85 of 91 people found the following review helpful
As most of us know, the medical community has been over prescribing antibiotics for some time now, and there is a call for the practice to end. There is no need for the use of antibiotics in many cases, and the use of them could be curtailed significantly without harm to public health. In addition, the author of this book presents compelling evidence that the overuse of antibiotics is not just causing resistance in microbes, but may also be contributing to the alarming increase in a number of diseases.
The book begins with several chapters that explain microbiology and how microbes are aligned with the human body. For instance, there are millions of microbes living in your intestinal tract, but they are not harmful; in fact they may be very beneficial. Early and frequent use of antibiotics can disrupt this natural ecosystem causing a myriad of problems.
There is also information on how we obtain our microbiological flora. For instance, microbes are passed from a mother to a baby during birth. As the baby exits the birth canal, it is coated in the naturally occurring bacteria that is found there normally. In addition, the newborn will pick up bacteria from nursing and from being handled by the mother. All of this is normal, and healthy, but overuse of antibiotics maybe causing disruption of the normal process.
In information presented that was startling, the author has linked a bacteria found in the stomach, and thought to cause ulcers, to an increase in the number of cases of gastrointestinal esophageal reflux disease. When it was first proven that the bacteria in question was responsible for ulcers, doctors went on a spree to eradicate it from adults. What followed was a large increase in the number of cases of GERD, in which gastric acid backs up into the esophagus and thereby damages it. In addition, the eradication of that bacteria may lead to it being eradicated from infants, which is a possible cause for the increase in asthma cases being seen in children.
The author also presents evidence of obesity being linked, quite significantly, to the use of antibiotics in the food supply and in early childhood. It is an interesting correlation, and may provide the answer to why there has been such a large increase in the number of obese children.
These are only some of the evidence presented and I am oversimplifying the information because of the brevity of a review. The information is fascinating, and may unlock the secrets to a number of "new plagues" as the author describes these diseases.
The book is very well written and is written with the lay person in mind. I had no problem following the science presented in the book and found the reading to be interesting and compelling. This is a must read for anyone concerned about health and the path we need to be on to correct our problems. Highly recommended!
44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Antibiotics changed the face of medicine and have been responsible for saving untold lives. It's never been a secret that they tend to indiscriminately wipe out bacteria in our bodies, killing the good with the bad, or that antibiotic use has been rising dramatically for decades. Yet only recently that scientists have begun to piece together a real understanding of the grave, long term consequences that has on our bodies.
Scientist and author Martin Blaser does an excellent job of helping readers navigate the complex world of genomes, biomes, bacteria, viruses, and their complicated interactions and impacts on human health. He simplifies the material enough that it can be easily followed by a lay person while keeping it firmly rooted in solid science, research, and medicine. Shocking facts are sprinkled throughout (your average American gets more than 17 courses of antibiotics by age 20), but they are never used for shock value - merely reported in an honest, factual nature that keeps with the serious, professional tone of the book.
Blaser explores the long term consequences of heavy antibiotic use on individuals and society, and draws clear (and disturbing) links between overuse of antibiotics and modern plagues including diabetes, obesity, IBS/ulcerative colitis, asthma, and escalating food allergies. Using decades of sound scientific research and examples from both modern life and the history of medicine, he offers a slightly frightening but completely realistic picture of where we are headed as a planet if we don't change our ways. The book outlines key problems, offers viable (but not easy) solutions, and calls on all of us as a society to make better choices while we still can.
The book was a little on the dry side, but clearly written by a man passionate about his subject and it provides significant food for thought. An excellent read, and one we all do well to pay attention to!
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
I am not a doctor, nurse, scientist, really any type of person in the medical field. I'm just a person who thinks that reading about medical issues is interesting. So it's important for you to know that I'm going into this review without a lot of background and understanding of microbes and biology. There, the disclaimer is over with.
Missing Microbes is about the microbes in your body and the use of antibiotics. It explores the concept that perhaps we are doing ourselves a disservice by using so many antibiotics and that some of the microbes previously thought harmful, are in fact an integral part of our body's system and essential to our well being. Especially explored is H. Pylori that resides in your digestive system and is thought to be a contributor to stomach cancer and ulcers. Previously eradicated when it was found, new research is showing that it helps protect against other ailments and the destruction of it with antibiotics may not be the best course of action. There is also a section on birth and the impact that caesarian sections has on the passing of natural microbes from mother to infant. And several other facts about the bacteria in our bodies.
