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Are we killing our bacteria friends?

Missing MicrobesFull disclosure – in my youth I found Paul de Kruif’s book, Microbe Hunters, one of the most captivity books and for awhile considered becoming a pathologist. I eventually was captured by the electronic technology bug but never lost an interest in our invisible biology. This is important for Martin Blaser’s new book, Missing Microbes. If you are a germophobe or squeamish about the fact that we are colonized by billions of bacteria in every crevice of our body, inside and out, then this book isn’t really for you.
However, if you are concerned about what may be happening to our bacterial ecosystem through the extensive and inappropriate use (Blaser position) of antibiotics in our food and as medical treatments; then you will find Missing Microbes compelling book.
Blaser starts off modestly with some personnel history and evolutionary history of homo sapiens along with our bacterial brethren. The human microbiome that consists of 10 times more cells than our entire body and weighs a staggering 3 lbs! Blaser describes the rise of pathogens and our response with the creation of “wonder drugs”, antibiotics.
Much of the book addresses our gut bacteria, H. pylori. H. pylori is the cause of ulcers and contributes to stomach cancer but also has therapeutic benefits!
The book’s main theme is our use/over use of antibiotics in modern life and the implications for human health. For example, in our food, livestock are given large doses of subtherapeutic antibiotics for rapid weight gain. If this treatment works for livestock does it have a similar effect in us? Does ingesting these antibiotics in our food supply (use in the EU is band) affect our microbiome?
I found Blaser’s description of the relationship between a mother’s microbiome and the birth process one of the most interesting discussions. Blaser roundly condemns elective C-section births and post natal antibiotic treatments as endangering babies for life of health complications.
Much of the book addresses our gut bacteria, H. pylori. H. pylori is the cause of ulcers and contributes to stomach cancer but also has therapeutic benefits!
Blasser even addresses heartburn and acid reflux (GERD). Isn’t it fundamentally plausible that if we are impacting our microbiome with antibiotic use then there would be a price to pay in our digestive processes?
In summary, Martin Blaser has laid out sound arguments based on his own studies (and others) that our indiscriminate use of antibiotics is contributing to many of modern maladies. The reader is cautioned however that Blaser does freely speculate and frequently extrapolates to more general conclusions than is supported by current data. In his defense, however, Blaser does indicate his opinion or the need for further investigations in these cases. It is left to the reader to carefully note these author speculations.

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