Jane Goodall: Animal Rights Champion

Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe

by Jane Goodall

Guernsey Press Limited (2000)

Book Review

In this book, primate ethologist Jane Goodall sums up her remarkable career studying the wild chimpanzees at the mountainous Gombe Reserve in modern day Tanzania. She was drafted for the project by renowned British anthropologist Dr Louis Leakey. Also she completed a PhD in ethology in 1965, at the time she had no education beyond high school. As she recounts in the book, this placed her advantage because she was not bound by prevailing biases about higher mammal (eg the absence of a “mind” in non-human animals that made them incapable of experiencing complex emotions).

In the course of her research, Goodall offered the first evidence that chimpanzees both make and use tools (it was long believed only humans could do so), that they engaged in war (during periods of food scarcity) on other chimpanzie groups, that there are capable of generalization and abstract thinking and that, like humans, they experience enduring family bonds, cooperate in hunting, care for the sick, grieve for the dead, share food, and experience depression and fear.

The book is primarily a collection of anecdotes about the chimp families she and her staff observed over her 30 year involvement with the Gombe Reserve. Chapters are organized by topic, such as sexual behavior, infant rearing, war, male dominance behavior, foster parenting and maternal death and depression in adolescent and adult chimps.

In the last chapter, she rails against the persistence of poachers (in the late eighties) who kill mother chimps to steal their infants for research labs and as pets. She goes on to describe her visits to the National Institutes of Health and other research labs and her horror at the inhumane conditions they are kept in.

In Appendix 1, she makes a passionate argument against the use of higher mammals in scientific research. In addition to demolishing the common argument that torturing research animals is essential to prevent human suffering, she points to numerous modern alternatives (eg tissue culture, in vitro studies and computer simulation).

Sea otters also use tools: Sea Otters’ Stone Tools Provide New Clues for Anthropologists

Pill Pushers in Suits: The Addition Potential of Psychotropic Medication

 

Overpill: The Darker Side of America’s Mental Health

RT (2017)

Film Review

Overpill is a documentary based on the investigation of a Russian-born accountant into the massive overprescription of psychotropic drugs (medications for depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and ADHD) in the US. He became aware of the issue while working for Health Care Communications, a company that markets prescription drugs to Americans for ordinary problems of living. He undertook this investigation after becoming romantically involved with a woman who was addicted to antidepressants and antispsychotics while, despite experiencing horrendous side effects.

The film features extended interviews with former patients who got their lives back after the excruciating ordeal of weaning themselves off medication, with others still struggling with side effects while weaning themselves off, with a malpractice attorney who represents patients experiencing permanent and painful psychotropic complications and Dr Peter Breggin, a controversial American psychiatrist and outspoken critic of the overuse of psychotropic medication.

Both men are alarmed by the deliberate effort by pharmaceutical companies to conceal the addictive potential of antidepressants and antipsychotics, as well as studies showing these drugs can permanently alter the submicroscopic architecture of the brain. This is of special concern with the growing number of psychotropics prescribed in children with developing brains. There are virtually no studies of the long term effect of these drugs in either adults or children.

While the film acknowledges that psychotropic medication can be literally life-saving in some patients with severe mental illness, it rightly points out there are far too many cases in which they’re being inappropriately prescribed.

As a class psychotropic drugs (which are heavily marketed to consumers), are the third most profitable for the pharmaceutical industry.

 

Psychedelics: A Miracle Cure for PTSD?

Soldiers of the Vine

Directed by Charles Shaw (2016)

Film Review

This documentary traces the experience of six US veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who undergo treatment with the psychedelic ayahuasca, owing to their failure to respond to conventional treatment.*

Ex-GIs who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer extremely high rates of PTSD, traumatic brain injury and suicidal depression. They commit suicide at twice the rate of the general population and US prisons, mental hospitals and homeless shelters are full of disabled veterans.

Studies show that psychedelic drugs, such as ayahuasca and ibogaine** are often helpful in treating heroin addiction and alcoholism. Their use in PTSD is still experimental.

In the film the six veterans travel to the Amazon jungle, where ayahasca is viewed as a sacred plant, to undergo a nine day healing ceremony with an indigenous shaman.


*Western medicine has no recognized treatment for PTSD.

**Ibogaine is legal for treating drug addiction in over 190 countries, including Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, New Zealand, Russia, China and Ukraine. See Why Are We Sending Vets to Costa Rico (and Canada and Mexico).

Saving Your Child from an Over-Sanitized World

let-them-eat-dirt

Let Them Eat Dirt: Saving Your Child from an Over-Sanitized World

By B. Brett Finlayy and Marie-Claire Arrieta

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (2016)

Book Review

Let Them Eat Dirt is a down-to-earth parental guide to the latest research about the role of intestinal bacteria in preventing obesity, diabetes, autism, schozophrenia, depression, anxiety, asthma, eczema, allergies, autoimmune illness, inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome. The book also provides a lot of practical suggestions for parents seeking to promote healthy gut bacteria in their kids.

Most research points to the avoidance of antibiotics during pregnancy and the first few months of life as being most important in preventing the gut-relaed illnesses described above. In addition to recommending that expectant mothers take probiotics and give them to their infants, the authors also emphasize the importance of vaginal birth and breast feeding in transferring maternal gut bacteria to the infant. Where C-section can’t be avoided, they recommend inoculating a newborn with a swab from the mother’s vagina.

Let Them East Dirt also provides numerous tips on increasing the diversity of gut bacteria to maximize immunity. In infants and children, this is done by exposing them to a wide variety of foods and indulging their natural urge to get dirty and put things in their mouths. Finlay and Arrieta believe children are biologically programmed to engage in these behaviors to increase gut bacteria diversity.

In discussing the science behind their recommendations, they point out that only 100 species of bacteria cause human illness, out of a total of 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bacterial species on the planet. They also discuss the essential role “friendly” bacteria play in training the human immune system, as well as the devastating health consequences of disrupting this process through antibiotic overuse.

The part of the book I found most helpful gives useful suggestions for ways parents can work with pediatricians to safely minimize antibiotic use in their kids.

Decadence: The Meaninglessness of Modern Life

Decadence: The Meaninglessness of Modern Life

Pria Viswalingam

Review

Decadence is a 2006 Australian TV series examining the plummeting quality of Australian life, which director and narrator Pria Viswalingam blames on a global economic system based on frenetic consumption, fueled by debt and ridiculously long hours of work. The cinematography choreographs to perfection the self-indulgent moral degradation of a culture that has been subsumed by US political and cultural norms that reward narcissism and the vacuous idolization of celebrity.

The only critique I would have is the absence class perspective. I have a problem with Viswalingam’s blanket assertion that all Australians are working ridiculously long hours because they value the accumulation of luxuries more than family time or friendships. I think this criticism applies chiefly to the shrinking Australian middle class – which I estimate at around 20-30% of the population. From my experience, the majority of Aussies – like their Kiwi and American counterparts – work ridiculously long hours because this is the only way they can put food on the table.

The series consists of six episodes:

Episode 1 Money – describes the MacDonaldization of Australian society, where workers work longer hours than Germany, Japan or even the US and are plagued by debt, depression, drugs and high suicide rates. Viswalingam makes the assertion that greed and ignorance are a far bigger threat to civilization than terrorism. I agree.

Episode 2 Sex – describes how the commodification of sex has led to a situation where more “sex” occurs in the street than in bedroom. Viswalingam especially deplores the sexualization of children for commercial reasons, the alarming increase in culturally driven misogyny and the epidemic of pedophilia in the church.

Episode 3 Democracy – explores America’s zeal in exporting “democracy” to the rest of the world and the undermining of Australia’s parliamentary democracy by wealthy business interests.

Episode 4 Education – explores the decline of Australia’s educational system, which focuses more on fast tracking students into lucrative jobs than on teaching ideas and critical thinking.

Episode 5 Family – explores statistics showing Aussies are marrying less, breaking up more and increasingly opting to remain childless. Viswalingam blames this partly on the absence of good paying jobs (forcing mothers into the work place) and the failure of the feminist movement to win support for women in their struggle to balance  work and family responsibilities.

Episode 6 Religion – describes how organized religion sowed the seeds of its own destruction through centuries of justifying wealth accumulation and genocidal western expansion. Here Viswalingam makes some fuzzy, poorly supported assertions about the fundamental importance of spirituality in facilitating human connection.

 

 

The Care and Feeding of Gut Bacteria

diet myth

The Diet Myth: The Real Science Behind What We Eat

by Tim Spector

Weidenfeld and Nicholson (2015)

Book Review

The Diet Myth is all about looking after our intestinal bacteria – which are ultimately responsible for the proper functioning of our digestive, immune, endocrine and nervous system. As Professor Tim Spector explains, all mammals co-evolved over millions of years with the bacteria that inhabit their intestines. Because these bacteria produce a number of vital biochemicals that our bodies are genetically incapable of producing, without them the species homo sapiens would not exist. This relatively recent discovery has led many scientists to classify the microbiome (the collective name given to gut bacteria) as a vital organ like the brain, liver or kidneys.

Civilization hasn’t been kind to our intestinal bacteria. For various reasons (overuse of antibiotics, processed foods and pesticides like Roundup), urban life has caused us to lose half of the septillions of gut bacteria we started out with. Nearly all the chronic illnesses that plague modern society (obesity, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune disease, depression, autism, schizophrenia and possibly drug addiction and alcoholism) can be traced to loss or malfunction of intestinal bacteria.

For this book, Spector has chosen to focus on dietary research into foods that improve the health and diversity of our remaining gut bacteria. He blames the myriad of contradictory diet fads on the reality that each human being has their own distinct collection of bacteria. This means the foods that keep them healthy depend on the preferences of their particular bacteria.

Fortunately he’s able to make a few general recommendations that seem to apply to most people.

According to Spector, people with the most diverse profile of gut bacteria are the healthiest. The best way to promote this diversity is through a diverse fiber-rich diet that includes:

  • At least 20 different food types per week
  • A daily serving of 5 vegetables and 2 fruits
  • Daily servings of probiotic foods (fermented foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut and miso, raw milk and unpasteurized cheeses) that contain beneficial bacteria.*
  • Daily servings of prebiotic foods rich in polyphenols that gut bacteria love**
  • A strict limitation on red meat,*** sugar, refined carbohydrates, transfats (hydrogenated fats found in vegetable oils, margarine and Crisco) and processed foods

Research also indicates that lifestyle factors such as exercise (athletes have the most diverse microbiomes) also promote bacterial diversity (and good health). As does episodic fasting.****


*These mainly provide different strains of lactobacillus and bifidobacteria that crowd out harmful inflammatory gut bacteria.

**Foods rich in polyphenols include dark chocolate, coffee, green tea, turmeric, red wine, onions, garlic, (uncooked) extra-virgin olive oil, roasted nuts, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory root, leeks, asparagus, broccoli, bananas, wheat bran and fermented fruits and vegetables.

***Citing numerous studies, Spector totally debunks the claim that red meat is harmful due to its fat content. He maintains the risk associated with red meat is the conversion (by gut microbes) of L-carnitine to trimethylamine oxide, which causes plaque build-up in arteries (in Europeans – this effect appears to be absent in other ethnic groups). He recommends that Europeans limit their intake of red meat to ½ serving or less per day. Those who eat more than this have a 10% increase in mortality. Those who eat one daily serving or more of processed meat (sausages, ham, salami, etc) have a 40% increase in mortality.

****When people fast, a gut organism caused Akkermansia cleans up gut inflammation by feeding off the intestinal lining. Research reveals specific benefit from the 5/2 diet in which people fast two days a week and eat normally the other five.

How Gut Bacteria Control Our Health

The Microiome Revolution: Why Microbes Control Your Life

Jack A Gilbert

The Microbiome Revolution provides a brief and user friendly introduction to the essential role the microbiome (the bacteria that colonize our gut) plays in human health. Through their research, Gilbert and other microbiologists have induced obesity, allergies, autism, depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease and other illnesses by manipulating intestinal bacteria in mice. Gilbert contends that specific gut bacteria can even alter behavior.

He stresses that our current obsession with eradicating bacteria (ie prescription antibiotics, antibiotics used on factory farms, antibacterial soap, toothpaste, mouthwash, etc) has dire implications for human health. The human body is an ecosystem in which microbial cells outnumber “human” cells by ten to one. Doctors increasingly view the microbiome as a vital organ, like the liver or kidneys.

Thanks to Gilbert’s crowdfunding site*, his research team has collected the microbiome profiles of hundreds of thousands of people. This baseline has enabled them to identify specific bacterial profiles associated with good health. In general, rural third world residents have the most diverse and healthiest gut bacteria, while urban residents in the industrialized world have the least diverse and the most unhealthy.

Lecture starts at 3:15.

*Ubiome – for $89 you get a Ubiome gut kit to submit a sample of your feces for analysis