Dr. James C. Spaulding

Chiropractor - Edinboro, Pa.

Instrument Adjusting Certified
106 Waterford Street • Edinboro Pa 16412 • Send E-Mail
Phone: (814) 734-3422
"Missing Microbes"
How the Overuse of Antibiotics is Fueling Our Modern Plagues
By Martin J. Blaser
A book review by Dr. James Spaulding
Recently my wife heard Dr. Martin J. Blaser on a news show discussing the topic of antibiotic overuse. She was quite intrigued by the topic and relayed her enthusiasm to me. I purchased Dr. Blaser’s book the following day, and it was indeed a fascinating, but scary book.
Dr. Blaser has been studying the role of bacteria in human disease for more than thirty years. As director of the Human Microbiome Program at NYU, chair of medicine at NYU, and as president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America he is imminently qualified to write on this subject.

We are blissfully unaware of microbes and their effect on our lives. This is, in part, because microbes are invisible to the naked eye. The fact is, our planet is totally dominated by these microscopic forms of life. According to Dr. Blaser, humanity is just a speck in a massively bacterial world. Bacterial cells are found in pretty much all environments, even extreme ones. For example, at least 20 million types of marine microbes (and possibly up to a billion) make up 50-90 percent of the ocean’s biomass. Microbes can be found high in the sky influencing both weather and climate; they inhabit the soil, they live in rocks (surviving a mile into the earth’s core,) and they live and work extensively in the human body.

We begin acquiring microbes from the moment of birth and throughout our lives. Although our bodies are made up of some 30 trillion human cells, by the time we are adults, it is host to over 100 trillion bacterial and fungal cells. This means that 70 to 90 percent of all the cells in our bodies are nonhuman. It boggles the mind. Microbes can be found in every nook and cranny of our bodies, but particularly on the skin, the mouth and the gastrointestinal system. Bacterial microbes help maintain stable blood pressure, they metabolize drugs, they produce vitamin K crucial to the clotting of blood, and they provide immunity by resisting invaders. We have a very important symbiotic relationship with our microbes. Our microbes need us, and they are crucial to our well-being. When this relationship is altered it can have serious, even deadly, consequences.

For most of the last century we have fought pathogenic organisms (and saved millions of lives) with cleaner water, better food handling and refrigeration, the utilization of proper sanitation, and, of course, antibiotics. In the case of antibiotics, however, there have been unintended consequences…bad ones.

This brings us to the main premise of Missing Microbes. Dr. Blaser makes the frightening case that overuse of antibiotics has brought us to the brink of “antibiotic winter.” This could actually take the form of a world-wide plague that we are unable to stop, he says. So, how could this have happened?

To understand how this could happen we need to:

  • understand the nature of microbial ecosystems and their relationship with humans
  • recognize the mistake that was made by the medical and farming communities in the overutilization of a good thing
  • to see how the indiscriminate utilization of modern-day medical procedures, such as C-section deliveries, affect the human bionome and likely lead to modern “plagues”

What are we learning about the world of bacterial microbes?

Some things we have learned are quite surprising.

  • Not all bacteria are bad. Most of us are vaguely aware that there are “good” bacteria helping us digest are food, for example. Bacterial microbes also help maintain stable blood pressure, help metabolize drugs, produce vitamin K crucial to the clotting of blood, and provide us immunity by resisting invaders. In short, the symbiotic relationship we have with our bacteria is very important for our well-being.
  • Even potentially pathological bacteria have an important place in our bodies. You may be aware that many bad bacteria normally live in us, usually with no ill effect. An example of that is Helicobactor pylori, the bacteria discovered, in recent years, to cause gastrointestinal ulcers and stomach cancer. Antibiotics have been very successful in wiping this “bug” out, a good thing, right? Not so fast. It turns out that getting rid of H. pylori might be good for adults with ulcers, but not so for our children. Eliminating it may cause more harm than good in the long run.

We’ve made some costly mistakes.

The discovery of penicillin and other “wonder drugs” made surgery safer by keeping post-surgical infection in check, and it made organ transplants possible. Good things. The side-effects seemed to be few. The negatives, and it turns out there are many, only appeared later, after widespread prophylactic use, especially of broad-spectrum antibiotics, became routine.

  • The first recognized problem from overuse was resistance. It is not we who are resistant to a particular antibiotic, it is some of the bacteria in our bodies, and the resulting infections, that are resistant to antibiotics. It is, however, more than overuse that has got us here. One huge problem is the use of antibiotics in the farm animals we eat. Most of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. (70-80%) go to feedlots for cows, chickens, pigs, and other animals. The use here is sub-therapeutic; not to stem or prevent disease but in order to fatten them up, that is to enhance feed capacity and maximize growth. It doesn’t stop here. It seems the resistant bacteria themselves are showing up in our food, along with animal antibiotics. Not just meat, but milk, cheese and eggs.

Although water purification plants do a good job of reducing harmful microbes, they do not remove antibiotics, from farm runoff, from ground water. These resistant bacteria are showing up in fertilizer, and in our soil. Are you feeling sick? Me too. And the bad news is not over.

  • There is a cost associated with some common medical/surgical procedures. Infant health is dependent on a “microbial handoff” from the mother during the birthing process. As the baby passes through the birth canal he/she is inoculated. C-section delivery changes everything. Blaser postulates that increased percentages of C-sections (1 in 3 births in the U.S. in 2011,) as well as increased antibiotic use in mothers during delivery (40% of mothers overall, and in 100% of C-section deliveries) and the babies getting antibiotics through mother’s milk, alters the infant’s microbiome…in a bad way. Most babies born in the U.S. (4 million per year) also get a dose of broad-spectrum antibiotic directly, via eye drops, within hours. He believes this increase of antibiotic use is not only affecting the child’s growth and development in the areas of metabolism, the immune system, and even cognition, but then leads to the following of what he calls modern plagues: obesity, juvenile diabetes, asthma, autism, inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s and celiac disease, fertility problems in women, and the rise in food allergies, such as peanut and gluten allergies in kids.

What can we do about this?

He offers some solutions.

  • First, the medical community must recognize the seriousness of the problem. Prudence needs to be exercised in the prescribing of antibiotics.
  • Second, the public must curb their appetite for antibiotics. By getting informed and taking personal responsibility for themselves and their children.
  • Third, pharmaceutical companies need to develop more narrow-spectrum antibiotics. Unfortunately this will make drugs more expensive, for the public. Currently, “big pharma” has little incentive for this, a billions of dollars are made on popular broad-spectrum antibiotics.
  • Fourth, government should ban the use of antibiotics in the animals we eat. This again is a move that will make food more expensive. Does the public have an appetite for these kinds of personal and institutional changes? These and many other questions need to be answered sooner than later.

There was a lot more information contained in Missing Microbes worth looking at. My advice is that if something has struck a chord with you, buy the book.

Dr. Jim Spaulding is a full-time practicing chiropractor of 37 years. He has written numerous articles on the subject of diet and exercise.
© 2014 Dr James C. Spaulding. All Rights Reserved.