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Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues

Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues

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Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues

4.5/5 (8 valutazioni)
382 pagine
7 ore
Apr 8, 2014


Written by Scribd Editors

Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues is an eye-opening book where Martin J. Blaser, MD, invites readers into the wilds of the human microbiome.

For hundreds of thousands of years, bacterial and human cells have existed in peace and equilibrium. Now, an overreliance on antibiotics and other medical advances is threatening extinction to vital and irreplaceable microbes. This change is causing an increase in obesity, asthma, diabetes, and some forms of cancer.

Chapters in this book include:

  • Modern Plagues
  • Our Microbial Planet
  • The Human Microbiome
  • The Rise of Pathogens
  • The Wonder Drugs
  • And more

In Missing Microbes, readers join Dr. Martin J. Blaser in his lab to review his groundbreaking studies. Learn about his theories, the research and support behind them, and his recommendations for avoiding catastrophic health problems in the future.

By distilling his research into a single, accessible, and easy-to-read book, Dr. Blaser offers an important message to people in the medical profession, students, and everyday people who want to take charge of their health.

Apr 8, 2014

Informazioni sull'autore

Dr. Martin Blaser has studied the role of bacteria in human disease for over 30 years. He is the director of the Human Microbiome Program at NYU. He founded the Bellevue Literary Review and has been written about in newspapers including The New Yorker, Nature, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. His more than 100 media appearances include The Today Show, GMA, NPR, the BBC, The O’Reilly Factor, and CNN. He lives in New York City.

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Missing Microbes - Martin J. Blaser, MD

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To my children, and to future children with a bright future


Title Page

Copyright Notice



1. Modern Plagues

2. Our Microbial Planet

3. The Human Microbiome

4. The Rise of Pathogens

5. The Wonder Drugs

6. The Overuse of Antibiotics

7. The Modern Farmer

8. Mother and Child

9. A Forgotten World

10. Heartburn

11. Trouble Breathing

12. Taller

13.  … and Fatter

14. Modern Plagues Revisited

15. Antibiotic Winter

16. Solutions





About the Author


We live in the Age of Bacteria (as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, until the world ends)…

—STEPHEN JAY GOULD, Cambridge, MA, 1993



I never knew two of my father’s sisters. In the little town where they were born, early in the last century, they didn’t see their second birthdays. They had high fevers, and I am not sure what else. The situation was so dire that my grandfather went to the prayer house and changed his daughters’ names to fool the angel of death. He did this for each girl. It did no good.

In 1850, one in four American babies died before his or her first birthday. Lethal epidemics swept through crowded cities, as people were packed into dark, dirty rooms with fetid air and no running water. Familiar scourges included cholera, pneumonia, scarlet fever, diphtheria, whooping cough, tuberculosis, and smallpox.

Today, only six in every thousand infants in the United States are expected to die before age one—a remarkable improvement. Over the past century and a half, our nation and other countries in the developed world have been getting healthier. Chalk it up to improved sanitation, rat control, clean drinking water, pasteurized milk, childhood vaccinations, modern medical procedures including anesthesia, and, of course, nearly seventy years of antibiotics.

In today’s world, children grow up without the deformed bones caused by lack of vitamin D or cloudy sinuses from infections. Nearly all women survive childbirth. Eighty-year-olds, once consigned to the veranda, are swatting tennis balls, often with the help of a metal hip joint.

Yet recently, just within the past few decades, amid all of these medical advances, something has gone terribly wrong. In many different ways we appear to be getting sicker. You can see the headlines every day. We are suffering from a mysterious array of what I call modern plagues: obesity, childhood diabetes, asthma, hay fever, food allergies, esophageal reflux and cancer, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, autism, eczema. In all likelihood you or someone in your family or someone you know is afflicted. Unlike most lethal plagues of the past that struck relatively fast and hard, these are chronic conditions that diminish and degrade their victims’ quality of life for decades.

The most visible of these plagues is obesity, defined in terms of the body mass index (BMI), which expresses the relationship between a person’s height and weight. People of healthy weight have a BMI between 20 and 25. Those whose BMI is between 25 and 30 are overweight. Everyone with a BMI over 30 is obese. Barack Obama has a BMI of about 23. The BMIs of most U.S. presidents have been under 27, except for that of William Howard Taft, who once got stuck in the White House bathtub. He had a BMI of 42.

In 1990, about 12 percent of Americans were obese. By 2010, the national average was above 30 percent. Next time you go to an airport terminal, supermarket, or mall, look around and see for yourself. The obesity epidemic is not just a U.S. problem; it’s global. As of 2008, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1.5 billion adults were overweight; of these, over 200 million men and nearly 300 million women qualified as obese. Many of these people live in developing countries that we associate more with famine than with overeating.

These figures are alarming, but the really shocking fact is that this accumulation of global human body fat has been accelerating not over the course of a few centuries but in a mere two decades. Yet fat- and sugar-rich foods, so often blamed for all the extra pounds, have been ubiquitous for a good deal longer than that, at least in the developed world, and the new generations of overweight people in the third world have not suddenly adopted a Kentucky-fried American-style diet. Epidemiologic studies have shown that high caloric intake, while definitely not helpful, is not sufficient to explain the distribution or course of the worldwide obesity epidemic.

At the same time, the autoimmune form of diabetes that begins in childhood and requires insulin injections (juvenile or Type 1 diabetes) has been doubling in incidence about every twenty years across the industrialized world. In Finland, where record keeping is meticulous, the incidence has risen 550 percent since 1950. This increase is not because we are detecting Type 1 diabetes more readily. Before insulin was discovered in the 1920s, the disease was always fatal. Nowadays, with adequate treatment, most children survive. But the disease itself has not changed; something in us has changed. Type 1 diabetes is also striking younger children. The average age of diagnosis used to be about nine. Now it is around six, and some children are becoming diabetic when they are three.

The recent rise in asthma, a chronic inflammation of the airways, is similarly alarming. One in twelve people (about 25 million or 8 percent of the U.S. population) had asthma in 2009, compared with one in fourteen a decade earlier. Ten percent of American children suffer wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing; black children have it worst: one in six has the disease. Their rate increased by 50 percent from 2001 through 2009. But the rise in asthma has not spared any ethnicity; the rates were initially different in various groups, and all have been rising.

Asthma is often triggered by something in the environment such as tobacco smoke, mold, air pollution, cockroach leavings, colds, and flu. Once an attack begins, asthmatics gasp for air and, without quick medication, are rushed to emergency rooms. Even with the best care, they can die, as did the son of a physician colleague. No economic or social class has been spared.

Food allergies are everywhere. A generation ago, peanut allergies were extremely rare. Now, if you stroll through any preschool, you will see walls plastered with nut-free zone bulletins. More and more children suffer immune responses to proteins in foods, not just in nuts but in milk, eggs, soy, fish, fruits—you name it, someone is allergic to it. Celiac disease, an allergy to gluten, the main protein in wheat flour, is rampant. Ten percent of children suffer from hay fever. Eczema, a chronic skin inflammation, affects more than 15 percent of children and 2 percent of adults in the United States. In industrialized nations, the number of kids with eczema has tripled in the past thirty years.

These disorders suggest that our children are experiencing levels of immune dysfunction never seen before, as well as conditions such as autism, a much discussed and debated modern plague that is a focus of my laboratory. Nor are adults escaping their own share of modern plagues. The incidence of inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, is rising, wherever we look.

When I was a medical student, esophageal reflux, which causes heartburn, was uncommon. But the ailment has exploded in these past forty years, and the cancer it leads to, adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, is the most rapidly increasing cancer in the United States and everywhere else it has been tracked, and is a particularly nasty problem for Caucasian men.

*   *   *

Why are all of these maladies rapidly rising at the same time across the developed world and spilling over into the developing world as it becomes more Westernized? Can it be a mere coincidence? If there are ten of these modern plagues, are there ten separate causes? That seems unlikely.

Or could there be one underlying cause fueling all these parallel increases? A single cause is easier to grasp; it is simpler, more parsimonious. But what cause could be grand enough to encompass asthma, obesity, esophageal reflux, juvenile diabetes, and allergies to specific foods, among all of the others? Eating too many calories could explain obesity but not asthma; many of the children who suffer from asthma are slim. Air pollution could explain asthma but not food allergies.

Many theories have been proposed to explain each disorder: lack of sleep makes you fat; vaccines lead to autism; genetically engineered wheat strains are toxic to the human gut; and so on.

The most popular explanation for the rise in childhood illness is the so-called hygiene hypothesis. The idea is that modern plagues are happening because we have made our world too clean. The result is that our children’s immune systems have become quiescent and are therefore prone to false alarms and friendly fire. A lot of parents these days try to ramp up their kids’ immune systems by exposing them to pets, farm animals, and barnyards or better still by allowing them to eat dirt.

I beg to differ. To me, such exposures are largely irrelevant to our health. The microbes present in dirt have evolved for soil, not for us. The microbes in our pets and farm animals also are not deeply rooted in our human evolution. The hygiene hypothesis, as I will show you, has been misinterpreted.

Rather we need to look closely at the microorganisms that make a living in and on our bodies, massive assemblages of competing and cooperating microbes known collectively as the microbiome. In ecology, biome refers to the sets of plants and animals in a community such as a jungle, forest, or coral reef. An enormous diversity of species, large and small, interact to form complex webs of mutual support. When a keystone species disappears or goes extinct the ecology suffers. It can even collapse.

Each of us hosts a similarly diverse ecology of microbes that has coevolved with our species over millennia. They thrive in the mouth, gut, nasal passages, ear canal, and on the skin. In women, they coat the vagina. The microbes that constitute your microbiome are generally acquired early in life; surprisingly, by the age of three, the populations within children resemble those of adults. Together, they play a critical role in your immunity as well as your ability to combat disease. In short, it is your microbiome that keeps you healthy. And parts of it are disappearing.

