Healthy Microbes: An Endangered Species?

Americans have already lost one third of our healthy microbes.

The critical role that healthy microbes play in good health are becoming apparent in everything from autism to obesity. A week doesn’t pass without new research indicating yet another critical issue linked to the lack of healthy microbes. The New York Times calls our big win over microbes in the 20th century the peril of the 21st. The Times reported on “Missing Microbes,” a book by NYU’s School of Medicine professor Dr. Blaser:

“Parts of Dr. Blaser’s argument are familiar, such as the story of Clostridium difficile colitis, an increasingly common cause of diarrhea. This condition arises most often when a course of antibiotics skews the normal microbial population of the gut to favor a single toxin-producing organism. Sometimes yet more antibiotics will restore normal intestinal function. But sometimes no treatment works — nothing but infusing feces full of normal bacteria into the ailing intestines, a last-ditch strategy that has proved stunningly successful. Without it, otherwise perfectly healthy people can die.”

Slate Magazine reported that the FDA approved the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in healthy livestock in the early 1950s. By the 1960s, the author explained, medical authorities started noticing a rise in antibiotic-resistant infections. While antibiotic resistance was foreseen not long after their invention, few ever expected that one day, researchers would be worrying about the extinction of healthy human microbes. No one was aware of the imperative role these microbes played in our overall health and the health of our eco-system. For example, H. pylori was once considered a bad bacteria that simply caused ulcers and shouldn’t be in human systems and doctors tried to eradicate it. With greater research, losing this microbe appears to be linked to a rise in acid reflux, asthma, allergies, and celiac disease. It was once a part of almost everyone’s microbe mix. Now, only 6 percent of American children born after 1995 have this important microbe.

Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, associate professor of medicine at NYU, told PBS that in America, humans have lost a third of the microbes we carried with us before the invention of antibiotics, santizers, antibacterial soaps, and other microbe killing advancements. Dr. Jennifer Gardy, Senior Scientist at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, is trying to stop the extinction of healthy microbes, Canada.com reported. Dr. Gardy wrote a new youth book, published this year, called It’s Catching: The Infectious World of Germs and Microbes. “Really my goal became to get kids interested in and aware of microbes, our relationship with them, but kind of a bigger picture of that,” Gardy said. “I guess my goal is creating good microbial citizens for the future.” According to GPB News, fecal microbe transplants are already saving lives, but microbe transplants are being considered in other areas too. Novel treatments involve healthy ear microbe transplants and healthy gum microbe transplants.