Monday, February 27, 2017

The Battlefield Lies Before Us, are we Ready to Fight?

A rise in obesity, celiac disease, diabetes, and down syndrome plagues our society. These modern plagues must be triggered by something in our modern day lifestyle, right? The lifestyle of lessened activity as we spend much of our time captivated by luminescent screens that act as a portal into the digital world, that must be the cause. What if I were to tell you that a major contributor in the spike of modern plagues continues to be parceled out in thousands by doctors around the world everyday: antibiotics. In his book, Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics is Fueling our Modern Plagues, author Martin J. Blaser draws the direct link between increased antibiotic usage in recent years to the staggering increase in modern plagues.

How can antibiotics, designed for maintaining human health, initiate plagues such as diabetes, down syndrome, and obesity? Obesity’s correlation with antibiotic usage became unmasked through Blaser’s series of experiments with mice which consistently revealed that mice receiving antibiotics throughout the experiment “gained 10-15 percent more total weight and 30-60 percent in fat compared to the antibiotic-free control mice,” (159). The introduction of antibiotics into the young mice slaughtered many of the microbes inside, thus changing the whole microbiome within the mouse. The resulting, less diversified, microbiome thereby affected the body composition of the mouse and triggered obesity. In addition to obesity, Blaser also developed evidence that the alteration of the microbiome caused by antibiotics leads to a direct rise in Type I diabetes, and this case amplifies significantly when exposing young children to antibiotics. Exposure of antibiotics into children also leads to mental development issues as 100 million neurons live in weblike layers in human intestines. In fact, these neurons continuously send messages to the human brain in addition to maintaining extensive contact with the microbes in human stomachs. These interactions result in the development of serotonin and gangliosides and other chemicals which the brain needs to function normally. However, this normalcy becomes severely perturbed when antibiotic usage wipes out the millions of important cells in the stomach. Without the microbial cells producing necessary chemicals for the brain, communication between the brain and the body, as well as brain development, falters. Failing brain communication, obesity, and diabetes remain only some examples of many which attest to the negative effects antibiotic misuse triggers in human bodies.

With the overuse of antibiotics comes the armies of microbes who grow resilient to our weapons. These weapons, our antibiotics, will falter when faced with the microbial cells which survived the previous waves of drugs. After encountering the drugs, the bacterial cells learn the secrets of our drugs and then reproduce, thus passing the secret to survival along. The growth in these knowledgeable and resilient cells creates the threat we now face, and no one is safe. For example, a horrendous bacterial infection, C.diff thrives in society “like a lion escaped from the zoo, C. diff has escaped the confines of the hospital and is now loose in the community,” (188). Infections like C.diff will continue to thrive in our populous and crowded world as the number of effective antibiotics dwindles. Although many remain hesitant to develop the new drugs necessary to fight off the deadly “antibiotic winter,” the truth remains that “we can pay now to prevent or we can pay later to treat,” (207). The choice lays in the hands of our generation, will we bundle up and fight the antibiotic winter blowing towards us, or will we continue to neglect the storm of diseases which grant mercy to none?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Classic Jekyll and Hyde: Is H.pylori Friend or Foe?

What words do you associate with the word bacteria? If your mind jumped to thoughts of illness, germs, and harmful infections, then your views align with the majority of the population. However, throughout the study of antibiotic resistance I discovered that many strains of bacteria wield positive, sometimes vital, functions for our bodies. In his book, Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics is Fueling our Modern Plagues, author Martin J. Blaser divulges that the world of bacteria remains far from clean-cut by elaborating on the controversial status of the H.pylori bacterial strain existing as foe, friend, or… both.

H.pylori is a strain of bacteria that thrives solely in human stomachs. In the 1980s, Scientist Dr. Barry Marshall pulled out all the stops to prove that H.pylori plays a role in causing gastritis by employing himself as the guinea pig and downing a culture of the bacteria. Sure enough, a few days later he developed stomach pain and bad breath, both common symptoms of gastritis. Marshall then wasted no time in applying this information to stomach ulcers. He administered antibiotics that possessed the power to kill H.pylori to ulcer patients and the results proved that the rate of ulcer recurrence in those who received the antibiotics were much lower. The findings didn’t stop here. Blaser conducted his own experiments on Japanese-Americans in Hawaii. His findings further spurred the negative thoughts toward H.pylori as he discovered that those hosting H.pylori remain six times more likely to obtain stomach cancer later in life than those without it. Based on all of this information, H.pylori must obviously be a foe. How could there be a bright side to gastritis, ulcers, and stomach cancers? There can’t possibly be a debate, “it was like smoking and lung cancer: no argument about cause and effect”, (115).

