“There is an ecological problem—a climate change—now happening inside of us,” Martin Blaser said, a pioneer in the field and the new director of the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine at Rutgers University Biomedical and Health Sciences.
“There’s a lot of discussion about climate change in the world but very little about a parallel process happening within us as our modern lifestyle affects the microbes that live inside us.”
Here, Blaser discusses how his work will help researchers and clinicians better understand the benefits of the microbiome and how it can be harnessed and protected to promote human health.
Q: Why should people care about the microbiome?
A: We all have a microbiome—every human, animal, and plant—that’s been around for a very long time. For eons, it’s served many functions, including training our immune system to do its work, and our brain in how to think and [assist] our bodies to digest food, absorb vitamins, and defend against invaders.
It has also changed drastically in developing countries [and the] United States, specifically in early childhood when babies develop their lifelong patterns of immunity and metabolism. Over the last century, our microbiome has been depleting, losing some of the ancestral microbes, and [I have hypothesized] that it is leading to major diseases and epidemics such as obesity, asthma, food allergies, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and cancer.
Q: What is threatening the microbiome, causing it to change so much?
A: As a whole, the public will try anything to attain and maintain a healthy lifestyle, but some modern-day practices intended to improve health and medicine are over-used and may actually be doing more harm than good. These threats include the very widespread over-usage of antibiotics, C-sections, use of baby formula over breast milk, and antibacterial products.
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Q: What can people do to maintain the health and influence of their microbiome?
A: Each person, especially parents of young children, should consider the benefits and risks associated with the use of antibiotics, C-sections, baby formula, and antibacterials, and question whether they are completely necessary. For example, question your doctor if you are prescribed an antibiotic. The illness may resolve itself just as well on its own without it.
Sometimes, C-sections and formula feeding are medically necessary, but if there is a choice, women should opt for vaginal delivery and feeding their infant with breast milk.
Lastly, rather than buying antibacterial soaps, consider washing with plain soap and water instead. Any benefits from antibacterial soaps have not been proven, despite their widespread marketing.
This article was first published by Rutgers University. Republished via Futurity.org under Creative Commons License 4.0.