You can definitely tell the author wanted you to know what he's contributed to the field. And there's nothing wrong with that although it is a little distracting. Most of the focus is on the research and several studies are described. I appreciated the fact that it was written in language that I could understand. While there were some medical concepts that were a little harder for me, by and large, I understood the descriptions and theories that were presented in this book. I imagine someone in the medical field would understand it a lot better than I though as they are already comfortable with the terminology and different theories being presented. I also appreciated that the chapters flowed together smoothly and that while new concepts were introduced in each one, there was a transition that helped guide from talking about one topic to the next.
I learned a lot from this book. For instance, I never realized that antibiotics are given to farm animals to make them gain weight. I always figured it was because disease was rampant when you pack animals in together so tight. The experiments performed on mice showing how antibiotics caused gain of both fat and muscle in early "childhood" was an interesting concept when thinking about the obesity epidemic that the United States and many other countries are facing right now. However, as said before, I am not a scientist and cannot comment as to the validity of any of these experiments, although it seems (judging from the quite large notes section in the back) that the author did the research and in fact had performed many of the experiments himself. I believe it's best to look at your information from all sides though and not to take anything from any one paper or book as the absolute truth.
This book does present some compelling arguments about the use of antibiotics. Even if you're not worried about super-bugs from overuse, there are several other factors that have only started to be researched. Anyone interested in bacteria, microbes, and the use of modern medicine would probably find this book a good read.
Review by M. Reynard 2014
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
I have been blogging on the ecology of the human microbiome for some time, so I wasn't sure whether it would be worthwhile to read this book when I saw it on the Amazon Vine booklist. Boy am I glad that I did! I learned quite a lot, yet the book is readable enough for a layperson. Blaser, a world-class scientist, made his mark studying H. Pylori soon after it was implicated in causing ulcers, then later gastritis and stomach cancer. However he realized after eliminating his own H. pylori that he started suffering from GERD, which is implicated in its own cancers and erosion of the esophagus. He later tied missing H. pylori, which used to be ubiquitous, to asthma and other diseases, especially in children.
While I have considered our beneficial gut, mouth and skin bacteria to be symbionts ("living with") or commensual ("eating at the same table"), Blaser makes the case that at least some bacteria are good in some situations and bad in others or in overgrowth. Lactobacilli from yogurt may be good for our guts, but are too acid for our teeth. E. Coli is mostly benign and even qualifies in Europe as a probiotic that may help keep you thin, but some variants and high concentrations can give you diarrhea. Blaser uses the term "amphibionts" which better expresses the complicated, sometimes beneficial, sometimes detrimental and sometimes neutral relationship between us and our microbiota.
The most interesting part of the book for me was the chapter on mother and child. During pregnancy the balance of the vaginal (and other) ecology changes to protect the mother's immune system, to better extract caloric value from food as the fetus grows (hence third semester gestational diabetes in women with imbalances) and to inoculate the baby's immune system and ability to use breastmilk as it passes through the vagina. This does not happen during a C-section and the balance of bacteria is more like hospital sheets than that of the mother. Some have suggested seeding the skin and mouth of a baby born by C-section with vaginal bacteria so that the balance will reflect the pattern created over millions of years.
Antibiotic use has significantly eliminated bacteria that we need to keep our immune systems functioning. Not only are antibiotics overused clinically but they are vastly used in agriculture to the point that most meats sold in the US are contaminated with fecal bacteria and sometimes even MRSA, the antibiotic resistant Staph aureus. The antibiotics are sold to fatten up animals used for food- it is due to an interaction between animal gut bacteria and the drug- and direct and indirect antibiotic abuse may be responsible for our obesity epidemic.
We are fast losing the ability to save lives with antibiotics because of bacterial resistance. Bacteria possess sophisticated methods to adapt and mutate when attacked, and bacteria from archeological sites indicate that ability long preceded antibiotics, although penicillin bread molds were used by the ancient Chinese, Egyptians and Central American Indians. Fast travel, which inhibits the ability of the microbiota to change to meet new challenges, and pharmaceutical challenges leave us more vulnerable to modern day plagues.
I have seen patients who developed oxalic acid kidney stones or "glass shard" vulvodynia after antibiotic and pharmaceutical use destroyed their Oxalobacter forminges bacteria. I have seen hospitals give more potent antibiotics to wipe out MRSA when botanicals or essential oils have been found in research to work as well. C.diff infections respond over 90% of the time to fecal transplants from a clean donor but are routinely treated with increasing dosages of ineffective but detrimental antibiotics. Antibiotic abuse hurts good bacteria along with bad and 90% of our DNA is microbial. We are walking superstructures of microbes and health is about regulating our ecology. and antibiotic use should be rare if we want to preserve it.
I highly recommend reading this book. It is basic education for parents, medical professionals and anyone who gets sick.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on April 10, 2014
I went into this book with a decent understanding of our microbiome, and left it with a deep respect.
