Sickening Reality

Nick McGough

Diseases and illnesses have changed drastically around the world over the past century. From antibiotics and vaccines to the discovery of the DNA sequence, the human species has been able to eradicate some of the worst diseases on the planet, like smallpox and polio, diseases that used to be a death sentence. But why have so many diseases like asthma, which affects 1 in 12, or mental disorders, which 1 in 4 adults experience, still exist? Why are they skyrocketing in the human population? What is going on?

One explanation may be a biological necessity: food.


Alan Hanks, an environmental science teacher at Lewis Mills said that “air particulates (pollution) are dangerous, but my real concern is the food that we eat.” He explained that “additives and food coloring makes the food have a longer shelf life and look pretty, but it has unknown side effects.”


Even the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA, wrote that nitrates, used to keep meat red and prevent oxidation, may be linked to some cancers and even brain tumors


Food harvested from the Earth’s ecosystem can be just as dangerous. Many organisms have some level of poisonous toxins due to the chemicals they are exposed to in the air, water, or their food. Biomagnification, which is when toxins, like heavy metals and PCBs, increase in concentration for each level of the food chain, creates dangerous levels of poisons in larger organisms. The FDA warns that consuming animals like tilefish, swordfish, and shark, which have high levels of chemicals and mercury can affect not only developing children, but adults as well.


Stephen Palumbi spoke on TED talk about an investigation he did in Japan regarding the toxins in whale meat sold at markets. Upon investigation, he found that in some instances it was not whale meat, but in fact dolphin meat with high levels of toxins. The meat being sold as whale meat “had two to three to four hundred times the toxic load ever allowed by the EPA” according to Palumbi’s experiment. These fat soluble toxins are then stored in the fat tissues of humans, and generally never leave the body, except during breastfeeding for females. Palumbi discussed how this toxic contaminated breast milk causes the woman’s immune system to be compromised along with the their children’s development.


Another possible culprit are the GMOs that are now grown and eaten by humans. Genetically modified organisms are animals or plants that have altered DNA due to human interference. By altering the DNA scientist are able to combine different animal genes in order to achieve desirable traits. These modified organism may cause unknown diseases for humans and can be detrimental to the environment, which explains why some areas in the world like the European Union have banned the use of GMOs. But countries like United States accept them for their economic benefits.


Anatomy teacher Jamie Mischke, shared her view on the effects of GMOs on the humans saying that it “most likely causes cancer. But extended research is showing that GMOs and additive are affecting the reproduction cycle.”

Affecting the reproductive system creates generations of humans who begin life with mutations and genetic issues. Could GMOs and additives in the food possibly be at fault?


As Hanks said, “United States is a guinea pig for the European Union to determine the effects of GMOs.”


Truly there are a lot of unknowns about the effects of the food that humans make and eat everyday. These chemicals may cause mutations or block metabolic pathways in the body. The possibilities are endless, leaving it as a prime suspect for the increase in diseases in humans.


Another contributor may be natural selection, a key process in evolution that may explain why mutated, dysfunctional genes and diseases are passed through to the next generation and spread.


Darwin’s theory of natural selection is the basis of evolution of a species. With it beneficial genes get passed from parent to offspring further improving the survival rate of that population and the entire species. Without such a mechanism, dysfunctional and mutated genes are passed along affecting the survival rate of that population and the species.

Stacy Begert, a high school biology teacher, teaches her classes that “natural selection doesn’t apply to humans.” Due to the advances in medicine, sanitation, and overall improvement in lifestyle, humans have been able to bypass natural selection that faces the animal kingdom. Begert however explained that “natural selection is still present in some ways. For example the risk of surgery or the effects of a drug favors some people over others.”


The idea that “only the fit survive” has been lost due to new medical advances  which allows people to survive injuries and diseases that killed scores of people just a century ago. By intervening with this process, is it possible that humans have filled the gene pool with unfavorable traits and diseases?


Gwen Nowacki, a maternity nurse says “it is an interesting theory that human effects on natural selection allows for genetic diseases to further exist and spread. However it is difficult to say since technology has permitted doctors to diagnose diseases that were once unknown.”


Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection could explain why diseases are on a rise, or it might just boil down to the advancements in diagnosing patients.


So truly the causes of new diseases can be caused by numerous factors whether it is pollution, or medical advancements. Finding the cause backed by scientific experiment and acceptance will take a long time with the current rate of experimentation. However the future isn’t looking to bright for human diseases or health.


Maryn McKenna presented a well supported hypothesis of a possible post-antibiotic era on TED talk. Explaining how bacteria infections will soon increase, along with human fatalities as bacteria become more and more resistant to antibiotics. She explains that this epidemic first started when penicillin was first used in 1943, an antibiotic that lasted two years before some bacteria were no longer affected by it. The war between humans and bacteria is like“a game of leapfrog, our drug and their resistance” she says. A war that humans are losing as antibiotics are abused and resistant strains of bacteria increases uncontrollably.


Without these drugs, all civilization will be in a catastrophe as microscopic organisms return to killing millions of people. Everything from a simple scratch to surgery will be dangerous. Infections will spread rapidly among a population without antibiotics to stop it. This era has not come yet, but the human population is heading towards it fast with it’s overuse of antibiotics; it’s only a matter of time before antibiotics fail like McKenna’s hypothesis.


Increases in human diseases may just be caused by the increase in population or advancements in the knowledge of different diseases. But as time progresses, evidences begins to show issues that have been previously unknown to society. Information that experts like Mckenna presents shows a dark future, a future that could bring humans back centuries, changing everything the modernized world has built.