Thursday, July 3, 2014

Selected Readings on Human Health, Disease, and the Environment

The following are responses and summaries of various readings related to Human Health, Disease, and the Environment. 
Meat can be Murder…
Vegetarianism has potential health benefits such as a lowered risk of heart disease and cancer, however vegetarians are not the only ones who can achieve these advantages.  As far as public health is concerned, simply reducing the intake of saturated fats would have a great impact.  The total meat consumption of the average American was fifty seven pounds more in 2000 than in 1950.  The foods that contain unhealthy amounts of saturated fats raises the risk of heart disease and stroke and increases cholesterol.  Also, cooking some meats at high temperatures, required for the elimination of some bacteria, can produce chemicals believed to be potential human carcinogens.  High intake of well cooked meat has been shown to increase the risk of developing colorectal and breast cancer.  Eating much charred or burned meat is very likely unhealthy.  Consuming more meat than is necessary for the human body will merely cause the body to eliminate it through the urinary tract putting additional strain on the kidneys in order to metabolize it.
Nutrition: Another Benefit is Seen in Buying Organic Produce
Tomatoes grown organically, without the use of unnatural chemicals have higher levels of flavonoids, which can help to protect the body against cardiovascular disease.  The level of a single flavonoid in the organic tomatoes was nearly two times that of tomatoes grown with the conventional industry method.  It has been shown that flavonoids may help to fight age-related diseases.  The organic not only scored better on the study of flavonoids but their levels continued to increase over time.  One of the many explanations for why flavonoid levels were higher in the organic produce is in the fertility of the soil:  on organic farms the soil is continually rejuvenated by other crops and through the use of compost and manure as fertilizer.  According to the study, flavonoids are part of a group of metabolites produced by plants as a mechanism for discouraging pests.  An increase in pest virulence may cause the crop to put off more flavonoids. 

Pollution can make you fat, study claims
According to a Spanish study, pollution can help to make children obese.  The exposure of common chemicals while still in the womb makes the baby more susceptible to obesity.  Obesity is one of the world’s greatest and fastest growing health crises.  Poor diet and lack of exercise alone, cannot explain the intense growth of the problem of obesity.  It has been known for quite some time that a person’s genes may predispose them to obesity, however pollution may provide a similar predisposition.  The study found that of 403 children measured with differing amounts of hexachlorobenzene, a pesticide, in their systems before birth, those with the highest levels were two times as likely to have become obese by the age of six.  The pesticide has been banned internationally since the children’s birth, but its effects continue to linger and it still manages to make its way into our food stuffs.  Similarly, many of the chimcals which are fed to pregnant animals can cause obesity in their offspring.  These pollutants, now referred to as obesogens, are in nearly everyone’s bodies.  Ninety five percent of Americans’ urine contains traces of BPA, a dangerous chemical.  No one is quite certain as to why hexachlorobenzene causes obesity, however the scientists of the study believe that it could have caused early onset diabetes in the mothers during pregnancy, increasing their offspring’s chance of becoming obese.  Obesogens turn genes on and off while in the womb, causing stem cells to turn in to fat cells.
Adverse Health Effects of Plastics
Many chemicals that make plastic products have their desirable performance properties can also lead to negative environmental and human effects including direct toxicity such as is the case in lead, cadmium, and mercury, carcinogens, such as is the case with diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), and endocrine disruption, which leads to cancers, birth defects, immunodeficiency, and developmental problems with children.  People are not only exposed to these chemicals during the production stage of plastics.  By simply using the end products people can contract the chemicals.  Often times the chemicals migrate from the plastic to the food the plastics are containing, thereafter being contaminated.  The best way to avoid consuming potentially hazardous foods is to find alternatives to plastic products.  Purchase food contained in glass or metal.  Never heat food while still in its plastic container.  Do not store fatty foods, such as meat, in plastic containers or plastic wrap.  Use only natural fiber clothing, bedding, and furniture.  Avoid the use of all PVC and Styrene products. 