I want to be upfront, the author seems to have spent his career studying our little bugs, and there is undoubtedly some biases present that surround his theories...but I imagine that is to be expected given he has been passionate enough to spend a lifetime studying the topic (and bothered to write a book for the masses.)
Personally, I'm not bothered by any of these biases, because I totally get where the author is coming from, and he basically describes the classic scientist/practitioner gap that is present in pretty much any applied science. Most simply put, this means that those practicing don't necessarily keep up with the latest and greatest in research and that is immensely frustrating for researchers and potentially detrimental to the consumers of the "product," which in this case is medicine.
Anyway, moving beyond biases, I genuinely loved this book. Blaser writes about bacteria in such an engaging way that I at times I found myself unable to put the book down. There are compelling arguments that so many of our modern "plagues," ranging from eczema to obesity to acid reflux, are closely linked to the declining diversity within our bodies.
While the overall thesis is pretty grim; highly resistant bacteria, weakened immune systems, and a host of conditions ranging from the irritating (eczema) to the life threatening (diabetes), the book ends on a positive call to action...or maybe inaction (as in decreasing popping the 'cillin) to help improve our situation. I.I know going forward I will change the way that I personally view antibiotics (and I was cautious before), and will suggest that others do the same.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
The Medical community is slowly but surely coming to recognize the importance of gut flora and the epidemic proportions of the issues caused by the overprescription of antibiotics today. For someone unaware of the issues this book is an eye opener. The discussions of the individual flora that modern medicine has sought to eradicate (E.G H Pylori)and the link to various diseases that cropped up in individuals missing certain flora are clear and well explained. The issues caused by C-Sections and rampant antibiotic use in infancy are also explored.
The reason for my rating only having four stars is that there are very few suggestions for what we, as individuals, can do now that we are in the midst of the issue. I've had the H-Pylori treatment. My children were on multiple rounds of antibiotics before age two. One has celiac disease and is on the Spectrum. If, as this book shows, antibiotic use may have contributed to or triggered many of the health issues we have then I would like to know what I can do about it.
The last chapter in this book is titled 'Solutions' but there are not so many of those that an average parent can employ. Probiotics and prebiotics are compared to placebos (granted some of them ARE pure rubbish), and the suggestions given involve reduced prescription of antibiotics, reduced use of antibiotics in animal husbandry, reduced use of hand sanitizers, less C-sections and, most radically, fecal transfer. This is all well and good but what are parents who are aware of the problem to do now? I've tried to eliminate all the contaminants I can but know well that there is a very good chance one of my children would not have survived if not for the powerful antibiotics he was treated with as a child. As I type this review I have my child on antibiotics for a bad case of Strep. What next?? If yogurt, probiotics and prebiotics aren't going to help then do I just sit and wait for the medical community and the FDA to play catch up and come up with a solution while chronic diseases are triggered in my children's bodies?
I'm afraid I found this book frustrating in the extreme. As a wake up call to fellow practitioners it has value. For someone looking for a solution to a problem they are already aware of, there is no reassurance, no suggestions and no help here.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2014
Many people today are aware of the disturbing (but predictable) evolution of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and some also recognize that the twin causes of this problem are over-prescription of antibiotics in humans and the use of low levels of antibiotics for accelerating the growth of livestock. This extremely lucid and important book by Martin Blaser discusses these issues authoritatively and in depth. However, even more importantly, it introduces another arena in which antibiotics are having serious negative impacts on human health, an arena that I was not previously aware of: The potentially harmful restructuring of the human microbiome.
The microbiome is the collection of microorganisms (mainly bacteria) that live on and within our bodies. Their numbers are staggering: About ten times as many as there are human cells in our bodies. According to Dr. Blaser, the relationship of the microbiome to our bodies is largely symbiotic; the microbes assist us in digesting foods that we otherwise could not process and they help to protect us against hostile microbial invaders. In other cases, they are merely passive inhabitants. The microbiome is made up of many species, for example, there are about 1,000 species of bacteria in the human gut. Dr. Blaser claims, based on laboratory work with mice and supported by clinical studies on humans, that the repeated use of antibiotics, particularly in the first few years of life, can selectively kill some bacteria and so result in significant changes in the microbial composition resident in our bodies.
The potential range of effects resulting from the altered composition of our microbiomes is extraordinary. Dr. Blaser presents the results of studies that show that the following list of human health problems may be caused, at least in part, by antibiotic effects on the microbiome: Obesity, diabetes, autism, Crohn’s disease, asthma, celiac disease, and numerous other auto-immune diseases. He also shows evidence for a critical vulnerability to repeated antibiotic treatments that exists early in life. He even suggests that the transfer of resident microbes from mother to child in the birth canal is a vital process, one that is lost in C-section deliveries.
