Good News and Bad News When You Quit Smoking

By Dr. Mercola

Nearly 40 million American adults smoke cigarettes.1 It is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., accounting for 1 out of every 5 deaths each year. According to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 130,000 cases of lung cancer diagnosed each year are attributed to smoking.2

About 50 years ago, nearly 42 percent of the population smoked cigarettes,3 but between 2005 and 2014 those numbers dropped to nearly 17 percent and then to 15 percent by 2015.4 Public health officials hope this number continues to drop each year.

If you smoke, quitting is an essential strategy to returning to good health, as smoking is linked to a number of chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease and stroke. However, smoking affects nearly every organ in your body, and so your bones, brain, teeth, eyes and even fertility may all be damaged. Your body does have an amazing ability to heal, though.

Once you stop smoking you’ll experience beneficial changes in the following days, weeks and years, as your body clears out the damage done by nicotine and the hundreds of other chemicals found in cigarettes. That’s the good news. The bad news is you may never be able to completely outrun the damage incurred from smoking in your lifetime.5

Quarter Century Later, Risk of Lung Cancer Still Elevated

Your lung cancer risk drops substantially within the first five years you quit smoking. However, the team from Vanderbilt University also discovered the risk of lung cancer compared to current smokers was still three times higher than those who had never smoked, 25 years after quitting. Senior research author Dr. Matthew Freiberg says:6

“While the importance of smoking cessation cannot be overstated, former heavy smokers need to realize that the risk of lung cancer remains elevated for decades after they smoke their last cigarette, underscoring the importance of lung cancer screening.”

These are the main findings from a new analysis of the Framingham Heart Study. Researchers evaluated 907 health records of residents from Framingham, Massachusetts, who were followed between 25 and 34 years.7 During this time, 284 individuals were diagnosed with lung cancer, nearly 93 percent of which occurred in those who were identified as heavy smokers before they quit. Heavy smokers were defined as those who smoked at least a pack of cigarettes of day for 21 years or more.

The researchers discovered five years after quitting, the risk of developing lung cancer dropped by 39 percent compared to current smokers, and continued to fall as time went on.8 However, the risk remained over threefold higher at the 25-year mark, compared to people who had never smoked. These results are not unexpected as every cigarette damages DNA in the body, not only the lining of the lungs but in other cells, leading to the association of smoking with 16 different types of cancer.

Researchers have identified changes in your DNA, called methylation, affecting how the genes are expressed or modified to affect your health.9 In some cases methylation tells the genes to turn “off,” effectively changing how your body responds to its environment. This is a signaling tool for gene expression vital to a number of cell processes controlling human disease.

Researchers have been able to demonstrate the alterations to DNA methylation caused by smoking may last up to 30 years. The amount of damage and the consequences are the planned focus of further study.10 While much of the DNA reverts to the original state after a smoker quits, some remains changed decades later and may be associated with the development of chronic disease and the development of cardiovascular disease,11 obesity and diabetes in adulthood.

Smoking Increases Potential Risk of Death and Disease

Worldwide, tobacco continues to be the leading cause of preventable death, causing nearly 6 million deaths each year.12 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), current trends show tobacco will cause more than 8 million deaths by 2030.13 In 2016, 15 percent of all adults smoked combustible cigarettes and each day more than 3,200 people younger than 18 smoke their first cigarette.

In the United States, smoking causes more deaths every year than a combination of HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle accidents and firearm-related incidents.14 Estimates show15 smoking increases the risk for coronary heart disease up to four times, the risk of stroke up to four times and the risk of lung cancer up to 25 times, compared to those who have never smoked.

Smoking also makes it more difficult for a woman to become pregnant and affects her baby’s health before and after birth and, for everyone, increases risk of tooth loss, cataracts and Type 2 diabetes.16 According to the World Health Organization (WHO), while many people are aware of the link between smoking, cancer and respiratory conditions, many are unaware of its links to heart attacks and strokes. According to WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus:17

“Most people know that using tobacco causes cancer and lung disease, but many people aren’t aware that tobacco also causes heart disease and stroke — the world’s leading killers. Tobacco doesn’t just cause cancer. It quite literally breaks hearts.”

Although fewer people are smoking worldwide, WHO believes only one country in eight is on track to meet a target of reducing tobacco use significantly by 2025.18 They sealed a landmark treaty in 2005, ratified by 180 countries, calling for a ban on tobacco advertising and sponsorship, and taxes to discourage use. While WHO recognizes there has been progress, Douglas Bettcher, director of WHO’s prevention of noncommunicable diseases, said:19

“One of the major factors impeding low- and middle-income countries certainly is countries face resistance by a tobacco industry who wish to replace clients who died by freely marketing their products and keeping prices affordable for young people.”

He recognizes industrialized countries are making faster progress than developing countries and kicking the habit is a challenge. At this time, America is the only region set to meet a target of 30 percent reduction in tobacco use by 2025 compared to use in 2010. WHO has said use in the Middle East is actually increasing while parts of Western Europe have reached a standstill.20

WHO Concerned Not All Aware of Heart Risk Associated With Smoking

As concerning to the organization as reducing numbers of individuals who smoke, are the number of people in China and India who are unaware of the fact that smoking increases their risk of heart disease and stroke.21 To date, China and India have the highest number of smokers worldwide, followed by Indonesia. Bettcher commented:22

“The percentage of adults who do not believe smoking causes stroke are for example in China as high as 73 percent, for heart attacks 61 percent of adults in China are not aware that smoking increases the risk. We aim to close this gap.”

A survey done by WHO showed more than half of adults in India and Indonesia are unaware smoking can cause a stroke.23 According to their report on trends and prevalence, the percentage of those who smoke worldwide has dropped from 27 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2016. However, due to population growth, the actual numbers who smoke have remained relatively stable.

E-Cigarette Use on the Rise

As tobacco companies began losing clients with the push to quit smoking, the modern e-cigarette was modified and marketed. First sold in 2007 in the United States, their global use has risen exponentially.24 The popularity is likely associated with the difference between traditional combustible cigarettes emitting an offensive odor while electronic cigarettes are relatively odorless and therefore generally misperceived as safe and harmless.

However, with mounting evidence of health risks and the highly addictive nature of nicotine, a coalition of respiratory physicians and scientists from six continents is calling for an immediate ban on flavorings and of marketing e-cigarettes to adolescents and children.25 The Forum of International Respiratory Societies is a collaboration of organizations across North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia.

The coalition seeks to bring together a range of research highlighting the susceptibility of children and adolescents to nicotine addiction and recommends how to protect youth from its harmful effects. The authors cite evidence e-cigarettes are a bridge to traditional combustible cigarette smoking and adolescents. Dr. Thomas Ferkol, professor of pediatrics and cell biology at Washington University, commented:26

“Until recently, the risks of e-cigarettes and the rising popularity with children and adolescents were under recognized or ignored. We wrote this statement to address growing public health concerns over e-cigarette use among the youth. Product design, flavors, marketing and perception of safety and acceptability have increased the appeal of e-cigarettes to young people.

These products are normalizing smoking and leading to new generations addicted to nicotine. Some people truly believe these cigarettes could be used as a smoking cessation technique, but these products also are an entry to nicotine addiction and tobacco use in young people.”

According to statistics from WHO,27 there’s been a rapid increase in the number of individuals vaping between 2011 and 2016, rising from 7 million to 35 million in five years. The global product market is estimated to be worth $22.6 billion, up from $4.2 billion just five years ago. In a report published by Ernst & Young,28 the number of e-cigarette users in seven countries surveyed grew 86 percent between 2013 and 2015, with the total highest usage in Great Britain and France.

In 2015, 37 percent of e-cigarette users identified themselves as ex-smokers, an increase from 31 percent from 2013. The growth in flavors and nicotine strength is in response to evolving consumer preferences, and the majority of devices and liquid are purchased at specialty stores. Interestingly, the report also found countries with higher cigarette prices tend to have a higher penetration of e-cigarette use in the population.29

Vaping Is Not an Alternative

Whether used by children or adults, vaping is only a short-term alternative to smoking combustible cigarettes if you’re trying to quit, since the product carries significant health risks. Smokeless e-cigarettes are the most popular nicotine-based product used by high school and middle school students. The 2016 Surgeon General’s Report30 showed a 900 percent increase in use of this product between 2011 and 2015.

Several studies have supported the belief e-cigarettes are a gateway habit, leading teens from vaping to smoking traditional combustible cigarettes, hookah and cigars.31,32,33 In other studies using animal models,34 researchers have discovered rats exposed to nicotine during adolescence grew into adulthood with a greater potential to exhibit addictive behavior.

The researchers found exposure to nicotine at a young age changes the neurological circuitry in the brain within the reward center. Long-term changes in the midbrain reward center may also be a gateway to other addictive drugs, such as cocaine, heroin and morphine.35

In an examination of e-cigarette devices, researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health36 found a significant number generated unsafe levels of lead, nickel, chromium and magnesium, consistent with previous studies. Nearly 50 percent of the vapor samples to which bystanders are exposed had lead concentrations higher than limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency.37

Despite lower levels of nicotine pollution from e-cigarettes, researchers have found bystanders have similar levels of cotinine, a measure of the amount of nicotine taken into the body, as those who are exposed to traditional combustible secondhand cigarette smoke.38 Vapor also contains acetaldehyde and formaldehyde39 and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has detected antifreeze chemicals in e-cigarettes, which are linked to cancer.40

I believe the secret to quitting smoking is to first get healthy, making quitting mentally and physically easier. Exercise, eating right and getting plenty of sleep are important parts of this plan. You can read more in my previous article, “The Vaping Epidemic Is Getting Out of Hand.”

