Showing posts with label microbiome. Show all posts
Showing posts with label microbiome. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

CDC Warning: New Drug-Resistant Bacteria!

The most recent news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) makes it clear that we are at risk of entering a post-antibiotic era: a point in history in which prescription drugs are no longer going to be any match for the "superbugs."  These are the bacteria that have successfully morphed their way around any pharmaceutical battle gear (antibiotics) that we have thrown down to stop their advance. The implications could be catastrophic, making this warning from the CDC one that we as individuals and a society cannot ignore.

Bacteria slide

The seriousness of the superbug situation

Quoting CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.: “If we don’t act now, our medicine cabinet will be empty and we won’t have the antibiotics we need to save lives.”

According to the 2013 CDC report, Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, these new antibiotic-resistant superbugs cause two million illness each year in the U.S. and 23,000 deaths.  That puts these antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria in the top 10 causes of adult deaths in the U.S., according to CDC death statistics.

The CDC report ranks the superbug threats into three categories: urgent, serious, and concerning, as measured by seven factors: health impact, economic impact, how common the infection is, a 10-year projection of how common it could become, how easily it spreads, availability of effective antibiotics, and barriers to prevention.  Infections classified in the report as urgent threats include:
  • Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE)
  • The drug-resistant gonorrhea strain
  • Clostridium difficile, a serious diarrheal infection usually associated with antibiotic use. 
The strain C. difficile alone causes nearly a quarter of a million hospitalizations and more than 14,000 deaths every year in the states.

The cost of not solving the superbug dilemma is not just about the risk to those victims of the bacteria but also economic risks.  These antibiotic-resistant infections add significant cost to our overburdened U.S. health care system. The CDC reports that antibiotic resistance adds $20 billion in excess direct health care costs. Factor in the additional costs to society for lost productivity and the superbug economic damage skyrockets to $35 billion annually.

Why this is happening

What’s causing the problem? The use of antibiotics. This is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance, the CDC asserts. Too often, doctors prescribe antibiotics inappropriately or for conditions that cannot benefit from antibiotics at all.

Compounding this issue is that, whether gradually or quickly, every bug naturally develops resistance to every new bacteria-fighting drug that comes on the market to fight them, leaving us evermore at risk of contracting an illness for which there is no cure. 

Another key problem is that any antibacterial drug you take will not only kill the targeted bacteria but also the good bacteria that we need for a healthy internal microbiome.  This leaves us more vulnerable to a recurrence or two other strains of bacteria.  CDC estimates suggest that 50 percent of all the antibiotics prescribed for people are not needed or are not prescribed appropriately. 


Take these four steps to halt superbug resistance

It is possible, as individuals and a nation, to fight antibiotic resistant superbug development. The four key steps recommended by the CDC include:
  • Prevent infection. The best way to prevent the spread of resistance is to prevent infection in the first place. Drug-resistant infections can be prevented by immunization, infection prevention actions in healthcare settings, safe food preparation and handling, and general hand washing.
  • Practice antibiotic stewardship.  We need to reduce the use of antibiotics to only where they are medically needed/called for. For example, antibiotics are widely used in food-producing animals, which puts not just the animals at risk but those who consume the antibiotic-infested meat, eggs, dairy products, etc.  every time antibiotics are used, the bacteria will begin to evolve and develop resistance. If we use antibiotics less today, we will have more access to them when we need them tomorrow.
  • Track resistance patterns. CDC gathers data on antibiotic-resistant infections that cause some people to get a resistant infection. Experts can use this info to develop infection prevention strategies and prevent the resistant bacteria from spreading.
  • Develop new antibiotics and diagnostic tests.  This is a call out from the CDC to drug manufacturers.  Antibiotic resistance is a natural, inevitable occurrence. It can never be stopped, only slowed. Thus, we will always need new antibiotics to stay ahead of drug-resistant bacteria.
The first two steps noted above are fully within your control.  You can, for instance, choose to buy animal-based foods only from sources that do not use antibiotics in growing their farm animals. To be sure, purchase only those products labeled organic. Not only will this directly reduce the superbug risk to you and your family but, if enough people start doing this, the economics of lost business may persuade farmers to discontinue widespread use of antibiotics in their livestock.

See the full CDC report on superbugs for more information about drug resistance and the serious impacts it has on human health, or visit

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Bacteria–Gross or Good?

Bacteria. The word itself conjures up images of icky, gross, scary stuff that we want to avoid.  But is bacteria getting an undeserved bad rap? 

Certainly, bacteria is to blame for a history of undesirable, dangerous, and even deadly maladies.  But the more scientists learn about our bodies, the more they learn that some bacteria is not only safe, but essential to our health and survival as a species. 


