The Dark Ages of Health
We are living in the Dark Ages of heath, where we are surrounded by thousands of contagious viruses, bacteria and other pathogens in the environment that would like use our bodies as their long-term home. Once these microbes have insinuated themselves into our metabolisms, they frequently remain there for life, where they can slowly (or sometimes rapidly) degrade our physical and mental health. Most of the time this health degradation is subtle and sub-clinical. You may not realize it, but even in a “healthy” individual, pathogens living in their body’s tissues will subtly reduce that person’s mental and physical faculties, so that they will never reach their complete genetic potential. Other times, the health damage wreaked by these pathogens is overt and severe, precipitating a clinical disease, much suffering, and often an early death.
Pathogenic microbes are extremely common in people: Epstein Barr virus is found in around 95% of adults, HHV-6 virus in over 90%, Coxsackie B virus in 55% of adults, cytomegalovirus in 50% of adults, and parvovirus B19 in 50% of adults. Most of these, once caught, cannot be eliminated. Our bodies are considerably overburdened with persistent viruses which often alter our physiology.
Medical research is discovering that more and more physical and mental disorders, from mild to serious, are linked to chronic low-level infections in the body tissues. It may turn out that the majority of non-genetic diseases are caused by infectious microbes.
It is often not just the microbe itself that damages the body, but also the indirect effects of the microbial infection — indirect effects such as the biochemical changes elicited by the chronic inflammatory immune response against the microbe, the immune system malfunction caused by microbes deliberately disrupting our immune response (immune evasion, as this is called), and the autoimmune inflammation that is often triggered by microbes. Autoimmune inflammation (which is our own immune system mistakenly attacking part of our body) can damage and destroy various cells and structures within the body, leading to disease.
We are beginning to appreciate that the human body does not lapse into disease on its own, but rather, the body only tends develop disease when compromised by pathogenic microbes (and of course environmental toxins).
In a certain sense, this is very good news: it means that our bodies are far more robust than we have hitherto assumed.
It is also good news because if, in future, we manage to purge all these disease-causing microbes from our bodies, we should be able to eliminate the vast majority of common human diseases, such as clinical depression, anxiety disorder, nervous breakdowns, burnout at work, personality problems, anorexia, autism, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, bipolar, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, cancers, diabetes, obesity, etc.
At some point in the future, we will look back at all these diseases, and they will seem like ancient history, like grim tales from those bad old days when we were unable to rid our bodies of disease-causing microbes.
Of course, right now, we are living in these grim times; but at least we are beginning to see the light.
This page examines these grim, but opportunity-laden, circumstances, and calls upon human ingenuity and genius to address and rectify this dire state of human health.
How Microbial Pathogens Can Cause Depression
Persistent microbial pathogens are probably major causal factors in many of cases of depression.
Many common persistent viruses can cause depression, such as Epstein-Barr virus, coxsackie B virus, human herpes 6 virus, cytomegalovirus, influenza A, West Nile virus, as well as many other pathogens.
One mechanism that explains how such viruses cause depression is through the effects interferon alpha: chronic infection with any of these viruses can lead to raised interferon-alpha levels (interferon alpha is secreted by cells of the immune system as it tries to control the virus), and it is now known that interferon alpha can significantly affect the serotonin system.
And another very powerful (but indirect) mechanism through which persistent viruses can cause depression is by raising glutamate levels in the brain (high glutamate levels are linked to depression). The excess glutamate in this case comes from the activated microglia cells. When the microglia are activated in response to a persistent infection in the brain, these microglia produce lots of glutamate, which can then lead to both depression and anxiety disorders as a result of this neurochemical imbalance.
Depression can sometimes be caused by low levels of the adrenal hormone cortisol. Now, viruses like enterovirus often chronically infect the adrenal glands, and in doing so, can alter adrenal function, leading to low cortisol output, thereby precipitating depression. In addition to depression, a chronic sub-clinical viral infection of the adrenal glands can also cause irregular, sudden spurts of adrenal hormone output, spurts of cortisol and adrenaline for example, and transient high levels of these two hormones can cause rapid heart beats (tachycardia). This is the probable explanation of the statistically-observed association between depression and tachycardia.