From Toilet to Tap

By Dr. Mercola

Many drink water straight from their tap, assuming governmental oversight and the Safe Drinking Water Act ensure city tap water is safe. Unfortunately, while the water may be clear and taste normal, it does not mean the water is pure and free of environmental toxins.

U.S. water supplies were first regulated in the Clean Water Act passed in 1972 and amended in 1977 and 1987.1 The federal law regulates the discharge of pollutants into the nation’s surface waters, commonly used in acquiring drinking water. In 1974, the U.S. government passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in an attempt to protect the public drinking water supply and set standards for quality.2

The regulation sets limits on 90 contaminants, including seven microorganisms.3 However, not one chemical has been added to the list since 1996.4 In other words, the list has not kept up with the types of chemicals being used in the U.S. or across the world. Legally safe only means the water meets standards established in 1996 and does not mean the water supply meets standards for optimal health.

Now, drought-stricken areas across the world are using recycled water to ensure citizens have enough drinking water available. Using 1996 standards, researchers declared recycled water to be safe for consumption, but were curious about the taste of recycled water and how it might impact consumer complaints.5

The Process of Recycling Water

In most cases, wastewater is first treated before being released into the environment or for reuse. The type of treatment depends upon the country of origin. The quality of water released into the environment is also affected by accidents, such as the problem with sewage plant effluent and flooding in Oregon or by political inertia, as demonstrated by lead poisoning of the citizens of Flint, Michigan.6

To understand how water is recycled, it’s important to understand how it is first treated. Wastewater travels through the sewer system from residences and businesses, and ends up at a plant regulated by state laws and municipality treatment plans.7

In New York City,8 runoff from rain, street and sidewalk washing and melting snow flows into catch basins, where it’s carried through storm sewers to the city’s treatment plants. This is known as a combined sewer system, which can sometimes result in things like wood and dead animals entering the treatment plant.

In New York City, the incoming wastewater, called influent, passes through screens and large bars trapping larger pieces of trash. The garbage is transported to landfills, while sewage pumps lift the wastewater out of the screening chamber to the surface level of the plant. The wastewater then enters a primary settling tank where it sets for one to two hours, allowing heavy solids to settle to the bottom and lighter material to float to the top.9

After two hours, floatable trash is skimmed and the settled solids are removed. In the secondary treatment, air is pumped into large aeration tanks to mix with wastewater and stimulate the growth of oxygen using bacteria naturally present in the sewage. These organisms are expected to consume most of the remaining organic material and produce heavier particles, settling to the bottom. The water remains in these bubbling tanks for three to six hours and then flows into a final settling tank.

After primary and secondary treatment are completed, the water spends 15 to 20 minutes in chlorine contact tanks mixing with sodium hypochlorite, the chemical found in common household bleach. The resulting treated wastewater, or effluent, then moves to the next step in the process. Under normal circumstances, the water is released into the environment. This process has not deviated too much from the process published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1998.10

To obtain recycled water, the effluent is either moved directly to a water treatment plant to become drinking water, called the direct potable reuse (DPR) method, or it is blended with an environmental buffer, such as a reservoir, and then pumped back into a potable water supply, called an indirect potable reuse (IDR) method.11

How Does Your Water Taste?

The study was published in Appetite, an12 “international research journal specializing in cultural, social, psychological, sensory and physiological influences on the selection and intake of foods and drinks.” The objective was to determine if taste was a factor in drinking recycled water. The researchers choose to use recycled water obtained from the IDR method.

Researchers from the University of California-Riverside did not focus on the safety of water from treatment plants, “which has long been established,”13 but instead on the taste. Years of drought conditions in California have driven the momentum to supplement groundwater with recycled water. Some have now branded the technology “toilet to tap.” Six California water agencies already employ IDR, including Orange County, Los Angeles County and the city of Los Angeles.14

For the study, researchers asked 143 participants to rate bottled water, conventional ground water tap water, and recycled waste water from the tap.15 The participants were categorized as either being open to experience or exhibiting characteristics of neuroticism.

They defined neuroticism as being more nervous and anxious about the experience. Those who were more open to experience rated the water from all three sources nearly identically,16 while those who were more nervous preferred the IDR and bottled water over the mineral-rich groundwater tap water.

The researchers believe this highlights a similarity in taste between IDR water and bottled water, hoping it17 “may make consumers more amenable to drinking recycled wastewater.” A surprise finding were women were twice as likely to prefer bottled water as men.

The researchers guessed a woman’s higher “disgust reaction” may mean their reaction to tastes they dislike is more extreme. The researchers concluded the favorable comparisons between recycled water and bottled water, both treated with reverse osmosis, may make consumers happier about drinking recycled wastewater.

‘Virtually’ All Contaminants Removed From Drinking Water

The press release from the University of California-Riverside states, “studies have found IDR removes virtually all contaminants.”18 Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary19 defines the word “virtually” to mean “almost entirely.” Unfortunately, virtually all contaminants are not removed from common tap water.

Although Flint, Michigan, was a wake-up call, it’s not the only place tap water problems have happened. As noted by Eric Olson, director of the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) health program,20 “Thousands of other cities and small towns across the country are serving water with lead or other contamination problems to millions of people.”

An investigation by Orb Media21 found 83 percent of tap water samples from a dozen nations were contaminated with plastic fibers. The U.S. had the highest rate of contamination, at 94 percent. The organization found fibers in tap water, including samples from Congressional buildings, the U.S. EPA’s headquarters and Trump Tower in New York. Microplastics contain and absorb toxic chemicals known to be released in the body. German studies have even found fragments in 24 beer brands, in honey and in sugar.22

In a study led by Harvard University,23 researchers found per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) exceeding federally recommended safety levels in public drinking water supplying 6 million people across America.

The researchers believe the actual number exposed maybe even higher as government data for levels of these compounds is lacking for almost one-third of the U.S. population, or approximately 100 million people. These chemicals have been linked with cancer, high cholesterol, obesity and hormone disruption.24

Another study from Northeastern University and the Environmental Working Group (EWG)25 demonstrated toxic chemical pollution in tap water systems across 27 states serving 15 million Americans. Phil Brown, Ph.D., Northeastern University, believes the research26 “reveals the inadequacy of U.S. chemical regulation and highlights the need for health protective, precautionary chemical policy.”

Although the vast majority of America’s drinking water supply receives a passing grade from federal and state regulatory agencies, as many as 250 contaminants are detected through water sampling and testing at levels legal under the Safe Drinking Water Act, but well above levels scientific studies have found to pose health risks.27 You can search the EWG Tap Water Database, using your ZIP code, to see the contaminants found in your water supply, at what levels and what these could mean for your health.28

The Flint, Michigan, debacle was only discovered after one mother contacted the EPA when her children got sick.29 Months later it set off a national alarm revealing lead contamination within the community and schools. The EWG Tap Water Database shows nationwide detection of lead levels within legal limits, but at which scientists and other experts believe will not fully protect public health. Other contaminants detected include:30

  • 93 linked to an increased risk for cancer
  • 78 associated with nervous system damage
  • 63 connected to developmental harm to children and unborn babies
  • 38 that may cause fertility problems
  • 45 linked to hormonal disruption

Hidden Dangers Found in Recycled Biodegradable Toilet Paper

While you may have been choosing recycled toilet paper, paper towels and facial tissue for environmental reasons, these often have a higher content of bisphenol-a (BPA).31 Detectable levels of BPA have been found in 93 percent of urine samples taken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from people 6 years of age and older.32

While recycled toilet paper contains high amounts of BPA eventually making its way into the sewer systems, wildlife and then drinking water supply, purchasing traditional paper also contributes to pollution.33 If you’re worried about adding your own chemicals to the sewer system, it may be time to think seriously about installing a bidet at home.

Many products can be retrofitted to your existing toilet and will go a long way toward keeping you clean and reducing environmental pollution. While it has yet to catch on in the U.S., many other developed countries use a bidet in place of toilet paper. You can also have this cleaning device plumbed into your hot water supply, making the experience more pleasant than the cold water type.

A second option is purchase toilet paper, paper towels and napkins made from bagasse, a byproduct from the making of sugar, which is otherwise disposed. Sugar cane is the most readily available biodegradable non-tree fiber readily available for use and an environmentally safer alternative to traditionally manufactured or recycled toilet tissue and paper towel.

Water Filtration Necessary for Optimal Health

It becomes more apparent with each passing study that properly filtering your household water is more of a necessity than a luxury option. With each passing year, drinking water is becoming increasingly toxic and water treatment plants are not able to filter all of the chemicals and toxins now produced and making their way into the water supply.

As the studies have demonstrated, it doesn’t really matter where you live; your water supply likely contains a number of toxins dangerous to your health. The take-home message is a whole house filtration system, in addition to filtering your water supply at the point of use, is necessary if you want pure water and optimal health.

Also consider filtering the water in your shower and bath, as chemicals are absorbed through your skin and will go directly into your bloodstream, bypassing your natural digestive and internal filtration systems.

Unfiltered water from your shower may also expose you to chlorine vapors and chloroform gas. Chlorine can vaporize from your toilet bowl, washing machine and dishwasher, so if you are unable to use a whole house filter, open your windows on opposing sides for cross-ventilation at least 10 minutes every day no matter the weather in order to remove these gases.

One of the most pernicious toxins is purposely added to the water supply, namely fluoride. Even at low doses it may alter thyroid function, affect childhood brain development and lower IQ in exposed children. Fluoride is a mitochondrial poison and is difficult to filter. A whole-house carbon filtration system may help reduce the amount of fluoride but will likely not eliminate it. Among the more effective filtering systems for fluoride removal are:

Reverse osmosis (RO) — In addition to removing chlorine, inorganic and organic contaminants in your water, RO will also remove about 80 percent of fluoride and most detergent byproducts. Drawbacks include the need for frequent cleaning to avoid bacterial growth.

Your best alternative is to use a tankless RO system with a compressor. The expense is another factor, as you may need the assistance of a plumber to get the system up and running. RO will also remove many valuable minerals and trace elements along with harmful contaminants.

Water distillation — This system, like RO, also removes beneficial minerals. You then would need to restructure the water through chilling and/or vortexing. I do not recommend using distilled water on a regular basis, however, as it may cause mineral deficiencies.

Carbon, bone char and biochar filters — Carbon filters are the most common type used, often on countertops or under-counter filters. The EPA recognizes granular activated carbon as the best available technology for removing organic chemicals, including herbicides, pesticides and industrial chemicals.

The downside is the loose material in the filter may create a pathway through the carbon so water escapes filtering. Carbon block filters are compressed carbon in solid form, eliminating any channeling. By combining media in the block, it offers the ability to selectively remove a wide range of contaminants.

Bone char filters may be used as replacement filters, having the ability to also filter fluoride, chlorine, some heavy metals and other contaminants.34 These filters are created by using cleaned and aged animal bone, which is then heated to over 1,200 F to form charcoal.35 Calcite and activated carbon are sometimes added to expand the ability of the filter to remove chemicals from water.

Biochar filters are created by heating organic matter to high temperatures under low oxygen conditions.36 The resulting filters have an excellent capacity to remove water contaminants, including pathogens37 and pesticides.38

Fire Retardant Chemicals Are Contaminating Drinking Water Across the US

By Dr. Mercola

Flame retardant chemicals have been identified as one of 17 high priority chemical groups that should be avoided to reduce breast cancer.1,2 In the environment, these chemicals are also poisoning pets and wildlife. Yet despite their significant health risks, they continue being used — ostensibly because they save lives in case of fire.

However, researchers and firefighters alike say flame retardant chemicals actually cause more harm than good, as the fire suppression they provide is minuscule at best,3 while releasing toxic fumes when they burn — toxins that may be more far more likely to kill you than the fire itself.

In addition to that, the chemicals do not remain inertly bonded within the foam or upholstery until or unless a fire actually occurs. They escape in the form of dust, making their way into everything from babies’ mouths to breast milk and water supplies.

9 in 10 Americans Have Flame Retardant Chemicals in Their System

Research4 published in 2015 found Tris phosphate and triphenyl phosphate (TPHP) in every single dust sample collected from American homes; 91 percent of urine samples from the residents contained metabolites of Tris phosphate, and 83 percent of residents had metabolites of TPHP.

Other tests have shown 90 percent of Americans have flame retardant chemicals in their bodies, and many have six or more types in their system.5 Eighty percent of children’s products tested6 have also been found to contain flame retardant chemicals, including nursing pillows, baby carriers and sleeping wedges, which can have significant health ramifications.

As noted by Linda S. Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences,7 these chemicals can alter a child’s developing reproductive system and nervous system, and have been shown to reduce IQ.8,9 For example, children born of women exposed to high levels of flame retardant chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) during pregnancy have an average of 4.5 points lower IQ.10,11 Such children are also more prone to hyperactivity disorders.

Firefighters Are at High Risk

About half of U.S. firefighters believe cancer is the greatest occupational health risk they face.12 Indeed, California female firefighters aged 40 to 50 are six times more likely to develop breast cancer than the national average. A major reason for this is because of the high levels of dioxins and furans firefighters are exposed to when flame-retardant chemicals burn.

What many fail to realize is that an object treated with flame retardant chemicals can indeed still catch fire — it’s merely retarded by seconds — and when it does go up in flames it will emit much higher levels of toxic carbon monoxide, soot and smoke than an untreated object. Ironically, these three things are more likely to kill you than a burn might, which means flame-retardant chemicals may actually make fires deadlier when you’re caught in them.

According to the chemical industry, fire-retardant furniture provide a fifteenfold increase in escape time in the case of a fire. This claim came from a study using powerful, NASA-style flame retardants, which provided an extra 15 seconds of escape time. But this is not the same type of chemical used in most furniture. Tests have shown that the most widely used flame-retardant chemicals actually provide no meaningful benefit in case of a fire, while increasingthe amounts of toxic chemicals in the smoke.

The Role of Big Tobacco and Chemical Industry Front Groups

In 2013, I wrote about the deceptive campaigns13 that led to the proliferation of fire retardant chemicals. Big Tobacco played a key role in this development. Flame retardant chemicals were developed in the 1970s, a time when 40 percent of Americans smoked and cigarettes were a major cause of house fires. The tobacco industry, under increasing pressure to make fire-safe cigarettes, resisted the push for self-extinguishing cigarettes and instead created an industry front group called the National Association of State Fire Marshals.

The group pushed for federal standards for fire retardant furniture and, in 1975, California became the first state to enact such fire standards (Technical Bulletin 117).

Another front group called Citizens for Fire Safety — which is actually a front group trade association for manufacturers of flame retardant chemicals, not a coalition of concerned citizens — has fought to protect the chemical industry from legislation that might cut into business, and has helped expand the commercial use of flame retardant chemicals into an ever-greater number of products besides furniture.

What’s worse, while the original fire standard specified that any chemical used had to be proven safe for human health, politicians removed this requirement, and the law went into effect without this requirement. The end result is now becoming increasingly obvious, as fire retardant chemicals are becoming an environmental pollutant of tremendous concern.

Firefighting Foam Is Contaminating Drinking Water

Sharon Lerner, a reporting fellow at The Investigative Fund and an investigative journalist for The Intercept and other major media outlets, has written extensively about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS14 (two of the most well-known ones of which are PFOA and PFOS) and the industry’s attempts to cover up the damage. At the time of this writing, The Intercept has published 16 parts of Lerner’s ongoing series,15 which began in 2015. 

Part 1516 addresses the U.S. military’s affinity for toxic flame retardants, despite the fact that billions of dollars are now being spent trying to clean up drinking water contaminated by firefighting foam used on military installations. Setting the scene, Lerner writes, in part:

“About an hour north of Seattle at the northern edge of Puget Sound, Whidbey Island is quiet, forested, and, in Bob Farnsworth’s neighborhood, idyllic. In the 22 years he’s lived on Whidbey, where he served as a command master chief at the Naval Air Base, Farnsworth, 61, has regularly crabbed and fished for salmon and enjoyed fruit from his own trees …  

But last February, he discovered a toxic side to the Navy’s presence in his life: His well, which he had used to water his fruit trees, cook, and fill his children’s and grandchildren’s glasses over the years, tested positive for three chemicals that had apparently seeped in from foam used for firefighting on the base.

One chemical, PFOS, was present at 3,800 parts per trillion, more than 54 times a safety standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2016 … The realization that he and his wife had been exposed to the chemicals, which have been linked to prostate cancer and thyroid diseases, cast the struggles they have had over the past years with these very diseases in a new light. ‘I don’t know what was related,’ he said.”

Known Toxins Replaced With Lesser-Known Ones

A similar situation is playing out near hundreds of military bases around the U.S., where PFAS chemicals have leached through the ground, contaminating surrounding groundwater. In addition to prostate cancer and thyroid problems, these chemicals have been linked to other types of cancer as well, including kidney, testicular and bladder cancer, as well as immune dysfunction, reproductive problems and hormone disruption.

Considering the public health threat posed by PFAS contamination, courtesy of firefighting foam, you’d think the U.S. government would take proactive measures to eliminate the use of these toxic chemicals. After all, other countries are using PFAS-free firefighting foam, and it works just as well. Alas, this is not happening. Lerner explains:17

“[E]ven as the Army, Navy, and Air Force have begun the slow process of addressing the contamination, which is expected to cost upwards of $2 billion, the Department of Defense isn’t abandoning this line of chemicals. While some of the precise formulations that caused the contamination are off the table, the U.S. military is in the midst of an expensive effort to replace older foam with a newer formulation that contains only slightly tweaked versions of the same problematic compounds …

Some of the studies showing the dangers of these persistent chemicals came from the manufacturers themselves … The new foam contains no PFOS and ‘little or no PFOA,’ according to an Air Force press release.18 Instead, it uses the closely related molecules that pose many of the same dangers …”

Military Specifications Require Inclusion of Fluorinated Chemicals

As it turns out, the reason why one dangerous type of firefighting chemicals is simply replaced by another, very similar one, is because military specifications require the inclusion of fluorinated surfactants, which make the foam easier to spread. As explained by Lerner, the foam “creates a thin layer over the surface of the fuel that smothers the flames and prevents the release of vapor that could otherwise reignite.”

When, in the early 2000s, the EPA started urging the military to replace PFAS-containing firefighting foam due to health and environmental concerns, the foam and surfactant manufacturers created the Fire Fighting Foam Coalition — an organization aimed at defending the use of PFAS. DuPont and Dynax were among the founding members of this organization, which presented its case not only before military branches but also the EPA.

“Their messages were reassuring: The chemicals used to replace PFOS were safe for human health and the environment, and AFFF [aqueous film forming foam] was the only way to safely protect military personnel from fires,” Lerner writes. Meanwhile, evidence19 suggests fluorinated surfactants, such as those used in AFFF, are “among the most environmentally persistent substances ever.”

In the end, the Fire Fighting Foam Coalition was successful in its attempts to get AFFF excluded from the EPA’s regulatory process, and the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force were free to continue using AFFF. Even when evidence emerged showing other PFAS were just as harmful as PFOA, the EPA never reassessed the military’s use of AFFF.

Are You Drinking PFAS-Contaminated Water?

As noted by Lerner, incomplete data makes it very difficult to ascertain how widespread the PFAS-contamination might be, but drinking water near at least 46 military installations in the U.S. have been found to contain PFOA and/or PFOS at levels exceeding 70 parts per trillion (ppt), which is the EPA’s health advisory level for drinking water.20 According to Lerner:

“Many more people are exposed to the chemicals at levels below that 70 ppt threshold. And, judging from the health-based levels that states have set since the EPA set its level last year, even these lower levels may pose health threats.

New Jersey is moving forward with setting 14 ppt as its drinking water standard for PFOA, just one-fifth of the EPA’s number, and recommended 13 ppt for PFOS. Vermont and Minnesota have either set or proposed safety levels for both chemicals that are lower than the EPA’s.

And in December, a Michigan state legislator proposed the lowest standard yet for PFAS molecules: 5 ppt. Historically, chemical safety thresholds tend to drop over time as research mounts.”

Health concerns are not limited to PFOA and PFOS though. Many other PFAS chemicals21 — such as PFHxS, PFHpA, PFBA and PFBS — have been detected both in drinking water and people’s blood, yet the military is only attempting to clean up PFOA and PFOS contamination. (In all, studies have found as many as 700 different PFAS compounds at sites where firefighting foam is used.)

The military also is not providing clean drinking water to residents in affected areas unless their water contains more than 70 ppt of PFOA and/or PFOS specifically. For example, Neal Sims, another resident of Whidbey Island, does not receive bottled water, even though the four PFAS found in his tap water total more than 80 ppt. The reason for this is because his combined PFOA/PFOS level is “only” 30 ppt.

Meanwhile, European regulators took action against PFHxS last year,22 and some U.S. states have already set levels for PFBA and PFBS in drinking water.23 Making matters worse, some of these shorter-chained replacement PFAS chemicals such as PFHxS are more difficult to filter out24 than PFOA and PFOS, requiring more frequent filter replacement to ensure they’re being removed.

According to the Fire Fighting Foam Coalition, PFAS-free foam has not been adopted by the defense industry for the fact that it doesn’t work as well as AFFF. However, the difference in performance is very small and, with practice, firefighters would likely be able to apply the material quicker to meet fire suppression specs.

Without EPA pressure to replace PFAS in firefighting foam, there’s also no sense of urgency to provide additional funding to find less toxic alternatives. Lobbying to keep the chemicals in play also slows down the process. And then there’s the fact that fluorine-free foams “cannot meet specifications” for the simple fact that the standard still requires the inclusion of fluorinated surfactants.  

How to Reduce Your Exposure to Toxic Flame Retardants

While the Department of Defense needs to address its role in contaminating drinking water with toxic firefighting chemicals, there are some things you can do to protect yourself and your family. Most homes have many items that contain these hazardous class of chemicals, so water contamination is not your only potential threat. Among the basics: As you replace items around your home, select items that contain naturally less flammable materials, such as leather, wool and cotton.

Also look for organic and “green” building materials, carpeting, baby items and upholstery, which will be free from these toxic chemicals and help reduce your overall exposure. This is by far the easiest route, as manufacturers are not required to disclose the chemicals they use to make their products comply with fire safety regulations.

Your mattress, for example, may be soaked in toxic flame retardants, but you will not find the chemicals listed on the label. That said, below are some additional guidelines to consider that can help reduce your exposure to flame retardants:

If you live anywhere near a military installation or fire department fire-training area, consider getting your tap water tested for PFAS and other toxic contaminants. Water testing is a prudent step no matter where you live these days, as is filtering your water, as there are literally hundreds of potential water contaminants that can harm your health.

Polyurethane foam products manufactured prior to 2005, such as upholstered furniture, mattresses and pillows, are likely to contain PBDEs, another common class of fire retardant chemicals, so inspect them carefully and replace ripped covers and/or any foam that appears to be breaking down.

Also avoid reupholstering furniture by yourself as the reupholstering process increases your risk of exposure. If in doubt, you can have a sample of your polyurethane foam cushions tested for free by scientists at Duke University’s Superfund Research Center. This is particularly useful for items you already have around your home, as it will help you determine which harmful products need replacing.

Older carpet padding is another major source of flame-retardant PBDEs, so take precautions when removing old carpet. The Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) guide25 to PBDEs contains even more details about products in which these toxic chemicals might be lurking.

Your mattress may be of greatest concern since you spend a large amount of your life sleeping on it. Besides PBDEs, other flame-retardant chemicals currently approved for use in mattresses include boric acid, a toxic respiratory irritant used to kill roaches; antimony, a metal that may be more toxic than mercury; and formaldehyde, which causes cancer.

To avoid this toxic exposure, I recommend looking for a mattress made of either 100 percent organic wool, cotton or flannel (all of which tend to be naturally flame-resistant) or Kevlar fibers, the material they make bullet-proof vests out of, which is sufficient to pass the fire safety standards.

There are a number of good options on the market. I’ve also put together an assortment of wool and silk bedding, including organic cotton and wool mattresses you can choose from when it comes time to replace your mattress, pillows and comforters with chemical-free versions.

You probably also have older sources of the PBDEs known as Deca in your home, and these are so toxic they are banned in several states. Deca PBDEs can be found in electronics like TVs, cellphones, kitchen appliances, fans, toner cartridges and more. It’s a good idea to wash your hands after handling such items, especially before eating, and at the very least be sure you don’t let infants mouth any of these items.

PBDEs are often found in household dust, so clean up with a HEPA-filter vacuum and/or a wet mop often.

Pharmaceuticals, Strip Clubs and Guns

By Dr. Mercola

As the opioid epidemic continues to take its toll on Americans, killing 115 every day,1 many are starting to ask the tough questions of how it got this bad. In many cases, drugs that were originally intended only for treating severe pain have become go-to treatments for mild and chronic pain, such as back pain. Subsys, a fentanyl under-the-tongue spray, is among the worst offenders.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can be 100 times more potent than morphine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the drug for treating breakthrough pain in cancer patients — a type of severe pain that occurs despite the patient being treated with other painkillers. Yet, in a complaint filed by the U.S. government, it’s alleged that Insys, which manufactures the drug, focused its marketing campaign on treating pain in general.

The complaint is the result of an investigation into five whistleblower cases filed by former Insys sales representatives as well as workers for a pharmacy benefits manager that processed insurance claims for Subsys.2 The whistleblower lawsuits have recently been unsealed, revealing the many sordid tactics used by drug companies to convince doctors to prescribe their highly addictive drugs to unsuspecting patients.

Drug Sales Reps Use Strip Clubs, Kickbacks and Trips to Shooting Ranges to Drive Prescriptions Up

Subsys was approved in 2012 and approached sales of $500 million just three years later. This dramatic rise in sales was not happenstance but a carefully orchestrated marketing ploy for a highly addictive drug. In May 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it was intervening in the five whistleblower lawsuits, which accuse Insys of paying illegal kickbacks and defrauding federal health programs in the marketing of Subsys. According to a DOJ press release:3

“The government’s complaint alleges that Insys paid kickbacks to induce physicians and nurse practitioners to prescribe Subsys for their patients. Many of these kickbacks allegedly took the form of sham speaker fees to physicians, jobs for the prescribers’ relatives and friends, and lavish meals and entertainment.

The United States also alleges that Insys improperly encouraged physicians to prescribe Subsys for patients who did not have cancer, and that Insys employees lied to insurers about patients’ diagnoses in order to obtain reimbursement for Subsys prescriptions that had been written for Medicare and TRICARE beneficiaries.”

The complaint further reveals some of the tactics Subsys used to get doctors to write more prescriptions. Among them was a pain specialist from Florida who was taken to a strip club and a shooting range by Insys executives.

Medicare has paid more than $3 million for Subsys prescriptions from this one doctor, since 2012. In another case, sales reps offered another Florida pain specialist a full-time job for his girlfriend, if he could increase his prescriptions of Subsys. He wrote prescriptions for 60 units over the course of just two days, and his girlfriend received the job a month or two later.

Many doctors were lavished with fancy dinners and speaker fees, but other even more blatant sales tactics also took place, from telling sales reps to “behave more sexually” and flirt with doctors to reports of sexual relations.

According to Mother Jones, “Insys hired a dental hygienist with no pharmaceutical sales experience, reportedly ‘to have sexual relations with doctors in exchange for SUBSYS prescriptions,’ … a regional sales manager reported that the new employee was ‘dumb as rocks, but that she was sleeping with another doctor and getting a lot of prescriptions out of him.'”4

Meanwhile, the drug was only supposed to be used for cancer patients, Insys sales reps frequently promoted the drug for off-label uses to doctors without cancer patients, for treating chronic pain ranging from back pain to headaches. In fact, up to 90 percent of Subsys prescriptions are for off-label uses. Insys also created the Insys Reimbursement Center to help get insurance companies to cover the prescriptions, which would cost $10,000 for a 30-day supply.

Because insurance companies often required doctors to confirm that patients met the prescribing criteria, Insys employees would claim to be doctors’ staff or even falsify patient diagnoses. In the interim, while the insurance companies decided whether or not to cover the prescription, Insys provided the drug free of charge to some patients, which was not done for benevolent reasons, as you may suspect. Mother Jones continued:5

“In the short term, the tactic was expensive for Insys … But in the long term, it paid off: Authorization was much more likely after Insys could tell insurers that the patient was already taking the drug. And by that time, the patient was likely already addicted. As M.S.’s complaint put it, ‘the patient would grow dependent on the medication during that time, ensuring a long prescribing relationship.'”

Doctors Take Industry-Sponsored Opioid Training for Continuing Education

The FDA requires opioid manufacturers to fund continuing medical education (CME) courses about opioids, which doctors take under the guise of education. Since 2013, more than 500,000 doctors have taken part in such programs, which are often required by the state and affiliated with credible institutions like Johns Hopkins University and the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Yet, the courses are backed by opioid makers like Purdue Pharma, Pfizer and Janssen.6

Many doctors are not aware that the courses are funded by the industry, and they give the impression that as long as doctors conduct risk assessments and pain agreements that patients will not be harmed. Meanwhile, some promote questionable practices like switching patients from one opioid to another to avoid tolerance, a tactic that has little evidence of efficacy behind it.

Teachers for the courses may also have their own ties to industry. A Mother Jones investigation found, for instance, seven faculty listed as teachers for FDA-mandated CME courses had received $1.6 million from opioid makers between 2013 and 2016.7 In some of the courses, the slant is decidedly in favor of opioids, with some even claiming that illicit opioids are responsible for most overdose deaths when, in reality, overprescribing of prescription opioids is largely responsible.

As Mother Jones put it, “For opioid-makers, CME ‘is one of the most important marketing [tactics] that they have,’ says Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, a Georgetown pharmacology professor who studies industry influence on medicine. ‘It doesn’t look like advertising. It doesn’t look like promotion. It looks like education, and it’s required for most physicians.'”8

Knowing the Damage, Maximizing Profits — Premeditated Murder

Prior to the opioid epidemic, opioids were low-cost and widely available, but carried a reputation for being additive, so many doctors avoided them. The game-changer occurred in 1995, when Purdue Pharma received FDA approval for extended-release oxycodone (Oxycontin) for the management of moderate to severe pain.

Not only could the drug be patented, making it far more profitable than the many generic opioids available on the market, but it was also promoted as being nonaddictive and safe for long-term use, unlike other opioids on the market.

To get this message across, Purdue Pharma launched an extensive marketing blitz surrounding the drug, including doubling its marketing team and paying $40 million in bonuses, offering free initial supply coupons to patients, and hosting “all-expenses-paid pain management and speaker training conferences at lavish resorts” for clinicians.

The drug became a blockbuster, in large part due to nonrigorous patenting standards and lack of policing of fraudulent marketing.9 Unfortunately, the idea that extended-release Oxycontin, which didn’t lead to the immediate high drug abusers were presumably looking for, was less addictive was not based on real evidence. And on the contrary, it may actually have been more appealing, New York Magazine reported:10

“Making a long-duration painkiller meant concentrating more narcotic into each individual pill. And since opioid addicts do not typically use pills as directed — but rather, crush them up for snorting or injecting — Purdue’s ‘innovative’ opioid was actually more appealing as a street drug than any of its rivals.”

Purdue Pharma claimed they were unaware that Oxycontin was being abused until the 2000s, but a Department of Justice report actually shows they knew the drug was popular with drug addicts in the late 1990s and concealed the information.11

Despite knowing that the drugs were being crushed, snorted and stolen from pharmacies, they continued to market the drug as less addictive or prone to abuse. DOJ prosecutors recommended that three Purdue Pharma executives be indicted on felony charges, which could have sent them to prison, but instead the case was settled.

The Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, were also reportedly sent reports about abuse of OxyContin and another opioid, MS Contin, according to a New York Times report.12 The Sacklers made it onto Forbes’ Top 20 billionaires list in 201513 — in large part due to the burgeoning sales of OxyContin. About 80 percent of heroin drug addicts report starting out on painkillers such as OxyContin.14

In 2007, Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to charges of misbranding “with intent to defraud and mislead the public” and paid $634 million in fines, which did little to dissuade them from continuing to profit off the deadly drugs. A potential part of the problem is the fact that no specific individuals have ever been charged.

None of the members of the Sackler family was ever charged with any kind of misdeed, for example, and owners and corporate leaders of other drug companies have also walked away scot-free. The Sacklers are further unique in that they’ve been successful in largely separating their name from the deadly product that made them rich.

Too Big to Nail

Reforms for opioid prescribing have been proposed, including a guideline from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which would restrict prescriptions of opioids to three-day supplies. The measures, however, have been largely opposed by the American Medical Association (AMA), which spent $21.5 million lobbying Congress in 2017.

“Nearly $6.8 million has been spent in 2018 so far, according to OpenSecrets.com. It gave nearly $2 million to members of Congress in 2016 and has given $519,500 so far this election cycle,” the Daily Beast reported.15 AMA has also opposed other restrictive measures for opioids, such as mandating courses about addiction for doctors or requiring them to check the Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs database prior to writing prescriptions.

The database allows doctors to see a person’s prescription drug history, making it easier to spot the potential for abuse. Although many states require this, there is no federal requirement to do so. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) reportedly stated at a meeting to curb opioid abuse that his colleagues would continue to vote down such measures because they were “too scared to take on the AMA.”16

Meanwhile, white collar drug dealers like Purdue Pharma are given barely a slap on the wrist for their instrumental role in the opioid epidemic. Even now, as U.S. prescriptions for Oxycontin have dropped close to 40 percent since 2010, they’ve turned their sights to international pursuits. In Europe and developing countries, Purdue Pharma is working to combat “opiophobia” in doctors, which is reportedly the mistaken belief that opioid painkillers are highly addictive and should be used sparingly.17

Try Other Options for Pain Relief First

It’s important to be aware of the money being made by opioid makers even as people are dying as a result. The motivation to sell more of these drugs is not one of altruism but greed. It’s also been shown that opioids are not always necessary to treat moderate to severe pain, as ibuprofen and acetaminophen (which admittedly have their own set of risks) may work just as well.18

Pain relievers are clearly valuable medications in many instances, and even opioids have their place (such as for treating severe pain in end of life care), but do use caution, no matter which kind you take. And if you do use an opioid, be aware that there’s a high risk for addiction and, with that, overdose death. If you suffer from chronic pain, there are other options for long-term relief.

First, there’s a good chance you need to tweak your diet to eliminate grains, sugars and most processed foods while increasing your intake of healthy fats, including animal-based omega-3s. In addition, nondrug remedies and bodywork interventions can often help with pain relief without posing the risks of opioid drugs. You may want to consider one or more of the following for safe pain relief:

Medical cannabis

Medical marijuana has a long history as a natural analgesic and is now legal in 29 states. You can learn more about the laws in your state on medicalmarijuana.procon.org.19

Kratom

Kratom (Mitragyna speciose) is a plant remedy that has become a popular opioid substitute. In August 2016, the DEA issued a notice saying it was planning to ban kratom, listing it as Schedule 1 controlled substance. However, following massive outrage from kratom users who say opioids are their only alternative, the agency reversed its decision. Unfortunately, its legal status is still unstable, as the FDA is on a crusade to eliminate kratom.

Kratom is safer than an opioid for someone in serious and chronic pain. However, it’s important to recognize that it is a psychoactive substance and should be used with great care. There’s very little research showing how to use it safely and effectively, and it may have a very different effect from one person to the next.

The other issue to address is that there are a number of different strains available with different effects. Also, while it may be useful for weaning people off opioids, kratom is in itself addictive. So, while it appears to be a far safer alternative to opioids, it’s still a powerful and potentially addictive substance. So please, do your own research before trying it.

Low-Dose Naltrexone (LDN)

Naltrexone is an opiate antagonist, originally developed in the early 1960s for the treatment of opioid addiction. When taken at very low doses (LDN, available only by prescription), it triggers endorphin production, which can boost your immune function and ease pain.

Curcumin

A primary therapeutic compound identified in the spice turmeric, curcumin has been shown in more than 50 clinical studies to have potent anti-inflammatory activity. Curcumin is hard to absorb, so best results are achieved with preparations designed to improve absorption. It is very safe and you can take two to three every hour if you need to.

Astaxanthin

One of the most effective oil-soluble antioxidants known, astaxanthin has very potent anti-inflammatory properties. Higher doses are typically required for pain relief, and you may need 8 milligrams or more per day to achieve results.

Boswellia

Also known as boswellin or “Indian frankincense,” this herb contains powerful anti-inflammatory properties, which have been prized for thousands of years. This is one of my personal favorites, as it worked well for many of my former rheumatoid arthritis patients.

Bromelain

This protein-digesting enzyme, found in pineapples, is a natural anti-inflammatory. It can be taken in supplement form, but eating fresh pineapple may also be helpful. Keep in mind most of the bromelain is found within the core of the pineapple, so consider eating some of the pulpy core when you consume the fruit.

Cayenne cream

Also called capsaicin cream, this spice comes from dried hot peppers. It alleviates pain by depleting your body’s supply of substance P, a chemical component of nerve cells that transmit pain signals to your brain.

Cetyl myristoleate (CMO)

This oil, found in dairy butter and fish, acts as a joint lubricant and anti-inflammatory. I have used a topical preparation of CMO to relieve ganglion cysts and a mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Evening primrose, black currant and borage oils

These oils contain the fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid, which is useful for treating arthritic pain.

Ginger

This herb is anti-inflammatory and offers pain relief and stomach-settling properties. Fresh ginger works well steeped in boiling water as a tea, or incorporated into fresh vegetable juice.

The Factory Farm Toilet

By Dr. Mercola

One of the litany of problems with industrialized agriculture, particularly concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), is the huge quantity of wastes produced and how it’s managed. There’s no easy way to deal with the staggering amounts of urine and manure produced by these facilities, which approach that produced by small cities, reaching over 335 million tons annually (and that’s just for dry matter).1

Some CAFOs treat animal feces in open air — often unlined lagoons — and “dispose” of the waste by spraying it onto nearby fields.2 Although the creation of new CAFO lagoons and the spray systems were banned in 2007, older farms are still allowed to use them. While reasonable amounts of manure from healthy cows can, in fact, make excellent fertilizer, covering farm fields in the waste from diseased CAFO cows is another matter entirely, especially because it’s used in excess quantities.

The liquefied waste often leaches into groundwater and wells, poisoning drinking water, and runs off into waterways, turning once pristine bodies of water into veritable toilets. The resulting damage includes an excess of nutrients that lead to algae overgrowth, depleting the water of oxygen and killing fish and other marine life in expansive dead zones.

This, combined with the excess fertilizers applied to monocrops like corn and soy, sends a steady stream of nitrogen and phosphorus to both surface and groundwater, spreading potentially disease-causing organisms and unsustainable amounts of nutrients along the way. The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is the largest recorded dead zone in the world, beginning at the Mississippi River delta and spanning more than 8,700 square miles — and industrial agricultural pollution is primarily to blame.

Iowa CAFOs Are Ruining the Mississippi River

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), manure from industrial agriculture is the primary source of nitrogen and phosphorus in waterways.3 So, it’s not surprising that areas with an abundance of agriculture, like the state of Iowa, would contribute more than their share of this environmentally devastating pollution. Indeed, a study published in PLOS One set out to quantify Iowa’s contribution of nitrogen pollution to the Mississippi River,4 which was named the second-most polluted waterway in the U.S. in 2012.5

There are well over 14,000 CAFOs in Iowa, primarily medium and large in size and housing pigs.6 Genetically engineered corn and soy crops are also prolific. In the 2016 State of the River Report by the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, the greatest source of chemical contamination to the river was found to be agricultural runoff. For the featured study, stream nitrate and discharge data were collected from 1999 until 2016 at 23 Iowa stream sites near watershed outlets.

The results confirm that much of the nitrates devastating the Mississippi River are coming from the state of Iowa. Iowa contributes an average of 29 percent of the nitrate load to the Mississippi-Atchafalaya Basin, 45 percent to the Upper Mississippi River Basin and 55 percent to the Missouri River Basin.

Cindy Lane, water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, told The Gazette, “This paints a clear picture that our state is a main contributor to the nitrate loads … It’s a huge push for us to say ‘Iowans need to do our part. We need to be accountable.’”7

The amount of nitrates Iowa contributes to the Mississippi is larger than would be expected for the amount of water flowing into rivers in the area. While Iowa is one of 12 states that committed to a nutrient-reduction strategy to try to stop the Gulf of Mexico dead zone from worsening, the study notes, this “will be very difficult to achieve if nitrate retention cannot be improved in Iowa.”8

Meanwhile, an AP investigation revealed alarming trends throughout the U.S., including that levels of nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizer runoff are getting higher in lakes and streams.

Despite government agencies spending billions of dollars to help farmers prevent fertilizer runoff and circumvent the problem, algae blooms are getting worse instead of better.9 Overall, the EPA states that about 15,000 water bodies have been identified that have “nutrient-related problems,”10 and many more probably have yet to be identified.

CAFOs: The Real Reason for Romaine Lettuce Poisonings

In the spring of 2018, nearly 200 people spanning 35 states became sick from eating romaine lettuce contaminated with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7. Nearly 90 people were hospitalized and five deaths were reported. More than two dozen of those affected suffered from hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially life-threatening complication of this type of E. coli infection, which can lead to kidney failure.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated only that the suspect lettuce likely came from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region,11 but because salad packaging rarely labels where it’s grown, there was no way for consumers to determine if the lettuce on store shelves was potentially contaminated, even after the outbreak began picking up speed. So what’s causing romaine lettuce — an ordinarily healthy food — to turn into a vector for deadly bacteria like E. coli O157:H7?

Perhaps a lesson can be learned from 2006, when there was an outbreak of E. coli in fresh spinach. The bacteria were traced back to the feces of wild pigs that supposedly invaded the fields, but it was also found in manure from CAFO cattle.12 While E. coli deposited by wild pigs in a field likely wouldn’t survive for long out in the hot sun, CAFOs are a hotbed for bacterial growth. Dust from CAFOs can also contain E. coli, which can easily be blown onto neighboring fields.

To reduce the potential for contamination, some produce associations require fields to be at least 400 feet from a CAFO, but studies have shown the dust can easily travel beyond this distance. In Yuma, where cattle CAFOs are plentiful, some farmers plant their fields as little as 1 mile away from the feedlots. Michele Jay-Russell, research microbiologist and manager for the Western Center for Food Safety at the University of California-Davis, who was closely involved in the 2006 spinach investigation, told Food Safety News:13

“The growers in the Yuma [area] are very aware of potential issues with CAFOs … There is a much higher density of cattle in the Yuma area than in Salinas Valley where so much of the California leafy greens are grown. In Salinas, there are mostly cow-calf operations … you see them grazing on the hillsides.”

Aside from the potential of E. coli in dust blowing over onto greens fields from neighboring CAFOs, the feedlots pose another risk factor for the area, as they’re prime feeding grounds for migrating birds. “The migrating birds, as well as resident flocks of crows and other birds, can’t pass up the easy pickings of animal feedlots,” Jay-Russell said. Unbeknownst to many, birds can become carriers for E. coli and their contaminated feces could contaminate agricultural fields.

“You can try to scare the birds away from feedlots, but they get used to the noises and just come back,” Jay-Russell said. “They know when the feed is going to be put out and they show up. Then they fly to the (produce) fields seeking water. They can contaminate the food, the dirt and irrigation water.”14

Ultimately, the contamination again comes back to CAFOs; if they weren’t raising animals in disease ridden conditions, the birds wouldn’t end up contaminated when they stop for a midday meal. Even a report by the National Institutes of Health singled out the problems of CAFO animal manure as a key contributor to contamination of plant foods:15

“During the past decade, fruits and vegetables have become leading vehicles of food-borne illness. Furthermore, many plant-based foods and ingredients, not previously considered a risk, have been associated with food-borne disease outbreaks.

Most of the pathogens that have been identified as causative agents in these illnesses or outbreaks are enteric zoonotic pathogens that are typically associated with animal hosts. Transmission of zoonotic pathogens from animals to plant systems occurs by a variety of routes, but the initial contributing factor is the discharge of animal manure into the environment.”

The Silent Bugs — Wiping Out Ecosystems

Industrial agriculture also plays a starring role in what could be one of the greatest tragedies of our time: a shocking decline in insects, raising red flags that biodiversity is dropping and future ecosystems could be threatened. Declines in certain insect groups like bees, butterflies and even moths have been apparent for some time, according to researchers of a study published in PLOS One.16

However, their study looked at total flying insect biomass over a period of 27 years in 63 protected areas in Germany to assess the bigger picture. Using malaise traps, which are large, tent-like traps used for catching flying insects, the researchers set out to estimate trends in the number of flying insects in the region between 1989 and 2016. A 76 percent decline was revealed, seasonally, while a midsummer decline of 82 percent in flying insect biomass was also recorded.

The declines occurred regardless of habitat type and could not be explained solely by changes in weather, land use or varying habitat characteristics. The ramifications of disappearing insects should not be taken lightly. It’s estimated that 80 percent of wild plants depend on insects for pollination, and 60 percent of birds depend on them for food.

Further, the “ecosystem services” provided by insects as a whole are estimated at $57 billion annually in the U.S. alone, the researchers noted, so “[c]learly, preserving insect abundance and diversity should constitute a prime conservation priority.”17 However, naturalists looking to study insect distribution are few and far between, compared to scientists looking to study flashier topics, leaving major gaps in the data on insect decline, as well its potential causes.

Billions of pollinating insects are potentially killed by collisions with vehicles each year, according to the Journal of Insect Conservation,18 but entomologists have actually noticed declines in the number of bugs found splattered on vehicle windscreens, dubbing this “the windscreen phenomenon.”19

Landscape and climate changes were not strongly associated with the declines, according to the German study, so the researchers suggested other “large-scale factors,” like agricultural intensification, may be involved:20

“Agricultural intensification (e.g. pesticide usage, year-round tillage, increased use of fertilizers and frequency of agronomic measures) that we could not incorporate in our analyses, may form a plausible cause … Part of the explanation could therefore be that the protected areas (serving as insect sources) are affected and drained by the agricultural fields in the broader surroundings (serving as sinks or even as ecological traps).

Increased agricultural intensification may have aggravated this reduction in insect abundance in the protected areas over the last few decades … Agricultural intensification, including the disappearance of field margins and new crop protection methods has been associated with an overall decline of biodiversity in plants, insects, birds and other species in the current landscape.”

In an opinion piece in The New York Times, lake scientist and professor of natural sciences Curt Stager also described notable changes in plankton communities throughout the world, which could have ramifications for water quality and marine life. It’s possible that whatever is killing off insects could also be killing of plankton, and both could stem from industrial agriculture.

“Some experts have attributed the plankton shift to … nitrogen pollution from agricultural runoff, but we need more long-term field studies to confirm the cause and anticipate its effects,” Stager wrote. “The German insect data suggest another possibility. Could agricultural chemicals be poisoning aquatic organisms, including plankton and insects that begin their lives as aquatic larvae? We simply don’t know.”21

Factory Farming Fox in the Henhouse

CAFOs are allowed to continue polluting courtesy of many legal loopholes that allow them to devastate the environment with few consequences. The EPA, unfortunately, while tasked with protecting the environment, is more a part of the problem than the solution.

Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator who’s made several pro-industry moves in recent months, is but one example. In 2017, Pruitt went against the recommendations of agency scientists and chose not to ban the commercial use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which alters brain structure and cognition in children.22

The EPA, under the direction of Pruitt, is also pressing their scientists to re-evaluate a plan to ban two other dangerous chemicals that have caused dozens of deaths. This is only the tip of the iceberg. The Bioscience Resource Project, in collaboration with the Center for Media and Democracy, digitized the “Poison Papers,”23 a tome of documents largely compiled by a family who were poisoned by Agent Orange sprayings in the 1970s.24

The more than 20,000 documents paint a picture of close ties and conflicts of interest between U.S. regulatory agencies, including the EPA, and pesticide and other chemical manufacturers, suggesting all parties knew about the toxicity of many chemical products and worked together to conceal the information. Writing in Salon, Jonathan Latham, founder of the Bioscience Resource Project, explained:25

“While Scott Pruitt’s ties to industry and his personal anti-regulation fervor have us duly worried, the Poison Papers show that the dysfunction goes far deeper than any one individual. The EPA has operated largely, even entirely, in favor of the industry it is charged with regulating, yet it maintains the image of a public watchdog in the popular imagination.

That is because the biases are subtle. Couched in the language of science and rationality, the bending to industry can look reasonable on the surface; and because separate instances of bias often occur in the EPA’s distinct bureaucratic jurisdictions the full extent of the cooptation is largely unknown, even to those within the system.”

Your Health Is Directly Connected

The trickle-down of toxins from industrial agriculture affects all of us on the planet. From contaminated drinking water and produce to the spread of antibiotic-resistant disease, which is proliferated by the use of low-dose antibiotics in animal feed. As recently noted in the journal Molecules:26

“Antibiotic resistance is of great public health concern because the antibiotic-resistant bacteria associated with the animals may be pathogenic to humans, easily transmitted to humans via food chains, and widely disseminated in the environment via animal wastes. These may cause complicated, untreatable, and prolonged infections in humans, leading to higher healthcare cost and sometimes death.”

On a larger scale, CAFOs are directly contributing to the growing dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which is a serious and increasing threat to marine life, while pesticide usage and other industrialized farming methods may be killing off insects at an alarming rate.

All of these complex problems have a common thread, and that is that their solution lies in changing agricultural practices from industrial to regenerative. Choosing grass fed products like grass fed beef and bison over those raised in CAFOs is a solution that we can all take part in.

In addition, some farmers are slowly adopting the use of regenerative agriculture techniques like cover crops and no-till farming, which improves soil health and reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and herbicides, benefiting insects.

While changes are urgently needed on a national scale, on an individual level I encourage you to support the small family farms in your area. Sourcing your foods from a local farmer is one of your best bets to ensure you’re getting something wholesome while also minimizing your risk of contamination and supporting biodiversity on the planet.

Questionable Tactics Used in Vaccine ‘Safety’ Testing

By Dr. Mercola

In December 2017, Slate magazine published an astonishing article about the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine Gardasil, revealing how the safety trials for this controversial vaccine actually “weren’t designed to properly assess safety.”1 Gardasil is supposed to prevent infection by certain strains of HPV virus, which in rare cases may cause cervical cancer if left untreated.

However, trial data from Merck shows that Gardasil vaccinations may actually increase your risk of cervical cancer by 44.6 percent if you have been exposed to HPV strains 16 or 18 prior to vaccination.2 The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has made this document inaccessible, but we’ve saved a copy of it. In his Slate article, investigative journalist Frederik Joelving recounts the story of Kesia Lyng, a 30-year-old Danish woman who, at the age of 19, participated in a clinical trial for Merck’s Gardasil vaccine

“Lyng’s grandmother had died of cervical cancer the year before, so when a letter arrived offering her $500 to take part in a crucial international test of Gardasil, the decision was easy,” Joelving writes. “She got her first shot of the vaccine at Hvidovre Hospital in Copenhagen on September 19, 2002. The symptoms snuck up on her shortly after her second shot on November 14.

They never abated. It wasn’t until 2016 that she received her diagnosis — chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) … In recent years, Lyng has become suspicious that there is a connection between her disease and her Gardasil immunization. Her ailments evoke descriptions found in hundreds of news stories from women who also received the vaccine, as well as several medical case reports from around the world.”

HPV Vaccine Linked to Serious Side Effects, Including Death

Reported side effects of Gardasil vaccination include immune-based inflammatory neurodegenerative disorders, suggesting something is causing the immune system to overreact in a detrimental way, sometimes fatally.3,4 The dangers of high immunogenicity was addressed in my 2015 interview with Lucija Tomljenovic, Ph.D., a research scientist at the University of British Columbia. In it, she explains that by triggering an exaggerated inflammatory immune response, vaccine adjuvants end up affecting brain function.

In collaboration with a team led by professor Yehuda Shoenfeld, a world expert in autoimmune diseases who heads the Zabludowicz Autoimmunity Research Centre at the Sheba Hospital in Israel, Tomljenovic has demonstrated how the HPV vaccine can cause brain autoimmune disorders. It was these findings that prompted the Japanese government to remove the HPV vaccine from its list of recommended vaccines.5 The vaccine injury law firm Sadaka Associates also claims that:6

“Medical researchers have accused drug regulators and manufacturers of concealing the real dangers of the HPV vaccine. Many girls have suffered life-threatening injuries as the result of the vaccine. The HPV vaccine has also caused death …  The drug regulators have also been accused of adding aluminum to the placebo in order to manipulate scientific data. Even though aluminum was used in the placebo, scientists have confirmed that the HPV vaccine has been linked to death.

There was a study done that involved 2,881 girls who receive the vaccine. Fourteen of the girls who received the vaccine died. Three of the girls who received the placebo died. There was a team of researchers at the National Institute of Cardiology that also found that there is a link between HPV vaccine and life-threatening reactions.

They looked at 28 studies that involved girls who had been given the HPV vaccine. They also looked at 16 randomized trials. They found that girls were given a placebo with aluminum in 14 of the randomized trials.

If aluminum is placed in a placebo, then a person is more likely to have an adverse reaction. Spanish researchers found that girls who receive the HPV vaccine are 10 times more likely to react to it. Canadian scientists found that 10 percent of the girls who were vaccinated had to be hospitalized due to a reaction. These girls had to be hospitalized within 42 days of receiving the vaccination.”

Overstated and Unproven Effectiveness

A 2012 systematic review7 of pre- and post-licensure trials of the HPV vaccine also concluded that the vaccine’s effectiveness is both overstated and unproven. According to the authors, the review revealed:

“… evidence of selective reporting of results from clinical trials (i.e., exclusion of vaccine efficacy figures related to study subgroups in which efficacy might be lower or even negative from peer-reviewed publications). Given this, the widespread optimism regarding HPV vaccines long-term benefits appears to rest on a number of unproven assumptions (or such which are at odd with factual evidence) and significant misinterpretation of available data.

For example, the claim that HPV vaccination will result in approximately 70 percent reduction of cervical cancers is made despite the fact that the clinical trials data have not demonstrated to date that the vaccines have actually prevented a single case of cervical cancer (let alone cervical cancer death), nor that the current overly optimistic surrogate marker-based extrapolations are justified.

Likewise, the notion that HPV vaccines have an impressive safety profile is only supported by highly flawed design of safety trials and is contrary to accumulating evidence from vaccine safety surveillance databases and case reports which continue to link HPV vaccination to serious adverse outcomes (including death and permanent disabilities).”

Gardasil Safety Trials Were Not Designed to Detect Safety Problems

It’s precisely these kinds of design flaws that are highlighted in the December 17, 2017, Slate article.8 Joelving reports that Merck has repeatedly “issued reassurances about the thorough randomized trials the vaccines were subjected to before approval.”

The public was told that the three HPV vaccines marketed in the U.S. were tested on tens of thousands of individuals around the world, without any compelling evidence of serious side effects having emerged. While that reads well on paper, the shocking truth appears to be that these trials were never designed to detect and evaluate serious side effects in the first place. According to Joelving:

“An eight-month investigation by Slate found the major Gardasil trials were flawed from the outset … and that regulators allowed unreliable methods to be used to test the vaccine’s safety. Drug regulators tend to look much more seriously at potential side effects that surface during a pre-licensure study, which is what Lyng participated in, rather than after a product has already been found to be safe and been put on the market.

But regulators never learned of Lyng’s plight. In fact, her repeated complaints of debilitating symptoms were not even registered in the study as potential side effects … Lyng’s experience was not unique. Interviews with five study participants and more than 2,300 pages of documents obtained through freedom-of-information requests from hospitals and health authorities suggest inadequacies built into Merck’s major clinical tests of Gardasil.”

Joelving describes these inadequacies in great detail, showing how Merck made the vaccine appear far safer than it actually is by using “a convoluted method that made objective evaluation and reporting of potential side effects impossible during all but a few weeks of its yearslong trials.” Serious adverse events were only recorded during a two-week period post-vaccination.

Moreover, during this narrow window of time, trial investigators “used their personal judgment to decide whether or not to report any medical problem as an adverse event.”

Side Effects Simply Marked Down as Medical History

Importantly, and shockingly, most of the health problems that arose after vaccination were simply marked down as “medical history” rather than potential side effects — a tactic that basically ensured that most side effects would be overlooked. No record was made of symptom severity, duration or outcome.

Even with this gross reporting flaw, at least one Gardasil trial of the new nine-valent vaccine reported nearly 10 percent of subjects experienced “severe systemic adverse events” affecting multiple system organ classes, and over 3 percent suffered “severe vaccine-related adverse events.”9 The 2012 systematic review10 of Gardasil pre- and post-licensure trials mentioned earlier isn’t the only report out there that has offered up severe criticism of Merck’s trial tactics. Joelving writes:

“In an internal 2014 EMA report11 about Gardasil 9 obtained through a freedom-of-information request, senior experts called the company’s approach ‘unconventional and suboptimal’ and said it left some ‘uncertainty’ about the safety results. EMA trial inspectors made similar observations in another report, noting that Merck’s procedure was ‘not an optimal method of collecting safety data, especially not systemic side effects that could appear long after the vaccinations were given.'”

Study Subjects Betrayed

In other words, when Merck says Gardasil has been extensively studied for safety, it’s referring to studies set up in such a way that data on potential side effects were actually excluded. If side effects are not included in the data collection, how can you rightfully claim that no significant problems exist? Sadly, shoddy and incomplete documentation of adverse events, and follow-up periods that are too short to detect problems, can have tragic ramifications, and this is what appears to have happened with the release of Gardasil.

Joelving’s investigation reveals at least five other Danish women went on to develop debilitating health problems during the Gardasil trial. One developed severe fatigue, persistent flu-like symptoms, and had to be admitted to the hospital for a serious infection shortly after one of her vaccinations. All of her symptoms were marked down as “medical history” and were not processed as adverse events.

A year after her vaccination, she developed such debilitating pain she had to use a wheelchair. To this day, she still sometimes has to use crutches, and has been given a tentative diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis. Another young woman also developed severe fatigue and headaches. She told Joelving she reported it to study personnel, yet there’s no mention of these problems anywhere in her file. Joelving writes:

“‘If I were a research subject, I would feel betrayed,’ Trudo Lemmens, a bioethicist and professor of health law and policy at the University of Toronto, told me. ‘If the purpose of a clinical trial is to establish the safety and efficacy of a new product, whether it’s a vaccine or something else, I would expect that they gathered all relevant data, including whether it had side effects or not.'”

Imprecision Medicine

Vaccines are often riskier than oral drugs, since they’re injected into your body and contain a number of toxic adjuvants. When there’s risk, you’d expect the benefit to be worth it, but research shows many drugs provide shockingly little benefit for a majority of people, and one wonders whether the same does not hold true for vaccines as well.

The following graphic is from a Nature article published April 29, 2015.12 It shows the effectiveness of the top 10 highest-grossing drugs in the U.S. Nexium, for example, commonly prescribed for heartburn, is beneficial for just 1 out of every 25 patients.

Advair, prescribed for asthma, helps 1 in 20; Cymbalta eases symptoms of depression in 1 out of 9 patients; Crestor, prescribed for high cholesterol, benefits 1 in 20. While not included in the graphic below, the article13 also cites research14 suggesting statins may benefit as few as 1 in 50.

Truly, when you’re talking about a benefit rate of 5 percent or less, can you really say that the drug in question is an effective one? Yet they’re certainly marketed as such. Meanwhile, all of these drugs have side effects, which means all those who gain no benefit from the drug are risking their health for no good reason whatsoever.

As noted in Nature, a wide variety of factors play into how you might respond to any given medication, including your gender, age, ethnicity and genetics giving rise to differences in absorption, metabolism, excretion and more.

The drug vemurafenib, for instance, was approved in the United States to treat late-stage melanoma in people whose tumors carry the BRAF(V600E) mutation. But some tumor cells develop other anomalies that make them resistant to the drug. Thus clinicians considering whether to prescribe vemurafenib may need to take into account a whole slew of biomarkers,” the article states.

imprecision medicine
Source: Nature April 29, 2015

Pregnant Women To Be Included in Experimental Drug Trials

Historically, pregnant women have been discouraged from taking drugs and vaccines during pregnancy, as there’s very little data on their safety for the growing fetus. Pregnant women have thus far not been included in clinical drug and vaccine trials. The reason for this should be obvious.

A pregnant woman is not only putting her own health on the line, but also that of her unborn child. Now, that’s all about to change. In April 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued draft guidance15 for industry on when and how they may include pregnant women in clinical trials for drugs and therapies.
As reported by Science News:16

“It addresses considerations such as the effect pregnancy has on the absorption of drugs, nonclinical studies that should be conducted, and appropriate data collection and safety monitoring. The key concern with pregnant women participating in clinical trials is safety of the fetus.

The terrible birth defects that resulted from the wide use of the sedative thalidomide in the 1950s and ’60s weighed heavily on the eventual decision to largely exclude pregnant women from trials that test drugs. But that tragedy didn’t happen because pregnant women were studied, [obstetrician Anne] Lyerly says — it was because they weren’t studied.

‘If you don’t study a drug in a highly-controlled research setting,’ Lyerly says, ‘it’s not like the risk that would be imposed on those individuals goes away.’ Instead, the risk gets shifted to women who need the drug or women who get pregnant while on the drug.'”

According to research17 published in 2011, 94 percent of pregnant women in the study had taken one or more over-the-counter or prescription medications during their pregnancy; 70 percent used at least one prescription drug. The average number of drugs used during pregnancy has also nearly doubled in recent decades, from 2.5 in 1976/1978 to 4.2 in 2006/2008. The researchers also concluded there was insufficient data to determine the risks to the baby for 98 percent of these drugs.

While the inclusion of pregnant women in drug trials may be justifiable, as Lyerly tries to claim above, what guarantee do we have that drug companies will design studies to actually FIND side effects, opposed to doctoring studies in such a way that side effects are simply obscured?

The fact is, there are no guarantees whatsoever, as these studies will be a) done by the same companies mass-marketing drugs that are effective for 5 percent of patients or less, and b) regulated by the same government agencies that let drug companies get away with doing safety studies that don’t actually record side effects.

Safety Is a Hindrance to Profits

Getting back to the HPV vaccine, research18 shows Merck played a distinct role in state HPV vaccination policy, promoting school-entry mandates19,20,21 “by serving as an information resource, lobbying legislators, drafting legislation, mobilizing female legislators and physician organizations, conducting consumer marketing campaigns and filling gaps in access to the vaccine.”

It also found that most stakeholders thought the company “had acted too aggressively and nontransparently” to achieve their aim. Again, Merck designed their safety studies so as not to find side effects, and then aggressively lobbied to maximize vaccine uptake. So, in essence, children and teens were sacrificed in these studies just to allow the company to say they had studied the vaccine and found it safe and effective (even though it has NEVER been proven to have prevented a single case of HPV and/or cervical cancer).

And now we’re going to allow Merck and others to include pregnant women in their studies as well? What could possibly go wrong? Again and again, we see a pattern suggesting safety is not allowed to get in the way of profits and policy. History also reveals a pattern of marketing drugs and vaccines by playing on people’s fears. Most recently, Bill Gates stated he believes a global pandemic that could kill 30 million in six months is on its way, and we’re completely unprepared for it.22,23

His comments were made during an “Epidemics Going Viral, Innovation Vs. Nature” speaker series on April 27, 2018, sponsored by Massachusetts Medical Society and The New England Journal of Medicine. According to Gates, the next pandemic killer might well be a disease we’ve never encountered before.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has a history of supporting questionable vaccination agendas with their millions, so it makes sense, I guess, that Gates would be anxious to create a need for some costly remedy by amping up the fear factor. In the past decade, there’s been a string of attempts to rile up the masses and increase demand for pandemic vaccines.

The predicted pandemics all fell flat, and no mass casualties ever occurred, yet the fearmongering strategy is not easily abandoned. In the case of the HPV vaccine, it’s promoted as an anticancer vaccine, even though no proof exists that it actually prevents cancer. As mentioned earlier, Merck’s own research revealed an increased risk of cervical cancer with the vaccine under certain circumstances.

The Dangers of HPV Are Overhyped — Understand What You’re Vaccinating Against and What the Alternatives Are   

It may be worth remembering the basics when pondering the decision of whether or not to vaccinate your child against HPV:

There are over 200 viral strains of HPV. Gardasil 9, licensed in 2015, contains the original Gardasil HPV types 16, 18, 6 and 11, plus types 31, 33, 45, 52 and 58, which are associated with cervical, vulvar, vaginal and anal cancers. Cervical cancer accounts for less than 1 percent of all cancer deaths in the U.S. and anal cancer kills approximately 300 Americans each year. So, HPV vaccine is not targeting a major public health threat, no matter which way you look at it.

Most HPV cases are in fact harmless, and your immune system is typically able to fight and clear out the infection naturally, even without treatment. In 90 percent of cases, HPV resolves within two years or less; 70 percent clear within one year. In a small percentage of individuals, HPV can persist for years, and may cause symptoms to appear, particularly when the immune system weakens. High-risk HPV strains may also cause lesions that sometimes can evolve into cervical cancer if left untreated.

To avoid contracting HPV, use condoms during sexual activity. Research24 has demonstrated that using condoms can reduce the risk of HPV infection by 70 percent, which is far more effective than the HPV vaccine. If you have children nearing sexual maturation, teach them about the importance of safe sex — not just for the avoidance of HPV, but also to avoid other sexually transmitted diseases, many of which are now resistant to antibiotics and exceptionally difficult to treat.

Get regular Pap smears once sexually active, and get treatment if testing positive for HPV infection. Remember, it’s the long-term, untreated infections that can trigger cancer. According to research published in 2014, shiitake mushroom extract can speed up the elimination of HPV infection in women by boosting immune function.

Routine Pap smear testing is a far more rational, less expensive, and less dangerous strategy for cervical cancer prevention, as it can identify chronic HPV infection and may provide greater protection against development of cervical cancer than blind faith in an unproven HPV vaccine.