An epidemic much larger than Ebola

Ebola has cost thousands of lives. It is infectious and terrifying because of its ability to rapidly spread and kill.  People are understandably afraid. Governments are struggling to contain the epidemic.  I think we are missing a key component in containing this and other future epidemics. That is the health of the host.

The Spanish Flu pandemic in the early 1900s killed 50 million people across the globe. Scientists are aware of the potential for an infectious agent to rapidly spread due to the interconnected air and rail transportation system. Studies of virus traits in the flu virus and the Ebola virus have been reviewed to determine how to create vaccines to offer some level of immune protection. Yet I do not see much discussion of the host factors that are also important in determining whether a person succumbs to the infection.

We are not taking a look at the environmental factors that are increasing the risk of having more epidemics and pandemics. There are four factors that are not being discussed that I believe will ensure the risk of epidemics and pandemics are sure to increase with each passing year.

The first factor is the evolutionary pressure on the microbes that infect us. As medicines to fight bacterial, fungal and viral infections are developed and used in human and animal populations, these drugs save thousands if not millions of lives each year. But they also have another side effect. These drugs kill of the sensitive organisms, and the drug resistant versions of the organisms survive, leading to a more rapid evolution of bacteria, fungi and viruses. The organisms become resistant and newer, more potent drugs are developed — again killing off the sensitive organisms. Evolutionary pressure results in the emergence of drug resistant versions of these bacteria, viruses and fungi.

The second factor is whether the host has a chronic disease. Today one third to one half (if African American or Hispanic) of the children born in the United States are projected to develop type 2 diabetes as young children or young adults. The higher blood sugars lead to less effective white blood cells and less effective protection against infections. Americans are eating 150 pounds of sugar and 100 pounds of white flour ever year. Americans eat less than 1.5 servings of fruits and vegetables a year.

As a result far too many Americans do not have diets that meet the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamins (one half). Mineral deficiencies markedly increase the risk of developing one of the top ten causes of death and disability in the US. In 2013 69 percent of Americans were overweight or obese and 25 million had diabetes.

The third factor is the vitamin D levels of the host. When vitamin D levels are too low our immune cells cannot make antimicrobial peptides and proteins. These compounds are part of our initial defense against viral infections. With Americans now using more and more sun screen, more adults and children have vitamin D levels that are very low. This decreases the production of these protective proteins and increases risk of succumbing to the flu or developing a chronic infection such as Lyme disease.

Because our collective health as a society is declining and the drugs of modern medicine are causing a more rapid evolutionary change in the microbes that infect us, we will continue to be at ever greater risk year by year. In addition, we are ignoring a threat much greater than Ebola.

Reversing obesity is extremely challenging. Most of the modern methods are calorie restriction (resulting in chronic hunger and little permanent weight loss) or surgical approaches (high cost and a risk of nutritional deficiencies can occur years later). In our clinics we use a diet that stresses non-starchy vegetables, meat and healthy fats and eliminates sugar and grain products to treat chronic diseases of all types. Our patients have great success losing weight and getting back to a healthy body weight. We find that weight melts away without hunger, energy improves, mental clarity improves and blood pressure and blood sugars normalize. The diabetes and blood pressure pills are no longer needed. We have seen people lose 100 and 200 pounds on our dietary programs, all without being chronically hungry.

As obesity becomes the norm, with steadily escalating rates of diabetes, across both American and the globe, the economies are impacted. The healthcare costs rapidly escalate and worker productivity declines. Our businesses, our governments and our families will be severely strained, and eventually bankrupted. Sadly the obesity epidemic has been building for the last 300 years as the intake of sugar and white flour consumption increased from 5 pounds per person per year to more than 250 pounds per person per year. We are killing ourselves with our food choices.

The obesity epidemic has killed more people than the Spanish pandemic and will kill more than Ebola. That is the epidemic that is most critical to stop.

Dr. Terry Wahls

By Dr. Terry Wahls

Dr. Terry Wahls is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa where she teaches internal medicine residents and sees patients in a traumatic brain injury clinic and a therapeutic lifestyle clinic for those with complex chronic disease. In addition, she conducts clinical trials testing the efficacy of diet and lifestyle to treat chronic disease. She is also a patient with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis, which confined her to a tilt-recline wheelchair for four years. Dr. Wahls restored her health using diet and lifestyle interventions and now pedals her bike to work each day. She is the author of The Wahls Protocol: How I Beat Progressive MS Using Paleo Principles and Functional Medicine and the paperback, The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way to Treat All Chronic Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles, and teaches the public and medical community about the healing power of intensive nutrition.  
You can learn more about her work from her website: She is conducting clinical trials testing the effect of nutrition and lifestyle interventions on MS. She is also committed to teaching the public and medical community about the healing power of the Paleo diet and therapeutic lifestyle changes to restore health and vitality to our citizens. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter at @TerryWahls. You can learn more about her research at here.