Dr. Martin Blaser is no quack. The former chairman of medicine at NYU and former president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America is now the director of NYU”s Human Microbiome Project.
Dr. Blaser is an expert, perhaps the expert, on the human microbiome, which is the unique and largely undiscovered population of bacteria and microbes that inhabit our bodies.
Until only recently, very little was known about the effects these microorganisms had on our health and their necessity to our survival. Dr. Blaser, who, along with his wife, has been studying the complex systems of bacteria in and on the human body for about 30 years, now theorizes that imbalances and extinctions in the human microbiome are what is making our society so sick.
In his new book Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics is Fueling Our Modern Plagues, Dr. Martin Blaser explains in detail the complex and delicate symbiosis between the human body and its family of fungi, bacteria, viruses and numerous microorganisms. For 150 million years, we evolved to depend on our microbiome, but according to Dr. Blaser, the discovery of antibiotics and their subsequent overuse and misuse has knocked our systems dangerously off-balance. Some strains of necessary bacteria have been rendered permanently extinct in our bodies with dire consequences that we are only now discovering.
Anyone with school aged children knows that childhood is a lot different than it used to be. Classrooms are filled with children who suffer from debilitating and sometimes deadly allergies. Learning disabilities, birth defects and autism spectrum disorders, along with asthma, obesity and autoimmune disorders are sky-rocketing. It”s not just children who are ill. Adults too are stricken with conditions and diseases that were once rare and the current generation is now said to have a predicted shorter life-span than their parents.
We live in a society with plenty of food, the miracles of modern medicine and knowledge about health and wellness previously unheard of, so why are we sicker than ever? It simply makes no sense.
Unless you read Dr. Blaser”s book and suddenly, it all becomes obvious. With the best intentions, our doctors have inadvertently disrupted the human microbiome with antibiotics and the over-use of C-sections in the birth process (babies populate their microbiomes when they pass through the birth canal). Our food industry has helped fuel further damage and the result is millions of people with severely out of whack immune systems and children born with bodies unable to function properly in their environments.
The current situation Dr. Blaser illustrates in Missing Microbes is mind-blowing, scary and dire, but not hopeless. Extensive research is being done and the strains of bacteria that live within us are finally being identified along with the roles they play in our bodies. We are finally learning that antibiotics and C-sections may be too much of a sometimes good thing. Further research is discovering ways of repopulating the missing bacteria to our microbiome, replacing what has been lost. As we gain more knowledge on the subject and more people start paying attention, we will hopefully figure out ways to rebalance our disrupted systems.
Missing Microbes is definitely one of the most important and well-informed books about our society”s health ever written. For anyone who wants to learn about the complexities of our miraculous bodies and the microorganisms they house, this is a must-read, as frightening as some of it may be. This fascinating book should be required reading for everyone in the medical profession.
For more information about this book, read this article and listen to Dr. Blaser’s recent interview on NPR’s Fresh Air.
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Editorial Apprentice: Lauren Savory / Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons