Alzheimer’s disease is the fastest-growing cause of death in the world. People living across Scandinavia have some of the highest prevalence of the disease in the world (for an updated list, click on the previous link).
At least 50 million people already have Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. It’s vastly undiagnosed and misdiagnosed. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, doctors are withholding millions of additional diagnoses in the United States, so we don’t know the extent of the epidemic in America, but the incidence likely rivals Finland.
According to recent studies, Finland has the highest incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in the world. Iceland and Sweden aren’t far behind. It could be that Finland is doing a better job of screening, diagnosing and offering honest assessments.
What can we learn from these regional variations? What are the common threads that can help us unravel the causes of neurological disease?
|1. Finland 34.9|
|2. Iceland 25.1|
|3. United States 24.8|
|4. Sweden 21.5|
|5. Netherlands 21.4|
|6. Switzerland 20.0|
|7. Cuba 19.6|
|8. Chile 19.6|
|9. Andorra 19.4|
|10. Spain 18.7|
|11. Norway 18.6|
|12. Uruguay 17.5|
|13. Denmark 17.4|
|14. United Kingdom 17.1|
|15. France 16.6|
Although there are many causes of Alzheimer’s disease and related neurological diseases, the Baltic Sea region is a microcosm worth studying. The Baltic Sea is one of the most polluted bodies of water on the planet. Much of the pollution originates upstream and on land, but tons of it are dumped directly in the sea.
It’s infectious waste. Raw sewage and sewage sludge. Waste from morgues, hospitals, nursing homes, slaughter houses, veterinarians and the homes of millions of people who have brain disease and other infectious diseases. This infectious waste is being dumped on open land as fertilizer. It’s contaminating food, water, air and more in most countries.
In order to understand the threat, one must understand the dynamics of this neurological disease. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, is a member of an aggressive family (spectrum) of neurodegenerative diseases known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE). The operative word is “transmissible.”
TSEs are caused by a deadly protein called a prion (PREE-on). Prion disease is unstoppable and the pathogen spreads through the bodily fluids and cell tissue of its victims. Prions are in the blood, saliva, urine, feces, mucus, and bodily tissue of its victims, including skin.
“There is now real evidence of the potential transmissibility of Alzheimer’s,” says Thomas Wiesniewski M.D. a prion and Alzheimer’s researcher at New York University School of Medicine. “In fact, this ability to transmit an abnormal conformation is probably a universal property of amyloid-forming proteins (prions).”
Prions linger in the environment infinitely because they defy all attempts at sterilization and inactivation. They spread uncontrollably within victims and within the environment. They know no borders. Unlike radiation, however, prions do not deplete themselves. Unlike cancer, there is no cure. Prions migrate, mutate, multiply and kill with unparalleled efficiency. Each victim becomes an incubator and a distributor of the unstoppable pathogen.
“The (human) brain diseases caused by prions include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and other disorders known as frontotemporal dementias,” said Nobel Laureate Stanley Prusiner, who earned a Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1997 for discovering deadly prions.
Prion disease is a spectrum disease because of its many mutations and genetic resistance. Some prions can kill people within weeks of exhibiting clinical symptoms, while others can take years. Others may not fall victim to the disease, but can still carry the pathogen internally and externally. Victims become infectious long before they appear sick. Their bodily fluids proceed to contaminate the world around them.
Since prion disease is a spectrum disease, doctors can’t tell the difference between Alzheimer’s disease and CJD. It’s a process of elimination and a shot in the dark.
According to neuroscientists Dr. Laura Manuelidis, at least 25 percent of Alzheimer’s diagnoses are not Alzheimer’s disease. These misdiagnoses are actually CJD, which is further up the prion spectrum. CJD, without dispute, is extremely infectious to caregivers and loved ones. Millions of cases of deadly CJD are being misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease. Millions of patients and caregivers are being misinformed, misguided and exposed to an aggressive disease. Misdiagnosis and misinformation regarding prion disease is a matter of life and death. The mismanagement doesn’t end here.
The only definitive diagnosis comes with an autopsy, which rarely happens with neurological disease (concerns over deadly contamination). All doctors are guessing with each diagnosis based on the severity of the symptoms. This problem also complicates the search for accurate statistics about the size and scope of the epidemic.
Unfortunately for caregivers and family members, the protocol for patient care and caregiver safety are vastly different for Alzheimer’s patients and CJD patients. The double standards put many stakeholders at risk. It’s reckless to try to distinguish between prion diseases on the spectrum. In other words, treat people with Alzheimer’s disease as though they have CJD. Assume the worst and hope for the best. A deadly prion is a deadly prion.
Although there are many causes and pathways contributing to the prion disease epidemic, many pathways are being mismanaged. Thanks to sewage, biosolids, and reclaimed sewage water, we’re recycling the prion pathogen that causes Alzheimer’s and CJD right back into our food and water. Every sewage system in the world has been used by someone, if not millions, of people with Alzheimer’s disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Sewage systems are now prion incubators and distributors. Sewage sludge, wastewater, biosolids and other byproducts are highly lethal.
