From where I farm high on the back of the Brendon Hills, I have a far-sighted view across a pictorial Olde English landscape, etched out by centuries of occupation under mixed livestock farms.
Today I watch the redundant cattle droves, the megalithic motorways of yesterday, switchbacking the hills and reclining downwards to distant lowlands. Each hollow is haunted by the relics of those halcyon days; I still hear the caravans of cattle, horned and steaming; the yelping of herdsfolk and a thundering of hooves rutting it down to the shillet bed.
In summertime, these droves are choked and jungled up in dogrose and honeysuckle; the bygone arteries of the livestock industry are infracted. They’re impenetrable wildernesses of malignant insignificance to the twentieth century. In wintertime, the beech banks take the full brunt of the blustering gales. They chatter to the derelict skeletons of frost-parched willowherb below.
But come tomorrow, no one will ever touch the holistic charm that flavors these hills again. That ethereal relationship flowing between the soil, the crops, the livestock and the landscape is under threat. The fat of this land is in melt down, rendered by the misconceived notions of a handful of dietary “experts” who persist against all the odds in scapegoating meat and milk products as harmful to human health.
The government commissioned a report on atherosclerosis and heart disease, and in 1984 the results were published. This report unilaterally heralded saturated fat as the indisputable cause of coronary heart disease and artherosclerosis and this conclusion triggered an avalanche of anti-farm-animal furor amongst consumers. Consequently livestock farming plunged into a rapid recession. The margarine and oil industries were only too quick to surf the crest of this new dietary wave, taking their advertising propaganda right into the heart of the health authorities–anti-fat pamphlets saturated the walls of every doctor’s surgery, which pillared up the anti-fat illusion into the mainstream mentality of the status quo. Vegetarian animal welfare pressure groups and organizations such as the London Food Commission unquestionably sank all their teeth into the saturated-fat hypotheses, the net result being that any divergent dialogue that ought to have followed the 1984 publication was irrevocably crushed by the propaganda which cemented virtually every word in the report as gospel.
Disease research frequently follows convergent, specialized avenues which set out more to investigate for remedies rather than prevention. Such an approach, coupled with the influences of inter-professional competitiveness and pharmaceutical vested interests, has permitted many overall perspectives into the causes of disease to be overlooked. It took fifty years for the medical establishment to take aboard the anecdote of the scurvied sailor who cured himself with limes! Consequently many sailors suffered unnecessarily during this time.
One such common fallacy within disease research is that it all too frequently fails to recognize the vital role that homeostasis performs in maintaining health and biochemical equilibrium within the human body. For instance, balanced levels of cholesterol, fats, sugar, etc., in the body’s circulation are presided over by a complex series of enzyme systems, receptors and glandular secretions located in the liver and pancreas. If any stage of these regulatory mechanisms is disrupted by genetical, dietary or environmentally imposed deficiencies, then homeostatic equilibrium of these nutrients will become imbalanced. Thus, if levels of cholesterol rise as a result, that victim may also be rendered susceptible to coronary heart disease.
A good example of this phenomenon is well illustrated in the diabetic whose pancreas is unable to regulate sugar; his high blood sugar levels lead to arteriosclerosis.
Current advice on cutting down on saturated fat and cholesterol in our daily diet is scientifically farcical. If our liver and pancreatic tissues are healthy, then whatever our dietary intake of these nutrients, our internal bodily environment will be efficiently regulated. It is perhaps no surprise that since the 1984 report, results of more recent medical trials are totally contradicting its conclusions; both Dr. Peter Elwood’s trials from the Medical Research Council in South Wales and Finnish research conducted on 1,200 Helsinki businessmen drew opposing conclusions. So why is the Establishment at large, and the British Heart Foundation and coronary prevention groups in particular, remaining so rigidly anti-fat in the light of these more recent findings? Is this really in the best interests of their benefactors?
Even the Nobel Prize winners for 1985, Brown and Goldstein, failed to shatter the complacency of the vegetative status quo. They discovered that sufferers from a rare disease called hypercholesterolaemia had inherited a defective gene that would normally encode for the formation of low density lipoprotein receptors in the liver, resulting in an easily disrupted homeostasis and inflicting such victims of this abnormal genotype with a high risk susceptibility to coronary heart disease.
The Masai people of East Africa have a very high dietary intake of cholesterol in their traditional consumption of milk, meat and blood. But as they are genetically predisposed for the efficient synthesis of a reductase enzyme system, which is responsible for regulating a balanced rate of internal bodily production of cholesterol, coronary disease is unheard of.
Interestingly, the Masai are far from the only primitive group of non-industrialized isolates who engorge themselves on high fat food, whilst concurrently suffering zero levels of coronary heart disease. Take the recluse Mennonite and Amish communities of America who have tended to be self-reliant upon their own purist, organic dairy and livestock farming systems. Their identical Dutch genetical counterparts who were left behind decades ago in what is now industrialized Holland are suffering from coronary heart disease at 333 per 100,000 head incidence rate according to statistics amassed on males aged 35-74 in 1987. The Mennonites, on the contrary suffer little coronary heart disease.
