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Are Parasites Driving You Mad?

The moral principle that prohibits the consumption of meat obtained from a living animal holds potential benefits for your mental well-being. Explore the possible connection between the well-known expression, "You're getting on my nerves," and your dietary choices.


It Boils Down To This

Parasitic organisms, like T. gondii, have the ability to influence aggressive behavior by attacking an individual's nervous system.


Rational Considerations - The Meat You Eat and Your Health

The tissue of warm-blooded animals, which is a staple in the diet of carnivores, can easily be infected with a parasite called toxoplasma gondii, also known as T. gondii. This parasite has infected approximately 30% of the global population through foodborne and environmental transmissions.

While it was previously believed to be harmless to those who show no symptoms, recent studies suggest that hosting this parasite may have psychological effects. It has been widely acknowledged that our diet plays a crucial role in our overall well-being, as emphasized by the great physician Hippocrates.

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. ~ Hippocrates

Could microbes and specifically parasites in our meat be absorbing our medication (nutrients) and contaminating our bodies? According to Smart Nutrition, UK, "A parasite survives by taking control of another organism, utilizing its nutrients, and leaving behind harmful waste products." We are all aware that bacteria can be found in warm and decaying meat.

The decay process of plants and animals is expedited when they are separated from their source. Necrotic animal flesh provides an ideal breeding ground for various microorganisms, including parasites. Taking measures to prevent parasite consumption and eliminating parasites from our systems will contribute to improved overall health. In addition, it is worth understanding the connection between parasite control and mental well-being. Explore the scientific explanations below.

Model of T. gondii parasite - Image Source: Getty Images

The Science - How Parasites Affect The Mind

The 7 categorical moral law restrictions offer practical advantages. Now, let's delve into the reasons why removing meat tissue from a living animal can lead to the presence of parasites.

The risk of developing severe mental illness and exhibiting aggressive behavior is suggested to be higher in individuals infected with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii). Those who experience recurrent episodes of impulsive anger, such as road rage, are found to have a more than twofold increase in exposure to this common parasite compared to individuals without any psychiatric diagnosis.

...Our work suggests that latent infection with the toxoplasma gondii parasite may change brain chemistry... ~ UChicago Medicine

“A team led by researchers from the University of Chicago found that toxoplasmosis, a relatively harmless parasitic infection carried by an estimated 30% of all humans, is associated with intermittent explosive disorder and increased aggression…’Our work suggests that latent infection with the toxoplasma gondii parasite may change brain chemistry in a fashion that increases the risk of aggressive behavior,’ said senior study author Emil Coccaro, MD, Ellen. C. Manning Professor and Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Chicago.” ~ UChicago Medicine

This raises the inquiry of whether violent offenses can be diminished through a simple parasite cleanse and the avoidance of consumption. However, it is essential to examine how parasites infiltrate our meat and the potential implications for our mental well-being.

The domestic cat is considered the primary host of T. gondii. However, this parasite can also be present in fecal droppings as oocytes (egg cells) and can infect various warm-blooded animals. The domestic cat has become a common presence on farms worldwide and is undoubtedly a contributing factor to the spread of this parasite. Improperly cooked pork is often the main food associated with the risk of T. gondii infection, leading some people to avoid consuming pork. But pigs are not the only hosts for this parasite.

T. gondii tissue cysts and parasites can be found not only in pork but also in other commonly consumed meats such as poultry, cattle, lamb, goat, and game. What's even more concerning is that these parasites not only pose obvious health risks, but they also have the potential to negatively impact mental health. Parasitic pathogens have evolved effective strategies to manipulate and exploit the host's immune system in order to establish themselves within the host.

T. gondii and macrophages - Image Source:

While bacteria and other microorganisms are present within the cells of living organisms, their growth increases exponentially during the cell death process. The disruption of the inner leaflet of the plasma membrane leads to the exposure of phosphatidylserine on the cell surface, which is associated with cell death. Plasma is the liquid component of blood containing no blood cells. Dying cells express 'eat-me' signals on their surfaces, indicating the necessity of engulfment by macrophages. Macrophages are specialized cells that contribute to the detection and defense against bacteria that destroy organisms.

The process of separating tissue from a living animal, whether intentional or unintentional, exacerbates this phenomenon. While macrophages are the cells that respond to tissue damage, they also act as a preservative for toxoplasma gondii. How does this happen?

"Toxoplasma can not only survive inside these immune cells but they thrive there", according to the Wiley Online Research Library.

To compound this phenomenon, as stated by the National Library of Medicine, the presence of pain stimulates the expansion of macrophages that inoculate parasites. Consequently, the removal of tissue from a live animal before the complete death of its nervous system and pain receptors can cause the growth of macrophages. Of significance, when parasites are present, the excised tissue from the living animal can serve as a breeding ground for T. gondii.

Parasites, such as T. gondii, can induce aggressive behavior by attacking the nervous system of an individual. Upon ingestion, these parasites have the potential to target the individual's vagus nerve, which is the longest cranial nerve that connects the brain and the large intestine. Since the brain communicates through neuron passages, the presence of these parasites can disrupt the gut-brain axis, leading to symptoms such as depression, headaches, anxiety, and potentially the development of brain tumors. This phenomenon can be likened to the well-known expression, "You're getting on my nerves". It appears that the moral law guiding our meat consumption encompasses both human and animal interests.

Prevention & Treatment: Toxoplasmosis is typically not transmitted between individuals, except in cases of mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy, or through blood transfusion or organ transplantation. Pregnant women who are exposed to T. gondii have the potential to pass the infection to their unborn babies, which can result in congenital infection. Although most infants infected with the parasite do not display symptoms at birth, many may develop signs of infection later in life.

The primary mode of transmission to humans is through direct contact with infected animals and consumption of contaminated food. In North America, the most common route of infection is through the handling and consumption of raw meat. To decrease the risk of infection, it is advisable to wear gloves when handling soil, as T. gondii can also be found in the soil.

Practicing proper livestock management, including preventing cats from coming into contact with other animals, and implementing humane slaughtering practices, can significantly reduce the likelihood of meat being contaminated with T. gondii. Farmers who take these precautions are more likely to have implemented measures to minimize the presence or abundance of parasites in their meat.

To further minimize the risk of infection, even after proper meat handling, it is recommended to cook potentially contaminated meat to an internal temperature of 61 degrees Celsius (141 degrees Fahrenheit). If you suspect you may be harboring the parasite, it is crucial to consult your doctor and follow an appropriate deworming protocol.

Universal Lessons From the Torah: On Meat Consumption

The Torah:

But flesh with its soul, its blood, you shall not eat. ~ Genesis 9:4

The practical risks associated with consuming meat from a living animal should not be disregarded, despite the many complexities and nuances surrounding the moral principles governing its appropriate slaughter. According to the Torah, this ethical guideline, known as "ever min hachai" or "limb/part from the living", is derived from Genesis 9:4.


TMC is a non-Jewish organization that employs widely accepted academic sources and abstract reasoning to delve into the topic of moral behavior, considering observable and measurable data. We also incorporate traditional Jewish knowledge on moral conduct due to its extensive wealth of philosophical wisdom, as symbolized in our logo.

Our ultimate objective is to offer guidance for achieving a happier and more fulfilled life through the embrace of moral living, irrespective of whether one is already familiar with it or just discovering it. Live morally.



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