Arizona Advanced Medicine Clinic

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

On June 14th of 2012 a huge body of evidence relating to the human microbiome hit the scientific literature.[1] Hundreds of articles were published in Nature magazine[2] and in multiple other journals through the Public Library of Science (PLoS).

natureDr. Phillip Tarr of Washington University at St. Louis, one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Human Microbiome Project[3] researchers, is quoted in an AP News story on June 14, 2012[4] as saying: “These bacteria are not passengers. They are metabolically active. As a community, we now have to reckon with them like we have to reckon with the ecosystem in a forest or a body of water.”

How does this translate into practical applications?

We know that as a population, we are increasingly subject to chronic diseases - diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer are rising to epidemic proportions. One in two Americans is predicted to develop cancer during his or her lifetime. So-called “health” care is only going to cost us more.

Could this tsunami of chronic illness possibly have something to do with our care of ourselves as an ecosystem?

elmtreesWe know that when we planted too many elms in the same place, the elm virus spread like wildfire and essentially wiped out the entire population of elm trees in the United States. I personally have never seen an elm tree.[5]

Since the 1930s we have had a love affair with antibiotics, giving them to our cattle to make them grow and to our children to treat what are probably food-induced earaches. We take them for colds, we spray our fruits and vegetables with fungicides to kill the molds that grow on dying and decomposing vegetable matter, we even put them into the soap with which we wash our hands.

We have declared war on germs. All germs. All microscopic creatures that live within and around us.

germsBut wait! Not all are enemies.[6] This NIH project has demonstrated beyond any doubt that (a) the bacterial population within our bodies outnumbers our own cells by a factor of 10 and (b) we would not survive in the wild without our bacteria which produce many of the nutrients essential to our survival.

So is it not possible that if we wipe out most of the bacteria in our systems, we are actually doing ourselves a disfavor, and killing our allies with friendly fire?

Obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer are at epidemic levels. Is that a coincidence?

“Post hoc, ergo propter hoc” - after that, therefore because of that - is a logical fallacy. Temporal sequence does not guarantee causality. There is such a thing as coincidence. The Skeptic's Dictionary has a very good article on this particular logical fallacy.[7] “To establish the probability of a causal connection between two events, controls must be established to rule out other factors such as chance or some unknown causal factor... to reduce the chance of error from self-deception.”

Nevertheless, sometimes there is a cause and effect relationship between events that occur in a time sequence. Effect generally does follow cause.

More and more in the scientific literature we read of the association of bacterial populations with inflammation, and of the statistical association with obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Much has been written about this issue, in all different medical specialties over the past many years.[8] The National Cancer Institute's project on the Human microbiome has funded enormous amounts of research in the past five years, demonstrating this association.

natcancerinst

In future articles we will explore the association between bacterial populations and chronic illness, with a focus on the current epidemic of cancer.


[1] Downloaded 6/17/2012 from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=your-microbiome-community-we-the-people

Since the 1930s we have had a love affair with antibiotics, giving them to our cattle to make them grow and to our children to treat what are probably food-induced earaches. We take them for colds, we spray our fruits and vegetables with fungicides to kill the molds that grow on dying and decomposing vegetable matter, we even put them into the soap with which we wash our hands.

We have declared war on germs. All germs. All microscopic creatures that live within and around us.

germsBut wait! Not all are enemies.[6] This NIH project has demonstrated beyond any doubt that (a) the bacterial population within our bodies outnumbers our own cells by a factor of 10 and (b) we would not survive in the wild without our bacteria which produce many of the nutrients essential to our survival.

So is it not possible that if we wipe out most of the bacteria in our systems, we are actually doing ourselves a disfavor, and killing our allies with friendly fire?

Obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer are at epidemic levels. Is that a coincidence?

“Post hoc, ergo propter hoc” - after that, therefore because of that - is a logical fallacy. Temporal sequence does not guarantee causality. There is such a thing as coincidence. The Skeptic's Dictionary has a very good article on this particular logical fallacy.[7] “To establish the probability of a causal connection between two events, controls must be established to rule out other factors such as chance or some unknown causal factor... to reduce the chance of error from self-deception.”

Nevertheless, sometimes there is a cause and effect relationship between events that occur in a time sequence. Effect generally does follow cause.

More and more in the scientific literature we read of the association of bacterial populations with inflammation, and of the statistical association with obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Much has been written about this issue, in all different medical specialties over the past many years.[8] The National Cancer Institute's project on the Human microbiome has funded enormous amounts of research in the past five years, demonstrating this association.

natcancerinst

In future articles we will explore the association between bacterial populations and chronic illness, with a focus on the current epidemic of cancer.

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