IN SUMMARY: It is quite probable that many cases of depression are ultimately viral in origin, through one or more of these mechanisms. We are just beginning to uncover the complex biochemistry behind the way pathogenic infections cause mental conditions such as depression.
Viruses and Bad Memory
Certainly, once you have a persistent viral disease like chronic fatigue syndrome, you find your working memory and long-term recall is often severely disrupted. But even viruses like the rhinovirus (a common cold virus), which are quickly cleared from the body, can damage the brain while they are active (reference here). We are generally accustomed to the idea that memory declines with age. This decline is seen as natural part of aging. But in reality, this memory deficit is likely caused by the numerous chronic and transitory viruses that infect and damage our body over the course of our lives. Again, the realization of this should be a cue to start developing new and ingenuous means of eliminating these microbial attacks on our central nervous systems, thereby eliminating the resulting erosion of an individual’s cognitive faculties.
Viruses, Grumpiness and Unhappiness
I cannot look at anyone who is sad, tired, miserable or grumpy in their general disposition (which is what I have become from this virus), without the astounding realization that their mental state may also be due to one or more viruses or microbes they have in their body, that they perhaps picked up years ago. I would wager that most of the miserable dispositions that human beings bear is due to pernicious microbes we have in our bodies.
Microbial Pathogens and Intelligence
Are the most intelligent, the most emotionally skillful, and mentally well-balanced people those with fewer persistent neurological microbes in their system? This hypothesis could be easily tested. In addition we could see if persistent neurological viruses, bacteria and protozoa were associated with any other undesirable personality traits, such as criminality, anti-social behavior, even extreme shyness, anger and rage problems, and other such anomalies of personality. It may well turn out that many of these mental characteristics have a microbial cause.
It is also worth considering a related hypothesis: that the most intelligent and/or mentally well-balanced people have a more robust immune response, and so, even though they are exposed to the same gamut of viruses, spread though normal social contact, their central nervous systems are more protected, and thus less affected, by these often nasty pathogens.
Are Liberal Sexual Values Contributing to the Spread of Respiratory Viruses?
Chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety disorders, and other neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis are all strongly linked to respiratory viruses (that is, viruses that are passed person-to-person by respiratory secretions). Respiratory secretions such as saliva are often exchanged during kissing. Contemporary sexual behavior in urban contexts can involve amorous encounters with a series of many different people: since such encounters usually involve kissing, contemporary sexual behavior may be an important channel in the spread respiratory viruses around the general population. Thus we may see more diseases appearing (later in life) as a result of these spreading respiratory viruses.
Other factors increasing the spread of viruses and other pathogens are: the massive urbanization taking place around the globe, which brings people into close contact in more and more crowded cities; the ubiquity of cheap air travel, which allows new microbes to spread around the world very easily (globalization unfortunately helps open up ‘new markets’ for microbes too).
More Rapid Aging due to Pathogenic Microbes
Scientists that study aging have cataloged a number of mechanisms through which aging occurs. These mechanisms include: free radicals, glycation, DNA damage, mitochondrial damage, hormonal decline, inflammation, telomere shortening, and so forth. However, very little attention is given to the process of accumulation of pathogenic microbes in the body as a mechanism of aging. Microbe-caused aging, I would propose, is perhaps the most significant cause of aging, and I suspect that the disruptive action of pathogenic microbes in the body underlies or accelerates many of the aging mechanisms listed here. If our bodies could be cleared of these myriad pathogenic microbes, then I suggest that this would greatly reduce the rate of aging, as well as the incidence of the numerous diseases these microbes are associated with.
Burnout Syndrome and Nervous Breakdown
Burnout is a psychological term for the experience of long-term exhaustion and diminished interest.
In the future, I think it will be realized that burnout is a variation of chronic fatigue syndrome. CFS usually caused by viruses such as coxsackievirus, Epstein-Bar virus, HHV-6, parvovirus, cytomegalovirus.
CFS can suddenly appear after a person catches one of these viruses. Burnout is the same: it can suddenly manifest for no apparent reason; but the real cause may be due to contracting a microbial infection that affects the central nervous system, either directly or indirectly.
Nervous breakdowns (which are sudden manifestations of anxiety and/or depression symptoms) are another similar phenomenon that may well be caused by microbial infection. Since many infections can be asymptomatic at the time of contraction, an individual may have no clue at all that he has picked up a new microbial infection, and be unable to explain why all of a sudden he gets terrible anxiety and depression symptoms, when he was perfectly fine just months before, and nothing has changed in his life circumstances. Tragically for the human species, the connection between infection and mental symptoms is usually missed, so that few people even consider it, which in turns means that far too little scientific research is conducted in this area.
Microbial Causes of the Obesity Epidemic
Adenovirus 36 has been linked to obesity: this virus is found in 30% of obese people, but only in 11% of non-obese people. Adenovirus 36 causes obesity by infecting the fat cells (adipocytes) of the body, and once inside these fat cells, one of the genes of this virus (a gene called E4orf1) kicks into action and turns on both the cell’s fat-producing enzymes, and also instigates the generation of new fat cells.
This is an example of how a virus will insert to own genetic instructions in to the human body, and these viral instructions then go on to alter the way the body’s systems work.
Again, with adenovirus being a respiratory virus (that is easily passed person-to-person by kissing, or just by living/working in the same household/office), you can question whether it is such factors as liberal sexual values and overcrowded cities that may be contributing to the wider spread of this obesity adenovirus across the populace.
It is quite possible that other viruses and bacteria are contributing to the obesity epidemic also. In particular, any virus that can damage or alter the workings of the hypothalamus (that area of the brain that regulates hormones, emotions, and the sensation of hunger) may also be able to cause obesity (or weight loss), since such a virus may increase/decrease hunger levels. And any microbe that can infect or alter the function of the pituitary gland may conceivably reduce human growth hormone output from this gland, which can then result in increased fat deposition on the stomach area (abdominal obesity).
Cardiovascular Disease and Gum Disease: One does not Cause the Other
Research has shown that gum disease is statically associated with cardiovascular disease. In order to explain this association, some have hypothesized that gum disease may cause cardiovascular disease because bacteria from the gums migrate to the heart and therein cause cardiovascular damage. However, having observed how the virus described on this website very rapidly precipitated both periodontal and cardiovascular problems (specifically: heart attacks, myocarditis and pericarditis) in several people, I would suggest a more viable hypothesis: namely that a chronic viral infection such as this causes periodontal and heart disease simultaneously. That is to say: gum disease does not directly cause cardiovascular disease; rather a chronic viral infection is the singular etiological underpinning of both, and this explains why gum disease is statically associated with cardiovascular disease.
The Hygiene Hypothesis, or the Microbial Overload Hypothesis?
The Hygiene Hypothesis states that the lack of exposure to germs in our modern sterile environments is causing a rise in many allergic and auto-immune disease conditions (the hygiene hypothesis vaguely rests on the idea that our immune systems are not getting properly “trained” or “calibrated” in the supposed modern sterile environments).
I want to refute this argument in favor of the reverse perspective: the microbial overload hypothesis.
Recent research is indicating that diseases like type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, breast cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and many others, are caused by persistent, low-level viral or microbial infections.
Most of these viruses or microbes are passed from human to human, just by normal social contact. We pick up many viruses from our early days at school, and we harbor them in our body tissues for decades sometimes, before they manifest as a disease. For example, most of us will have picked up the human herpes 6 virus (HHV-6) by the age of three without realizing it; HHV-6 is thought to be a causal factor in MS.
Many viruses will infect us without us knowing, as often they enter our bodies without showing symptoms. Once in, many viruses stay for life, and nearly every virus and microbe in our body employs immune evasion strategies, which to say, these microbes actively attack, disrupt and misdirect our immune system, in very cunning ways, in order to survive. In simple terms, immune evasion is the throwing of a spanner in the works of the immune system in order to avoid being destroyed by the immune system. As we accumulate more pathogenic viruses and microbes in our bodies over the course of our lives, the sum total of all the various different microbial immune evasion attacks begins to take its toll, each attack on the immune system causing serious problems. Thus it is not surprising that our immune systems buckle under this strain, start to malfunction, leaving us more likely to succumb to allergies and auto-immune conditions (as well as leaving us more vulnerable to contracting new additional infections, which then further strain the immune system).
