.

Before long, an estimated almost one in ten Americans were taking Prozac. In 2001, Eli Lilly reported Prozac sales of $2.8 billion. In the UK the Environment Agency reported in 2004 that traces of Prozac were found in the water supply; so many people were taking and excreting the drug that it had become impossible to keep it from getting into drinking water.

Scarcely ever has a drug achieved such stupendous popularity in such a short space of time. And yet while Prozac had become cemented in the popular mind as a drug of astonishing effectiveness, carefully-controlled studies carried out by drug companies themselves were showing that Prozac and other antidepressants were bordering on being completely ineffective.

Freedom of Information

One small problem prevented the public from finding out that they had been sold the modern equivalent of snake oil. In 2008, Dr. Erick H. Turner and his colleagues published a paper that might have shaken Eli Lilly to its very boots, had the patent on Prozac not expired in 2001. Turner had used the Freedom of Information Act to request all double-blind studies on antidepressants submitted to the FDA. By law, all drug studies carried out in the USA have to be submitted to the FDA, but not all such studies have to be published. The truth that emerged was shocking. Out of all the studies on antidepressants submitted to the FDA, most of the ones showing positive results had been published; most of the ones showing negative results had not.

In fact when all the studies were taken into account, it emerged that the effects of antidepressants were at the very border of clinical effectiveness. In some studies, subjects given sugar pills had experienced greater relief of their depressive symptoms than those assigned drugs.

Antidepressants, it seems, often have powerful effects on people who know they’re taking them; the same can be said about homoeopathic remedies, and the power of religion to change people’s lives is widely vaunted. Yet we had expected something different from antidepressants; we believed that their effects were not due simply to the hope given by the difficult decision to take the drugs in the first place or to the effects of a vast advertising campaign, but due to sophisticated chemical effects upon the brain itself. These effects, it seems, are for the most part non-existent.

Indeed, it seems that had Prozac been a treatment for cancer instead of depression, it is unlikely that the FDA would have approved it for use.

The selective publication of antidepressant research appears to be part of a much wider problem, with both drug researchers and medical journals in general tending to shout about positive studies while quietly discarding negative ones. It’s a problem that the prestigious British Medical Journal has promised to devote an special themed issue to in 2011. The problem of selective bias has become a rallying cry for evidence-based medicine, an increasingly important field, the existence of which sort of makes us wonder what the rest of medicine is based on, if not evidence.

While Prozac has entered the consciousness of the Western world as synonymous with nearly-instant chemical happiness, studies show that the drug scarcely lifts depression better than placebos, while many depressed subjects attest to feeling much less depressed when given pills that are entirely inactive. Perhaps this is not surprising; since the human race began, human beings have been overcoming incredible odds in all sorts of appalling situations, learning to survive on little more than hope. Is it any wonder that the belief that one is taking a powerful modern drug, developed at the cutting edge of modern science, is sometimes enough to lift a person out of a state of severe melancholy?

And after all, thoughts themselves affect the brain’s chemistry. How is a depressed person to know, without taking a detailed chemical inventory of their own brain, whether they have become more cheerful due to taking a drug, or because some new thought pattern has somehow altered some unhelpful aspect of their own brain chemistry?

Time for a Non-Chemical Revolution?

Some suggest that the antidepressant revolution, while being perpetuated by biased research publication, is really part of an even deeper problem in our society. Fifty years ago, depression as an illness was an idea that was virtually unheard of. Yet like neurasthenia more than a century ago, ‘depression’ has come to symbolise a state of mind that a large percentage of us find ourselves in, if continuing antidepressant sales are anything to go by. Perhaps we have become a society that, like an alcoholic in the depths of a binge, refuses to ask itself hard questions about our lifestyles and the expectations we place upon ourselves.

Instead of taking the dangerous (but possibly productive) route of contemplating radical changes to our views about education, work and our lifestyle choices, we allow ourselves to sink into a passive and wretched state of mind from which we believe only drugs can save us. Our malaise, we believe, is too deep to be treated by mere changes to lifestyle, however radical; we must alter the very chemistry of our brains in order to feel OK in the society that we have created.

Perhaps there lies somewhere in all of this a truth that’s just too disturbing to face.

 


If you want a balanced review of the antidepressant phenomenon and the history of antidepressants — also including a look at how mental illnesses become assigned to categories in general, and the role that economics plays in the process — I heartily recommend the following book:



You can buy it using the above link if you’re in the US (click the image), or of course you can go to Amazon or your local bookshop and maybe find a better deal. The author of this book clearly believes that antidepressants “work” (and I sort of agree with him, it’s just that I’m inclined to think that the degree to which they work is so minimal and so at odds with our expectations that antidepressants may fairly be called a “scam”, especially when you take into account the nasty side effects that they can have), but he also has a balanced appreciation of the pros and cons of antidepressants and a fantastic understanding of the way in which our views of mental illness have been colored by many interesting factors, not least the need to sell drugs.


