From Pathogenic Human Interferences to Anthropogens to Allostatic Overloads to Doughnut Economics to the Cancer Stage of Capitalism
On October 3, 2015, I gave the Keynote Address at Operation Rescue’s Inaugural fundraiser entitled “The Secret to a Healthy Nation.” Present at that function was the Attorney General who encouraged me to write a paper expounding on the subject matter which I did within two weeks. (Please see: The Secret to a Healthy Nation – in-depth article based on presentation given at Operation Rescue’s fundraiser on October 3, 2015).
About three months later I came across Professor John McMurtry’s “The Cancer Stage of Capitalism: From Crisis to Cure,” and it connected the dots for me more than I could have imagined. I actually reached out to him via email and he was kind enough to reply to my concerns and since then I have used his Primary Axiom of All Value to guide my search for a better understanding and meaning of it all. (Please see The Secret to the Ill-Health of Nations and THE META VALUE SYSTEM OF ALL VALUES by Professor John McMurtry – Updated 2016).
What I have learnt recently is that even our own medical profession has been also invaded by the out-of-control cancerous capitalist system. (Please see: The Evils of Big Pharma Exposed). What I had not appreciated though was that we did not heed the Hippocratic precautionary principles of 1) “Primum non nocere” translated as “First, do no harm!” and 2) “Vis medicatrix naturae” translated as “The healing power of nature” or “Nature is the physician(s) of diseases.” By getting to understand the healing powers of our human nature, many medical symptoms are beginning to be seen in a new light:
“More recently, evolutionary medicine has identified many medical symptoms such as fever, inflammation, sickness behavior, and morning sickness as evolved adaptations that function as darwinian medicatrix naturae due to their selection as means to protect, heal, or restore the injured, infected or physiologically disrupted body.” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vis_medicatrix_naturae
“Inflammation (from Latin inflammatio) is part of the complex biological response of body tissues to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells, or irritants, and is a protective response involving immune cells, blood vessels, and molecular mediators. The function of inflammation is to eliminate the initial cause of cell injury, clear out necrotic cells and tissues damaged from the original insult and the inflammatory process, and to initiate tissue repair. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inflammation
I had a breakthrough recently where I stumbled upon new concepts which were not part of my training but which very much were needed to make progress in getting to the root cause of our cancerous cognitive framing. I have elaborated on them in the following trilogy of articles which traces our pathogenic human interferences to our pathological credit system and to our pathological disconnected and addictive selves (Please see: Is pathogenic human interference the cause of our social and planetary woes?, Is our credit creation system the father of all pathogenic human interferences? and On why our pathogenic credit creation system creates pathogenic disconnected and addicted selves).
Having completed those articles, I remembered several articles I had read by the Australian obesity researcher Dr Garry Egger in which he claimed that “obesity was a normal response to an abnormal pathogenic environment” and not an abnormal response to a normal salutogenic environment. I was surprised that although I used some of his graphics in “The Secret to a Healthy Nation” and in many of my CME presentations on obesity, I had not even connected his approach with my new-found reawakening of how not only do we live in a obesogenic environment, but also we live in a more pervasive diseasogenic (pathogenic=life-disabling) environment of our making and not the healthogenic (salutogenic=life-enabling) environment that we had inherited over evolutionary time and that had been bequeathed to us to steward wisely.
In his article, “An “ecological” approach to the obesity pandemic – BMJ VOLUME 315: 23 AUGUST 1997,” Dr Egger summarized his insights as follows:
In his article, “In Search of a Germ Theory Equivalent for Chronic Disease – Prev Chronic Dis 2012;9:110301” he defined “Anthropogens as man-made environments and the by products, behaviors, and/or lifestyles encouraged by those environments, some of which have biological effects which may be detrimental to human health.” He linked this to the proinflammatory environment and its products which were created starting around the time of the Industrial Revolution.
This timeline shows that anti-inflammatory inducers have been associated with human activity since at least the Neolithic revolution. Pro-inflammatory inducers have mostly (except for smoking) only been part of the human environment since the Industrial Revolution. Abbreviations: MUFA, monounsaturated fatty acids; EI, energy intake; EE, energy expenditure; N6, omega-6 fatty acids; N3, omega-3 fatty acids; BP, before present; EDCs, endocrine disrupting chemicals; SAFA, saturated fatty acid.
