When I Was a Kid…
You’ve seen those chain emails, the ones where the author talks about how our generation grew up without any of the safety measures we take today, and we turned out “just fine.”
“Relative to what?” I always want to say. Just because you didn’t die from not wearing a seat belt doesn’t mean thousands of children didn’t. You might not have gotten melanoma from never wearing sunscreen yet, but you still could. You played in the dirt until the streetlights came on …
Wait a minute, there might be something to that dirt thing.
This issue’s story about the microbiome has one main conclusion: we don’t know much at all about them, but the microorganisms that live on every body surface may have tremendous impact on our health. Is that what’s causing the alarming uptick in dangerous food allergies? Is it behind gastrointestinal diseases that so many, including people I love, suffer from?
Right now, it’s only speculation, but there seems to be some logic in the idea that today’s clean living has wiped out too many of the microbes that we actually need. Germs are bad, we learned as children. They must be avoided, washed away with antibacterial soap, expunged by antibiotics even if you’re not sure they’re causing your illness. But it seems we overcorrected.
Much more research is needed before we figure out what the microbiome is doing and what steps are needed to correct the imbalance. We’re already doing fecal microbiota transplants for people whose guts have become overrun by C. difficile. One day will we be taking supplements, like vitamins, to add microbes back into our bodies?
Imagine the chain emails of 20 years from now—“We took antibiotics for every sniffle and we turned out OK.” But will we?