Monday, February 20, 2012

Feeding Ourselves and Bacteria

We all know that consuming uncooked poultry may lead to a bout of salmonella and even bagged spinach and sprouts--not just contaminated meats--can spread e.coli through runoff water contaminated with fecal matter. Food can make us sick by introducing additional bacteria to our bodies and overloading our immune systems to a certain tipping point making us extremely ill. What's gaining more and more publicity lately, however, is what the U.S food industry does to preemptively combat the bacteria we are vulnerable to consuming: loading the livestock we eat with massive quantities of antibiotics.

In "Survival of the Sickest" Dr. Sharon Moalem exposes that some diseases are actually very sophisticated, adapted responses to former environmental threats to human health. He focuses especially and continuously returns to his very personal discussion of hemochromatosis--a disorder which traps and locks excess iron in the body (albeit unevenly). I had always been under the assumption that iron is almost always a good thing for the body and as a vegetarian, I find myself on a perpetual quest to add more of it to my diet. Moalem, however, proved me very, very wrong as he discussed how those with hemochromatosis (which neglects to spread iron to certain microphages in the body) and anemia are actually far less susceptible to certain diseases and bacteria which feed on iron as fuel. Iron is constantly added as a supplement in many of the pulses, grains, cereals, and multiple other foods we eat and also an additive in baby formula.

So, why talk about antibiotics when Moalem discusses iron?

The issue is that both iron and antibiotics are added in excess to what we eat daily. As we consume more and more antibiotic-laden meats (and milk), our bodies become resistant to the antibiotics that are helpful (in moderation) to cure us when we fall ill. Strains of antibiotic-resistant, dangerous bacteria such as MRSA is becoming far more commonly diagnosed in the US and this seems to be no coincidence. What about iron? Am I suggesting you turn down that plate of spinach for a slice of pie? No. But as Moalem puts it, too much of a good thing is not always a good thing. It seems to me we are adding too much of a good thing to our bodies and, in the process, making everyone more susceptible to the bad stuff.


  1. It seems we often do an effort to make more of what the body needs readily available we bring with it what's less beneficial. Similar to antibiotics in meat and dairy, a few years ago there was a slew of articles published about precocious puberty in girls as young as 8 which was (and still is) thought to be linked to the hormones added to meat and dairy products. We've gotten so far away from real food that I doubt most of our great grandparents would be able to identify a good portion of what's on the market today. Scary stuff!

  2. I was too glad to see that Moalem included this in his book, as it is an excellent example of the many ways we are completely dropping the ball in terms of agriculture in this country. The complicated and alienated contemporary state of farming is a result of over a century of trying to cut corners and providing the cheapest and most addictive foods possible. It has completely altered the profession of farming, and made it almost impossible for Americans to find foods that are 'natural' in the real sense of the word. This is manipulated largely by idiotic and short sighted decisions from the government in allotting farm subsidies. In the end, they are the ones that dictate that average Americans must thrive on a high corn syrup diet, full of antibiotics etc. Thus American healthcare issues do also stem from profiteering and ugly decisions made directly in terms the food we eat.

    Interesting Article: