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Exploring the link between disease and the human microbiome

For readers that have heard the term probiotics, a recent article provides context.

The term refers to the bacterial cells in every individual that total around 100 trillion, outnumbering human cells by about 10 to one. Those microorganisms, sometimes referred to as the microbiome, are believed to play a key role in keeping individuals healthy. 

However, recent research indicates that the diversity of the human microbiome may be decreasing, with potentially severe health consequences. In fact, one researcher suggests that the decrease may be responsible for increased susceptibility to diseases, chronic conditions and some disabilities.

The list of disorders and disabilities possibly linked to declining microbiome diversity is quite extensive, including gastrointestinal conditions and digestive disorders, cardiovascular diseases, liver disease, autoimmune conditions, various allergies and asthma. Notably, obesity and Type 1 diabetes also made the list, as did Crohn’s disease and celiac disease. As an attorney knows, such conditions can become so serious that they render an individual unable to work. Such conditions may also necessitate the need for assistance from disability benefits programs, such as Social Security disability insurance.

The researcher suspects that overly prescribed antibiotics may be responsible for the decrease in microbial diversity, even if taken in short-term doses. That’s troubling news, since the average American child has received 11 courses of antibiotics by the age of 10. In fact, three courses of antibiotics often occur before a child reaches two years of age.

In fact, the American approach to antibiotics may be too high throughout every age bracket. For example, health professionals in Sweden uses only about 40 percent of the antibiotics that Americans do, yet the country does not have a higher incidence of disease.

The research may impact the way that health professionals prescribe antibiotics in America. The researcher recommends not only more sparing antibiotic use, but also narrow-spectrum antibiotics that won’t kill off other healthy bacteria.

Source: The New York Times, “We Are Our Bacteria,” Jane E. Brody, July 14, 2014

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