There is a video going around the Internet of a rebel fighter who cuts the body of a dead government solider, removes the heart and liver, and then proceeds to eat them.
CNN News said that they cannot confirm the authenticity of the video; however, they did interview a local rebel, Tariq al Sayed, who confirmed the incident and said that the rebel fighter was his friend and asked him to take the video off the Internet.
If Syrian rebels are reportedly barbequeing their enemies’ heads and eating hearts on video, are they putting themselves in danger?
Dangers of Cannibalism
Kuru, also known as the “laughing disease” can be transmitted from person to person who engage in cannibalism due to prions in the brain.
Prions are peptides, or proteins, which conform to their own shape. When they come into contact with a similar protein that is not shaped the same way, the prion makes the other protein conform. The two proteins then form a tight-knit structure called an amyloid.
These amyliods are the same amyliods that occur in the prion disease called Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, or “mad cow disease.”
Kuru is the human form of mad cow disease, and results in the breakdown of the brain tissue and the central nervous system. According to Medline Plus signs and symptoms include arm and leg pain, severe coordination problems, difficulty walking and swallowing, tremors, and muscle jerks. Death usually occurs within one year of the first signs or symptoms of kuru.
Interestingly, the time from exposure to the first symptoms is on average 10 to 13 years – however, the incubation period can be 50 years or longer.
Not only is eating other humans bad for your brain, eating a human liver or kidney is not a great idea either. The liver and kidney work as a filtering system – the liver regulates most of the chemicals in the blood and excretes bile, which aids in the digestive system. The kidneys process blood to sift out waste and extra water, which combine to form urine; so probably best to avoid these organs as well.
Syrian Rebel Cannibalism: Not Good
Setting the politics of the potential attack on Syria aside, the rebels’ alleged cannibalism is an unhealthy practice. People in other cultures, including citizens of the United States citizens, aren’t immune to the occasional bout of people-eating – but in recent years there have been drugs like bath salts inspiring the attacks.
What’s the bottom line? Regardless of your political affiliation, citizenship, or ethnic background, eating other humans is bad for you.
Abdelaziz, Salma and Yan, Holly. Video: Syrian rebel cuts out soldier’s heart, eats it. (2013). CNN. Accessed September 8, 2013.
Medline Plus. Kuru. (2013). Accessed September 8, 2013.
The University of Texas at Austin. The dangers of cannibalism. (2013). Accessed September 8, 2013.
WebMD. Your kidneys and how they work. Accessed September 8, 2013.
Collinge, J., Whitfield, J., McKintosh, E., Beck, J., Mead, S., Thomas, D., Alpers, M. Kuru in the 21st century—an acquired human prion disease with very long incubation periods. (2006). The Lancet. Accessed September 8, 2013.
Shoebat, T. Syria, Cannibalism and Videotape. (2013). Frontpage Mag. Accessed September 8, 2013.© Copyright 2013 Janelle Vaesa, MPH, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Science