The Value of Medicine as Seen through Malaria
Unlike many in the alternative health community, I am not hostile to medicine or the infrastructure that supports it including researchers, universities, hospitals, governments, foundations, etc. In fact, periodically, I write articles that highlight recent advances in the medical community. To put it simply, there is much that doctors do that no alternative healer can replace. If you are involved in a serious car accident, you want a surgeon, not an herbalist. But even then, there will quite likely be a substantial role the alternative healer can play when it comes to rehab. Understand, this is not an uncritical endorsement of doctors; when it comes to healing, they are not all-knowing. It's important to acknowledge that doctors are human beings and pretty much follow the standard bell curve.
At the leading edge, a small percentage of doctors are brilliant, creative, and at the forefront of moving medicine forward. In the middle, the majority, as I have frequently pointed out, are hardworking, dedicated, and often even heroic. And just behind them, you have a significant number who have passable skills and do a passable job. And finally, at the very low end of the curve, you have a small percentage who are incompetent or unethical and who are actually quite dangerous. In other words, doctors follow the same bell curve as healers in the alternative health community. (They just make more money doing it.) And let's be honest here, there is a certain percentage within our community that are incompetent, corrupt, and even dangerous--and that goes for both practitioners and supplement companies as well.
As I mentioned a moment ago, it is not my intent to give doctors and the entire infrastructure that supports them a free pass. And by no means is it my intent to ascribe all their faults to a bell curve. In truth, the vast majority of doctors, wherever they fall on the bell curve, are often blinded by the medical paradigm that teaches them to view the body as separate parts suffering from isolated sets of symptoms. They often cause great harm by not viewing the body holistically. Even worse, they are often slow to change--clinging to outdated procedures and medicines for decades after numerous studies by their own peers have proven them to be wrong. But most of all, they are often blinded by an inflated ego that tells them that no one outside their fraternity can possibly know anything useful about the human body and/or healing. To doctors, and all who support them, if it isn't taught in medical school or published in a peer reviewed journal, it must be, as Anton Scalia would say, jiggery-pokery.
But again, this newsletter is not about pointing out the flaws in modern medicine. Its purpose is to explain why modern medicine and all of the institutions associated with it should not be dismissed out of hand by the alternative health community. To do so is to risk your own health and, in some cases, the health of millions of others.
To better understand what I'm talking about, let's look at malaria.
What is Malaria?
Malaria is an infectious disease found in tropical countries that is spread among humans by female mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles. It is not caused by bacteria or viruses so antibiotics and antivirals (either natural or pharmaceutical) are useless. It is caused by parasitic protozoa (single celled animals) belonging to the genus Plasmodium. Once infected with the parasite by the bite of the Anopheles mosquito, it enters a red blood cell, where it rapidly reproduces, eats cellular content, and excretes hemozoin (a potent toxin) which is released into the blood plasma when the infected blood cell ruptures as a result of the multiplication of the parasite inside the cell. Once released into the bloodstream, the ever growing numbers of parasites infect a multitude of new cells--exponentially repeating the process, infecting evermore blood cells. And in addition to destroying blood cells, the infection presents the body with an even bigger problem, the release of hemozoin by the parasites into the bloodstream. As already mentioned, hemozoin is highly toxic, and as it circulates throughout the body, it causes a rise in fever accompanied by shivering--the prototypical malarial fever. Symptoms of malaria include fever, shivering, fatigue, vomiting, and headaches. In severe cases it can cause yellow skin, seizures, coma, and death. Although not a major concern in the developed world (malaria parasites, which grow and develop inside the mosquito, need warmth to complete their growth before they are mature enough to be transmitted to humans), it is a big deal in tropical climates--especially sub-Saharan Africa. There are about 460 species recognized in the Anopheles genus. But of those, only about 30-40 commonly transmit Plasmodia. And of these, Anopheles gambiae is probably the best known and plays the primary role in the transmission of the most dangerous malaria parasite species (to humans) -- Plasmodium falciparum.
