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Darwin's Illness$
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Ralph Colp Jr.

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780813032313

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813032313.001.0001

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The Theory of Dysfunction of the Immune System

The Theory of Dysfunction of the Immune System

(p.161) 26 The Theory of Dysfunction of the Immune System
Darwin's Illness

Ralph Colp Jr. M.D.

University Press of Florida

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

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