Antibiotics are an essential part of medical treatment and have been responsible for an enormous improvement in human health over the past 70 years so the solution to the problem of overuse is not a simple one. Indeed, how do we set a criterion for “overuse”? At present, we are hampered by our limited understanding of the detailed mechanisms through which the members of the microbiome operate and which parts of it are our friends and which parts may be hostile – perhaps the same species can play both roles. Consequently, I do not think that we should interpret Dr. Blaser’s book as a detailed prescription for action but it is, I believe, of enormous importance in establishing the vital role of the microbiome and in urging us to be much more guarded in our use of antibiotics. Dr. Blaser sums it up in the last pages of the book: “The logic is inescapable. Out ancient microbes are there for a reason; that’s how we evolved. Everything that changes them has a potential cost to us. We have changed them plenty. The costs are already here, but we are only just beginning to recognize them. They will escalate.”
This book is an eye-opener!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Superb book but a bit redundant in some areas. First, let me say that the author is to be congratulated on writing a clear, engaging and informative book designed with the casual "lay" reader in mind. The topic of antibiotic overuse, misuse and abuse is starting to gain much needed attention, it is still far from reaching the point where conclusive action has been taken. Books like this are needed to bring much needed light to the plight of patients as well as help direct policy on factory farming and other mega corporations responsible for much of the environmental and individual damage being done.
Having said that, the book is redundant in places and, as the author admits, might be at risk of over-reaching (ie, the old adage if you have a hammer everything looks like a nail may very much apply). The author presents a variety of work ranging from strongly supported research to pretty much overt speculation on how missing microbes may be responsible for everything from esophageal cancer to autism. Surprisingly, some highly relevant conditions with a strong gut/brain response like migraines are totally ignored while other which a much less convincing level of evidence are brought up repeatedly.
Although the author places minimal/if any hope into supplements and/or probiotics, he more than makes up for this in a sound rationale. Unfortunately the emphasis is on prevention with minimal/no suggestions on where to go from here.
The book is filled with case examples, references and additional information for the inquisitive reader. All in all an excellent, reader friendly book. I suspect this book and topic will one day be considered as revolutionary in the application of medicine as the antibiotic itself.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2014
Microbiologist enviro-toxicologist PhD hubby enjoyed this book and says that it includes:
1) a well-referenced examination of antibiotic history, challenges, and cost/benefit;
2) a premise that C-section births miss the transfer of gut flora from propinquity to the anus; and
3) an avant-garde premise that the H.Pylori Bacteria, known for contributing to ulceration of an inflamed stomach, also can be beneficial, citing author's work with mice my husband believes too different from human for comparison.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Most of us are taught from an early age to wash our hands thoroughly, bathe regularly, and cover our mouths and noses when we cough and sneeze. Even those who are not germaphobes may be leery of bacteria. It is not uncommon for patients to request antibiotics "just in case," even if they have viral illnesses that do not respond to this type of treatment. Dr. Martin J. Blaser, in "Missing Microbes," has overseen, participated in, and monitored a host of studies (including one by the National Institutes of Health--Human Microbiome Project) during the past decades that support a startling theory: The astronomical rise in the incidence of diabetes (at ever younger ages), autism, asthma, obesity, celiac disease, and other maladies may result from an overuse of antibiotics. Although, in certain circumstances they are miracle drugs that save countless lives, too many antibiotics can reduce the bacterial diversity that we need to keep our bodies functioning well.
In addition, we may be unwittingly harming ourselves by the overuse of Caesarean sections that prevent infants from picking up "good microbes" from their moms during the birth process. We require these beneficial microorganisms to protect our digestive tracts and bolster our immune systems. Equally alarming is the data indicating that children who receive too many doses of broad-spectrum antibiotics could lose their ability to fight off certain diseases. Dr. Blaser, a researcher, infectious disease specialist, and former chair of medicine at NYU, uses technical language that may intimidate readers who have little background in biology. However, his cogent explanation of complicated facts, anecdotes, and accessible account of various experiments and their results make for interesting reading. When we reach for the hand sanitizer, antibacterial soap, or antibiotic pills, the author asks, are we helping or harming our internal microbiomes?
Another factor to consider is that antibiotics given to farm animals, such as cattle, chickens, turkeys, pigs, and sheep (not just those administered to us) can lead to the obliteration of "good bacteria" and to the development of resistant strains of deadly microorganisms that do not respond to any known treatment. Some might label Dr. Blaser an alarmist, but his opinions are based on sound science and many of his colleagues agree with his findings. "Missing Microbes" is a thought-provoking, well-documented, carefully organized, and compelling exploration of an important subject. It is a wake-up call for medical practitioners and laymen alike.