Thanks to more and more people dying from TSEs, and thanks to more and more sewage mismanagement, we’re dumping deadly pathogens on farms, parks, golf courses and school grounds. Rain and irrigation spread the prions throughout our communities, watersheds and into our oceans. Winds carries prion-laced dust into our communities, schools, offices and homes.
Dumping tons of sewage from millions of people on land and at sea spreads the prion pathogen far and wide. It’s a case of Pandora’s lunchbox. We’re contaminating our food and water supplies with our own sewage.
Now, back to our Baltic story. The Baltic Sea is positioned in Northern Europe and bordered by Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, northeastern Germany, and eastern Denmark and its numerous islands. It’s the source of food for millions of people. Its watersheds provide drinking water for hundreds of communities, not to mention livestock, throughout the region. Unfortunately, pollution is killing the Baltic Sea and residents of the region.
The untreated waste from the Russian city of Kaliningrad is part of the problem. Kaliningrad dumps about 150,000 cubic meters of raw sewage from 450,000 people into the sea every day. Most other coastal cities throughout the region dump even higher quantities of sewage, although it’s treated slightly. These treated wastewater facilities might help reduce solids and nitrogen, but nothing stops a prion in sewage.
“Kaliningrad is a medieval city that pours its waste into the gutter,” said Aleksandra Korolyova, a Kaliningrad-based activist with the Russian group Ekozashchita (Environmental Protection). “It’s just a black torrent that pours out of the pipe directly into the lagoon, and the lagoon is part of the sea.”
Poland’s waste compounds the problem. It accounts for 30 percent of emissions into the Baltic Sea. Sweden and Russia each dump in about 12 percent. The sewage pollution impacts everything between the point of dumping and the sea, including codfish, herring, shellfish and the people who eat them. The streams, rivers and groundwater are likely contaminated forever with sewage and prions, not to mention other toxins and carcinogens.
The entire region is swimming in sewage. Prion pollution from sewage also impacts the beaches and the people who play on them. It contaminates clothing and shoes. It contaminates boats of all sizes. Prions don’t need the help of mismanaged sewage to find pathways back to humans. Toxins in mismanaged sewage are contributing to cancer, endocrine system disruption and many other health issues.
Leaders in Alzheimer’s disease, Finland and Sweden dump their sewage into rivers and lakes, which is contaminating waterways and communities, while exposing families to various toxins and pathogens, including Pandora-like prions. This mismanagement is exposing millions of people, wildlife and livestock to the prion epidemic.
Towns and cities across the European Union are required to collect and treat their urban wastewater under the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive. In 2006, the European Commission took Finland and Sweden to the European Court of Justice for failing to ensure proper treatment of urban wastewater in a significant number of towns and cities. In 2010, Finland and Sweden again were cited for failing to install the proper infrastructure for collecting and treating urban wastewater. Unfortunately, sewage treatment of any sort doesn’t stop a prion, but sewage mismanagement is obviously an issue in the region and in these two countries, which are afflicted with abnormally high rates of neurodegenerative disorders.
“Finland and Sweden are rightly concerned about the state of the Baltic Sea. They can help make it healthier by improving their own wastewater treatment,” said EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.
Cruise ships in the region also dump their sewage in the Baltic Sea. Last year, 261 international cruise ships pulled to port just in Helsinki. It’s legal to discharge untreated wastewater in international waters, as long as it is done at least twelve kilometers from the nearest coast. Finnish cruise lines stopped dumping wastewater in the Baltic in 2007.
In addition, Baltic countries generate about 3.5 million tons of dry sewage sludge every year. In the past, it was dumped in a variety of ways, including at sea. Sludge dumped into the Baltic has polluted the sea forever. Additional wastewater and sewage runoff just adds fuel to the fire.
Adding to the insanity, sewage sludge has been used in agriculture throughout the Baltic Sea Region for at least 40 years. It is used as a fertilizer. Unfortunately, crops and grass uptake prions and become infectious. The Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland have forbidden or restricted the agricultural disposal of sewage sludge. They incinerate it. Finland and Norway, however, dump sludge on green areas of all sorts.
Europe alone spends more than 2.2 billion euros every year getting rid of sewage sludge. About 60 percent of it goes toward agriculture and landscaping applications. Disposing of it safely would cost billions more. The same goes for every nation on the planet. It’s better to protect corporate profits than people or the planet?
Sewage mismanagement is not limited to the Baltic Sea region. Virtually every coastal city in the world dumps sewage in the sea. Boston, for example, dumps about 500 million gallons of sewage off the coast of Cape Cod every day. Many more cities dump it in rivers, streams and on crops. Cattle graze on it. Thanks to the creative marketing of biosolids, kids play on it and gardeners are using this death dust at home.