The reasons for this disaster are all around you, including overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals, Cesarian sections, and the widespread use of sanitizers and antiseptics, to name just a few. While antibiotic resistance is a huge problem—old killers like tuberculosis are increasingly resistant and making a comeback—there now seem to be separate ones, affecting people with such scourges as Clostridium difficile (C. diff), bacteria of the digestive tract resistant to multiple antibiotics, a potential danger in the hospital, and a spreading pathogen, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which can be acquired anywhere. The selective pressure of antibiotic use is clearly increasing their presence.

But as terrible as these resistant pathogens are, the loss of diversity within our microbiome is far more pernicious. Its loss changes development itself, affecting our metabolism, immunity, and cognition.

I have called this process the disappearing microbiota. It’s a funny term that does not immediately roll off your tongue, but I believe it is correct. For a number of reasons, we are losing our ancient microbes. This quandary is the central theme of this book. The loss of microbial diversity on and within our bodies is exacting a terrible price. I predict it will be worse in the future. Just as the internal combustion engine, the splitting of the atom, and pesticides all have had unanticipated effects, so too does the abuse of antibiotics and other medical or quasi-medical practices (e.g., sanitizer use).

An even worse scenario is headed our way if we don’t change our behavior. It is one so bleak, like a blizzard roaring over a frozen landscape, that I call it antibiotic winter. I don’t want the babies of the future to end up like my poor aunts. That is why I am sounding an alarm.

*   *   *

My personal journey toward the realization that our friendly microbes are in trouble began on July 9, 1977. I remember the date because it was the first time I heard the name of a microbe, Campylobacter, that literally set my life’s research into motion. I was a newly minted fellow in infectious diseases at the University of Colorado Medical Center in Denver.

That morning I was asked to see a thirty-three-year-old patient who had come to the hospital a few days earlier. He had been suffering from a high fever and was confused. A spinal tap confirmed that he had meningitis, a serious inflammation of the nervous system. His doctors sent samples of his blood and spinal fluid to the culture lab to determine whether the cause was a bacterial infection and, if so, to find out what kind of bacterium it was. While those tests were pending, they started him on antibiotics anyway because he looked quite ill. They believed that he needed big doses of antibiotics immediately or he would die. They were correct.

The test results revealed a slow-growing bacterium identified as Campylobacter fetus, an organism that no one at the hospital had ever heard of. That’s why I was called. On the job for nine whole days, I was supposed to know the answers.

Campylobacter organisms are a genus of spiral-shaped bacteria. Like that of so many tiny corkscrews, their helical shape helps them penetrate the gelatin-like mucus that lines the gastrointestinal tract. But why the odd species name fetus? (In biology, each organism is identified first by the name of its genus, in this case Campylobacter, and then by its species, in this case fetus. Each genus has many species and subspecies. Humans are Homo sapiens: of the genus Homo and the species sapiens.) Digging into the medical literature, I discovered that the microbe had this strange name because it affected pregnant sheep and cattle, causing them to abort. It rarely infected humans. How our patient got infected was a mystery. He was a city man, a musician.

Once we knew the organism, we tailored an appropriate antibiotic treatment, and the patient recovered in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, I was scheduled to give a talk at a clinical conference and decided I would speak about Campylobacter. What could be better than talking about a rare infection that no one knew anything about? My own ignorance as a novice would go undetected.

In reading more about Campylobacter fetus, I soon learned it has a cousin, Campylobacter jejuni. (The jejunum is part of the small intestine.) The literature, scanty as it was, suggested that people infected by C. fetus usually have bloodstream infections, whereas those invaded by C. jejuni tend to have diarrheal illnesses. Here were two nearly identical organisms with very different effects on the body. Why would one Campylobacter stay trapped in the gut, where it kind of belonged, while the other escaped like a ninja into the bloodstream? I was hooked.

Over the next several years, moving from academia to the Centers for Disease Control and back to academia (University of Colorado and Vanderbilt), I became an expert in C. fetus, my favorite bacterium, and discovered some secrets about its Houdini-like nature.

In this respect, C. fetus played an early role in the evolution of my disappearing microbiome hypothesis by teaching me fundamental lessons about how bacteria can persist in their hosts. Yes, they cause disease but, as I later came to appreciate more fully, there also are bacteria that live in us, using a variety of similar tools to escape our immune system. They usually don’t harm us; rather, they protect us. I learned that bacteria employ countless tricks, honed from millions of years of trial and error, to do their business, which might either help or hurt their hosts, depending on the circumstances. I will discuss this concept in depth.

C. fetus in particular taught me about stealth—how microorganisms acquire means of escaping host defenses. While 99.9 percent of all bacteria, including C. jejuni, are killed by factors found in blood, C. fetus glides into the bloodstream by donning a kind of cloak of invisibility. Even so, it can be trapped by the cells within a heathy liver. But if it is not cleared from the blood in someone with an injured liver (I later learned that the patient whom I’d seen earlier was a severe alcoholic), meningitis can result.

While I was working on C. fetus and C. jejuni in the early 1980s, a new relative of Campylobacter was discovered in, of all places, the stomach. Dubbed gastric campylobacter-like organism or GCLO (we now call it Helicobacter pylori), it turned out to possess a bag of tricks that, in Jekyll and Hyde fashion, can do us harm or protect us from harm. I have been chasing this organism for the past twenty-eight years, for I believe, and hope to prove, that it is the bellwether that can help solve the puzzle of our modern plagues.

My first encounter with that organism occurred in October 1983 at the Second International Workshop on Campylobacter Infections in Brussels, where I met Dr. Barry Marshall, a young doctor from Australia, who had discovered GCLO and claimed it caused gastritis and ulcers. No one believed him. Everyone knew that ulcers were caused by stress and excess stomach acid. I, too, was skeptical. I could easily see that he had discovered a new bacterium but, to me, he didn’t have much evidence then at all about ulcers.

It was only in the next two years, after other scientists had confirmed that there was indeed an association of the microbe with gastritis and ulcer disease, that I decided to see if I could make some contributions to understanding the nature of GCLO (which in 1989 was renamed Helicobacter pylori after genetic analysis revealed it to be in a separate genus from Campylobacter). Their relationship is a bit like that of lions (Panthera leo) and house cats (Felis catus): relatives for sure but far enough apart to be in different genera. My lab developed a blood test for the microbe and showed that if you carry it, your body has natural defenses against it.

To their great credit, Marshall and his research partner, Robin Warren, conducted clinical studies that showed that eradicating H. pylori with antibiotics cured ulcers. Others confirmed and extended their observations. Marshall and Warren went on to win the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for this work.

Meanwhile, physicians everywhere commenced an all-out war against H. pylori by prescribing antibiotics to anyone with gastric discomfort. Their mantra ultimately became "the only good H. pylori is a dead H. pylori." I too had been on this same bandwagon for almost a decade.

But by the mid-1990s, I began to change my mind. Evidence was beginning to suggest that H. pylori is a member of our normal gut flora and plays a critical role in our health. It was only when I let go of the dogma proclaiming that gastritis is bad that I was able to re-evaluate the biology of H. pylori. Yes, H. pylori can be very harmful to some adults, but later we found that it may be very beneficial to many of our children. Eliminating it may be causing more harm than good. The details of my transition and the reasons for it are laid out in chapters 9, 10, and 11.

In 2000 I moved to New York University and set up a laboratory dedicated to studying how this ancient bacterium did its business in our stomach and what were the consequences to us. Over the following fourteen years, I have accumulated more and more evidence that the disappearance of this venerable microbe might be contributing to our current epidemics. And H. pylori led me to a broader study: the human microbiome itself.

These days my lab is bustling. We are currently working on more than twenty projects, looking at how antibiotics affect resident microbes and their hosts, in both mice and humans. In a typical animal experiment, we give mice antibiotics in their drinking water and compare them to mice that do not get the medication. We start very early in life, sometimes just before birth, and then we let the mice grow, studying how fat they become, how their livers are working, how immunity is developing in their gut, how their bones are growing, and what happens to their hormones and to their brains.

To us, the work is exciting, because in each of those areas we can see changes induced by early-life exposure to antibiotics. We have realized that early life is a key window of vulnerability. Young children have critical periods for their growth, and our experiments are showing that the loss of friendly gut bacteria at this early stage of development is driving obesity, at least in mice. We are just beginning studies on social development and celiac disease. We have many ideas for how we can apply our findings from mouse studies to humans. Ultimately, we seek to reverse the damage seen in people around the world, including establishing strategies for restoring the missing microbes. A key step in all of our approaches is to reduce the overuse of antibiotics in our children, starting now.

My odyssey over the nearly thirty-seven years since I saw that ill man in his hospital bed shivering with fever has convinced me that I am at the most critical stage of my own career. The years of working as a doctor specializing in infectious diseases and conducting scientific experiments have given me important perspectives about our modern plagues. I did not anticipate this direction when I was just starting out. But, like a series of transports, the work has carried me across the plains, mountains, and oceans of scientific medical research. It has led to new concepts about our changing modern life that I now want to share with you. The plagues today differ from those that affected my father’s sisters, but they are deadly as well.



Our planet began as a lifeless sphere of molten rock about 4.5 billion years ago. But a billion years later, its oceans were teeming with free-living cells. Somehow, in ways still opaque to science, life arose in those primordial seas. Some say the first building blocks arrived as dust falling from outer space, the so-called panspermia hypothesis. Others argue that self-replicating molecules coalesced in clay deposits at the bottom of the ocean, in hot hydrothermal vents or in foamy bubbles created from waves breaking on the shores. We still don’t have an explanation for how it all began.

Nevertheless, we have some pretty basic ideas of how life operates, how simple rules give rise to complexity, and how the richness of our planet’s diversity came into being. All of biology—the ratcheting of life—rests on the enduring principles of evolution, competition, and cooperation first forged in those oceans.

We live on a microbial planet that is totally dominated by forms of life too small to be seen by the naked eye. For about 3 billion years, bacteria were the sole living inhabitants on Earth. They occupied every tranche of land, air, and water, driving chemical reactions that created the biosphere, and set conditions for the evolution of multicellular life. They made the oxygen we breathe, the soils we till, the food webs that support our oceans. Slowly, inexorably, through trial and error across the deepness of time, they invented the complex and robust feedback systems that to this day support all life on Earth.

It’s difficult for the human mind to grasp the concept of deep time, of billions of years of microbial activity churning inorganic matter into the stuff of life. It is a concept emanating from geology, from our understanding of how continents formed, drifted, broke apart, crashed into one another, built mountain ranges and eroded them away with wind and rain over billions of years. And yet the bacteria were here long before even the giant supercontinents, Laurasia and Gondwana, which go back a half billion years or so and from which our present continents have descended.

John McPhee in his classic book Basin and Range, collected in Annals of the Former World, captures our place in this vast chronology with a wonderful analogy: Consider the earth’s history as the old measure of the English yard, the distance from the king’s nose to the tip of his outstretched hand. One stroke of a nail file on his middle finger erases human history.

Or consider another comparison. If 3.7 billion years of life on Earth were compressed into a twenty-four-hour clock, our hominid ancestors would have appeared 47–96 seconds before midnight. Our species, Homo sapiens, arrived on the scene 2 seconds before midnight.

But there is another mind-boggling concept needed to appreciate the vastness of our microbial world. Microbes are invisible to our naked eye, with a few exceptions that reinforce the rule. Millions can fit into the eye of a needle. But if you were to gather them all up, not only would they outnumber all the mice, whales, humans, birds, insects, worms, and trees combined—indeed all of the visible life-forms we are familiar with on Earth—they would outweigh them as well. Think about that for a moment. Invisible microbes comprise the sheer bulk of the Earth’s biomass, more than the mammals and reptiles, all the fish in the sea, the forests.

Without microbes, we could not eat or breathe. Without us, nearly all microbes would do just fine.

The term microbe refers to several types of organisms. In this book, I will be talking mostly about the domain of bacteria, also called prokaryotes, single-cell organisms that lack a nucleus. But that doesn’t mean they are primitive. Bacterial cells are complete, self-contained beings: they can breathe, move, eat, eliminate wastes, defend against enemies, and, most important, reproduce. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some look like balls, carrots, boomerangs, commas, snakes, bricks, even tripods. All are exquisitely adapted for how they make a living in this world, including those, as I’ll elaborate in the next chapter, that thrive on and within our bodies. When they go AWOL, we are in trouble.

Another microbial domain, called archaea, superficially resemble bacteria but, as their name suggests, they are a very old, very deep branch of the tree of life with different genetics and biochemistry and an independent evolutionary history. Originally found in extreme environments, such as hot springs and salt lakes, archaea actually may be found in many niches, including the human gut and belly button.

The third branch of microbial life is composed of eukaryotes, single cells with a nucleus and other organelles that provide the building blocks for more complex, multicellular forms of life. Over the last 600 million years, eukaryotes have given rise to insects, fish, plants, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals—all the big life from ants to redwoods that you can see around you. However, some primitive eukaryotes are lumped in with microbes, including fungi, primitive algae, some amoebae, and slime molds.

Here is another kind of scale. Everyone is familiar with a family tree. Your ancestors are lined up by generation with the oldest

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  • (4/5)
    Missing Microbes explains that bacteria is not always a pathogen (disease causing). Beneficial bacteria are not only helpful but an essential component of the biosphere. While antibiotics are the key to treating infections, overuse in medicine and farming is producing drug resistance in microbes and could be responsible for other chronic health problems in humans.Dr. Blaser's medical background in research and credentials carry a lot of weight in making this a rational and acceptable book. Any of his statements are backed up with studies and not merely his opinion. And he offers solutions to this problem. Have the federal government ban animal feed laced with antibiotics and educate patents on the dangers of prescribing antibiotics for minor infections such as colds/flu symptoms.I like that the author takes a holistic approach to medicine. He offers compelling reasons why Caesarian sections are bad for a newborns immune system. And why a normal and balanced gut flora is needed for proper digestive health. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about infectious diseases and the field of medicine.
  • (4/5)
    The title 'Missing Microbes' and the subtitle implied that the book was going to look at antibiotic resistant in general terms. However, the bulk of the book was about Dr. Blaser's research into H. pylori and its apparent connection to acid re flux, obesity, and asthma. In this case the book provided an interesting and thorough explanation of these relationships. It was not until the end of the book antibiotic resistance discussed in more broad situations. A good book, just not what I expected.
  • (3/5)
    A rather short book of just 200 pages on an important issue on the overuseof antibiotics.
  • (5/5)
    This book looks at the harm that is being done to the human body by modern medicine, especially by the overuse of antibiotics, one of the greatest health discoveries of the last century.First of all, if a person is suffering from some major ailment, and antibiotics have been shown to work in the past, then don't hesitate to take them. But, taking antibiotics for every sniffle and sore throat is a terrible idea. Penicillin, for instance, is a broad-spectrum antibiotic. That means that it does not just kill the "bad" bacteria, it also kills beneficial bacteria (yes, there is such a thing). Out of, say, a million cold germs, at least one will be resistant to penicillin. With the "good" bacteria, that may have neutralized all of those cold germs, out of the way, that penicillin-resistant germ is now free to multiply without restrictions. Maybe it turns into penicillin-resistant flu, or even worse, pneumonia. What does the person do now?According to the author, overuse of antibiotics starts in early childhood. A baby spends nine months in a sterile environment before being born. It's first exposure to beneficial bacteria and microbes comes from going through the mother's birth canal. Wiping babies clean, as soon as they are born, while understandable, is a bad idea. Taking a baby by caesarian section, purely for convenience, totally bypassing the birth canal, is an even worse idea (if the life of the mother or the baby is in danger, then, by all means, do a c-section).Nearly all types of farm animals are fed antibiotics to keep them healthy, or fatten them up for slaughter. Some portion of those antibiotics will end up in the milk you drink, or the meat you eat. The lack of "good", disease-fighting, bacteria in the human body may be behind the recent huge rise in allergies, digestive diseases, asthma or some types of cancer.This is a huge eye-opener, and it will give the reader plenty to consider. It is very highly recommended for everyone.
  • (4/5)
    The argument that antibiotics are overused in today's America should be widely accepted. Sadly, it is not. Dr. Blaser presents multiple chapters outlining the various ways we are tampering with our microbes that are harmful. He also provides a basic outline on the good antibiotics have done and how they can be used judiciously. Every American should be interested in this topic, but I cannot see there being a wide audience for this book. Most who need to be educated on this subject will not take the time to dive intro such a detailed tome. At times I found it difficult to follow. This was especially true in the chapters on H. Pylori - pro and con. The author was starting to confuse me.Easier to understand for the lay audience were the chapters on the widespread and damaging use of antibiotics in animals at sub-clinical doses. He also provides good thinking material in the chapter on C-Sections and the differences in accepted medical practices in Europe vs. the United States.I found his concluding chapter to be the most useful for the average reader. He outlines concrete steps that can be taken by individuals, scientists, the medical community and governmental agencies. (The first I would like to see if the outright ban on the use of antibiotics in animals except to treat illness.)
  • (5/5)
    A relaxed easy read, with a well crafted development supporting you all the way into unknown territory. This is a seminal book that you really must read, your view of life, of your body and how you care for it will change. There will be no going back. Once you get your mind around the ancestry, diversity and sheer mass of bacteria then the next step of understanding that it we that are parasites living in a bacterial world becomes easier. Parasites that some bacteria have evolved to encourage and support, defending their host from all the pathogens out there. All the time Martin Blaser draws on his life experiences to illustrate, illuminate and lead us forward. Experiences founded in leading edge bacteria researches. This could so easily be a heavy academic book but it is not. Running against the accepted medical doctrine never wins friends or converts. Yet we get to see and understand the inevitability of his line of reasoning. Why then is this new insight not widely accepted? If I have a criticism it would be just that, the absence of the counter argument, any exploration of alternatives. A one sided argument is begging the question, what are the other explanations? But then this is a book aimed at the casual reader so must not confuse.With such an important new view of human biology, some tub thumping is forgivable. As is muted railings against fellow academia who fail to see the significance of the insight his research has proven. The offered final conclusions seem weak and limp, particularly as they were all so many times pre-trailed. Martin Blaser's research into the biology of the stomach may have narrowed his focus. I have no doubt at all that with his insight into the significance of bacteria in the regulation of the health and well-being of our bodies, whole new areas of primary significance are going to emerge. Make no mistakes, this is an important book. Read it and change your view on life and health.