In short, viral and microbial attacks on the immune system (ie, immune evasion tactics) are the most logical explanation for immune system errors and malfunctioning such as allergies and auto-immune conditions.
Unfortunately, as we get increased urbanization, which results in us living in ever more crowded conditions, we get a daily exposure to more and more people, and, therefore, to potentially more contagious viruses, etc.
In traditional rural life, there were far less people living on top of each other, compared to modernity. In addition, modern global travel enables new viruses and microbes to circumnavigate the globe very quickly, to infect more people. It is the more acute infections like SARS, bird flu and swine flu that make the news, and for which control measures are devised. But for every overt new virus like SARS, there are almost certainly dozens of hidden viruses than quietly go into circulation. These “hidden” viruses will not always cause an acute fever and immediately perceivable symptoms, they often have very mild initial symptoms, and thus enter unnoticeably into the body, where they may slowly smolder away in our tissues, and cause a chronic disease many years later.
Autoimmune diseases are strongly associated with enteroviruses (such as coxsackievirus B). Autoimmune diseases are also associated with: Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, parvovirus B19, HIV, and the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
Thus rather than saying we are living in more hygienic environments, in fact the reverse is true: we are probably more exposed to disease-causing pathogens than ever before in history. This is more likely the reason why we are seeing a rise in so many chronic diseases and autoimmune diseases. And we can expect this trend to continue as our social milieu continues to become more compressed and overcrowded.
Thus the microbial overload hypothesis suggests that there will be further increases in many diseases.
Of course, the hygiene hypothesis does make sense in the sphere of commensal gut bacteria and gut helminth loss: these commensal organisms – humanity’s “old friends” – seem to have a strong anti-inflammatory effect (as they secrete anti-inflammatory substances in the gut to tone down our immune response towards them). The absence of these commensal organisms in modernity may be part of the causal equation of rising autoimmune disease prevalence; however, I suspect an increasing tide of infectious pathogenic microbes plays the more fundamental etiological role in the increasing autoimmune disease prevalence, as well as in many other types of diseases, from cancer to schizophrenia.
Some general research should be done to see whether people with recurrent infections – such as fungal skin or sinus infections, periodontal disease and dental decay, recurrent bacterial ear infections and the like – all have a some common pathogenic denominators such as viral infection (from coxsackievirus, Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, HHV-6A, etc, etc) that is compromising their immune system.
Secondary recurrent infections usually occur more frequently once you have chronic fatigue syndrome, which is generally caused by one or more of these immune-compromising viruses. Recurrent infections could be more efficiently eliminated if we could treat the fundamental underlying viral (or bacterial) infections that cause immune suppression.
In caring for critical cases of bacterial infections, antibiotics are of course fundamental, but it might be a good idea to give immune system boosters also (natural killer cell activity boosters may be useful in certain cases), as this may make a substantial difference: many critical infections may become all the more fierce by an immune system that is compromised to a degree from the immunosuppressing effects of other pathogens chronically present in the body.
The Biochemistry of Anxiety Disorder
Looking at neuroscientific research on anxiety disorders, it is apparent that not much is known about this extremely unpleasant condition, though advances are now starting to be made.
A major problem with uncovering the etiology of any mental symptoms such as anxiety disorder is that psychiatrists still dominate this field, and the psychiatric discipline unfortunately often favors psychosocial explanations for mental symptoms – explanations which do not help at all when the cause of the anxiety condition is biochemical.
I suggest that one plausible biochemical mechanism for anxiety is via overstimulation of the NMDA receptors in neurons in the amygdala. NMDA receptor overstimulation itself is typically caused by excessive levels of glutamate, a chemical which is produced as a by product of microglial activation. Microglial cells form a large part of the brain’s immune system, and these microglia are activated as a part of the inflammatory process in the brain. So when there is brain inflammation, NMDA receptor overstimulation is likely, and in the amygdala, this overstimulation can precipitate anxiety states. These anxiety states are caused in error, and in this sense the brain is badly designed, in that the glutamate by product of microglial operation is able to activate the NMDA receptors, which inadvertently disturbs the biochemical balance in the brain.
Chronic microglial activation can actually produce so much glutamate, that the constant overstimulation of NMDA receptors in neurons may not only produce extreme anxiety states, but it is known that this can actually burn out and destroy the neurons (this type of neuronal destruction is called excitotoxicity).
Even if there is no infection in the brain itself, it now known that inflammatory signaling molecules (cytokines, etc) from chronic low-level infections in the peripheries of the body will switch on an inflammatory response in the brain, and hence can cause chronic microglial activation (ref: 1). Thus a viral, bacterial, fungal or protozoal infection in say the gut, kidneys, sinuses, etc, may lead to chronic microglial activation in the brain, which in turn can precipitate anxiety symptoms (and other mental symptoms as well). Even normal gut bacteria may induce mild anxiety states: a degree of anxiety behavior has been linked to the presence of normal gut microbiota in mice, whereas germ-free mice showed less anxiety behavior (ref: 1). Note that probiotic “friendly” bacteria secrete anti-inflammatory factors in the gut, so these probiotic supplements can serve to lower gut inflammation and, as a consequence, reduce anxiety.
General Mechanisms by Which Microbes Cause Disease
Chronic microbial infections can precipitate chronic diseases by a number of general mechanisms, including:
• Viruses may infect and destroy important cells in the body, leading to disease.
• Intracellular microbes (ie, microbes that permanently live inside human cells) may disrupt and corrupt internal cellular function.
• Certain viruses (like EBV, and possibly HHV-6) in a state of latency inside our cells can become partially active within the cell, and then disrupt cellular function.
• Infectious microbes often precipitate autoimmunity, which is a condition where the immune system erroneously attacks the body rather than the microbe, and this self-attack can often do more damage to the body than the infectious microbes do. For example, frequently in autoimmune states, the body makes autoantibodies that attack and disable the nervous system.
• Bacteria in the body can themselves synthesize a number of toxins (endotoxins, exotoxins and enterotoxins) which can severely damage and disrupt physiology.
• Nearly all infectious microbes employ immune evasion tactics. Immune evasion is a series of techniques that microbes use to “throw a spanner into the works” of the immune system, to disrupt its function, so as to prevent the immune system from attacking the microbe. These immune evasion tactics can cause immune system malfunction, which can then lead to disease.
Medical research is unearthing increasing evidence that pathogenic viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites may be the cause of a huge array of serious chronic diseases, as well as being responsible for myriad milder health conditions. So really, given the deterioration in human heath that pathogenic microbes likely cause, it is imperative that we find much better means to control or eradicate pathogenic microbes in our bodies.
A substantial investment into a coordinated project is required, to fully understand, control and eliminate the pathogenic microbes in our bodies.
Once we do eliminate pathogenic microbes from our bodies, there will very likely be an astonishing revolution in the human health-span, longevity, sanity, intellectual elevation, morality and happiness for the generations to come.
This should be a primary goal for the 21st century. It is a tough challenge; but human genius relishes in tough challenges.
In recent years, this imperative has also taken on a new urgency, as several factors are currently creating an unprecedented increase in infectious diseases worldwide. These factors include: globalization and cheap air travel, which allows millions to travel and thus carry new pathogens around the globe; mass urbanization, which brings people to live in crowed cities in close contact with each other; human incursion into untouched natural environments and habitats (for example, during the cutting down of rain forests) which brings humans into contact with previously unknown tropical viruses, parasites and other microbes.
More information on the general concept of infectious pathogens destroying the health of mind and body can be found in the works and ideas of Paul W. Ewald, who posits that many common chronic diseases of currently unknown etiology may in fact be caused by smouldering infections.
In his book, Plague Time: The New Germ Theory of Disease, Paul Ewald says:
“Like many great ideas in biology, the idea implicating infectious causation in chronic diseases, though simple, has far-reaching implications. It is so simple and so significant, that one would think it would have been recognized by many and would be the starting point for any discussion on the causes of disease. Not yet.“
Further reading on the connections between infectious pathogens and chronic disease:
The Big Idea That Might Beat Cancer and Cut Health-Care Costs by 80 Percent
The Infection Connection
Can you Catch a Heart Attack?
Can Infections Result in Mental Illness?
A New Germ Theory
List of Human Diseases Associated With Infectious Pathogens