Starting Fresh: Rebooting Your Immune System

Researchers at the University of Southern California found one of the reasons fasting is so good for your health: It kills off weak or damaged white blood cells, causing your body to generate healthy new white blood cells to replace the old ones.

"The researchers say fasting 'flips a regenerative switch' which prompts stem cells to create brand new white blood cells, essentially regenerating the entire immune system," writes Science Correspondent Sarah Knapton.

"It gives the 'OK' for stem cells to go ahead and begin proliferating and rebuild the entire system," said Prof Valter Longo, Professor of Gerontology and the Biological Sciences at the University of California.

In an article in the Telegraph, Knapton writes:

Prolonged fasting forces the body to use stores of glucose and fat but also breaks down a significant portion of white blood cells.

During each cycle of fasting, this depletion of white blood cells induces changes that trigger stem cell-based regeneration of new immune system cells.

In trials humans were asked to regularly fast for between two and four days over a six-month period.

Scientists found that prolonged fasting also reduced the enzyme PKA, which is linked to aging and a hormone which increases cancer risk and tumor growth.

"We could not predict that prolonged fasting would have such a remarkable effect in promoting stem cell-based regeneration of the hematopoietic system," added Prof Longo.

"When you starve, the system tries to save energy, and one of the things it can do to save energy is to recycle a lot of the immune cells that are not needed, especially those that may be damaged," Dr Longo said.

"What we started noticing in both our human work and animal work is that the white blood cell count goes down with prolonged fasting. Then when you re-feed, the blood cells come back. So we started thinking, well, where does it come from?"

Fasting for 72 hours also protected cancer patients against the toxic impact of chemotherapy.

"While chemotherapy saves lives, it causes significant collateral damage to the immune system. The results of this study suggest that fasting may mitigate some of the harmful effects of chemotherapy," said co-author Tanya Dorff, assistant professor of clinical medicine at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth
SlotralogyAntivirus For Your Mindand co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English)Follow his podcasts, The Adam Bomb and Talk to Klassy. You can email him here.

Why Does Homelessness Seem To Be Out Of Control?

A friend of mine sent me a three-hour podcast of Joe Rogan interviewing Michael Shellenberger, the author of the book, San Fransicko. You can listen to the interview here: #1719 Michael Shellenberger.

I don’t normally listen to podcasts that long, but I found it fascinating. I bought and read the book, and it's full of surprises. 

I'm originally from Southern California, and I've lived in Seattle for a long time. In my adult lifetime, I've seen homelessness increase decade after decade. But that’s mainly because I have lived in cities on the West Coast. In the U.S. as a whole, homelessness has gone down in the last fifteen years. I never would have guessed.

Just to be clear — it’s not just because people from around the country are moving to West Coast cities (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle), although that is happening. But in the United States, the number of homeless people has dropped from 763,000 to 568,000 between 2005 and 2020.

We take it for granted that we call the problem “homelessness,” but this term is only one possible name for the issue, and it gives the impression that the problem has something to do with housing. As a matter of fact, news stories often call it a “housing crisis,” which sounds sensible since we’re calling the problem “homelessness.” But this may not be the most accurate way to label the issue.

I remember reading something a couple decades ago that the main reason the number of homeless people began increasing suddenly in the 1980’s and has continued ever since is that Ronald Reagan made it illegal to keep someone in a mental institution who wasn’t dangerous. It saved taxpayer dollars, and there was a strong argument to be made that these are U.S. citizens and human beings and they have rights.

On the other side of that valid argument is the problem that many mentally ill people don’t want to take medication or be treated for their illness. In fact, many do not believe they are mentally ill. And since it’s now illegal to force treatment on them, where do these people go? They often alienate their families, many are unable to keep a job, so they can end up on the street.

This is dangerous for them, and it makes a mess on public streets and public parks, as they have to urinate and defecate somewhere. And many of them turn to drugs as a way to self-medicate (and because the largest majority of chronically homeless people are those with serious drug addictions).

Another thing I was surprised about is that some powerfully addictive drugs like heroin, fentanyl, meth, and crack, have become extremely inexpensive over the last twenty years or so. This makes it much easier for people to become addicts and to remain addicts. Many of the addicts now on the streets were once prescribed opioids for a surgery or some other valid medical reason, became hooked, and then substituted heroin or fentanyl to avoid withdrawals when the prescription ran out.

The large majority of chronically homeless people are addicts and mentally ill people. In other words, rather than identifying this as a problem with housing, it could justifiably — and perhaps more accurately — be defined as a medical problem. 

If we approached this issue as a medical problem or a health problem, different solutions would present themselves more readily, wouldn’t they? 

But because the most obvious thing about homeless people is that they don’t have an established residence, this definitely looks like a housing problem. And if you live in a place where rent has gone up, doing something about the cost of housing seems like a reasonable response. But it’s not working. Obviously. Look around. Wherever that is the main focus, homelessness has only grown. 

It’s not as self-evident as it seems anyway, because there are plenty of places where rents are going up just as fast but they do not have homelessness to the degree we do in West Coast cities.

Another common reason given for why homelessness is growing here is because the weather is so mild. People can be homeless and live outdoors or in a tent without freezing to death in the winter. Except that there are plenty of other places that also have pleasant year-round weather, but without a homelessness problem.

Those seem like fairly obvious causes of homelessness, but they are not the real problem. 

Another thing most of us don’t know is that there are lots of services available for homeless people, but usually those services are not available to people who continue to take drugs. When someone is addicted to alcohol or heroin, for example, they may not want to sleep in a shelter because they can’t go that long (from dinner until morning) without a fix. For the safety of the other people in a shelter, there are necessarily rules about people not shooting up or taking meth or smoking crack. They have to have rules like that because they need to look out for the safety of everybody else there.

So if you're addicted to something and you can't go ten hours without it, many of the services being offered can’t help you. There are groups, organizations, and government programs that help people with a warm place to stay at night, food, even to get training or medical care, get off drugs, find housing, etc. You rarely find a woman with children homeless on the street, even though they really should be the most likely to end up there. They have more mouths to feed and have a tougher time keeping a job while taking care of kids, but you don't see them living in a tent on the street because there are so many services available to people who need help.

Some mentally healthy and unaddicted folks do, of course, temporarily become homeless, but they get help and things improve for them. The ones who are chronically homeless, who have been there for years, are very likely to be addicted to a drug or mentally ill, or both.

One way of dealing with this issue is to simply arrest people for defecating on the street, sleeping on the sidewalk, or taking drugs. These things are already illegal in most cities. But then instead of being homeless on the street, they would be in jail. This doesn’t help them get a job or a place to live when they get out. It doesn’t even help them get off drugs (which are often illicitly available in jail). It gets them off the street, but it doesn’t really solve the whole problem. 

In an effort to become more humane, some West Coast cities and other places have decided to offer housing first with no strings attached. This is, of course, an expensive solution in most cities, which means there’s not enough money to house everybody, so by not putting any effort into shelter and putting it all into housing, you end up with some people in housing who are still drug addicts or mentally ill without treatment, and the rest of them on the street because there are no shelters.

And many of these “housing first” projects are resisted by people who don’t want an apartment building full of drug addicts and mentally ill people in their neighborhood. 

Shellenberger talks about possible solutions. He suggests we do something like what they do in Amsterdam and some other European and American cities: When someone does something illegal, the police arrest them, but then offer them the option of jail or treatment. This encourages more people to get treatment and end their addictions. It encourages the mentally ill to get the help they need rather than go to jail.

Everybody I’ve talked to about homelessness seems as interested in the topic as I am. That’s why I’m writing about it. I've been reading about homelessness and watching videos about it for years now, and I thought I would just share some interesting things I’ve found out. I am by no means an expert on this topic. But there seem to be some things about homelessness that people are both interested in and don't know that I thought should be more broadly known.

If you have something you’d like to add or ask, I invite you to leave a comment here.

I've seen Shellenberger interviewed a couple of times in shorter interviews, and his clarity and succinctness are really good for getting an overview of what he’s discovered. Here are a few good (and brief) interviews with him:

This one is longer (22 minutes): How San Francisco Creates More Homeless While Championing Equality 

Adam Khan is the author of Self-Reliance, Translatedand co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam BombYou can email him here.