Field of Science

The great wilderness inside us

Since one of the ways you sell things is to use fear as a motivator, it should be no surprise that antibiotic cleaners, wipes, soaps, and the like, make it sound like germs are everywhere, and people have reacted by becoming excessively germaphobic. Well, as biologists know, we virtually live in a microbial sea awash in countless microbes. In a study use of antibiotic wipes and soaps did no better than regular soap at preventing illness among users, but those using the antibiotic products got more severe illnesses. A nice little evolutionary study of selecting among common bacteria to leave more nasty types behind.
Most people are alarmed to find out that the human body harbors more teeny, tiny organisms than the body has cells. And now that molecular techniques are beginning to allow us to examine microbial diversity in the GI tract, it turns out that a
maintaining a diverse ecosystem is quite important to your health. "Like a lush rain forest, a healthy microbiome in the human gut is a diverse ecosystem... When you use antibiotics, you essentially drop a bomb on a microbial community...Last year, Stanford microbiologist David Relman published a study that illustrated the potentially devastating impact of antibiotics on the [gut] microbiome. He gave three healthy adults a five-day course of the antibiotic Cipro, then another course six months later, and monitored the state of the microbiome after each treatment. The gut flora of all three subjects gradually recovered from the impact of the antibiotic treatment but never returned to their original state."
Although this sounds sort of icky, like other ecosystems, your GI tract flora can be restored by transplanting them from someone else, usually a close family member. Use of antibiotics in cleaning products and the like should be banned; they do more harm than good. Once again, it's time humans learned to live with the flora and fauna around us rather than trying to destroy it.

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