Kraft Shakes up Dairy Market
In January 2008 Kraft Foods decided to begin production of a cheese line free of the rBST, recombinant bovine somatotropin, hormone.  BST is a hormone naturally produced by cattle in order to produce milk.  The rBST hormone therefore increases the production of milk in cattle.  Some consumer groups follow certain studies which state that the hormone can cause cancer, though U.S. food regulators disagree and add that food derived from cattle given the production boosting hormone is safe for human consumption.  In recent years the public has begun to be much more aware of what it is eating.  The movement against rBST byproducts is proof of this fact.  Many large restaurants and food producers have begun either the completely banning of rBST derived foods or offering alternative rBST free foods.  According to a 2007 government survey around seventeen percent of U.S. dairy cows receive rBST.  Its opponents say that rBST increases infections in cows and stimulates the production of another hormone that has been linked to cancer in humans.  Kraft is not changing its stance on the use of rBST in its products but merely attempting to keep with the status quo of offering “safer” foods.  It will continue to offer rBST products, however the rBST free products will fetch a higher price which is common for products deemed safe or natural.  Many top researchers see this as merely a circumstance of smoke and mirrors in that rBST produced milk is chemically the same as non rBST milk.  Many in the industry are firmly against the labeling of products as rBST free as it will likely reduce sales and create a disturbance where there may not be a problem.

5 Reasons to Add Grass-fed Beef to Your Grocery List
Grass fed beef is healthier, safer, and better tasting than the industry standard beef.  Grass fed beef also helps to support small scale farms, leaves a healthier ecosystem and makes the animals life that much better.  Most of the beef found in grocery stores and supermarkets is engineered in large feedlots and lacks much of the key protein and nutrients.  Grass fed beef contains much less saturated fat and much greater amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, beta carotene, vitamin E, folic acid, antioxidants, and conjugated linoleic, which is believed to reduce the risk of breast cancer and diabetes.  Because grass fed cattle do not live in densely packed feedlots they do not require the constant supply of antibiotics to combat infection, which create bacteria and viruses that are resistant to the same antibiotics used to treat humans.  Grass fed cattle also usually do not receive injections of hormones intended to speed up their growth.  These hormones have been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer and cause reproductive problems in humans.  These hormones also have a detrimental impact on the environment as they are excreted in the waste of cattle and find their way into water sources.  Field cattle are also much less likely to contain acid-resistant E. coli as a consistent grass diet does not enable them to adapt to the highly acidic environment that comes from eating grain.  Therefore grass fed beef is less likely to contain E. coli resistant to human stomach acids.  Field cattle have never been found to contain Mad Cow Disease as it is primarily obtained through the cattle’s consumption of cow brains which will not occur in the field, only in the cattle houses.

Did Your Shopping List Kill a Songbird?
Fruits and vegetables grown in Latin America vary greatly from their North American grown counterparts.  These produce are found in the supermarkets in the winter and early spring.  They are grown with the types and amounts of pesticides that would be considered illegal in the United States.  Those who suffer the most from these pesticides are the songbirds of North America.  Some songbirds have seen their populations decline by as much as fifty percent in the last forty years.  The birds venture south of the border in the winter looking for a warmer climate but find only highly toxic pesticide soaked grounds throughout.  The pesticides can drastically reduce the levels of cholinesterase, an enzyme that affects the brain and nerve cells in the birds.  Pesticide use has increased five times over the last twenty five years in Latin America, due to the fact that other more developed countries have expanded their production outside their borders and the demand for out of season crops has increased.  Some of the chemicals used are monocrotophos, methamidophos, and carbofuran, all highly toxic to birds and restricted or banned in the continental United States. Researchers have found that farmers in some of the nations south of Mexico spray their crops heavily and repeatedly with a chemical cocktail of dangerous pesticides.  The only way to stop the murdering of these birds is to stop buying crops out of season which most definitely come from outside the United States where the laws are much less strict if at all.  Also we can purchase organic or fair-trade products which are usually grown without unnatural chemicals.