References:

The Medicated Americans: Antidepressant Prescriptions on the Rise

The creation of the Prozac myth [Guardian Newspaper (UK)]

Listening to Prozac [Wikipedia article]

Patients and doctors are being misled by published data on medicines

Selective Publication of Antidepressant Trials and Its Influence on Apparent Efficacy

Efficacy of antidepressants

Initial Severity and Antidepressant Benefits: A Meta-Analysis of Data Submitted to the Food and Drug Administration


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Apply These Techniques and Lose Weight the Easy Way

Posted by – February 9, 2011

This is the last article in my series of articles about losing weight, so it’s time to bring the whole thing together and wind it up.

Assuming, in the worst case, that you’re currently locked into an unstable pattern of binge eating and crash diets, that you can’t seem to lose weight or control your appetite and don’t do any exercise, what I recommend you try is this:

  1. Figure out exactly why you want to lose weight.
  2. Read up a little on why your body stores fat and how this is affected by your metabolic rate, if you don’t already know that stuff. Also read up on healthy vs. unhealthy foods, and the difference between cardiovascular exercise and other kinds of exercise. Other exercise types are less useful for losing weight and may well drain your enthusiasm unnecessarily.
  3. Think about ways you can make losing weight easier for yourself, rather than facing difficult challenges head-on.
  4. Stabilise your eating habits by cutting out your crash diets and spreading your food intake more evenly over your day, keeping an honest food diary if necessary to gain a full overview of your own eating habits.
  5. Start exercising regularly, at least every other day.
  6. After a few weeks of exercising, cut out your sugar addiction if you have one.
  7. Once you’ve been exercising for a few weeks and have resolved any sugar addiction, then you can modify your diet, initially by switching from unhealthy foods to unhealthy ones, then gradually cutting down your overall quantity of food if you find you’re still not losing weight.

You can find more information about all of these things, including tips for fitting exercise into your life, in the links on my weight loss secrets page.

Following my strategy you’ll lose weight for the long term, not the short term, and you’ll adopt healthy habits in the process, bringing many other benefits to your life if you currently eat badly or take no exercise. You can safely lose weight losing these techniques at a rate of 1 Kg (2 pounds) per week, once you’ve done a few weeks’ preparation.

Rather than tackle difficult challenges head on, my strategy involves preparing the ground in such a way that things like exercising and resisting unhealthy food become a lot easier than if you tackled them immediately, head on.

That’s it for the weight loss stuff … I hope you find my ideas useful. They’ve worked for me, even though I used to practically live on chocolate and I dislike all sport; I reckon they can do the trick for you also.

Let me know how it goes!

Squiffy

Brain Parasites: There’s a 1 in 6 Chance That You’re Infected

Posted by – February 9, 2011

I’m sorry to be the one to break this to you. There’s a good chance that your brain is infested with parasites, reducing your intelligence, messing up your eyesight and putting you at a considerably greater risk of having a traffic accident or going insane. These nasty little beasts are also suspected to influence behaviour for their own sinister purposes, even to the point of seemingly making people commit suicide.

But don’t worry — if you’re not infected yet (“please God not me!”), there’s every chance you can avoid this terrible fate! Read on and I’ll tell you how you can avoid becoming the unwitting victim of the nightmare brain parasite from Hell.

What Is It?

Toxoplasmosis gondii is a tiny animal (a protozoa) that reproduces in the intestines of cats. While cats are the natural host of toxoplasmosis, and the only one in which it can reproduce, nevertheless the protozoa happily infects other mammals such as ourselves, where it invades the muscles and the brain, forming protective cysts (egg-like structures) as it comes under attack by the immune system.

How Do I Catch It?

Before your throw out your poor moggy, let me tell you that owning a cat is not the most common way of contracting toxoplasmosis.

Beside, kittens are cute. Proof:

In fact, the most common route to infection is thought to be the ingestion of undercooked meat. For this reason, the infection rate in France, where rare steaks are considered an essential part of the diet, is extremely high — some studies have found that most of France is infected with toxoplasmosis, compared to about 20% of the population of the United States. France, as it happens, also has a lower average IQ than that of many other European nations, possibly due entirely to toxoplasmosis infection.

Other important routes include ingestion of unwashed fruits and vegetables, or the drinking of infected water.

OK, So Parasites Want To Eat My Brain: Should I Care?

A number of studies have demonstrated that people infected with toxoplasmosis have far more traffic accidents than non-infected people. Yes, that guy who smashes into you on the motorway may well have made the mistake of eating a rare steak a couple of weeks earlier. In fact, the most dangerous period appears to be the first two years after infection.

