By Gary M. Verigin, DDS, CTN
Last time, we looked at the current state of dentistry, where what has evolved is largely unfit to support the whole body health and wellness of individuals. We also looked at some evolutionary paths the industry failed to follow, much to the detriment of patients everywhere.
But just because the mainstream veered off those paths doesn’t mean that every dentist went with them. Some stayed the course to what’s now known as biological dental medicine.
In biological dentistry, everything begins with the extracellular matrix, or biological terrain. Its regulation – or dysregulation – is what determines whether and how a person will react to mercury amalgam fillings, root canal teeth, devitalized teeth and implants.
We often describe the terrain briefly as the body’s internal environment. So to understand and appreciate how this “ground system regulation” works in our bodies, let’s first take some time to explore how it works in the environment in which we live.
Welcome to the “New Normal”
In a widely syndicated opinion piece earlier this year, William deBuys described our current drought – now in its fourth year – as “a living diorama of how the future is going to look across much of the United States as climate change sets in.” Yes, periodic droughts are common here in California, but
Even so, climate change remains a potent factor in the present disaster. According to the state’s Climate Change Center, California is on average about 1.7 degrees hotter than a century ago, and its rate of warming is expected to triple in the century ahead. The kicker is that hotter means much drier because as temperature creeps up, evaporation gallops. As a result, the droughts of the future will be effectively more destructive than those of the past.
The impact of climate change on the drought – and thus, conditions in our local environment – was laid out in a paper published this past August in Geophysical Research Letters. Analyzing the historical data, the authors found that while “natural variability” is the main player in the drought, “global warming has increased the likelihood of ‘extreme California droughts.’”
More, they said that within 50 years, drought will be the rule, not the exception. According to the journal’s editor Noah Diffenbaugh, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment,
If this drought was a one-off event, we could get through it and get on to the next times…. But the research shows this is not the case. We are in the new normal, which means we will have more droughts than we did before.
Importantly, this work echoes earlier studies such as this one in Science Advances. According to its authors – affiliated with NASA and Columbia and Cornell universities –
The mean state of draught in the late 21st century over Central Plains and Southwest will likely exceed even the most severe megadraught periods of the Medieval era in both high and moderate emissions scenarios, representing an unprecedented fundamental shift with respect to the last millennium.
“This,” adds deBuys in the full version of his essay,
is now expected to happen even if greenhouse gas emissions are significantly lowered in the decades to come. The impact of such droughts, [the authors] conclude, will exceed the bounds of anything known in the history of the continent or in its scientifically reconstructed pre-history.
And this is just one aspect of our radically altered environment.
Consider what’s happening here in the Central Valley as more and more water is pumped out from underground aquifers, largely for use in agriculture: land subsidence – a fancy term for the soil collapsing as water is taken out of it. Simply, the ground sinks.
As reported in the Sacramento Bee, although subsidence isn’t a new problem, it’s “returned with a vengeance” as our drought has worsened. A report by NASA for our state Department of Water Resources showed
significant rates of subsidence in recent times. A spot near Corcoran, in the Tulare basin, sank 13 inches in one recent eight-month period. Researchers found a stretch near the California Aqueduct, the key highway of the State Water Project, that sank 8 inches in four months last year.
The problem isn’t limited to the San Joaquin Valley; a spot near Arbuckle in Colusa County sank 5 inches during the last half of 2014, according to the NASA report.
At the same time, agribusiness continues to encourage the use of synthetic, nitrogen-based fertilizers. After all, they do increase yields. However, they also generate air and water pollution, even as such intensive farming also depletes the soil of nutrients. Scientific research has linked nitrate exposure to thyroid damage, birth defects and “a litany” of other health issues.
That’s bad enough, yet there’s also the matter of nitrous oxide emissions from fertilized fields, which contribute to the greenhouse effect – a major driver of climate change. Speaking at a 2014 conference, Dr. William Howarth, a UC Davis professor of biogeochemistry, noted that nitrous oxides are estimated to be 300 times as potent as carbon dioxide. Further, as the Modesto Bee reported,
Howarth said that while agriculture is a major emitter, the problem would be far worse if farmland were developed into homes where people use energy and fertilizer much more intensively.
“If you save an acre of farmland from urbanization, you can reduce greenhouse emissions by 70 times,” he said.
So it’s not just the farmers. It’s also the rampant paving over of our land. And all of it starts to reveal a terrible – indeed, deadly – cycle: Our actions alter our environment. We adapt to those changes. Those adaptations have consequences. Our environment is changed even more.
And life forms – plants, animals, us – that evolved to thrive in the natural environment fare less and less well.
“When I was last in Beijing, China recently,” said one of the authors of a recent study on Chinese air quality, “pollution was at the hazardous level; every hour of exposure reduced my life expectancy by 20 minutes. It’s as if every man, women and child smoked 1.5 cigarettes each hour.”
The Acid(ification) Test
The effect of climate change isn’t exclusive to dry land either. As described in a San Francisco Chronicle report on falling oyster stocks,
Ocean acidification, is the caustic cousin of climate change, and it shifts the chemistry of ocean water, making it harder for oysters to grow. That’s because about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean, causing pH levels to plummet and making the water more acidic. The more pollution in the air, the more carbon dioxide the ocean absorbs.
The hostile conditions stunt the growth of oysters in the larval stage, making it difficult to build their fragile calcium carbonate shells. If acidification doesn’t kill them outright, an increased susceptibility to disease and predators often will. The stress also weakens many small oysters, so it takes them longer to reach reproductive age.
Suffice it to say, oysters are far from the only life forms affected. A toxin-generating algae bloom in the Pacific – the result of rising ocean temperatures – has been devastating. The toxin
has accumulated in fish, shellfish and mussels and poisoned the marine mammals, birds and other creatures that eat them. When it is sufficiently dense, it attacks the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center, and can cause memory loss, tremors and convulsions.
The plumes, which one researcher called “toxic plankton soup,” have killed harbor porpoises, fur seals, sea otters and sea lions. Although whales don’t seem to be dying in large numbers, researchers in Monterey Bay have reported strange behavior by humpbacks and other whales.
Then there’s the effect of all the pollution we add to the aquatic environment. A study published earlier this fall found that “about a quarter of fish samples from markets in Indonesia and fresh off the boat in California are filled with plastic and debris such as clothing fibers.”
While other research has found plastics in the bellies of popular dinner-plate items such as tuna and swordfish, this is the first study to link marine plastic ingestion directly to fish sold for human consumption.
* * *
Scientists found plastics and synthetic fibers in more than 25 percent of the fish bought in from off coastal California—including oysters, Pacific anchovies, chinook salmon, striped bass, and other dinner-plate mainstays. Researchers found plastic trash in six of 11 Indonesian fish species tested and eight of 12 species examined in the U.S.
Back here on land, meanwhile, four years of drought has taken a huge toll on residents of the San Joaquin Valley – physically and mentally – as “wells run out and despair sets in.”
Physicians say they’ve treated more children and adults struggling to breathe as dust from plowed-over farm fields and wildfires penetrate nostrils and lungs. Mental health counselors report that they’re hearing from more residents suffering anxiety and depression, fearing that the drought will cost them their homes, farms and livelihoods. Calls are up sharply at a local suicide prevention hotline.
Must this be “the new normal,” as well?
The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics
are always so certain of themselves,
but wiser people so full of doubts. – Bertrand Russell
So what about the other side of this analogy I’m making – namely, how the body’s “internal environment” affects the health of the whole? That’s the stuff of our next installment, where we’ll look at some recent cases we’ve dealt with that clearly illustrate the fact that as goes the terrain, so goes every cell and organism it connects.
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