Ethics in Medicine

Bacteria: More friend than foe? Part I

Kristen Sparrow • October 25, 2012

File under “First Do No Harm” and the hazards of antibiotics, I will try to summarize the fascinating article in the October 22nd issue of the New Yorker Magazine about the importance of bacteria in our bodies for everything from Vitamin production, to mood, to suppression of disease, to digestion, to forming and bolstering our immune system.  This is certainly not the first time I’d heard about the ground breaking work being done by researchers around the country on the importance of the bacterial managerie in our bodies and the hazards of messing with them through antibiotics. (I am alive today because of antibiotics, so, no I’m not a Luddite when it comes to such matters.  I would have been dead at age of 1 year old from meningitis if I hadn’t been given Chloramphenicol.)
Dr. Blaser, from N.Y.U
“I love genetics, but the model that places our genes at the root of all human development is wrong.  But itself , it simply cannot explain how rapidly the incidence of many diseases has risen.”
Dr. Relman, a professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology at Stanford University says
“We are in a that beautiful, euphoric, heady early period. ..I keep trying to inject a bit of medoeration, while not wanting to dampen the enthusiams of a truly exciting time…We have to stop looking at medicine as a war between invading pathogens and our bodies. This sort of stewardship has more in common with park management than it does with our current practice of trying, in the broadest way possible to kill microbes.”
They go on to point out how there have been studies linking lack of certain bacteria to an increase in sinusitis and obesity.That children without the stomach bacteria H.Pylori, are significantly more likely to have asthma and obesity.  Children born by C section are more likely to have allergies and asthma because they don’t pass through the birth canal and get bathed in the healthy bacteria that reside there.
Blaser again,
“(Antibiotics) have saved countless lives, and it is very important that we not lose sight of that fact. Whenever they are used, there is collateral damage. And we are only now fully learning how severe that damage has been.”
He goes on to say how each generation has fewer species of bacteria, projecting forward, the implications are worrisome.
“The rise in obesity, celiac disease, asthma, allergy syndromes, and Type I diabetes. Bad eating habits cannot explain the world wide explosion in obesity… We are not talking about illnesses that are increasing by 10%. They are doubling and tripling and quadrupling.”
I will divide the discussion into two parts, more to come.
We discussed the issue with sinusitis, antibiotics, treatments that don’t work, risks of hygiene and even parasites previously.