Autoimmune Thyroid Disease

An Unfortunate and Lengthy Adventure in Misdiagnosis

Are salicylates 'evil'?

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This is the kind of question that makes me laugh my ass off, not in the least because people psychologise me and think I must think it. “Salicylates are not evil!!!111!!!” is the kind of comment people toss over their shoulder as they gallop off into the sunset to do chelation therapy. Good luck with that.

Are salicylates ‘evil’?

‘Evil’ is a very peculiar value judgement that people put onto things. It is imposed. It is not possible for a thing – a person, an object, to inherently have the trait ‘good’, ‘bad’, or ‘evil’. It is just a way in which human beings choose to describe the world. Moreover, ‘evil’ is a blanket term, there are no shades of gray, no possible reprieve, no half measures. In reality the world is not black and white like this.

Let’s try experimenting with this question:

Are snakes ‘evil’?
Are pharmaceuticals ‘evil’?
Are volcanoes ‘evil’?
Are people ‘evil’?

See how silly it sounds? Let’s expand on it by answering a question:

If I really must place a value-judgement on snakes, lets equate ‘evil’ in snakes with biting. So some snakes bite all the time, so they are ‘evil’ all of the time, and all snakes bite some of the time, so they are ‘evil’ some of the time. But all snakes do not bite all the time, so all snakes are not ‘evil’ all of the time.

Even if you shoehorn the negative behaviour of snakes into a definition of ‘evil’, it’s still impossible to define snakes as evil, because there is so much diversity between snakes. All you can do at a stretch is place the rather strong value-judgement that some snakes have some evil actions. In reality, all the snake is doing is trying to defend itself, it isn’t ‘evil’, it’s just acting to survive. We choose to think it is evil because it is harmful to us.

Let’s ask another question:

Are drugs ‘evil’?

By drugs, I mean all drugs – drugs found in nature, drugs synthesized in laboratories, drugs that are prescribed for illnesses, drugs that are illegal and bought on the street, drugs that are in our food.

Almost all of these drugs, whatever their origin or purpose, have positive, negative, and neutral effects on the body. They can be useful in one context for one person, and unhelpful or harmful in another context for a different person. They can be useful and harmful in different ways within the same person. What distorts our understanding of drugs, is that when the effects are positive, we call these the drug’s ‘actions’, and when the effects are negative, we call these the drug’s ‘side effects’. In reality, all of these effects are the drug’s ‘actions’, both positive, negative, neutral, and mixed. Herbs sometimes have stronger ‘actions’ than ‘side effects’ compared to medicines, other times medicines have stronger ‘actions’ than ‘side effects’ compared to herbs. There is no hard and fast rule that one entire group is better or safer than another – it’s just that one group has had a lot more testing.

Are salicylates ‘evil’?

When a snake bites, it does so to defend itself. It is not ‘evil’. When a plant produces salicylates, it produces them as a toxin in order to defend itself from pests and predators. Human beings are just one more form of predator to a plant. The plant does not care who or what you are, it merely produces salicylates because it has a survival advantage to do so by repelling its predators.

Salicylates are natural toxins. In fact, almost all drugs are natural toxins. With most toxins, large amounts have a poisonous effect, whereas smaller amounts may have many positive effects, no effect, many negative effects, or many mixed effects. Whatever the effect on the body (positive or negative), it automatically treats these substances as alien to it and attempts to remove them because they interfere with it’s normal functioning.

The main effect of salicylate is to inhibit COX (cyclooxygenase) II, an enzyme that creates prostaglandins. These prostaglandins – also known as eicosanoids – have a wide range of effects in the body, both positive and negative. One of their effects is to signal pain and a type of inflammation. Because salicylate inhibits COX II in this way in a large enough dose it will stop you from feeling pain. In the short term we can describe this as a ‘good’ effect of salicylate, because pain is… well, painful.

– However, in the longer term you would not want to be without pain, as it is likely you would lead a rather short and disastrous life. The prostaglandins are also important for a variety of other jobs around the body, so you wouldn’t want to be without them. For example, without these prostaglandins, it is impossible to maintain proper intestinal integrity. One type of prostaglandin – prostacyclin – acts to prevent platelet formation and clumping in blood clotting and is also a vasodilator. A different type of prostaglandin, thromboxane, acts conversely to clot the blood and constrict blood vessels to prevent you from bleeding to death. So inhibiting COX II can also have ‘bad’ effects, and how you judge these effects bad or good, would depend on the situation you were in at the time. It would be ‘bad’ to have lots of thromboxane during a heart attack, but it would be equally ‘bad’ to have no thromboxane after a car accident.

What also happens when salicylate inhibits COX II, is that the normal fuel that the body channels towards COX II to make prostaglandins – arachidonic acid – is instead diverted towards making leukotrienes. This uses up glutathione. Leukotrienes are inflammatory in a different way from prostaglandins – they tend to produce reactions that look superficially like allergies – and their actions on the body tend to characterise the ‘side effects’ – or rather the ‘negative’ effects of salicylate, which are the effects that characterise salicylate sensitivity.

All people are affected by salicylates at different doses. All people experience ‘side effects’ from salicylates. Some people may experience stronger ‘actions’ versus ‘side effects’, other people experience stronger ‘side effects’ versus ‘actions’. Salicylates per se have the property of interacting with the body to cause these different effects. When scientists first discovered salicylate sensitivity, they realised that salicylates were the cause because salicylate sensitive people were experiencing the documented side effects of aspirin, not because they were reacting in an unusual or abnormal way to salicylate. Because prostaglandins are universal to animal life, animals and insects are also affected by salicylates, and this is how salicylates exert their effects as pesticides.

Are salicylates ‘evil’?

Salicylates per se are toxins produced by plants to disrupt prostaglandin production in predators. Salicylates can be useful for killing pain, reducing fevers, and blocking some of the ‘negative’ effects prostaglandins can have on the body. However, salicylates also have a wide range of side effects that can be unpleasant and undesirable, especially in the longer run. Whilst most people are less vulnerable to the ‘side effects’ of salicylate, some people are highly vulnerable to these ‘side effects’ and will experience unpleasant symptoms at extremely low doses.

Salicylates are not ‘evil’ because objects cannot be innately endowed with ‘good’ or ‘evil’, they are however drugs and toxins and should be treated with due respect and caution. They are not harmless plant chemicals to which your body is reacting abnormally, rather their effects are universal to life, but vary in intensity depending upon the individual’s tolerance level.


Written by alienrobotgirl

17 August, 2007 at 5:36 pm

Posted in The Science of FCI

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