Historically, more than 1 million people die from malaria annually, and as many as 500 million people are infected each year--ranking it just behind tuberculosis as the deadliest infectious disease on the planet. By comparison, there are only between 250,000 and 500,000 flu deaths every year. But between 2000 and 2015, malaria incidence fell by 37% globally, and malaria mortality rates decreased by 60%.1 According to the latest WHO estimates released in September 2015, there were only 214 million cases of malaria in 2015 and just 438,000 deaths. In other words, an estimated 6.2 million malaria deaths have been averted globally since 2000. And there is a reason for this dramatic drop in numbers, which we will talk about in a bit.
One of the problems with malaria is that the primary drugs for treating it, quinine and chloroquine (a synthetic substitute for quinine), don't actually get rid of the disease. Instead, they help control the symptoms. As for those drugs that actually impact the parasites, any success they have tends to dissipate as the Plasmodia quickly develop resistance. Proguanil and pyrimethamine were developed during WWII. Resistance developed within a year of the drugs' widespread use. Mefloquine, which was introduced in 1974 and helped prevent malaria, had a longer run of about nine years before it too became ineffective. The best of the drugs is artemisinin, which was introduced in 1979. It made it about 30 years before resistance to it started becoming widespread. The problem was that artemisinin is an isolated biochemical derived from the biochemically rich wormwood.2 Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) gets its name from its ability to destroy parasites. (It's the reason I use it as a core ingredient in my liver tincture formula.) As I have discussed many times previously, as with most pharmaceutical anti-pathogens that extract a single bio-active molecule from a plant, it makes it that much easier for the pathogens to mutate "around" the drug. Although parasites are more genetically complex than viruses or bacteria, the principle is the same; it just takes them a bit longer to alter their genetic makeup. And this now appears to be the case with the Plasmodium parasite and artemisinin.3 Whereas wormwood had maintained its efficacy for the entire history of humankind, it only took 30 years for Plasmodia to find a genetic workaround for its artemisinin isolate.
The End of Malaria
And now we come to the focus of the article: how modern medicine and science can sometimes do things that natural medicine cannot.
When it comes to malaria, natural medicines, much like pharmaceutical drugs, are only marginally effective at destroying the underlying parasite. For the most part, they primarily help control malarial symptoms. And in truth, we can never win by treating malaria once someone has contracted it. Whatever short-term success we may achieve will always come up short in the end. Plasmodia will always develop resistance to whatever drugs we create. And even if you find a natural treatment to replace wormwood, which has now been compromised, it doesn't prevent you from getting infected over and over again--as long as there are infected mosquitoes to keep biting you.
To be sure, mosquito nets can significantly lower the rate of infection as they prevent people getting infected while they sleep at night--when the mosquitoes are most active--but they don't prevent mosquito bites from occurring before going to bed. In addition, as long as there are people who do not use netting when they sleep, the Plasmodia will continually find a never ending supply of hosts to keep reproducing and infect new people.
And spraying for mosquitoes can only go so far. There's always a small pool of water somewhere that can serve as a new breeding ground, not to mention the fact that mosquitos continually develop resistance to each new pesticide with which we attack them.4
The bottom line is that if you want to end malaria, you need to cut it off at the source: the Anopheles mosquito. And there is no treatment, natural or otherwise, yet discovered that can do that. But there are viable alternatives in the pipeline.
The Gates Foundation and Malaria
If you're going to talk about malaria, you have to talk about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I understand that to many in the alternative health community the name Bill Gates is as toxic as the letters GMO because of his association with the promotion of vaccines. In fact, back in 2011, there were stories running through the natural health blogosphere that Bill Gates had publically announced that the purpose of vaccination was to reduce world population by 10-15% -- by using the vaccines to kill off a billion children. The quote by Gates that was frequently cited read, "The world today has 6.8 billion people. That's heading up to about nine billion. Now if we do a really great job on new vaccines, health care, reproductive health services, we could lower that by perhaps 10 or 15 percent!"
