With the recent recall of Blue Bell Creameries ice cream products, food poisoning is once again in the news. Although most contaminations haven’t been as widely publicized as the ice cream incident, there have already been hundreds of outbreaks of foodborne illness this year. Every week there’s a pocket of food poisoning somewhere, and food gets recalled or a business shuts down. The one thing we will never hear linked to food poisoning; however, is Alzheimer’s disease.
And it’s beginning to look like we should.
How the USDA legalized cannibalism
Factory farming is a disgusting practice, there’s no doubt. And at the height of the hysteria back in the 90s, it was found that Mad Cow Disease came directly from how factory-farmed cows were fed. In an effort to cut costs, factory farmers were feeding their cows...other cows.
That’s right. Cows, those munchers of juicy green grass, were being fed “waste products” like bone meal, “meat by-products” including brains and spinal cords, and other gross meat-based things that herbivores shouldn’t touch. The brain and spinal cord are the most infectious part of an animal sick with Mad Cow Disease, and just one infected cow processed into more cow food can infect animals all over the place. The practice was eventually banned.
Of course Big Ag and the USDA came up with a “workaround”.
While it’s currently illegal to feed beef products back to cows, it’s not illegal to feed them to other animals. Pigs and poultry can be fed beef byproducts, which can introduce Mad Cow into their systems even if they don’t get sick themselves. And in a brilliant stroke of wisdom, our friends at the USDA allow other animal byproducts to be fed to cows. “Feed” like so-called chicken litter.
This is a mix of chicken manure, feathers, spilled chicken feed - which can contain beef - and dead chickens. All this leaves lots of room for Mad Cow to make its way back into the beef production system. Additionally, although infected cows cannot be processed for meat, the USDA says that milk from infected dairy cows is safe to drink.
Mad Cow Disease - we’re not out of the woods yet
The Mad Cow scare was the grandmother of all food poisoning outbreaks. We were terrified of eating hamburgers. Imports and exports of beef went haywire as the whole of the civilized world had a collective panic attack, and we’re still a little nervous.
Not as nervous as we should be.
Here’s a little refresher on what Mad Cow Disease is and what it does:
Mad Cow Disease isn’t viral or bacterial. Instead, cows are infected with something called prions. These are misshapen proteins that causes catastrophic damage. And they're infectious. Once a cow is infected, the prions basically eat holes in the animal’s brain. This causes dementia, loss of function, and eventually death.
People who eat meat from infected cows become infected themselves. When a person has Mad Cow it’s called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease CJD for short. CJD causes dementia, loss of function, and eventually death (sound familiar?).
There is no cure. There is no treatment. There is no vaccine. Since the culprit isn’t a living organism, cooking your meat doesn’t kill it.
Researchers from the University Of Rochester School Of Medicine tied Alzheimer's and CJD together as recently as 2014, suggesting that they're variations on the same theme. They presented a study showing that the same protein involved in Mad Cow Disease is detected in up to 50% of Alzheimer’s patients.
More and more researchers are now asking the unthinkable question, “Is Alzheimer’s just a slower-moving version of Mad Cow Disease?”
How many of us might be infected but not showing symptoms?
Here’s the scary thing about mad cow: although death is swift once a person begins to show symptoms, it can take 10 years or more for symptoms to appear. Kind of like how a person can have Alzheimer’s for many years before it begins to actually affect them. And if you think we’ve put the whole mad cow thing behind us, think again. While it’s true that only 4 cases of CJD have been reported since 2012, that number isn’t as reassuring as it might be.
Between 1980 and 1996, around 200 people died of CJD. That’s 200 people over a span of 16 years. This was at the height of the mad cow epidemic, when infected meat was being exported all over the place and no one had figured out how to contain the epidemic. Since 1996, there have been strict rules in place on dealing with infected cows, and no “large outbreaks” have happened.
Yet, we’ve still had four (known) cases in the past three years.
Why is this horrifying link being kept secret?
As far back as 2005, science proposed that Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) might be slower-moving versions of Mad Cow Disease. An article published in Medical Hypotheses states that CJD and Alzheimer’s often coexist, and that up to 13 percent of alleged Alzheimer’s patients actually have CJD. The evidence supports the idea that these brain-altering diseases all have the same root cause. The only differences, they say, are the parts of the brain affected and the rate at which the disease proceeds. They go on to say that meat-eaters are three times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s as those who don’t eat meat.
Why? Factory farming practices, of course, and cannibalism in particular. The why isn’t known, but the fact remains that cannibalism, even in humans, is invariably linked to degenerative brain disease caused by prions. What can you do?
Don’t eat the meat of cannibals. This means avoiding factory-farmed meat, especially beef. Seek out meat labeled free-range or grass-fed, and if you’re equipped for it, raise your own and have it slaughtered. You may pay a little more in the short term, but in the long term your brain will thank you.