Two (huge) EA health hypotheses

Up­date: Feel free to read on for my ini­tial take, but I think this can be boiled down even more so and broad­ened to just anti-cor­rup­tion re­search (in­clud­ing free­dom of press “re­in­force­ments”) as a wor­thy EA cause area. Seem­ingly this is a more cen­tral cause to the wor­ri­some state of the world than ag­ing, men­tal health, or malaria; yet I haven’t seen much writ­ten on here about it. In the con­text of pub­lic health two case ex­am­ples of cor­rup­tion in­clude the po­ten­tial role of IG Far­ben in the Holo­caust and Lisa Bero’s take on pre­ven­ta­tive nu­tri­tion re­search. As leg­ends go Bostrom’s dragon-tyrant fable, Cato’s let­ters, and J.S. Mill on good men do­ing noth­ing among other things would ap­ply.

Hi. If you’ve heard me rant about these, which I’ve been do­ing a bit, I’m sorry. My goal here is to pre­sent two con­tro­ver­sial hy­pothe­ses briefly and have, hope­fully, a con­struc­tive dis­cus­sion.


  1. Turhan Canli’s (ed­i­tor of Oxford Hand­book of Molec­u­lar Psy­chol­ogy), hy­poth­e­sis that de­pres­sion is an in­fec­tious dis­ease. (https://​​www.oxford­hand­​​view/​​10.1093/​​oxfordhb/​​9780199753888.001.0001/​​oxfordhb-9780199753888-e-28)

(Brief con­text: I imag­ine one a bit like tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, which due to its la­tency pe­riod most doc­tors didn’t think was in­fec­tious but ge­netic and ubiquitous be­fore Koch man­aged to cul­ture its cause. Per­haps in­ci­den­tally, the first an­tide­pres­sant was origi­nally an anti-tu­ber­cu­lo­sis drug.)

  1. Paul Ewald’s hy­poth­e­sis that chronic, hard to cul­ture/​di­ag­nose in­fec­tions un­der­lie many lead­ing chronic con­di­tions in the US and play a sub­stan­tial role in ag­ing.

(Brief con­text: E.g. C. pneu­mo­niae for coro­nary heart dis­ease—ar­te­rial plaques be­ing biofilms like those cre­ated by bac­te­ria on teeth, to im­prove re­silience against the body and an­tibiotics; the ar­ti­cle Do Microbes Trig­ger Alzheimer’s? in The Scien­tist; in­tra­cel­lu­lar bac­te­ria as a po­ten­tial con­trib­u­tor to ag­ing, kil­led by au­tophagy in ac­cor­dance with Anti-ag­ingfire­wall blog’s model, and con­sis­tent with cer­tain sub­stances that have an­timicro­bial prop­er­ties like polyphe­nols or sodium ni­trite ap­par­ently in­creas­ing lifes­pan. Leaves and corpses de­com­pose in na­ture due to microor­ganisms so this is a nat­u­ral hy­poth­e­sis to ex­plore. There may be other im­por­tant fac­tors though. Formalde­hyde for ex­am­ple doesn’t gen­er­ally in­crease lifes­pan, it’s a straight car­cino­gen. Con­sid­er­a­tions of dose, dietary con­text, microe­col­ogy, im­munomod­u­la­tors, and metabo­lites seem rele­vant.) (https://​​​​pmc/​​ar­ti­cles/​​PMC4715324/​​) (https://​​­​​newslet­ter_ar­ti­cle/​​In­flam­ma­tion_A_unify­ing_the­ory_of_dis­ease) (http://​​microbe­​​2017/​​11/​​11/​​in­ter­view-with-evolu­tion­ary-biol­o­gist-paul-ewald-in­fec­tion-and-chronic-dis­ease/​​)

(Dis­cus­sion) Th­ese hy­pothe­ses are pointed at things that con­tribute to hun­dreds of billions or trillions in health­care costs an­nu­ally and countless years of hu­man mis­ery and lost pro­duc­tivity. (http://​​­tion­alhealth­coun­​​news­room/​​about-chronic-con­di­tions)

Gen­eral pare­sis and syphilis illus­trate that it’s the­o­ret­i­cally pos­si­ble for microbes to do such things; Co­pro­coc­cous and Dial­ister that they could do so un­no­ticed. As such, I think these hy­pothe­ses and in­fec­tious dis­ease re­search in the West merit more se­ri­ous at­ten­tion than a crude post like this from some­one like me can give.

If these hy­pothe­ses were rea­son­ably likely to be true, I would think ex­pand­ing ex­ist­ing tech­nolo­gies like Charles Chiu’s metage­nomics re­search would be su­per worth­while if pos­si­ble as EA in­vest­ments. (https://​​www.nbc­​​health/​​health-news/​​boys-mys­te­ri­ous-in­fec­tion-cured-af­ter-dna-se­quenc­ing-n122871). Im­proved in­fec­tious dis­ease di­ag­nos­tics seems like a very good idea for biose­cu­rity con­sid­er­a­tions as well. (https://​​med­i­calx­​​news/​​2018-10-cdc-mys­te­ri­ous-dis­ease-par­a­lyz­ing-chil­dren.html) (https://​​www.mer­ceris­land­​​book/​​9780385334969)

Some ex­am­ples of in­fec­tious etiolo­gies for seem­ingly psy­chi­a­tric con­di­tions that seem to be well-doc­u­mented in­clude the ar­ti­cle How the Hook­worm Gave The South a Bad Name, or hep­atitis C in­duc­ing de­pres­sion, or malaria, or a re­cent ex­am­ple: cy­tomega­lovirus an­ti­bod­ies and bipo­lar. (https://​​​​share/​​A-bipo­lar-di­s­or­der-pa­tient-be­com­ing-asymp­tomatic-af­ter-ad­junc­tive-anti-filiara­sis-treat­ment-a-case-re­port-1). Hip­pocam­pal le­sions found in epilepsy and schizophre­nia seem al­most sug­ges­tive of it (via Brain­storm, O’Sul­li­van, Ch. Adrienne).

From a cur­rent liter­a­ture/​tech­nol­ogy stand­point it seems to me that po­ten­tially microbes could be a very com­mon, ne­glected, and tractable cause of men­tal and chronic ill­ness, analo­gous to the per­cent of can­cers we now know are caused by viruses trend in the Microbe­minded ar­ti­cle.

Thanks very much for spend­ing your time to read these thoughts and all your ded­i­ca­tion and hard work. A great com­mu­nity we have.

***Ideally, I’d re­work this post a lot to be suit­able for shar­ing more broadly but I don’t have a PC or the re­sources at this mo­ment. I’ve ex­panded a lit­tle on these hy­pothe­ses on Face­book and Quora and could copy paste bits from those at some point. This is the first pub­lic place I’ve ar­tic­u­lated these thoughts, I hope, co­her­ently like this.