But, Momma said that bacteria is bad…

Momma wasn’t wrong – some forms of bacteria are bad – the kind that cause disease. These bacteria are called “pathogens,” and can cause all kinds of trouble, such as:
  • Bacterial pneumonia, which is caused by bacterial infection
  • Acne breakouts, which are caused by a bacterium called Propionibacterium
  • Food-borne illnesses caused by bacteria, such as Campylobacter jejuni and Salmonella
  • Streptococcus A – better known as strep throat
  • Clostridium botulinum – better known as botulism – potent enough that one teaspoonful could kill every human being in the United States!
  • The “Great Dying” event that scientists say occurred 250 million years ago, producing enough methane to choke out most life on Earth – recent scientific data suggests that a single strain of marine bacteria could have caused or worsened it.
But here’s what Momma didn’t know. Even as she may have told you that you are one of a kind, the truth that scientists are learning is that we as individuals are not “one” at all; we are actually “superorganisms” – a collection of several hundred microbial species – a human host to a few hundred trillion bacteria.

The bacteria live on your skin, on your tongue, and mostly in your intestines.  Scientists estimate that you have a couple pounds of body weight purely in the form of microbes in your gut alone.

Ooh, gross! – Pounds of bacteria in my intestines??

Actually, you want to cozy up to these gut microbes – most of these trillion microbial guests are good bacteria – that kind that make your life better.  For example:
  • Gut bacteria is what creates vitamin K in your system.
  • Good bacteria can battle bad bacteria in eye infections
  • Good bacteria break down plant starches that your body otherwise has difficulty digesting
  • Good bacteria help your body convert calories into fat, some of which is necessary for survival
  • Bacteria help your body break down cancer-causing carcinogens
  • Bacteria help the walls of your digestive tract renew itself
  • Bacteria help your immune system to function properly
Scientists refer to the massive microbial community in your body as your microbiome.  The microbiome is such a new area of study that scientists cannot yet conclusively tell us what a healthy microbiome should contain, but they are learning more every day.  But what they are already sure of is that, if your health is “off” in some way, or if your body’s systems have what appear to be areas of weakness, it’s likely because your microbiome is off kilter – that you lack certain organisms, or have too many of a certain kind, weakening your body’s ability to deal with stress, or properly metabolize foods, or handle allergies, and so forth (read more on how you can improve your child’s health by encouraging the good bacteria).

Kefir and probiotics

How do my bacterial levels get healthy or unhealthy?

Scientists are discovering that many factors can negatively influence your microbiome.  Among them:
  • Not being born vaginally – exposure of the fetus to the birth canal appears to kick start the microbiome of the newborn.
  • Living in too pristine an environment – microbial exposure over the course of life appears to aid the health and diversity of the microbiome.
  • Lack of dietary diversity – exposure to a wide variety of foods, especially unprocessed foods, such as fruits and vegetables, strengthens the microbial environment of your gut.
  • Lack of social exposure – apparently, we rub off on each other, literally.  The more people you interact with, the more diverse your microbiome becomes, and diversity seems to strengthen it.
  • Lack of dietary fiber and probiotics in your diet.
  • Exposure to antibiotics – though an antibiotic may be necessary to overcome an illness, antibiotics kill off the good bacteria at the same time.
  • Antimicrobial compounds in the diet or environment – antibiotic residue is often found in meat, milk, and even surface water.  Even the frequent use of antimicrobial hand sanitizers, while protecting us from bad bacteria, are also killing off the good bacteria.
Girl playing with dirt

Is there anything I can do to improve my microbiome?

Your biome is largely formed by the time you are three years old, which is why it’s important to nurture a healthy microbiome from the earliest years.   That said, it is possible to positively influence your microbial innards and avoid those things that can harm it. For example:
  • Do not keep your toothbrush too close to your toilet – flushing can aerosolize some of what’s in the toilet bowl.
  • Avoid giving your  children antibiotics except when medically necessary.
  • Let a bit of dust settle in your home – your smallest children will benefit from early exposure to the “real world.”
  • Let your kids play in the dirt – the exposure can aid their microbiome diversity.
  • Encourage your family’s exposure to animals — petting a dog, for instance, spreads good bacteria from one human to another.
  • Reduce or eliminate processed foods from your diet.
  • Get some “prebiotics” in your diet – foods that stimulate the growth or presence of healthy bacteria in your body.  Fermented foods can help, such as kimchee, yogurt, and sauerkraut, which contain probiotic bacteria.
  • Expand your microbial biodiversity by consuming a wide variety of polysaccharides – plant foods that are high in fiber.
If you find the subject of healthy bacteria and how to positively influence your microbiome, read this lengthy but fascinating article from the NY Times online.  

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer