We humans are so arrogant. We pretend to be at the top of the food chain and are confident in our ability to develop technology to keep us there. In all of nature, the natural checks and balances are created by predators and prey. The grasses of the fields are preyed on by the rabbits which are then preyed on by the hawks, foxes and wolves, which are then preyed on by the lions and tigers and so forth.
So when you think of what predator would prey on humans, you might think of lions, tigers and sharks but when you think about it, the natural human predator is much smaller than that. So much smaller that we humans take our superiority over these predators for granted, with little or no fear of them.
The human predators are microbes: bacteria, viruses, fungus and the like.
How can something so small, insignificant and seemingly at the bottom of the food chain prey on the mightiest creature at the top of the food chain? The answer lies in the beautiful irony of the natural world and it couldn’t be any more perfect. And what makes the microbial world so powerful towards us is our perspective of superiority toward the microbial world.
While we humans are busy ignoring the microbial world, the microbial world is changing and adapting faster than we can invent new antibiotics and counter measures against it.
Bacteria actually rule the world. One estimation counts about five billion trillion trillion microbes on the planet. Just inside your body, there are more bacterial cells than you have body cells by a factor of 10 to 1. Now, most of these bacteria are friendly and beneficial to us. In fact without this symbiotic relationship, life as we know it couldn’t exist. Yet humans have declared war on all bacteria.
We have anti-bacterial soaps, lotions and hand sanitizers every where. In fact the places where the most dangerous bacteria live are in hospitals, where so much effort is put forth to eliminate microbes. Why? Because when you seek to destroy all bacteria with the carpet bombing approach of antibiotics, all but the strongest bacteria are killed (the 0.1% of the bacteria not killed in the 99.9% effective hand sanitizers). It’s this 0.1% of the remaining bacterial that are left to multiply and re-colonize without any competition from other bacteria. And since they are the strongest of the bunch, this only allows them to get stronger.
Yes, our declared war on microbes is actually making them stronger. Over time, exposure to a particular antibiotic will cause the bacterial to mutate and develop an “immunity” to the antibiotic. When a bacteria becomes resistant to multiple antibiotics, it is considered to be a “superbug”. In 2007, these superbugs were responsible for more than 63,000 deaths in the United States, and that’s just in the hospitals!
The trend is still growing. By 2009, hospitals have seen a rapid growth in resistance to carbapenems, an antibiotic considered a “last resort” when other antibiotics have failed. The percentage of carbapenem bacteria which have shown antibiotic resistance has spread from 5% in 2000 to over 40% in 2009. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) once only found in hospitals is now spreading to other communal settings like gyms, with as resistance rate of over 70% in some areas of the country.
The cause is the widespread use and increasing misuse of antibiotics, coupled with the proliferation of antibiotic use in animals raised for human food, the residue of which are ingested by humans upon consumption. Our desire for sanitizing our world is actually making us sick!
The solution lies in multiple actions. First, minimize your use of antibiotics. Use them to fight infection as a last resort using the minimal dose to be effective and use the antibiotic properly by completing the full course of meds according to directions. If taking an antibiotic, promote the recolonization of friendly bacteria by using acidophilous or eating good quality yogurt with natural cultures.
Avoid or eliminate your regular use of hand sanitizers and anti-bacterial soaps. Use more conventional sanitizers like diluted chlorine bleach or alcohol. Incorporate good hygiene by washing your hands regularly with warm water and regular soap. After all, it’s not the soap that eliminates the bacteria, its the friction from rubbing your hands together that does the trick. In fact, studies have shown that simply washing your hands is just as effective at removing bacteria than is using an anti-bacterial soap or hand sanitizer without the harmful side-effects of creating resistant bacteria.
Finally, keep yourself healthy by boosting your natural immunity through proper nutrition, adequate rest, exercise and hydration. Your body knows how to defend itself. Simply let it do it’s job naturally and you’ll be much better off in all but the most severe cases of bacterial infection.
Let’s call a truce with microbes and recognize that for most of them, we are allies that can actually help protect us from the few strains of non-friendly microbes. In doing so, we might actually find that we are no longer being hunted by the smallest organisms on the planet.