Saturday, April 19, 2008

Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World

Cover Both friendly and destructive bacteria live in our mouths, eyes, skin and elsewhere. Over millions of years, the body has come to an accommodation with those creatures, generally striking a balance ensuring survival. This balance has been severely offset in recent years, due to a "cleanliness" obsession that arose when it became clear that some germs were responsible for diseases. This idea was effectively demonstrated by UK researcher David Strachan, whose research led to what is now called the "hygiene hypothesis" - respiratory illnesses result from lack of cross-microbe activity to build immunities. In short, rich, small families were more prone to allergies than large, poorer ones. As Sachs points out, humans in our society overreacted to the new knowledge about disease-causing germs and sought to eliminate them all. The imbalance has led to many tragic situations, and initiated a guarantee that more, perhaps worse, situations are in the offing. What are we to do about it?

Jessica Sachs guides us through the findings of scores of scientists' work that has revised the approach we were taught about "germs" in our childhood. Eating mud, something many of us were at least verbally chastised for, turns out to be a good thing, even a necessity. From birth, the introduction of certain microbes initiate processes the body needs to keep going. For most people today, it's well known that microbes in our tummies are part of the process of digestion. Escherichia coli is known to be a true friend - in controlled numbers and certain strains. What's less known is how many other bacteria the body relies on to get certain jobs done. One of those jobs is keeping the immune system properly tuned. A lazy immune system is unresponsive or unable to react to invasion. An overly ambitious one can turn on its own body and destroy it.

Publisher Hill & Wang, Oct 2007, ISBN-10: 0809050633

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