Be Careful When You Mess With Mother Nature
By Richard P. Holm, MD
Be careful when you mess with Mother Nature. Once we began defining the human genome, we started to realize how many bacteria, fungi, and viruses live in and on our bodies. We believe that each person standing in front of us are made up of equal numbers of human cells to the number of non-human cells. These are not mere hitchhikers, they are essential to our living. Even within each human cell we have components called mitochondria that originally were bacteria. Eons ago they became incorporated and an essential part of the functioning human cell. We couldn’t survive without the outsiders. Simply put, we are like a country made up of natives AND immigrants working together for the good of the whole.
The attached non-human organisms, together, make up what has been called the human microbiome or microbiota. Researchers are trying to know better what is a normal or abnormal microbiome, what causes it to be imbalanced, and what can be done to enhance a healthy microscopic environment of organisms that are getting a lift on our bodies.
A powerful example of imbalance comes when the use of antibiotics alters the microbiome and results in the emergence of a harmful and even deadly overgrowth infection by a bacterium called Clostridium difficile (C. diff). The result is a very sick large intestine. Think how weeds take over a lawn when the grass is destroyed.
Aside from the invasive, severe, gut illness of C. diff, there are other human conditions and illnesses that may be related to an imbalanced microbiome such as: irritable bowel syndrome, psoriasis of the skin, uncomfortable infections of the vagina, obesity and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder and chronic fatigue syndrome. Research is ongoing and we have a lot more to know before we have microbiome related treatments.
We all know that, when used appropriately, antibiotics help people and save lives, but experts estimate that 20 to 50 percent of the use of these microbiome disturbing antibiotics are inappropriate or unnecessary when used in hospital settings, and that percentage is worse when used in outpatient settings.
Understanding and protecting our normal flora, our microbiome, the community of organisms that live in, on, and around us gives us a whole new way of dealing with many illnesses. We need to be very careful to use antibiotics only when absolutely necessary. Be careful when you mess with Mother Nature.
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