However, that quote is taken completely out of context. Claiming that this is an admission by Gates that the purpose of vaccines is to "depopulate" the world by killing children is a gross distortion of what he actually said. It is also completely absurd and deliberately misleading. What Gates in fact said (and this is independent of whether you believe that vaccines work or not) is that vaccines, in conjunction with better health care and reproductive services, will by themselves result in a reduced population. What he's talking about is the "wealth effect" -- that when people aren't so afraid that most of their children will die, they tend to have fewer of them. When people are better educated (in terms of health and reproductive services) and earn more money, they tend to avail themselves of birth control, thus slowing down population growth. Ultimately, when people get well enough off and feel secure enough that any children they have will survive into adulthood, they slow down reproducing to such an extent that population growth can actually go negative -- as we now see throughout the developed world -- no killing involved. The 10-15% drop that Gates refers to is simply a low end estimate of the wealth effect in third world countries. It has nothing to do with using vaccines to kill children as a depopulation tool. Claiming such is fearmongering, plain and simple. That said, there is absolutely a valid case that can be made against forced vaccination, but this isn't it. Distortion and fearmongering never are. The worst that you can accuse Gates of, if he turns out to be wrong, is that he is naïve. If, in fact, vaccines are totally ineffective against malaria, it just means that the wealth effect won't kick in--not that the world will be depopulated.
Anyway, if you're going to talk about malaria, you have to talk about the Gates Foundation because they have had a major impact--perhaps the dominant impact--ever since they decided to take on the disease. On their website, they detail the core set of foundational principles that define both their goal and their strategy for achieving it.5 I've highlighted the parts relevant to today's discussion:
- Malaria eradication is defined as removing the parasites that cause human malaria from the human population. Simply interrupting transmission [primarily with mosquito netting] is not sufficient to achieve eradication.
- Eradication can be accelerated by new drug regimens and strategies that lead to complete parasitologic cure of the individual. Current artemisinin-based regimens achieve only clinical cure of the individual and do not eliminate the forms of the parasites that are responsible for continued transmission.
- The majority of malaria infections occur in asymptomatic people, who are a source of continued transmission. A successful and accelerated eradication effort will target asymptomatic infections through community-based efforts.
- Emerging resistance to current drugs and insecticides is an immediate threat to recent gains and an obstacle to future progress. Use of current tools and development of new tools should be guided by this evolutionary imperative.
- Malaria is biologically and ecologically different throughout the world. Malaria eradication will depend on strategies developed and implemented on a local or regional level.
Whether you buy into these principles or not, the Gates Foundation has backed them with large chunks of money. To date, the Foundation has committed nearly US$2 billion in grants to combat malaria. In addition, they have committed more than US$1.6 billion to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, which provides about 50 percent of international funding for malaria control worldwide. The bottom line is that the Gates Foundation is accomplishing what governments and other private charities have so proven unable to do and is already responsible for saving several million lives. Again, there are those who will hate on Bill and Melinda Gates, but there are several million people alive today who would seriously disagree with those haters. The bottom line is that until the haters can actually achieve the same results, their words are like political promises--momentarily exciting, then gone for naught.
Now let's talk about some of the "new tools" to which the Gates Foundation referred.
Using GMO to Block the Ability of Mosquitoes to Transmit Malaria
I understand that the very mention of the letters GMO is enough to drive many in the alternative health community into an apoplectic fit, but as I have tried to point out over the past several years, GMO is not a black and white issue. Yes, there is strong evidence that weed and pest killer GMO crops are dangerous and, at the very least, should be clearly labeled. But there is a whole other side to GMO that actually makes sense and should not be automatically dismissed.
And the fight against malaria provides two examples.
First, in the October 2015 issue of PNAS Journal, it was revealed that scientists, using a groundbreaking gene editing technique, have created a strain of mosquitoes capable of rapidly introducing malaria-blocking genes into mosquito populations through their progeny, ultimately eliminating the insects' ability to transmit the disease to humans.6 Or to put this in simpler terms, scientists have discovered how to genetically modify mosquitoes so that they can't transmit malaria to people--and that by releasing these laboratory mosquitoes into the wild, they could spread their modified genes throughout the entire Anopheles mosquito population, eventually eliminating the only carrier/transmitter of malaria on the planet. If the lab technique works in the field, it would be huge. It could offer a new way of stopping the biting insects from spreading malaria to humans and could help eradicate a disease that sickens millions worldwide each year.
Essentially, what the scientists did is give each of their lab mosquitoes new DNA code to make it a poor host for the malaria parasite. The result is that the DNA, which codes for antibodies that combat the malaria parasite, is inherited by almost 100% of the mosquito offspring--and across three generations. Note: this technique does not kill the mosquitoes or their ability to bite--only their ability to carry and transmit the Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria.
