06/27/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

We're Fighting the Wrong Pandemic

We have been deluged with reports about the coming swine flu pandemic and the potential deaths of thousands, if not millions, around the world. Like any good bureaucratic action, the response has been "shoot, ready, aim."

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on mobilizing emergency centers, stockpiling anti-viral drugs (of dubious value), creating vaccines that would take many months to develop (let alone test), and even shutting down entire countries. What heady times for bureaucrats, whether they are at the United Nations, Washington, or even the local school board, because they get the opportunity to engage in Alexander Haig-like behavior by letting the appropriate populations know that "I am in charge here".

Fortunately, the swine flu pandemic never emerged, primarily because there was very little danger involved with it in the first place. First, according to a report from the World Health Organization, fewer than five percent of the Mexicans who supposedly died from swine flu actually had it. Second, only eight deaths in the United States have occurred. Keep in mind that more than 12,000 Americans die from the flu every year. That's more than 1,000 per month even after taking flu shots. Going from 1,000 to 1,008 deaths in a month from the flu is not going to destroy our health-care system.

Never letting the facts get in the way of good headlines, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued dire calls for a costly mobilization against this coming pandemic that never emerged. The U.S. government has committed $1.5 billion (about five percent of the total annual money spent on medical research) to combat this "pandemic" because of the fear that another 1918 flu pandemic that took millions of lives was coming our way.

Unfortunately, no one seems to have read an article in last year's Journal of Infectious Diseases (Vol. 198: 962-970 {2008}) that indicated that the millions of deaths in 1918 flu pandemic were not due to the flu, but caused by bacterial pneumonia. As the head of the National Institutes of Infective Diseases Dr. Antony Fauci said, "In essence, the virus landed the first blow, while bacteria delivered the knockout punch." Since Dr. Fauci is also the head of the government's AIDS program, one might have asked him if he would like to take $1.5 billion out of the HIV research budget to make vaccines for a strain of flu that has caused nowhere near the predicted death rates projected by the media.

However, there is a worldwide pandemic that does currently exist, but no one seems concerned about. This is the pandemic spread of silent inflammation. Silent inflammation occurs when the body starts attacking itself. Unlike classical inflammation that hurts, silent inflammation remains below the threshold of pain. As a consequence, it goes untreated for decades. With new breakthroughs in molecular biology, leading medical researchers are coming to the conclusion that virtually all chronic diseases (diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's, etc.) are ultimately caused by this type of silent inflammation. The symptoms that we call chronic disease only emerge years, if not decades, after continuing inflammatory attack by silent inflammation until there is long-term organ damage that it is often irreversible.
Using the swine flu response as a template, you would think that every health organization would rally behind the eradication of this real-life pandemic of silent inflammation. Unfortunately, this type of pandemic is not caused by a bacteria, virus, or parasite, but by the food we eat. There is no single dietary factor to make into a villain, but a number of factors that have converged in America in the last 30 years to produce this massive increase in silent inflammation in America that has now spread beyond our borders.

The two primary food factors that contribute to silent inflammation are cheap refined carbohydrates (that increase insulin) and cheap refined vegetable oils (corn, soybean, sunflower, safflower, etc.) that supply excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. Neither alone is sufficient to cause an increase in silent inflammation, but when combined together they increase the production of a natural fatty acid that in high enough concentration can kill because it is the driving force of silent inflammation. The chemical name for this fatty acid is arachidonic acid, but I call it toxic fat.

Toxic fat in the body is dramatically increased when you begin to mix the two bulk commodities of refined carbohydrates and vegetable oils together. It's like adding gasoline to a fire resulting in increased silent inflammation. One of the first consequences of this increase of toxic fat production is that the body attacks itself by the activation of the most ancient parts of our immune system, which fool it into thinking our bodies are being attacked by some microbial invader.

Ground zero for this pandemic has been the heartland of America where the giants of agribusiness are the world's largest producers of cheap refined carbohydrates and cheap refined vegetable oils. These are the key ingredients in virtually every processed food in the world today. Put these two food ingredients together, and you have the Perfect Nutritional Storm as the consumption of processed food increases with a continuing drop of the cost of raw materials used in their production. This is why fast food companies are able to super-size everything they sell. This also means literally millions of Americans will face earlier mortality due to diabetes, heart disease, and cancer despite the massive health-care costs we spend in this country.

The reason this pandemic doesn't get any media attention as well as a rapid response from bureaucrats, especially those in the Department of Agriculture, is because the only solution to decreasing toxic fat that drives silent inflammation is the reduction of the production of these bulk commodities that cause it. Adding further insult to injury, the production of these agricultural commodities is subsidized to the tune of some $20 billion per year of taxpayer dollars. It's almost as if the government is in a perverse conspiracy with the drug companies to make Americans more prone to chronic disease.

Of course, you could eliminate this pandemic of silent inflammation in a very short time without spending any money (a first in government history). First would be to eliminate the $20 billion in annual subsidies (and perhaps give them to the banks), and the second would be a tax (which we could also give to the banks) on any product that uses these commodities.

What a unique idea, fighting a pandemic and making money in the process. The reason it won't happen is that our entire agribusiness sector is dependent on the continued production of these two commodities to keep processed food prices down since they are the cheapest form of calories in the world. Furthermore, their production is one of the few things in which America still remains the leader in manufacturing. This manufacturing leadership allows us to export them to the rest of the world thus spreading the pandemic of silent inflammation fueled by toxic fat. We have the power to eradicate this pandemic, but it is highly unlikely that we will do so because of the economic consequences.