Posts Tagged ‘asthma’

The Three Pound Alien In You

October 23, 2012

The latest New Yorker (10/22/12) has a fascinating article on your microbiome, the roughly three pounds of bacteria that roam your body. (You have approximately 10,000 different organisms, all together weighing as much as your brain.) Only subscribers can read the whole piece online, but you will find a short abstract here.

Researchers have realized that the bugs we have been killing off with such zest are fundamentally part of our system, sometimes doing good and sometimes doing bad. They are like an extra organ, just discovered. For example, there’s evidence that microbial populations help us keep our weight down by controlling our appetite–that’s probably why farmers feed antibiotics to pigs and find that they gain weight faster. The widespread use of antibiotics in children may be the reason for the epidemic of obesity, the article suggests, not the size of the colas available. Antibiotic use may also be linked to the dramatic rise in asthma. And who knows what else.

It makes sense: if you have ten thousand species weighing three pounds swimming around in you for your entire life, their interactions would have to be complicated. (If you had a three-pound cat sitting on your head, those interactions would be complicated too.)

Where do you get your microbiome? Mostly at birth, from your mother’s vagina. Those who are born by C-section don’t get nearly all the bugs, which may explain why C-section children can have special health issues.

With the increase in C-sections, and the greatly increased use of antibiotics, there seems to be a serious downward trend in the organisms, generation by generation. That could spell serious trouble. We don’t really know, because research into the microbiome is just in its infancy. We do know this: medicine just got more complicated.