It should also be noted that one advantage to this approach is that it doesn't mess with the ecosystem. That is: you're only eliminating the ability of the mosquitoes to transmit the disease, not the mosquitoes themselves. That means you're not affecting the food supply of any of the fish, guppies, dragonflies, birds, and bats that depend upon mosquitoes as a primary source of food. For example, it is estimated that a single bat eats 600-1000 mosquitoes an hour.
Using GMO to Block the Ability of Mosquitoes to Reproduce
As with the previous GMO research, the idea for this second GMO technique, as published in the December issue of Nature Biotechnology, is to ultimately alter the entire gene pool of malaria causing mosquitoes by releasing genetically altered mosquitoes into the wild to breed with the mosquito population as a whole--eventually spreading the altered genes throughout the entire mosquito population. In this case, the scientists have identified a mutant gene that renders the female infertile.7 It takes two copies of the gene (one from the father and one from the mother) to actually create infertility--but it takes only one parent to have the gene to pass it on to its offspring. This is important in that it allows the single gene to replicate throughout the species until the entire species contains the mutant gene. At this point, the mutant mosquito can still carry and transmit malaria to people via bites. However, their genetic makeup means that instead of the gene pool stopping with them, they can breed with other malaria-carrying mosquitoes until the single gene has spread throughout the entire species. At that point, 100% of all offspring produced by the species would carry two altered genes and be infertile. That means that the disease spreading species would then be unable to reproduce since every possible parent would have the single gene and every offspring would have two altered genes and be infertile. Unable to reproduce, the species would quickly die off.
Unlike the previously cited approach, this GMO technique would ultimately eliminate the targeted Anopheles species from the planet--removing them from the ecosystem. Some experts fear that wiping out a species of mosquito may upset the natural balance of the environment. But that said, there are approximately 3400 species of mosquitoes worldwide, with 800 species in Africa alone. In other words, there would most likely be more than enough mosquitoes remaining to serve as food for those animals dependent on them--just no malaria carrying mosquitoes.
So What Have We Learned by Looking at Malaria
As I pointed out at the top of the newsletter, this article was not really about malaria. We merely used malaria as an example to show that medical doctors (and the community that supports them) can often accomplish things beyond the scope of any alternative healer. To put it simply, no alternative medicine or protocol yet known can eliminate malaria from the planet. The best that it can do is control the outbreaks and symptoms. But as we have seen today, medical science, genetic research, and the foundations and government organizations that support them are very likely on the road to accomplishing that very result. If you want to optimize your chances for good health, you have to choose the best option available--regardless of which camp it comes from.
That said, this is not a total, ringing endorsement of the medical establishment. Make no mistake. Modern medicine needs to acknowledge both its own limitations and the contributions that natural healers make to the health of the world's peoples. There are things we can do by considering the body holistically and treating it naturally that are beyond the power of any surgical technique or pharmaceutical drug to match. And likewise, we in the alternative health community need to understand that modern medicine should not be dismissed or ignored. To do so is to risk our own health and, in some cases, as with malaria, the health of millions who might otherwise be saved.
- 1. "Malaria Fact Sheet." WHO Reviewed October 2015. (Accessed 16 Dec 2015.) http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs094/en/
- 2. Kara Rogers. "artemisinin" Encyclopaedia Britannica. (Accessed 16 Dec 2015.) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1126694/artemisinin
- 3. "Update on artemisinin resistance." April 2012. World Health Organization. (Accessed 16 Dec 2015.) http://www.who.int/malaria/publications/atoz/arupdate042012.pdf
- 4. "Malaria: Insecticide resistance." WHO. 11 Dec 2015 (Accessed 19 Dec 2015.) http://www.who.int/malaria/areas/vector_control/insecticide_resistance/en/
- 5. http://www.gatesfoundation.org/What-We-Do/Global-Health/Malaria
- 6. Valentino M. Gantz, Nijole Jasinskiene, et al. "Highly efficient Cas9-mediated gene drive for population modification of the malaria vector mosquito Anopheles stephensi." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2015; 201521077. http://www.pnas.org/content/112/49/E6736.full
- 7. Andrew Hammond, Roberto Galizi, Kyros Kyrou, et al. "A CRISPR-Cas9 gene drive system targeting female reproduction in the malaria mosquito vector Anopheles gambiae." Nature Biotechnology 2015/12/07/online. http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nbt.3439.html