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?