  • (5/5)
    A book with critical and far-reaching implications for health and wellnes.We have an extreme environmental crisis happening right under our noses - literally. Author Martin J Blaser is sounding the clarion call that something drastic and detrimental is happening to the microbal population of the human gut. Dr. Blaser has made his life's work the study of the microbes and their effect on human health particularily in regards to the human digestive system. He began to notice a trend of microbal die-off, in some cases so drastic that whole species were in danger of becoming extinct. Along with this trend he also noticed the increase of modern illnesses such as diabetes, asthma and obesity. Could the two be related? Dr. Blaser's research gives a strong argument that the answer is Yes. Having extensively studied the H. plyori microbe (implicated in the causation of ulcers) Dr. Blaser discovered that this microbe can switch from causing illness to becoming immune enhancing depending on it's environment; an environment that has been undergoing fundemental changes from a combination of assaults including extensive antibiotic use, modern medical practices and sweeping changes in the food system. These changes have either destroyed beneficial microbes along with harmful ones or have had the effect of not 'seeding' the gut with the beneficial microbes that are necessary to proper function. Dr. Blaser alerts us to what is happening and how to either minimize or reverse this damage.I will go out on a limb and say that is is possibly the most important health related topic of our times and this book explains and clarifies this issue perfectly. Calling this book the SILENT SPRING of the microbal world would not be an exaggeration. While the information is complicated, Dr. Blaser makes it completely accessable and clear. The methodical stating of his case of how severe this problem truly is leads to the final chapter of solution suggestions. Implementing these solutions would require a sea-change of attitude as it would challenge many firmly intrenched ideas and protocols plus, in some cases, there is a strong disgust factor (I will leaveit to you to discover the details of that yourself - just remember it is gut bacteria that is being discussed). Important book, critical topic - recommmended for anyone who cares about health and human survival.
  • (5/5)
    A fascinating book that links the overuse of antibiotics to the astronomical rise of such chronic health problems as obesity, asthma, diabetes, celiac and Crohn’s diseases, food allergies, and possibly even autism. Blaser will even make you think twice about regularly using hand sanitizer. Accessible, engrossing, and convincing.
  • (3/5)
    This book is essentially three parts: The opening, where the author lays out his case; the middle, where he offers the best evidence he can present to support his hypothesis; the closing, where solutions are offered. The quality of each part is very different. When laying out the case, he does a very good job of explaining his thinking. When offering evidence, he lost me a bit - actually, a lot - because the associations and causations don't seem that clear. With the closing, he shines, because the solutions are very practical, implementable, and include a discussion of FMT, which has blown my mind since hearing about it. That actually might ultimately be the best solution. So if he's right about the loss of the key parts of our microbiome, then the solution is very present. Unfortunately, even if he is 100% correct about his findings, it might take a long time to achieve consensus, and lives will be lost or compromised in the interim. He has lots of hard, outreach, PSA, clinical trial work to do, on top of what he's already done. The day is short, and the work is long.
  • (5/5)
    Full disclosure - in my youth I found Paul de Kruif's book, Microbe Hunters, one of the most captivity books and for awhile considered becoming a pathologist. I eventually was captured by the electronic technology bug but never lost an interest in our invisible biology. This is important for Martin Blaser's new book, Missing Microbes. If you are a germophobe or squeamish about the fact that we are colonized by billions of bacteria in every crevice of our body, inside and out, then this book isn't really for you.However, if you are concerned about what may be happening to our bacterial ecosystem through the extensive and inappropriate use (Blaser position) of antibiotics in our food and as medical treatments; then you will find Missing Microbes compelling book.Blaser starts off modestly with some personnel history and evolutionary history of homo sapiens along with our bacterial brethren. The human microbiome that consists of 10 times more cells than our entire body and weighs a staggering 3 lbs! Blaser describes the rise of pathogens and our response with the creation of "wonder drugs", antibiotics.Much of the book addresses our gut bacteria, H. pylori. H. pylori is the cause of ulcers and contributes to stomach cancer but also has therapeutic benefits!The book's main theme is our use/over use of antibiotics in modern life and the implications for human health. For example, in our food, livestock are given large doses of subtherapeutic antibiotics for rapid weight gain. If this treatment works for livestock does it have a similar effect in us? Does ingesting these antibiotics in our food supply (use in the EU is band) affect our microbiome?I found Blaser's description of the relationship between a mother's microbiome and the birth process one of the most interesting discussions. Blaser roundly condemns elective C-section births and post natal antibiotic treatments as endangering babies for life of health complications.Much of the book addresses our gut bacteria, H. pylori. H. pylori is the cause of ulcers and contributes to stomach cancer but also has therapeutic benefits!Blasser even addresses heartburn and acid reflux (GERD). Isn't it fundamentally plausible that if we are impacting our microbiome with antibiotic use then there would be a price to pay in our digestive processes?In summary, Martin Blaser has laid out sound arguments based on his own studies (and others) that our indiscriminate use of antibiotics is contributing to many of modern maladies. The reader is cautioned however that Blaser does freely speculate and frequently extrapolates to more general conclusions than is supported by current data. In his defense, however, Blaser does indicate his opinion or the need for further investigations in these cases. It is left to the reader to carefully note these author speculations.
  • (5/5)

    1 persona l'ha trovata utile

    “Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics is Fueling Our Modern Plagues,” by Martin J. Blaser, is a fascinating—and honestly quite alarming—story of the author’s lifelong quest to study the significance and purpose of the microbes that live in and on our human body. The author’s main focus is on bacteria and what happens when we kill them indiscriminately with broad-spectrum antibiotics, driving many to brink of extinction. The book supports his thesis that our overuse of these antibiotics may be fueling (note: not causing) many of our modern plagues. These plagues include not only common gut diseases such gastroesophageal reflux disease, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis, but also seemingly unrelated ailments such as autism, obesity, type-1 diabetes, hay fever, asthma, food allergies, and eczema. The author demonstrates that the enormous diversity of our microbiome is absolutely essential to our overall health. In particular, the book focuses on the importance of maintaining a diverse microbiome in the early, first few years of life. If the microbiome at that time is assaulted with too many broad-spectrum antibiotics, and significant diversity is lost, it can “fuel” (again, not cause) the possibility that the child may grow up to develop one or more of these modern plagues. He stresses that we must all recognize that our human microbiome forms an important “third arm of our immune system.” We should no longer mess with it indiscriminately. Without diversity in our microbiome, we lay ourselves wide open to a host of modern plagues. Naturally, we must still use antibiotics, but we must learn to use them wisely, with far greater discrimination.The book is designed to be read by interested readers without significant scientific background. The author provides technical background information along the way, as necessary. Overall, the book is scholarly in tone and organization (e.g., there are considerable annotated footnotes), but it is also nicely balanced by many human-interest stories that add a lively social context to the scientific research being discussed and presented. The book always held my interest. I was eager to finish it. I read it slowly, and with much pleasure, over four days. My copy is full of marginal annotations. This is generally a clear sign that I found the book fascinating and enjoyable. And, indeed, I did. For me, this is a very important book and I plan to recommend it to most of my friends. An incredible 99.9 percent of all the unique genes in our body are bacterial, and only about 0.1 percent are human. The author emphasizes that our microbes are not mere passengers in and on our body, they are also metabolically active and essential for our very life. Without them, we would die. If we destroy a large proportion of our diverse ancestral microbes through broad-spectrum antibiotics, we significantly destroy the balance of microbes in our body and the important biological niche that each microbe evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to fill. Currently, he estimates, most people in the United States have already lost about 40% of the diversity in their microbiome. I find that extremely alarming. I am confident that Blaser has focused on one of the major health issues of our time: the importance of our human microbiome. This is a very significant book. All libraries, public and academic should buy it. Doctors should read it. This should be essential reading for anyone interested in what it may take to stay healthy in the modern world.

    1 persona l'ha trovata utile

  • (5/5)
    Every now and then when I finish a book I have to sit back and take a long breath and reflect. Martin J. Blaser’s Missing microbes : how the overuse of antibiotics is fueling our modern plagues is one of those books. I requested it from’s Early Reviewer program as soon as I saw it offered. For the last few years I have been studying the last 200+ years in medical history. Germ theory has existed for only a little more than half of that time. I was interested in what Dr. Blaser considered missing microbes. I had also heard a story on NPR a few months ago that stuck in my head because of its ingenuity and grossness. Some people with severe digestive disorders have been treated with a , uh, well they have the gut bacteria from a healthy donor transported into their gut. It works, their symptoms clear up. Blaser points out that all life started out microbial and slowly formed colonies that specialized into multicellular life, into more and more complex forms of life and that all that time the multicellular life co-existed with single cell life forms. Some of them are dangerous. If Vibrio cholerae takes up residence in your gut it produces a chemical that mimics one your body naturally uses to signal the intestinal walls to move water out of the body. Cholera caused such severe diarrhea, moving water out of the body into the gut, that it could kill a health person in less than a day. Luckily most of the microbes in and on our bodies are harmless or even helpful. At least one digests food we are unable to use into forms that we can use. How many microbes are there that provide us with benefits that we don’t know about?The star of the book is Helicobacter pylori, a spiral shaped bacteria first discovered in the early days of germ theory and quickly forgotten about. It was found in everyone's stomach and it was impossible to grow in the lab with the existing technology. Many years later it was rediscovered in the stomachs of some people and it was blamed for very bad things ranging from ulcers to stomach cancer. How did it go from being in everyone's stomach in the late 19th century to only some stomachs in the mid to late 20th century? Wide spectrum antibiotics.The book makes a very good case for the theory that our overuse of antibiotics, over prescribing and using in animal feed, is not only creating Multi Drug Resistant, MRD, bugs but it is killing off potentially helpful bacteria that has co-existed with human beings for ages. After demonstrating a correlation between acid reflux disease, which can progress into nasty throat cancer, and the lack of H. pylori Blaser asks if the modern rise in allergies, asthma, autism, obesity,* and type 1 diabetes are the result of a missing beneficial bacteria. In my opinion in a hundred years this book will be considered a major turning point in medical science. I don’t know how the medical establishment will look at it today. There is so much money wrapped up in the status quo that any change, even for the better, will be resisted. I have never been a fan of hand sanitizer and after reading this I will question my doctor about the necessity of any antibiotics he offers me. You need to read this book.* low dose antibiotics have been given to farm animals for over 50 years to speed their growth, antibiotics are undoubtedly one factor in the obesity problem.