The Mennonite phenomena suggests that environmental factors as well as genetical factors must play a role in heart disease. In fact, there is a strong common denominator flowing throughout all of these isolated races of fat consuming folk who do not contract heart disease: none of them expose themselves to the liver pollutants with which we positively relish ourselves in the western world. The Mennonites are hallmarked by their puritanical, teetotal reluctance to indulge themselves in alcohol, coffee, nicotine, solvents, pharmaceuticals, or to use synthetic pesticides or heavy metals in their organic agricultural systems or to deliberately contaminate their water supplies with fluorides. But their genetic counterparts back in Holland positively debauch themselves in these goodies.
Then take the Scots who suffer from the highest incidence of heart disease in the world running at 655 per 100,000 males during 1987. One wonders whether it’s their high consumption of alcohol, a known liver cell intoxicant, that is the cause.
If chronic exposure to liver pollutants in modern lifestyles is to blame for exacerbating the upsurge of mortality from coronary heart disease, then why haven’t the conventional schools of cardiac thought entertained the numerous research studies needed to prove such correlations?
The inseparable link between the liver and the heart, the brother and sister of the human body, has long been recognized in medicine; sufferers from viral hepatitis are placed at great risk of subsequent predisposition to cardiac complications. Old wives wisdom has promoted exercise as good for shaking up a sluggish liver, and as protection against heart problems.
Research on the hepatotoxic effects of environmental pollutants such as caffeine, pesticides, solvents, heavy metals and alcohol is widespread. A report from the Institute of Community Medicine at the University of Tromso in Norway demonstrated in a ten-week trial involving 33 men with high blood cholesterol levels, how abstention from coffee drinking reduced serum cholesterol levels considerably. Similarly, studies such as those conducted at the Department of Biochemistry at Punjab University of Agriculture demonstrate how chronic exposure to organophosphate pesticides widely used in agriculture, horticulture, forestry and fish farming impairs lipid metabolism in humans leading to an abnormal rise in cholesterol levels in the bio-membranes to such an extent that degenerative changes were observed in trials on liver, muscle, kidney, and cardiac tissues. More recent studies from Kumamoto University in Japan have highlighted the fact that cholesterol levels are raised following chronic exposure to organophosphate pesticides because these chemicals inhibit the enzyme lecithin-cholesterol acyltransferase, which is a vital link in the metabolic chain for esterification of cholesterol. Similar to a rare disorder in which this enzyme is genetically defective, free cholesterol levels will rapidly rise in the blood.
But pesticides are also capable of upsetting cardiac equilibrium by striking along a different biochemical avenue. Acute and chronic pesticide exposure will put the neurotransmitter acetylcholine into overdrive. This compound is responsible for relaying the nervous impulses across the nerve channel junctions to the muscles, glands and behavioral centers. Such a poisoning incident will put the heart muscle into varying degrees of overdrive, culminating in the worst cases in paralysis. Such cardiac-related symptoms as arrhythmias, torsade de pointes, sudden death and myocardial infarction are frequently reported in journal articles charting organophosphate poisoning incidents.
Could not the residues of these and other pollutants detectable in most types of our daily foodstuffs and water supplies be insidiously accountable for a portion of the increased rate of coronary disease surfacing in the western world?
In a major rice growing area of the Phillipines, Dr. Loevinsohn from Imperial College, London, found that the onset of a massive epidemic of stroke and heart disease corresponded with the advent of the green agrarian revolution in 1970, when pesticide use rose by nearly 250 percent in the area. Dr. Loevinsohn believes that the full scale of deaths, largely confined to the farm worker sector of the population, and to the month of August which is the height of the spray season, has been hidden by the local doctors who misattributed these cardiac deaths to deaths of natural degeneration.
Just how many millions of other cardiac deaths from twentieth century toxic exposure have been misappropriated and scapegoated onto saturated fat? Ironically, governments and health authorities are advising us to switch to the so-called healthy eating of fruit and vegetables. But on average, each cropping cycle of vegetable or fruit is sprayed with pesticides, fungicides and herbicides fifteen times before it reaches the shop shelf, whereas grassland pastures for producing meat and milk are rarely sprayed at all. Vegetarians are so intensively exposed to pesticide residues, that perceptive medical teams such as one led by Dr. David Ratner from the Central Emek Hospital, Afula, in Israel, have positively identified a novel, pesticide-produced neurological syndrome common to hospitalized vegetarians.
A whole array of liver toxins like alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, pesticides, solvents and pharmaceuticals are liberally mass-marketed at massive taxable turnovers right into the heart of western food chains. They exacerbate our genetical susceptibility to heart disease. Is this not the heart rot of modern civilization? And the heart rot in the hills?
Editor’s Note: The much maligned saturated fats protect the liver against various toxins. Exposure to pollutants coupled with a diet low in animal fat is a recipe for heart disease.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2001.