A growing number of scientists are starting to agree that we need to lay down our arms in the war against germs. After all, we have up to 100 species of bacteria living in our mouths from day-to-day–and that’s actually a good thing.
The New York Times reports that Julie Segre, a senior investigator at the National Human Genome Research Institute, stated that:
“I would like to lose the language of warfare. It does a disservice to all the bacteria that have co-evolved with us and are maintaining the health of our bodies.”
After hearing for centuries that bacteria are bad for us, and waging war on them with antibiotics, this new approach may seem outlandish, especially to those of us who carry a handy bottle of Purel in our purse and antibacterial wipes in our cars.
Now Dr. Segre and like-minded scientists are calling for us to put down those antibiotics and instead learn a new approach–medical ecology. This means that, instead of slaughtering all bacteria in our systems, we need to learn how to be microbial wildlife managers.
The Herald Tribune notes that the majority of us will be reluctant to abandon antibiotics completely, and these scientist are not asking you to–yet. Instead, they want to focus on nurturing the invisible ecosystem in and on our bodies. They also want to study them, hoping to find other ways to fight infections diseases with less harmful side effects (think about taking a pill to fight an infection that has no side effects).
Michael A. Fischbach, a microbiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, and an author of a medical ecology manifesto published this month in the journal Science Translational Medicine states, “I cannot wait for this to become a big area of science.”
And it seems like Fischbach may soon see this wish come true, especially with studies like one done in March by Dr. Richard S. Blumberg of Harvard. The New York Times reports that Blumberg and his colleagues reared mice with no microbiome. The mice developed abnormally high levels of immune cells (invariant natural killer T cells) in their gut and lungs.
When these cells work properly, they trigger a swift response from the immune system against viruses and pathogens. Instead, Blumberg’s mice saw the T cells cause harmful inflammation. As a result, the adult mice were more likely to suffer from asthma and inflammatory bowel disease.
Dr. Blumberg and his colleagues did find that they could prevent the mice from becoming sick by giving them bacteria while they were young, but that acquiring the microbiome as adults did not help them.
Blumberg, as well as his associates with the Human Microbiome Project, believe that adding good bacteria, instead of killing all bacteria, can often be more effective, according to Newser. One researcher stated that, “People are starting to take this seriously. This is a therapy that’s going to help a lot of people.”
Knowing this, how likely are you to throw out the Purel and antibacterial wipes in favor of things like probiotics to fight of germs?
Check out more information about good bacteria and bad bacteria here: