Dr. Zach Bush: What happened to our Nation’s Health?

The Commonwealth Fund rates the United States at the bottom in health outcomes among the nations it studies. According to OECD Statistics, U.S. life expectancy has fallen below Costa Rica, Estonia, and Poland. The US spends more than $9,523/ year per US citizen to achieve astonishingly poor health outcomes. The average cost per person per year in the U.S. for medications is $985. Yet we are getting sicker. Dr. Zach Bush explains why.

In the video below, Dr. Zach Bush demonstrates the rise in the incidence of autism in the US, which has skyrocketed from one in five thousand (1970s) to one in 48 today, and goes on to speak to the Autism epidemic as just one element in a vast epidemic of chronic inflammation, manifesting  in a range of diseases and conditions in all ages and socioeconomic spheres, from asthma to allergies, Attention Deficit to depression, from obesity to pain, from autism to Alzheimer’s, and from cancer to auto-immune disorders.  The simultaneous emergence of these epidemics in so many organ systems of the body and so many of the developed nations suggests a single root cause event that has undermined our health and manifest the highest chronic disease burden in history.

That root cause lies at the intersection of human health and the global ecosystem, with the health of our soil, and the “friendly bacteria” in our soil that nourish plants, animals, and humans intertwined. The nutrients we consume were produced by that soil. Was the soil that produced our nutrients healthy or not? Dr. Bush recounts the history from World War II to diversion of oil from wartime uses to peacetime production of fertilizer, leading to consolidation of agribusiness. Big Oil, Big Agriculture, and Big Pharma consolidated, resulting in a Big Decline in our nation’s health. The herbicide glyphosate (RoundUp) has played a key role. Genetically modified (GMO) food crops were created so that our crops would survive the widespread spraying of RoundUp which would now kill only the weeds; meanwhile, the loss of nutrient in our soil and the GMO food crops we consume has eventually made our nation sick. Eating glyphosate, the primary chemical in RoundUp, is not only bad for us, RoundUp also killed the soil bacteria that nourish healthful crops, which translated into debilitating lack of the diversity of bacteria in our gut – the bacteria that we need in our microbiome to gain nourishment from food. There’s more to the story than RoundUp: we stuff animals with antibiotics and turn much of the meat we eat into animal-processed GMO corn and soy.

Below Dr. Bush is interviewed by Dr. Mercola. He explains his personal path from conventional allopathic medicine and specialization as an endocrinologist in diabetes to the aha moment when he examined a diabetic patient with a painful ulcer on his ankle, noting the similarity to cancer growing adjacent to healthy tissue as observed under the microscope in his cancer research laboratory.

His aha moment came when he realized that he was looking at the same phenomenon – chronic inflammation, and the loss of cell-cell communication in two apparently different disease processes.  In the decade since then, he and his science team have identified the intestinal barrier between our food and immune system as the epicenter for health and disease.  In the healthy state, permeability of this barrier is a highly regulated, the tight junctions that hold the billions of intestinal cells together keep out unwanted nutrients and toxins, and let in large proteins, soluble fibers and complex carbohydrates.  These same tight junctions control the permeability of our blood vessels, kidney tubules, and the blood-brain barrier. Zonulin, a human protein that regulates tight junction permeability, creates temporary portals when needed (e.g. to allow white blood cells to leave blood vessels and go to tissues to fight infection) and then those portals can rapidly close. When those smart cellular membranes lose their autonomy and intelligence, they become “leaky.” What we know as “leaky gut” is a pervasive phenomenon in the U.S. population that is getting sicker from a range of conditions and diseases, all due to inflammation that occurs when these barriers lose their capacity for intelligent performance. The video below highlights the pervasiveness of glyphosate, which was exacerbated when the EPA reduced controls in 2013.

Dr. Andrés Moya from the University of Valencia (Spain) and Dr. Manuel Ferrer from the Institute of Catalysis at the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid (Spain) argue that a network-biology approach can help us understand how our gut microbiota is continuously changing in the gut environment.


In his 5-minute film below on why diet is less about calories, or even what you eat, Dr Bush outlines the impact of a healthy diet on your microbiome, the community of bacteria and fungi who process the food you eat. In essence, the longstanding debates about whether a ketogenic (low carbs, high fat) or normal carb diet promotes better health all neglect what Bush sees as the root cause of chronic inflammation, a loss of microbiome, increased intestinal leak, and the inability of your biome and body to process whatever food we do eat.

A new start-up, uBiome, focuses on what they call SmartGut™ – the world’s first sequencing-based clinical microbiome screening test, which provides some detailed information to help users understand their gut health. The rise of whole genome microbial sequencing proclaims a new era for human microbiome analysis. Kits are being developed to identify and compare bacteria from complex microbiomes or environments.

Suppose that debates about how to reduce the national obesity problem are related to a seemingly completely different national topic, how to combat the “national opioid epidemic.” Both debates focus on a symptom, obesity and opioid (painkiller) addiction, rather than on the root cause of chronic inflammation in poor health. Why are so many of us overweight and in such pain? Dr. Zach Bush points out that the top priority is to assure that our microbiome has the capacity to extract nutrition from our diet. Only then can we meaningfully debate which foods to eat.

earthDECKS focuses on the role collaborative intelligence can play to save our planet. A “survival of the fittest”  misinterpretation of Darwin’s theory of evolution as solely competitive drove us toward great tragedies of the commons. The debilitation of our soil, and the dumping of waste and overfishing of our oceans, are two tragedies in the global ecosystem, and Mother Earth is visibly striking back.  Within the profound insights of Dr. Zach Bush, lies the key to convincing humanity, not only about the power of collaborative intelligence at the level of the microbiome, but about the exquisite bond between Earth systems and human systems, and ultimately human health.

For those who want a direct translation to economic consequences, Dr. Bush reminds us that some military strategists of the Vietnam era recommended that the military use smaller bullets, which would seriously wound victims, but not kill them, because a dead soldier requires no care, whereas a seriously wounded soldier requires two round-the-clock caregivers, a military strategy to maximize wounding could debilitate a nation’s economy. Our current acceleration toward one in three members of the U.S. population crippled with chronic disease, each requiring two caregivers, could turn that military strategy into a boomerang, striking back to undermine our own economy.  As Walt Kelly’s cartoon character Pogo remarked (1953), which was about when the United States was embarking on the path of crippling our nation’s health, “We’ve seen the enemy. And it is us.”

The tragedy of the commons of allowing product monocultures to gobble up agricultural diversity is countered by today’s upwelling of local, distributed and organic food production: Greenwave, Hog Island, Nutiva, PharmerseaPlum Organics. Patenting pharmaceuticals for a sick society, while making it economically difficult to produce food that keeps our society well, is not a sustainable path: food is our lifeline.

Zann Gill for earthDECKS


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