Infected people also have IQs that are on average lower than those of uninfected individuals. Whether that’s because toxoplasmosis infection lowers IQ (very likely!) or because people who are not the sharpest cookie in the tin happen to enjoy eating raw meat and unwashed apples, is not entirely clear. Toxoplasmosis infection is also associated with an increased risk of schizophrenia and eyesight problems. If a developing fetus gets infected with toxoplasmosis via its mother, the effects of the parasite can be extremely serious.

The scary thing is, the effects we’re talking about here are not small. Studies have found that traffic accident rates for people newly-infected with toxoplasmosis are around six times higher than for non-infected people. Get into a car with someone who has contracted toxoplasmosis in the past couple of years, and you are really taking your life into your hands.

Of course, traffic accidents are only one possible type of thing that can go wrong in life! Imagine the kinds of bad decisions and terrible mistakes that infected people are making on a daily basis throughout your country, and you start to get a feel for the scale of the problem. Toxoplasmosis is a real and serious danger which we’re ignoring because …. well, we like rare steaks and brain parasites are just too scary to contemplate.

The Brain Parasites Made Me Do It

Possibly the most intriguing aspect of all this is the question of whether toxoplasmosis affects human behaviour. It certainly affects the behaviour of mice and rats. It appears that rats infected with toxoplasmosis lose their fear of cats, and while uninfected rats find the smell of cat urine terrifying, infected rats seem to actually like the smell. This effect seems to be highly specific; infected rats aren’t attracted to disturbing odors in general — only to the scent of cat urine.

Studies show that there are significant correlations between certain human behavioural traits and toxoplasmosis infection. so while toxoplasmosis has a big effect on the behaviour of rodents, it also seems to have a slighter and more nebulous effect on the behaviour of humans. The effects appear to be sex-specific, with women becoming more conscientious, moralistic and outgoing, while men become more suspicious, dogmatic and less conscious of rules. Remind you of anyone you know? Both sexes score higher for apprehensiveness after infection.

The parasite’s behavioural effects in humans may be largely related to non-specific factors such as general mild brain inflammation and neurotransmitter modulation; nevertheless the parasite does congregate in specific brain areas such as the amygdala, an area associated with emotion, memory and certain aspects of social behaviour. The peculiar affinity of toxoplasmis for particular brain areas suggests that the nasty little critter may well know what it’s doing, and may be doing it for its own benefit.

Could toxoplasmosis cause us to like cats more than we would otherwise? The jury is still out on that one.

Aarghh! Get It Out Of Me!

If you’re already infected with toxoplasmosis, there’s probably nothing you can do about it. You probably didn’t notice the initial infection; toxoplasmosis typically causes only mild, flu-like symptoms — unless your immune system is compromised, in which case it drives you mad and kills you. But the good news is (if you can call it good news), that your immune system will gradually get a grip on the parasite, forcing it to retreat into its egg-like cysts and massively reducing its impact on your life.

The best cure is: don’t get it in the first place. Don’t eat undercooked meat, wash fruits and vegetables before eating them, and if you have pets, wash your hands regularly — especially after clearing out litter trays! You may disagree (especially if you’re French and love rare steaks), but to my mind all of this is common sense.



References:

Toxoplasma gondii Infection in the United States, 1999–2000

Toxoplasmosis: Wikipedia Article

Toxoplasmosis among pregnant women in France: risk factors and change of prevalence between 1995 and 2003.

Long-term Impact of Treated Congenital Toxoplasmosis on Quality of Life and Visual Performance.

Decreased level of psychobiological factor novelty seeking and lower intelligence in men latently infected with the protozoan parasite Toxoplasma gondii Dopamine, a missing link between schizophrenia and toxoplasmosis?

Increased risk of traffic accidents in subjects with latent toxoplasmosis: a retrospective case-control study

Exposure to Toxoplasma gondii and cat ownership in Nova Scotia.
For a second I read this one as “cat worship in Nova Scotia”. What?? They worship cats in Nova Scotia??? But sadly it’s only about owning cats.

Transmission of Toxoplasmosis (Toxoplasma gondii) by Foods.

The Times: Germans are brainiest (but at least we’re smarter than the French)

Increased incidence of traffic accidents in Toxoplasma-infected military drivers and protective effect RhD molecule revealed by a large-scale prospective cohort study.

Change of host’s behavior including man under the influence of parasites

Toxoplasmosis as a cause for behaviour disorders–overview of evidence and mechanisms.

Brain parasites and suicide.

Behavioral changes induced by Toxoplasma infection of rodents are highly specific to aversion of cat odors.

Effects of Toxoplasma on Human Behavior

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