Many people, including leading scientists around the world, would presume a debate is nonexistent. However, I believe that a strong case exists to substantiate that H.pylori continues to be extremely important in the bodies of humans; and I’ll tell you why. Following the official labeling of H.pylori as a carcinogen, many doctors scrambled to eradicate the bacterial strain at every slight stomach pain among their patients. Have you noticed the stark proliferation of medical issues arising in the early 21st century? The advent of modern diseases can be justified by the habit of people around the world to jump to antibiotics as a quick and easy solution to eradicate “harmful” bacteria. But what if this “harmful” bacteria is actually extremely important? Could the fact that “these old troupers are fast disappearing… be sufficient to explain the growth of asthma” (140) along with the increase in heart burn and obesity? For example, farmers supply their animals large amounts of antibiotics to fatten them up, therefore “the idea that antibiotics might be causing weight gain in our children, that they could be a ‘missing link in the obesity epidemic” (150) remains far from abstract. In fact, Blaser’s many experiments reveal that people who do not carry H.pylori possess an increased chance of suffering from heartburn, asthma, and obesity.

Despite the evidence proposed by Blaser, many of the proponents for the pathogenic nature of H.pylori remain rooted in their old beliefs due to the giant practice grown around the need to eradicate H.pylori. Many of these proponents assume that because of the extensive evidence of H.pylori as extremely negative, the idea of H.pylori doing good remains impossible. However, I believe that H.pylori exists as extremely versatile in its ability to play both hero and villain. How is that possible? The answer lies in amphibious, “the condition in which two-life forms create relationships that are either symbiotic or parasitic, depending on the context,” (105).

How to tell if you carry H.pylori without a blood test:
You probably possess H.pylori if you or your family exhibits:
  • A history of gastritis, ulcers, or stomach cancer
  • A low level of allergies
  • Little prevalence of asthma
  • Small rate of heartburn (acid reflux)
  • A smaller height compared to others

You probably are not a carrier of H.pylori if you or your family exhibits:

  • Little history of stomach problems
  • A high amount of allergies
  • High rate of asthma (especially early onset)
  • Acid reflux issues (especially early onset)
  • A taller height compared to others

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Case Closed: The Culprits Behind Antibiotic Resistance

By now, all of us possess a tight grip on the factors that lead to antibiotic resistance. Repeatedly, I mentioned that the misuse and overuse of antibiotics across countries forge the foundation to the rapidly spreading threat to humankind. But, in order to protect yourselves and help extend your understanding of the silent predator, the time has come to dive into the details. In his book, Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics is Fueling our Modern Plagues, Martin J. Blaser uncovers the perpetrators behind the widespread prevalence of antibiotic resistance among bacteria.

Who contributes to the misuse and overuse of antibiotics?

The first culprit may be obvious. The physicians who tend to ailing people daily. No, these doctors do not double as secret mad scientists with a plot to take over the world one resistant bacterial cell at a time. Rather, they remain merely afraid for the wellbeing of their patients. Although they recognize the threat of parceling out antibiotics to every person possessing numerous symptoms of illness, they refuse to run the risk of the patient becoming more ill due to a false diagnosis. Picture this: a child arrives at the doctor’s office with extreme throat pain, however the doctor believes the cause of the discomfort to be a virus (thereby untreatable by antibiotics). The doctor decides to not prescribe the child any antibiotics, and a week later while the child lays in bed wishing for ice cream, it becomes clear that the doctor made a grave mistake. Immense pain shoots through the kid’s body as “antibodies raised against the strep infection ‘cross-react’ with and attack the child’s heart muscle, joints, skin, and brain--a a tragic case of mistaken identity,” (69). The kid now suffers from rheumatic fever, a serious inflammatory infection that proliferates after an untreated strep infection. This remains a prime example of why doctors knowingly continue to administer antibiotics even if they perceive the problem to be non-bacterial. The continued overuse of antibiotics against both viruses and bacterial infections due to uncertainty and precaution “is like carpet bombing when a laser-like strike is needed,” (72).

Another leading group behind the spread of antibiotic resistance remains less glaring than the first: the farmers toiling day after day to cultivate as much meat as possible. Farmers provide their animals, including chickens, pigs, cows, turkeys,fish, and others, with antibiotics to fatten them up and to improve their survival rate in overcrowded facilities. These profit-inclined farmers obtain gross amounts of antibiotics each year in order to achieve their goals as “an estimated 70-80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used for the single purpose of fattening up farm animals,” (82). The use of antibiotics provides us with more meat to satisfy our hunger and build muscle, along with granting the farmers more money for their larger output. However, the negative consequences eclipse the positive. The antibiotics used to fatten up the animals often remain present in the same meat we consume, providing another outlet for antibiotic resistance to stem from. Along with the strong link between animal and human, the antibiotics often end up in fertilizers and soil.

Next time, before purchasing meat at the grocery store or accepting antibiotics for a sore throat, take a moment to check if the meat was raised antibiotic-free or ask your doctor to send your swab results to a lab to obtain a definite diagnosis. Small steps can be executed daily to minimize the spread of antibiotic resistance in modern society. Spread the word.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Threat Facing Our Microbiome

In modern day society, we witness the rapid growth of immune dysfunction among children. Obesity, ADHD, asthma, allergies, eczema, and numerous others prevail throughout their young lives. With the high rate of these issues, they evolve into the norms across the United States and the rest of the world.The question antagonizing the minds of many scientists across the world drives thousands of experiments worldwide: why now? The complex answer to the similarly intricate question forms the foundation of Martin J. Blaser’s book, Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics is Fueling our Modern Plagues.

The use of simple answers (such as high caloric diets leading to obesity) remains the scapegoat to answering the very complex question. However, to find the true root of the surmounting prevalence of health issues in society, one must delve deeper to find “the cause grand enough to encompass asthma, obesity, esophageal reflux, juvenile diabetes, and allergies to specific foods, among all others,” (5). This grand answer lies in the very organisms that make up seventy to ninety percent of the human body: bacteria.

Although bacteria often holds a bad reputation due to the many strains of bacteria that incite ghastly infections in the bodies of many, the majority of the bacteria present within our bodies aid in maintaining our health. In fact, without bacteria none of us could survive without living in a bubble. Shockingly, most of the cells in our bodies remain non-human with only  “an estimated 30 trillion human cells” hosting over “100 trillion bacterial and fungal cells,” (25). With each of these different cells, the body possesses its own diverse ecosystem in which every cell, human or not, holds an essential position in the well-being of our bodies. Therefore, maintaining the diversity within our bodies remains crucial in order to provide “protection to all species within the ecosystem because their interactions create robust webs for capturing and circulating resources,” (24). However antibiotics act as a grim reaper to the thriving ecosystem within our bodies, threatening the diversity within our microbiome.

Yes, the use of antibiotics allows many people to survive life-threatening diseases. However, the overdosage of antibiotics remains the root of many health issues arising today. With the exploitation of antibiotics throughout the past century, antibiotic resistance continues to form within many of the dangerous bacterial cells doctors attempt to eradicate from our bodies. Another pressing issue arises from antibiotic mis-usage: the loss of our “housekeeping,” or beneficial, bacteria who remain susceptible to the deadly attacks by antibiotics. As a result, the ecosystem within every person loses species necessary to sustain health.

With the increasing use of antibiotics, the bacteria meant to serve our bodily functions continue to diminish while deadly bacteria grows with obstinance. Society as we know it will continue to deteriorate before our eyes as more and more of our neighbors, family members, and friends proceed to fall prey to devastating and debilitating medical conditions.  

The neglect towards the problem of antibiotic misuse must cease immediately. The high rate of this issue necessitates a swift and diligent attack by our generation, for the sake of our loved ones and those who will follow in our footsteps.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Armies of Microbes Take Arms Against Humans

The man stumbles out onto the street as he coughs furiously into the bloody white rag in his hand. His muscles burn with the infection that spreads uncontrollably inside of him. Despite years of isolation from the infected, his entire family now dons the deep black blisters that come with one of the nasty bacterial infections running rampant around town. The neighbors, who hack loudly through the night and attempt to scrounge up money for medicine every day, suffer from another prevailing infection. Tears stream down his face as hope for a body rid of evil microbes dwindles with every wheezing breath. With a heavy sigh and a bowed head, he swings the front door open and retreats back to tend to his dying children.

Do you want a world plagued with a wide array of unstoppable infections?

Bacteria, a single-celled organism, thrives, too small for the human eye, on every surface. While most bacteria aide life, others endanger humans and organisms with the infections they incite. To combat infections, scientists since 1921 have dedicated their lives to developing antibiotics. However, with the increased over-dosage and mis-usage of antibiotics around the world, many of the most effective antibiotics no longer wield power over dangerous bacteria.

Each generation of bacteria evolves rapidly to its environment and a new skill allows them to survive scientists’ attempts to kill them: antibiotic resistance. The root of many problems scientists scramble to resolve daily. Each year in the United States, over two million people are plagued with antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. Without a definitive way to kill off the bacteria, patients suffer through their symptoms as the infection (hopefully) dwindles into nothing. However, 23,000 of those plagued die every year without the antibiotics’ curative powers. And each year, this number shoots up higher and higher.

Without a way to oppose the growing rates of antibiotic resistance, life as we know it will slip from our fingers. Deadly diseases we thought only existed in history books will come stampeding back into modern day life, and the medicine to fight back will grow in rarity and skyrocket in price.

Antibiotic resistance spreads like wildfire, and we must extinguish it before time runs out.