Thursday, October 16, 2014

[book] Missing Microbes

Another fantastic book, by Martin Blaser, professor of microbiology at NYU: Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues.

Microbes, a word that refers to microscopic lifeforms like bacteria, archaea, and viruses have been around way longer than anything else, and show far more variety than any visible life. If you imagine a circular clock face representing the degrees of microbiological difference between various life forms, humans and corn plants would be separated by only a single degree — the rest of the clock is an unimaginable variety of life, so different from us and inhabiting every nook and cranny on earth, from the radioactive sludge inside a dark nuclear plant to high in the atmosphere. Life is everywhere, and almost all of it is microbial. But as ubiquitous and resilient as these microbes are, many of those that matter most to humans have been under attack for the past century because of antibiotics, and the resulting changes may be the root cause of many modern afflictions, from obesity to autism to diabetes to cancer.

Here are just a few of the facts you’ll learn in this book:

  • Specialized lab mice that are raised germ-free may appear outwardly normal, but their blood contains only 52 out of the 4200 compounds found in normal mice. The implication is that microbes in the gut and skin generate many thousands of chemicals — vitamins, hormones, and more-- that are important for life.
  • Gut microbes produce a native compound similar to valium, normally cleared out by the liver. End-stage cancer patients often slip into a valium-induced coma when their livers fail.
  • Veridans streptococci usually live harmlessly in the mouth and serve to prevent Step A infections by simply crowding out other bacteria. But when they get into the heart, they are the major cause of heart valve infections.
  • The FDA doesn’t require labeling for products (like milk or organic apples) that contain less than 50mg of tetracycline. That seems like a trivial amount, with no possible affect on your health, but the dosages add up: drink milk every day and you have ingested a noticeable amount after a week.
  • Your gut bacteria produce 80% of the serotonin your brain uses to remain calm and promote good sleep. There are certainly many other examples of important hormones produced, not by the body, but by microbes.
Many, many more facts and ideas, well worth reading.  Highly recommended.