By Myrtle Macdonald. At last I have research reports to back up my observations of a lifetime of 92 years.
I have seen the incidence of allergies, respiratory diseases, arthritis, high blood pressure, obesity, depression and autoimmune diseases multiply many times over, and more and more in the past 10 years. At the same time thousands of species are going extinct daily. The use of disinfectants and pesticides seemed to be the answer. Their effects were dramatic at first, but they did much more harm than good. I saw in India, through a span of many years, what DDT and Gammexane did to bedbugs and mosquitoes. Mutations into more aggressive varieties were the result and natural controls died too or lost their effectiveness.
Now “Round Up” together with genetic modification are forced upon our farmers and on cotton growers, and because yield seems improved, as well as weeds controlled, they were deceived, and many still are. This is only temporary. Indigenous varieties and biodiversity are being destroyed rapidly and the treated crops themselves yield less or are ruined, sooner or later. In India formerly prosperous cotton farms are bankrupted by crop failures due to new diseases and blights.
A sad side effect is that those farmers who try to grow organically find it next to impossible to keep out contaminating pollen brought in by wind and insects. Both good and bad insects themselves are dying out. Bees are dying and as a result many fruits that need the good pollen that bees carry, are dying too. Learning how to manage natural controls is essential. There are many wonderful varieties of apples and other fruits that have gone extinct. The same is true of chickens. The tastiness and health have been diminished. Cod fisheries died, and salmon are dying because natural predators were allowed to take over, through misinformed environmentalist propoganda. I pray that environmentalists will become better informed and motivated. Our Arctic peoples have had to change their diet because of increasing lack of fish and cariboo. BC indigenous people in our area get only one day when they can fish for certain kinds of salmon instead of all year round. What a horrible change to have to adjust too!
Closer to home let’s look at the cleaning products we are buying. There is no need for detergents to be antiseptic or to contain antibacterial products. Old fashion soda bicab, vinegar, etc do as good a job of cleaning and are less harmful. Please send us old fashioned as well as new ideas, that you have found to be effective.
As the article below so clearly explains, a healthy balance of microorganisms in their bodies, starting in early childhood gives children an effective immune system.
We need to aim at balance in nature. Sincere research aims at finding natural weapons used by plants and animals to ward off predators. Our farmers benefited greatly through the experimental farms we had in every municipality when I was a child. One excellent result was the developing of frost and rust resistant wheat, through selective breeding, not use of chemicals. Selection is good. Genetic modification is Frankenstein.
The dust bowl droughts of the 1930s were overcome by trying out and practicing new ways to hold the topsoil from being blown away: (1. Longer stems left after cutting, 2. Rows arranged at angles according to the direction of the wind, and 3. Shallow harrowing to compost the stubble and improve the humus).
We need to protect indigenous species not to replace them by genetic modification. We need to discover and honor indigenous farming wisdom. Meanwhile in Mexico most indigenous types of corn have already gone extinct. In Africa indigenous grains have been used up for food due to famine. The seed sold to them from abroad may seem to be productive, but it is hybrid and will not reproduce, so the people remain poor and dependent.
The food we eat lacks adequate natural nutrition. The germ and skin are removed. 35 or more nutrients have been removed and five vitamins and minerals added. Then they are called purified and enriched. Labels are deceiving and hard to understand. The words “vegetable oil” may be a cover-up for hydrogenated oil (transfat), which is of no value. Natural oils and fats are needed for the healing and repair of every cell of our bodies. Saturated fat is not bad for us except when we eat too much of it. Butter is safer than margarine.
Getting dirty may be healthy
Photo Credit: Jode Roberts
For much of human history we lived close to the natural world. As civilization evolved we became increasingly urbanized, and most of us now live in cities. As we’ve moved away from nature, we’ve seen a decline in other forms of life. Biodiversity is disappearing. The current rate of loss is perhaps as high as 10,000 times the natural rate. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s 2008 Red List of Threatened Species shows 16,928 plant and animal species are threatened with extinction. This includes a quarter of all mammal species, a third of amphibian species and an eighth of bird species. And that’s only among those we know about; scientists say we may have identified just 10 to 15 per cent of existing species.
It can be a challenge to communicate why this loss is important. We know species diversity is critical to the healthy functioning of ecosystems that provide services on which humans depend. But could we live with fewer? Some would argue we could do without mosquitoes and other annoying critters. We could keep the ones we want and those that are useful to us. Do we need biodiversity to keep humans healthy?
According to an article in Conservation magazine, there is a link between biodiversity and human health. Ilkka Hanski and his colleagues at the University of Helsinki compared allergies of adolescents living in houses surrounded by biodiverse natural areas to those living in landscapes of lawns and concrete. They found people surrounded by a greater diversity of life were themselves covered with a wider range of different kinds of microbes than those in less diverse surroundings. They were also less likely to exhibit allergies.
What’s going on? Discussion of the relationship between biodiversity and human health is not new. Many have theorized that our disconnection from nature is leading to a myriad of ailments. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, says people who spend too little time outdoors experience a range of behavioural problems, which he calls “nature deficit disorder”. It fits with theories of modern ecology, which show systems lacking in biodiversity are less resilient, whether they’re forests or microbial communities in our stomachs or on our skin. Less resilient systems are more subject to invasion by pathogens or invasive species.
Hanski studied a region in Finland where few people move far. He randomly selected 118 adolescents in an equal number of homes. Some were in the city and others in woods or on farms. The team collected skin swabs from subjects and then measured the biodiversity of plants around each house. Their data revealed a clear pattern: higher native-plant diversity appeared to be associated with altered microbial composition on the participants’ skin, which led in turn to lower risk of allergies.
Hanski and his colleagues found that one group of microbes, gammaproteobacteria, appears to be associated both with plant diversity and allergies. And it didn’t matter whether they considered allergies to cats, dogs, horses, birch pollen or timothy grass. People with more diverse kinds of gammaproteobacteria on their bodies were less likely to have allergies.
The immune system’s primary role is to distinguish deadly species from beneficial and beneficial from simply innocent. To work effectively, our immune system needs to be “primed” by exposure to a diverse range of organisms at an early age. In this way it learns to distinguish between good, bad and harmless. If not exposed to a wide array of species, it may mistakenly see a harmless pollen grain as something dangerous and trigger an allergic reaction. We also know that bacteria and fungi compete. Fungi are often associated with allergies, and it could be that high diversity of bacteria keeps the fungi in check.
A conclusive explanation for Hanski’s observations is not yet available. More research is needed. But we know we evolved in a world full of diverse species and now inhabit one where human activity is altering and destroying an increasing number of plants, animals and habitats. We need to support conservation of natural areas and the diverse forms of life they contain, plant a variety of species in our yards, avoid antibacterial cleaning products and go outside in nature and get dirty – especially kids. Our lives and immune systems will be richer for it.
– With contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Science and Policy Director Mara Kerry –