New Book Highlights “Missing Microbes”
Can the overuse of antibiotics also be related to the increase in asthma, celiac disease and allergies? Dr. Martin Blaser, director of the Human Microbiome Program at New York University believes so. “Besides aiding the rise of superbugs, excess consumption of these medications may be changing and in some cases devastating our helpful bacteria and contributing to changes in our metabolism and immune system,” he says in his new book, Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues.
NYU Doctor Looks to Our Bacteria for Allergy Explanations
October 22nd, 2014
By Kristen Stewart
What if the hygiene hypothesis to explain the rise in allergies and asthma is all wrong?
That is just one of the interesting new ideas proposed by Dr. Martin Blaser, director of the Human Microbiome Program at NYU, in his book Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues.
After studying the role of bacteria in human disease for over 30 years, Dr. Blaser has discovered a startling new way to look at both the health of our bodies and commonly accepted treatments and how they may be affecting us.
For hundreds of thousands of years bacterial and human cells have existed in a peaceful symbiosis that is responsible for the equilibrium and health of our bodies. Now this invisible Eden is under assault from our overreliance on medical advances including antibiotics and Caesarian sections, threatening the extinction of our irreplaceable microbes and leading to severe health consequences.
Take the hygiene hypothesis for example. This well-circulated explanation for the swell in childhood allergy numbers focuses on the idea that our environment may be too clean and the lack of exposure to microorganisms may be affecting the development of the immune system.
Dr. Blaser, however, argues it is not so much the external environment that is affecting us but a change in our internal world or microbiome.
Gazillions of bacteria are all around us—on our skin and in our mouths, ears, noses and guts — working to keep us healthy. Unfortunately some of what we believe to be advanced medical science may actually be undercutting the bacteria’s efforts and putting us at risk for a host of health-related problems including allergies, asthma and celiac disease.
Extensive prescribing of antibiotics is one example of this. Besides aiding the rise of superbugs, excess consumption of these medications may be changing and in some cases devastating our helpful bacteria and contributing to changes in our metabolism and immune system.
The increasing use of cesarean sections is another. “These aseptic procedures prevent newborns from acquiring their mothers’ organisms through the birth canal, possibly setting them up for a lifetime of trouble, with higher than normal risks of a range of immune-related problems,” writes Dr. Abigail Zuger in her New York Times review of the book.
So what’s the answer?
Moderation—and the recognition that everything we do has an effect.
“Both antibiotics and C-sections are sometimes vital—absolutely necessary,” says Dr. Blaser. “But both are overused. Doctors must learn to be more judicious in this as they are in other countries and patients should not be demanding these. They all have cost. Nothing is biologically free.”
The bottom line is we all need to readjust how we act today and how we think about tomorrow. Dr. Blaser believes in the future we may be able to test for and replace missing microbes thereby reducing many of our modern ailments.
Now that would be a medical breakthrough!
Dr. Martin Blaser has studied the role of bacteria in human disease for over 30 years. He is the director of the Human Microbiome Program at NYU. He founded the Bellevue Literary Review and has been written about in newspapers including The New Yorker, Nature, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. His more than 100 media appearances include The Today Show, GMA, NPR, the BBC, The O’Reilly Factor, and CNN. He lives in New York City.