Chapter

The Theory of Dysfunction of the Immune System

Ralph Colp Jr. M.D.

in Darwin's Illness

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print June 2008 | ISBN: 9780813032313
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813039237 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5744/florida/9780813032313.003.0026
The Theory of Dysfunction of the Immune System

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Fabienne Smith, a Scottish medical writer, believes that all of Charles Darwin's variform symptoms, from youth through old age, were due to a dysfunction of his immune system. However, it is believed that the diagnosis of immune deficiency by the available evidences is only supported partially. Thus, the possible genetic nature of Darwin's illness is addressed. In addition, the chapter describes Smith's other contention about Darwin's contacts with various allergens and toxins that were in the air he breathed, on the objects with which he experimented, and in the foods and medicines he ingested. The nature and history of his infections are covered. Specifically considered include illuminating gas, barnacle preservatives, bird “spirits”, food, mercury medications and infections. In conclusion, although Smith has raised some important questions about the impact on Darwin's health of toxins in the air, in his foods and medicines, and in the preservatives of animals he studied, her evidence is not enough to show that these toxins were significant causes of the onset of illness in 1839–40 and his subsequent major periods of illness.

Keywords: Charles Darwin; Fabienne Smith; immune system; immune deficiency; allergens; toxins; food; medicines; infections; preservatives

Chapter.  1905 words. 

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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