Muddy plan

Earth Day today. A time to appreciate the goodness the Earth bestows on us. Right down to the lowest microbial bacteria wriggling around in the earthen grime.

Antibiotics have been one of the top innovations of mankind saving countless lives and even more pain and misery. And yet this windfall might be slipping away from us with the scourge of microbial resistance. It may be that not using antibiotics is the key to us being able to use them. And exposing ourselves to more bacteria and antibacterial agents could make us healthier.

  • The government’s list of the greatest threats facing the country. Adding antibiotic resistance is being actively considered. Pandemic influenza – This remains the most significant civil emergency risk. Three worldwide influenza pandemics occurred in the 20th century (1918, 1957 and 1968)…70 per cent of the world’s bacteria have now developed a resistance to antibiotics. We have used – or are using – the drugs of last resort. Antibiotics are no longer effective. The drugs that have transformed life and longevity and saved countless millions since penicillin was discovered by Sir Alexander Fleming in 1928 now saturate every corner of our environment. We stuff them into ourselves and our animals; we spray them on crops, dump them in rivers, and even – as emerged at a meeting of science ministers from the G8 last year – paint them on the hulls of boats to keep off barnacles. As a result an invisible army of super-resistant bacteria has evolved, one that is increasingly claiming lives – currently more than 25,000 a year in Europe alone, around as many as die on the continent’s roads. Many leading scientists and doctors and politicians are freely adopting the language of global catastrophe. Infections such as tuberculosis and septicaemia – the scourge of earlier centuries – are once again killing us at frightening rates. We have used, or are using, our so-called drugs of last resort. There is nothing left in the armoury and new drugs are not being developed. Welcome to the post-antibiotic age.” (Telegraph)

What can you do? Well, go out and wallow around in some good, old grimy Earth. As the Wall Street Journal describes in its piece “Get Your Children Good and Dirty”:

  • “The practical upshot of all this research is clear: Our health depends to a large degree on maintaining a robust and diverse community of microorganisms in our bodies—and establishing good gut-health as children is especially important… From the moment we are born, we begin getting colonized by bacteria, which kick-start a series of fundamental biological processes, including the development of our immune system. Before birth, the lining of our gut is full of immature immune cells. When bacteria move in, the immune cells react to them, changing and multiplying. They even move to other parts of the body to train other cells with the information they have acquired from these intruders. If deprived of this interaction, the immune system remains sloppy and immature, unable to fight off diseases properly… Such discoveries have led scientists to call our microbiota a ‘new organ,’ perhaps the last human organ to be discovered by modern medicine…Knowing what we do now about the role of the microbiota, it is not surprising that these diseases are being diagnosed in more children. They are, to a great extent, a consequence of relatively recent changes in our lifestyle—modern diet, oversanitization, excessive use of antibiotics—that have altered the specific microbes that affect our metabolism early on. We urgently need to find ways to modify our behavior so that our microbes can function properly. Never before in human history have babies and children grown up so cleanly, and our diets have lost many of the elements most crucial to the health of our guts. We have become very bad hosts to our microbes.”