Noninfectious Illnesses are Expected to Become Top Killers
According the World Health Organization the world’s population is getting richer, smoking more, eating more, and driving more.  The WHO believes that this will lead to noncommunicable disease overtaking infectious disease as the leading killer over the next twenty years. The 2008 report shows that diarrhea, AIDS, tuberculosis, neonatal tetanus, and malaria will become much less common as heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and traffic fatalities begin to claim more lives.  Infectious disease will still be the primary cause of death in Africa but the balance will begin to shift in Asia.  Heart disease and stroke are becoming the chief cause of death in developing countries over infectious disease, mainly due to the increase in obesity.  Currently AIDS related fatalities are at about three percent of annual deaths but are predicted to fall to 1.8 percent by 2030.  Smoking is also another leading cause of heart disease and cancer.  The tobacco industry aggressively markets its products to young people in the poorer countries hooking them at an early age.  According to the WHO a quarter of smokers started before the age of ten.  One of its studies found that twenty percent had clothing brand with tobacco companies.  The industry has also began using the freedom of choice mantra to gain many more women smokers.  Throughout the world, one hundred million people are forced into poverty each year in order to pay for health services and around forty percent of pregnant women and infants do not receive even basic health care or immunizations.

Pesticides in Drinking Water – National Pesticide Telecommunications Network
Pesticides are chemicals which are used to control pests.  A pest is not limited to insects and can be an insect, weed, bacteria, fungus, rodent, fish, or any other troublesome organism.  Drinking water comes from two sources: surface water and ground water.  Surface water is the water contained in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. Ground water is found under the surface of the top soil in water aquifers.  Most urban cities get their water from surface sources which is then pumped in through treatment plants while rural areas usually retrieve their water via wells dug into the ground which connect to underground aquifers and usually not treated.  Most water systems are refilled via snow and rain often traveling hundreds of miles underground before it reaches its final destination.  Pesticides are able to wash off of the ground and find their way into surface water sources or soak in through the ground and get into the underground water table.  Pesticides are also sometimes directly applied to water in order to keep aquatic weeds, insects, or fish under control.  Some of the pesticides used can evaporate and travel through the air where they may eventually find water sources.  Antimicrobial pesticides are required to be applied to public use water supplies in order to destroy disease-causing organisms such as bacteria and viruses.  Individual pesticides have varying effects on humans.  Certain people may be more sensitive to lower amounts of pesticides.  However in large amounts some pesticides have been shown to cause cancer, organ damage, and reproductive issues.

Homeowners, Wildlife & Pesticides – NPTN

Wildlife occupy varying habitats, not limited to parks, residences, agricultural areas, rangelands, lakes, forests, wetlands, and golf courses.  Often times these areas are treated with differing pesticides.  Should wildlife be exposed to a large enough amount of a given pesticide it could have adverse health effects for them.  Pesticide exposure may occur through ingestion, inhalation, or absorption through the skin or eyes.  They may ingest it by eating a treated crop or contaminated food such as insects, contaminated water from treated plants, or while grooming.  The pesticide may also affect the wildlife indirectly through the degradation of its natural habitat.  Decreased availability of a preferred prey or plant will greatly harm its natural diet requirements.  If a pesticide is deemed harmful to a particular wildlife organism the EPA requires a label guiding its use be applied to the pesticide.  When homeowners choose a pesticide they should choose one which will have the least harmful effect on non target organisms.  They should also apply the minimum amount of pesticide necessary the fewest number of times possible in order to reduce the likelihood of non target organism exposure, while still using a sufficient amount to destroy the targeted pest.  Often non chemical methods exist for the controlling of a pest such as snap traps for mice and rats.  Non target contact with a pesticide may be limited in an agricultural area by reducing the frequency of sprays and having buffer areas between wildlife and the target area.  

Readings above may have been drawn from the following sources:
Six Modern Plagues and How We are Causing Them, Mark Jerome Walters; Shearwater Books, 2003, ISBN 155963992X
Life Support, The Environment and Human Health, Michael McCally, editor, MIT Press, 2002, ISBN 0-262-63257-8
Rx for Survival,  Philip Hilts, Pengquin Books.  ISBN 0-7394-6974-6
Emerging Infectious Diseases,  Stuart A. Hill, Pearson Eductation Inc., publishing as Benjamin Cummings.  ISBN 0-8053-3955-8
Under the Weather:  Climate, Ecosystems and Infectious Disease, National Research Council, National Academy Press.  ISBN 0-309-07278-6

This article originally written October 7th, 2008 for OU IPE 3913 - Human Health, Disease, and the Environment.

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