Isherwood column: The new cause for clean water
By Justin Isherwood
An article in Fortune by Rick Tetzel highlighted some of the unique and breath-taking research of Paul Cox and his nonprofit Brain Chemistry Labs in Jackson, WY. As the Fortune article highlighted, Cox’s Alzheimer’s research has been a bright spot in the long dreary season of Alzheimer’s investigation. Despite billions spent on a disease likely to affect half of us before we die, a disease capable of stealing our identity at great cost to family and society. A disease with a current price tag estimated at $277 billion annually, projected to reach the trillion dollar mark by mid-century. A disease we have yet to crack. A disease that has major drug companies gasping for return on investment. In the Super Bowl called Alzheimer’s, the winless streak continues.
Were Alzheimer’s effect on working age people we would have a civilizational wrecking ball in our midst. Luckily the average onset is age 65 years, as happens to coincide with retirement, in short a civilizational near-miss. The downside is Alzheimer’s and its care comes at a vivid price, about one quarter of the current military budget, approximating Social Security spending. Money-wise, if for no other reason, Alzheimer’s is a disease worth a cure.
In his Fortune article Tetzel spends considerable verbiage on Big Pharma’s chase of the amyloid hypothesis, the clumps of beta amyloids found in every Alzheimer patient. The story follows Paul Cox and his quest of the roots and cause of Alzheimer’s disease. The disease he found in bulk on Guam, and a tribe whose ritual delicacy was a stew of the flying fox bat – a fruit bat, fruit of the cycad tree that grows in shallow water, algae contaminated, blue green algae, cyanobacteria. The same bacteria as was the critical life form responsible for the transition of the Earth’s early atmosphere to oxygen. Blue green algae the well-known source of BMAA, beta-methylamino-L-alanine; same similarly found in lichens and curiously, shark fin soup.
The Guam thesis runs that fox bats accumulate BMAA in their fat from the tropical fruit growing in the algae-infested water. Eating these fox bats in turn causing the Alzheimer symptoms in this rustic tribe.
The question as posed is theoretical, but connective. At this point in time it may even be unfair to ask or make this connection? Still to wonder out loud if this mass population-effecting disease is ag-sector connected?
Science has here at least a plotline, whether it turns out to be the source of this society-warping disease has yet to be demonstrated but we have at least a blood trail to follow.
Should blue green algae prove to be the common thread to Alzheimer’s, the repercussions for agriculture are enormous and to impose a radical change in practice to reduce field leaching to a negligible value. The fair question is whether we have the science of field practice to accomplish this, beyond, of what consequence? The ag-sector should realize, as this research continues, there may be somewhere out there a Big Ask of agriculture, to adapt practices to amend a disease that strikes at the core of our humanness.
Currently there are 21 research teams from 11 countries investigating the potential connections of BMAA. A study by Elijah Stommel of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock medical center found the distribution of active and deceased ALS patients clustered around lakes and other bodies of water. Other studies have found BMAA in sea foods.
Equally, a 2016 article in Scientific Reports that found no BMAA in brain samples of Alzheimer’s patients, that included sensitive mass spectrum methods. To acknowledge a popular health supplement is spirulina, a cyano-bacteria, ground to a powder and encapsulated.
Alzheimer’s is a very big target, it has remained elusive of a cure, the consequences of not finding that cure are known. The breadth of this disease and its costs deserve the world’s attention, including a short-cut for sufferers we are disinclined to discuss. We cannot afford a trillion dollar health bill.