I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Tracing one scientist’s journey toward understanding the crucial importance of the microbiome, this revolutionary book will take readers to the forefront of trail-blazing research while revealing the damage that overuse of antibiotics is doing to our health: contributing to the rise of obesity, asthma, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer. In Missing Microbes, Dr. Martin Blaser invites us into the wilds of the human microbiome where for hundreds of thousands of years bacterial and human cells have existed in a peaceful symbiosis that is responsible for the health and equilibrium of our body. Now, this invisible eden is being irrevocably damaged by some of our most revered medical advances—antibiotics—threatening the extinction of our irreplaceable microbes with terrible health consequences. Taking us into both the lab and deep into the fields where these troubling effects can be witnessed firsthand, Blaser not only provides cutting edge evidence for the adverse effects of antibiotics, he tells us what we can do to avoid even more catastrophic health problems in the future.
I've been doing a lot of research lately about the inner biome of the human being--all the micro-organisms which share space with us and help to keep us healthy. This book distills a great deal of that information into one coherent volume, which is great.
We have more bacterial cells in and on us than we have body cells. They help us with digestion, hormonal regulation, and immune responses. Without them, we would be hooped. Evidence is accumulating that the use of antibiotics has drastically changed our inner landscape, wiping out some friendly bacteria which help us to live a more healthy life--we can perhaps blame celiac disease, food allergies, and asthma on changes in our gut bacteria.
You know that an author is seriously devoted when he is excited that anthropologists have found a group of South American indigenous people who have never encountered Western medicine and is thrilled to get fecal samples from them! To see a natural intestinal fauna which antibiotics have never decimated.
Like many authors with a relentless focus, Blaser is on a bit of a soap box. Doctors have been giving out antibiotics "just in case" and considering that they do no harm. He discusses antibiotic resistant infections and the real danger that we will soon have no treatments that work on diseases that we thought we had under control.
I was hoping for advice on what the average person could do to cultivate their garden, so to speak, but didn't find many suggestions, besides not pressuring your doctor to give you a prescription for every cold or cough that presents itself. I've been taking a probiotic supplement, which Blaser says is probably not harmful, but no one has proven that the organisms in the supplements are helpful ones either.
But this is a hot area of research, so I plan to stay tuned!