Figure 2. The pro- or anti-inflammatory effects of various inducers and their approximate (not to scale) introduction into the human environment. The bullets associated with each inducer in the time frame indicated suggest the approximate time of introduction to the human environment.
Interestingly, he viewed acute inflammation as salutogenic/life-enabling to restore homeostasis when it is directed against microbial pathogens, and chronic low-grade inflammation which is pathogenic/life-disabling when it is directed to persistent inorganic anthropogens and results in dysmetabolism and disease maintenance.
The left side of this figure shows that classical inflammation is ultimately resolved after inflammation, an immune defense reaction, and resolution. Metaflammation results in a low-level dysmetabolism, which can ultimately result in chronic disease. The order and other possible actions associated with metaflammation on the right side of the figure (ie, oxidative stress, metaflammation, and insulin resistance) are suggestive only but imply the mix of dysmetabolic actions associated with metaflammation. Abbreviation: LDL, low-density lipoprotein.
Figure 1. A representation of the difference between classical inflammation (illustrated as raging fire), initiated by a microbial antigen or injury, and metaflammation (illustrated as smoldering fire), caused by inorganic “anthropogens.” Abbreviation: LDL, low-density lipoprotein. The scale of difference of immune reaction between the 2 forms (ie, approximately 100-fold) is not shown.
He expounds on the relevance of the anthropogens concept for Public health:
“The concept of anthropogens, as proposed here, offers a broader base for managing chronic disease than the germ theory did for infectious diseases. It offers a single concept for 2 corners of the triad, environment and vector (and agent). Although agents can be inducers of metaflammation — either exogenous or endogenous (eg, EDCs, excessive cortisol levels) — these agents, plus the vectors through which they are delivered (eg, polluted air/water, socioeconomic stress) and environments in which they exist (eg, industrial output, inequality) are included under the single concept of disease-promoting anthropogens. Public health approaches in this model thus become generic, rather than fragmented (eg, dietary intakes rather than specific nutrients), and distal, rather than proximal (eg, industrialization/economic growth rather than fast-food marketing). Most important, such approaches need to involve disciplines often otherwise not considered in discussions of epidemic illness — such as macroeconomics, geography, ecology, and even business — in considering big-picture causality.”
The relevance of the distinction between the homeostasis and allostasis concepts to my understanding of the global determinants of diseases only registered recently as they helped to connect the pathologies at the subcellular, to the individual all the way up to the social and planetary (microbial) levels of life organisation. (Please see: An illustrated new view of the ontological basis and value of ALL life in health and disease.) But before connecting the dots, we should familiarise ourselves with what these terms mean.
“Homeostasis is the property of a system within the body of an organism in which a variable, such as the concentration of a substance in solution, is actively regulated to remain very nearly constant. Examples of homeostasis include the regulation of the body temperature of an animal, the pH of its extracellular fluids, or the concentrations of sodium (Na+), potassium (K+) and calcium (Ca2+) ions as well as that of glucose in the blood plasma, despite changes in the animal’s environment, or what it has eaten, or what it is doing (for example, resting or exercising). Each of these variables is controlled by a separate “homeostat” (or regulator), which, together, maintain life. Homeostats are energy-consuming physiological mechanisms.” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeostasis
“The concept of allostasis was proposed by Sterling and Eyer in 1988 to describe an additional process of reestablishing homeostasis, but one that responds to a challenge instead of to subtle ebb and flow. This theory suggests that both homeostasis and allostasis are endogenous systems responsible for maintaining the internal stability of an organism. Homeostasis, from the Greek homeo, means “similar,” while stasis means “stand;” thus, “standing at about the same level.” (The term was not coined as “homostasis” or “standing the same” because internal states are frequently being disturbed and corrected, thus rarely perfectly constant.) Allostasis was coined similarly, from the Greek allo, which means “variable;” thus, “remaining stable by being variable” (Sterling & Eyer 1988; Klein 2004). Allostatic regulation reflects, at least partly, cephalic involvement in primary regulatory events, in that it is anticipatory to systemic physiological regulation (Sterling & Eyer 1988; Schulkin 2003).
“The concept of allostasis, maintaining stability through change, is a fundamental process through which organisms actively adjust to both predictable and unpredictable events… Allostatic load refers to the cumulative cost to the body of allostasis, with allostatic overload… being a state in which serious pathophysiology can occur… Using the balance between energy input and expenditure as the basis for applying the concept of allostasis, two types of allostatic overload have been proposed (Wingfield 2003).”
McEwen and Wingfield propose two types of allostatic load which result in different responses:-
Type 1 allostatic overload occurs when energy demand exceeds supply, resulting in activation of the emergency life history stage. This serves to direct the animal away from normal life history stages into a survival mode that decreases allostatic load and regains positive energy balance. The normal life cycle can be resumed when the perturbation passes.
Type 2 allostatic overload begins when there is sufficient or even excess energy consumption accompanied by social conflict and other types of social dysfunction. The latter is the case in human society and certain situations affecting animals in captivity. In all cases, secretion of glucocorticosteroids and activity of other mediators of allostasis such as the autonomic nervous system, CNS neurotransmitters, and inflammatory cytokines wax and wane with allostatic load. If allostatic load is chronically high, then pathologies develop. Type 2 allostatic overload does not trigger an escape response, and can only be counteracted through learning and changes in the social structure (McEwen & Wingfield 2003; Sterling & Eyer 1988)
In the long run, allostatic changes may fail to be adaptive as the maintenance of allostatic changes over a long period may result in wear and tear, the so-called allostatic load. If a dehydrated individual is helped but continues to be stressed and hence does not reinstate normal body function, the individual’s body systems will wear out. The human body is adaptable, but it cannot maintain allostatic overload for very long without consequence. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allostasis
In Dr Egger’s article entitled “Obesity, Chronic Disease, and Economic Growth: A Case for “Big Picture” Prevention” – Advances in Preventive Medicine Volume 2011, he went on to connect biological pathology and ecological pathology with industrialisation and economic growth.
Figure 2: Relational epidemiology between chronic disease and climate change.
“In classic economic terms, body fat is an investment in the future. This yields healthy dividends (in this case, survival)—to a point, just as all good investments. But beyond this point, diminishing rates of returns begin to decrease the value of further investment. Body fat, to a level probably defined by individual genetics, is a necessary and healthy source of reserve energy. Recent findings suggest that while fat stays in the fat cells, for which they are designed, this is not a cause for concern. Only when lipid intolerant nonadipose organs are not protected against lipid “spillover” during sustained energy surplus does it become a problem . In advanced economies, the bulk of such an energy surplus comes from the use of nonrenewable resources (fuel for transport and effort-saving devices, energy for production of energy-dense foods and drinks), the combustion of which also leads to greenhouses gas emissions. When these occur beyond a level of equilibrium with sequestration, or the ability of the earth’s sinks to soak this up (the ecological “sweet spot”), they build up in the atmosphere, leading to ecological abnormalities such as severe weather events, species extinction, and climate change. The similarities between obesity and climate change, although metaphorical, are thus apparent. In seeking the driver of both, it is apparent that economic growth, beyond the point forewarned by the early economists such as J. S. Mill  as that where growth would need to be modified (as “nothing can grow forever”), is the ultimate distal cause. As summed up by one commentator: “Growth beyond maturity is either obesity or cancer” . And while this is now becoming increasingly obvious amongst health scientists, it is imperative to involve other disciplines—economists, ecologists, politicians—in a discourse much broader than that which is traditionally considered as encompassing obesity and chronic disease prevention. Some initiatives are beginning in this direction (i.e., see ). However much more is likely to be required if human health and chronic disease are to be progressively improved.” –“Obesity, Chronic Disease, and Economic Growth: A Case for “Big Picture” Prevention” – Advances in Preventive Medicine Volume 2011
Professor McMurtry does not see population growth as the problem for the degenerate trends and with whom I concur. However, he has identified the father of all human pathogenic interferences, the anthropogen that has spawned all other anthropogens, and the root cause of all of our allostatic overloads not only at the individual life host levels, but also at the social and planetary levels of life organisations. This has been rediscovered and has been graphically illustrated by the renegade economist Dr. Kate Raworth where the doughnut represents “the safe and just homeostatic space for humanity” that is produced by a salutogenic/life-enabling regenerative and distributive economy, rather than the worsening allostatic overloads that are being produced by the present pathogenic/life-destroying degenerative and cancerous economy. (Please see: Watch “Why it’s time for ‘Doughnut Economics’ | Kate Raworth | TEDxAthens” on YouTube).
This model ‘allows us to see the state in which we now find ourselves’. Source: Kate Raworth and Christian Guthier/The Lancet Planetary Health
I will end for now with two quotes from Professor John McMurtry’s book that had started me on this journey of discovery and that had allowed me to connect more dots than I could have imagined without his help.
“Principled Summary of the Cancer Pattern
To summarize the common system cause of the global degenerate trends which population growth cannot begin to explain:
(1) All of these trends are by mutations of past economic ordering to transnationally unregulated private conglomerate money-sequences;
(2) for whose cumulatively life-destructive growth there has been long-term failure of social immune recognition
(3) because of a world system of extra-parliamentary treaties conferring unilateral and unaccountable rights on transnational corporations
(4) which prohibit any intervention in their predatory race to the bottom of no human and ecological life-regulators and standards;
(5) financed by states’ yielding all constitutional powers of money and credit issue to private transnational banks
(6) whose growing investment pattern is depredatory with debt enslavement and casino speculation as cash base;
(7) with cumulative transfer of public revenues and resources to extend and enforce the dominant private money-sequences through every society and domain;
(8) backed by ever more invasive measures including criminal wars and crimes against humanity with impunity.
Only one explanatory frame of meaning is adequate to these advancing pathogenic trends – a cancer system at the global level of reproduction.”
“What is called ‘Economics‘ is in reality the mechanics of money-sequences. What money wants is all that exists. All else is eliminated. And money as we have seen eventually comes to exponentially multiply legal tender by ‘derivatives’ speculations. The mechanical paradigm of ‘neo-classical economics’ was exactly suited to a value system which processed human and environmental life-forms as throughputs of self-maximizing global corporate money-sequences. Once political and democratic interventions were also expunged by the processes defined in Chapter 1, there were no footings left within the ruling paradigm to resist the re-engineering of world life to disposable functions of the global money-sequence mechanism advancing though every life-system and host. Economists and the societies they prescribed to thus became obedient creatures of the ruling value-system assumed by all as ‘value neutral’.
This is how ‘Economics‘ ceased to be a science. Like the received dogmatics of another epoch, its formulations decoupled from reality in a scholastic formalism, its priesthood would not acknowledge the right of any but its believers to speak on the life-and-death issues designated by the subject, and all that lived became materials and forces to be privately money-sequenced to more. Yet it would be a mistake to merely reject this ruling thought system. One has to unmask the principles it assumes in order to comprehend the life-coherent understanding required. One has to lay bare the reigning assumptions to follow the trail of globally life-destructive consequences which the system‘s metaphysic unleashes beneath recognition.
As we know from historical experience, a ruling value-system is most dangerous when it is built on premises which exclude vital life-needs and capacities a priori. In this case, not only has the ruling money-sequence system long mutated from its free market roots. It has developed countless switches and relays of ideological circuits in the face of cumulatively catastrophic trends it is structured to block out.
Because mainstream economics is life-blind in principle, it is no wonder it is clueless to the life-destruction it has left in its wake and may continue to escalate if we do not wake up and change course before it is too late. Although it is not going to be easy, we need to, as life-care workers, be the change we want to see in the world. (For the challenges that lay ahead, please see: The “Hypocritical Oath”: Medical Schools’ Support for the Status Quo By Michael Pappas, Truthout | Op-Ed October 26, 2016.)
It’s time physicians and medical students began addressing the structural and social determinants of health. Photo: Alex Proimos / Flickr)