It’s called Missing Microbes by Dr Martin Blaser, which might leave you scratching your head but TRUST me, it’s incredible – and you don’t need to be a biology geek to understand it, at all.
Don’t let the slightly aggressive front cover fool you, this book isn’t about predicting the end of the world – but oddly, that is a very real consequence of continuing to ignore the sensitive makeup of the bacteria in our bodies.
You might not think this kind of thing would interest you, but if you are someone else’s kid or you have your own – which is all of us, then it’s a read that will change the way you look at your body and our planet completely.
Dr Blaser refers to ‘modern plagues’ as things like; obesity, childhood diabetes, asthma, hay fever, food allergies, reflux, cancer, Crohns, ulcerative colitis, autism and eczema. I’d like to hear from anyone under the age of 35 who doesn’t suffer with at least one of the above today!
He notes that although we are living longer than adults and children did in the 1850’s, medical advancement has not come without a cost – it’s just that we’re only really beginning to see that connection and how damaging it has been.
You’ll hear grandparents say, “Well you never had all this stomach trouble and food allergies in my day, we were tougher than all that – we were war-time babies.”
To a large extent they are right and the troubling thing as you delve deeper into this book – is the trajectory of the above illnesses, they aren’t rising slowly over hundreds of years they are rocketing fiercely over the course of just a few decades.
Juvenile type 1 diabetes for example has been doubling in the industrialised world every twenty years; in Finland – cases have jumped 550% since 1950. NUTS!
Dr Blaser takes a deep dive into our ‘microbiome’ which looks closely at the microorganisms living in and on our bodies, an enormous living jungle of different kinds of bacteria good and bad, which call our bodies and planet home – and what happens when some of those species become extinct.
To give some framework to the importance of bacteria, I’ve pulled out some of my favourite quotes from the book:
“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.”
“If 3.7 billion years of life on Earth were compressed into a 24 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.”
“Microbes are invisible to our naked eye…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 visible life-forms we are familiar with on Earth – they would outweigh them as well.”
The primary focus of the book is on bacteria and what happens when we kill it off with potent drugs such as antibiotics. Not just the bacteria in our own bodies, but the bacteria that lives within the food we eat (animals and plants), the milk we drank as babies and the way we live in society today. Everything has a knock on effect.
Smokers of the early 20th century had no idea of the harm cigarettes were doing to their long-term health. Posters like these aren’t even that old relatively speaking, although they look completely alien today. Less than 80 years ago, this was the ‘norm’.
The ‘norm’ also has a BIG part to play in this book, doing what we’ve always done – rather than looking for a more bespoke approach to the way we live.
We get sick, or our kids get sick and we go to the doctors to be ‘fixed’ usually with a course of antibiotics. We feel a bit run down for a few weeks and then we carry on, but what we don’t realise is the destruction that one course of antibiotics can cause. Antibiotics translates as ‘Against Life‘ believe it or not, designed to fight the microbes in our bodies. However, they don’t know how to identify between good and bad – they exterminate whatever bacteria they come across, leaving any survivors to repopulate the space and become dominant.
Penicillin (the first antibiotic) has been around since the early 1900’s, used within human medicines widely by the 1940’s and today – we have many antibiotic drugs to choose from with over 150 million prescriptions written in the US alone every year – mostly for children. At the time of creation, Penicillin was hailed as a miracle drug and indeed it has saved many lives – however it is not a magic wand, despite what the medical profession thought for a long time after its discovery.
Since then our grandparents have been exposed to them, more importantly our parents were exposed from a very young age, as were we – and so our own children are too. Only now, the doctors are beginning to hide that prescription pad a bit more…and here’s why.
I could talk all day about the many ways this book blew my tiny mind, but really – if everyone on our little planet read this, we could learn so much from it.
Wouldn’t you love to know more about what may have caused your diabetes as a child? Why your son’s autism is so severe and how bacteria could be used to treat those illnesses in the future? I know from a UC perspective, that all of this fascinates me – and I’m sure it will for you too, mo-matter what your medical history may be.
For under £10 it’s got to be better value than most of my student loan debt that’s for sure.
GO READ IT! And tell me what you thought.