People, wildlife, marine life and livestock around the world are caught in the crossfire of prion contamination. Failure to address these issues will cost billions of lives. The body count is already in the millions.
Iceland is a different case study in sewage management and diet. It’s obviously not impacted by the problems of the Baltic Sea, but it could still serve as a canary in a coal mine.
First of all, Iceland is smart enough to not put sewage sludge on its farmlands. It disposes of it in landfills. Unfortunately, if these landfills aren’t capped and lined like a nuclear waste dump, water will leach through the prion pathogens and contaminate groundwater.
The main sources of sewage in Iceland are residential areas, fish processing, livestock, slaughtering, dairy industries, aquaculture, textile industries, tanning plants and some heavy industries. Both the industrial and domestic sewage is usually disposed through the same drainage into the sea. The majority of sewage in Iceland is released untreated into the ocean where it impacts coastal waters, fish, shellfish and waterfowl. It also could be impacting whales and dolphins. Even if the sewage were treated, the deadly prions would survive the process.
Hafnarfjordur, for example, is located on the coast just southwest of Reykjavik on the southwest coast of Iceland. The city of about 21,000 people has four sewage outlets that discharge directly into the bay where people fish, boat, golf and swim. Any sewage that escapes the bay is then driven up the western coast by the currents of the North Atlantic. Pardon my French, but it’s the equivalent of pissing into the wind. The damage done by sewage to Iceland’s coastal waters are well documented. Do you think that it’s contributing to the nation’s high rate of Alzheimer’s deaths? Do you think it’s a good idea to dump sewage where you eat and drink?
Whale meat also is a likely pathway that could be contributing to high rates of neurological disease in Nordic and Baltic nations. Whales and dolphins are vulnerable to prion disease. At least one dolphin has been found with prion disease, but testing is severely lacking. Since dietary factors are clearly linked to neurological disease, studying the correlation between diet and disease can help illuminate the prion problem.
As stated before, Alzheimer’s (and other diseases on the prion spectrum) are extremely high in the region. Pioneering research found that Parkinson’s patients on the Faroe Islands have consumed about six times more whale meat and blubber than their neighbors who don’t have the disease.
Maria Skaalum Petersen is working to shed light on the connection between sick seas, sick whales and the people who consume them. Petersen is a researcher in the Department of Occupational and Public Health in the Faroe Islands health service. One of her projects has included a comparison of the prevalence of Parkinson’s disease (part of the TSE spectrum) in the Nordic countries.
She found that Parkinson’s disease is twice as prevalent on the Faroe Islands as in Norway and other Nordic countries. A traditional diet on the Faroe Islands typically includes pilot whale meat.
Predators, including some whales, are high on the food chain. Animals that consume predators are consuming the toxic build-up from every animal ever consumed. Therefore, these predators (and the people who consume them) often serve as an excellent indicator of the health of an entire ecosystem, including prion contamination.
Not all whales are created equal, though. The whale meat sold in Norway and Iceland is mostly from minke whales, a species that has a diet much lower in the food chain. This means they do not accumulate as many contaminants or prions as pilot whales. This means that the risks associated with whale meat is slightly less for the people in Norway. However, as you recall from the chart above, Norway still has a fairly high rate of neurological disease.
“The Faroe Islanders eat pilot whales, while Norwegians eat baleen whales. Pilot whales have teeth and primarily eat fish and squid, which puts them higher on the food chain,” Petersen says.
Baleen whales feed by filtering zooplankton and krill into their mouths as they swim. Eating lower on the food chain lowers their prion exposure, but it doesn’t make them immune to the prion problem. More importantly, this study indicates that there is prion accumulation in whales–some more than others. It indicates that prions are in our oceans and onward upstream. It indicates that prions are in our food and water supplies and reckless sewage management is contributing to the problem. It reminds us of the hazards associated with wastewater reuse, sewage sludge disposal and biosolids in our communities and watersheds.
Prions have already left Pandora’s box. It’s easy to spot areas of mismanagement. If we fail to connect the dots and react soon enough, it won’t matter. What can we learn from the Baltic Sea, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and whales? Prions are building up in the environment and in mammals now. Eating infected mammals spreads the disease up the food chain.
Preview and order the eBook now to defend yourself and your family. There is no prevention and no cure, but smart nutrition can save your life. If you have brain disease, nutrition is your best hope for treatment.
Gary Chandler is a prion expert. He is the CEO of Crossbow Communications, author of several books and producer of documentaries about health and environmental issues around the world. Chandler is connecting the dots to the global surge in neurodegenerative disease, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, chronic wasting disease and other forms of prion disease. The scientific name for prion disease is transmissible spongiform encephalopathy. The operative word is “transmissible.” Even the global surge in autism appears to be related.