The Chemistry of Cannibalism

Introduction

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  • Cannibalism is the act or practice of humans consuming the flesh/organs of other human beings. Cannibalism is believed to be derived the Island Carib, and it’s inhabitants, the people of the Lesser Antilles. There are legends of Cannibalism being practiced in the 17th century and has influenced today’s culture as well. The legends are apparent in movies, tv shows, and literature. Cannibalism is now present in many African cultures, especially tropical cultures, located near Liberia and the Congo. Cannibalism was so present in some cultures that even the island of Fiji was given the nickname the “Cannibal Isles” for it is said that ancient cultures held “flesh markets” where human flesh was sold.  

  • I chose to study the practice of Cannibalism because the practice presents an interesting idea of Cultural Relativism, which is the idea of what is or is not considered acceptable human behavior. Cannibalism occurs in many situations, it may be in cultural or religion, it could be intentional, or it could be for survival. Why do people eat other people and what happens to those people? Why is Cannibalism accepted in some cultures?  

  • My life is not affected by Cannibalism or the chemistry of Cannibalism, I just thought it would be an interesting topic to study. The human psyche has always been an interesting topic and the study of the effects of Cannibalism on the human brain is very similar to the effects of “Mad Cow” Disease and Alzheimer’s on the brain.

Composition of ...

Human flesh/organs is digested just like any food, once it enters the body, digestion begins to take place. The digestion system consists of the liver, the pancreas, and the gallbladder. Food enters the body through the mouth and travels down through the esophagus to the stomach. The stomach releases enzymes and acid to help break down the food. The food then travels to the small intestine where it is then broken down even further. The small intestine uses enzymes released from the pancreas to break down the food. The enzymes released from the pancreas break down the food into protein, fat, and carbohydrates.The small intestine using bile from the liver to help stop the fat and waste from entering the bloodstream. The nutrients from the food is then absorbed into the bloodstream. The waste from the food travels through the large intestine and reaches the rectum and is then removed from the body. In Cannibalism, the person who consumes the victim essentially gains all the nutrients that was in the victim’s body.

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

As a result of Cannibalism, the aggressor may receive a brain degenerative disease called Kuru. Kuru directly affects the brain, especially the cerebellum.

  • The Cerebellum is located at the top of the brainstem and the two hemispheres meet. The cerebellum receives information from the spinal cord and the other parts of the brain that regulate motor function. If the cerebellum were to be destroyed or infected in anyway, motor function and speech would be affected dramatically. The cerebellum consists of a posterior lobe, anterior lobe. vermis, flocculonodular lobe, the horizontal fissure, and the primary fissure. Within each part of the cerebellum lies cerebellar deep nuclei. The fastigial nucleus receives inputs from the vermis, the interposed nuclei receive input from visual reflects and auditory sound functions. The dentate nuclei is the largest of all the nuclei and receives input from the lateral hemisphere. The vestibular nuclei receive input from the flocculonodular lobe. If any parts of the cerebellum were to be infected by a disease it would eventually reach to all the parts because of how each part of the cerebellum receives information from a different part. Once the cerebellum is affected, the whole brain will be affected.  

  • Kuru does not immediately kill or affect its host but it will slowly infect the whole brain. Through the transmission of prions, Kuru begins to eat away at the brain resulting in death. Prions are peptides or proteins that assume a particular conformation. Meaning, once a human consumes another human, the prions in the body become infected and eventually change shape and function. This also occurs in diseases such as “Mad Cow” syndrome and Alzheimer’s.

Background Research

Cannibalism has occurred for centuries all over the world. One example, the Fore people of Papua New Guinea have practiced cannibalistic rituals for centuries. When studying the tribes past history, researchers found that members of the tribe were dying at young ages for odd, unexplained reasons. Later in the 1950’s, still the deaths unexplained, there began a mass epidemic, 2% of the Fore people’s tribe were dying every year from unexplained causes. When researchers were given the opportunity to study the members of the tribes bodies they were able to discover that the tribe’s people have been suffering from Kuru. This explained the odd, sudden deaths of the tribe’s people.  This discovery led to the tribe abolishing cannibalistic acts, with hopes of rebuilding their tribe. Despite the fact that the no longer ate other humans, tribe members continued to die for about 10 years after the fact since the symptoms and effects of Kuru take so long to discover.

Resources

http://www.webmd.com/heartburn-gerd/your-digestive-system?page=2

Digestive systems parts and each of their functions.

https://news.utexas.edu/2011/07/14/cannibalism

Dangers of Kuru: Prions and what they are.

http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/kuru/kuru.htm

What is Kuru? What Kuru is and how it starts.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cannibalism

Background of cannibalism

http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/Anatomy/your-digestive-system/Pages/anatomy.aspx

Digestion, process and how it works

http://www.english-online.at/health_medicine/nutrition/nutrition-how-the-body-uses-food.htm

Function of nutrients and how connects to cannibalism

http://www.healthline.com/human-body-maps/cerebellum

Purpose and Function of cerebellum

http://neuroscience.uth.tmc.edu/s3/chapter05.html

Cerebellum and parts   

http://www.livescience.com/51191-cannibalism-prions-brain-disease.html

Kuru and the Fore tribe.




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