Your Body is a Microbial Wonderland

John Jr.'s skin is so perfect. His eyes and lips and ears and nose, they are perfect. His head, shoulders, knees and toes--perfect.  I am excited to watch him grow up on a farm getting dirty and exposed to good germs in organic horse manure and German Shepherd kisses. Medical literature is replete with conclusions that early introduction to germs is beneficial for the overall cellular and systemic health of humans. [1]  

For decades, scientists have been trying to nail down the exact number of human cells in each person.  National Geographic reports the adult human cell count may be as many as 30 trillion. [2] Other sources have cited over 10 trillion.  Safely, we can say the adult human body is made up of 10 to 30 trillion cells--skin cells, muscle cells, blood cells, eyeball cells, the list goes on and on and on. 

What's possibly more impressive, but definitely less known, are the microbial cells living on the human body--not actual human cells, but rather stowaways, freeloaders, squatters. These microbial cells, or microbes, include bacteria, fungi, archaea, protists, viruses, and yes, even microscopic animals. [3]

The microbes largely live within the human gut--the stomach and intestines--and are absolutely essential to human health, including digestion, immunity, metabolism, and other significant aspect of our health including possibly warding off cancer and viruses.  [4]

These microbial cells greatly outnumber our own cells.  Some scientists have estimated a 10 to 1 ratio of microbes to human cells.  That means that if John Jr. has 10 trillion of his own cells, he has 100 trillion microbes living on him. Other more recent estimates hit closer to 40 trillion--thus an adult could have 30 trillion of his own cells and 40 trillion microbial stowaways. [5]  

Moreover, our microbial profile may be equally, or more, important to overall health than our own genes.  Where all human DNA is 99.9% similar, the microbial profile from one person to another may only be as much as 10% similar. [6]  This may explain the vast disparity in human health.

Microbial profiles include large categories--dermal, oral, fecal, and vaginal. One of the very best ways to introduce your newborn to a robust microbial environment is vaginal birth--your kid is smeared in his or her mom's vaginal microbiota during passage through the birth canal. While c-sections are often necessary for the health of mom and baby, microbial health should be taken into consideration when making decisions. [7]

Another important consideration includes the use, or rather overuse, of antibiotics in newborns and infants. Antibiotics can be life-saving and essential to human health. No sane parents would deny their newborn or infant antibiotics when necessary.  However, concepts of necessity, amount, duration of use, and frequency are extremely important because antibiotics used to kill harmful bacteria can also destroy the good bacteria in your child's microbiota. 

I have litigated harmful drugs and chemicals for years. I am biased against trusting chemical and pharmaceutical companies because I have seen far too often motivations for profit and shareholder loyalty outweigh science and public safety. One great way to increase profits is to push the dosage, strength, duration, and frequency--this is where pharmaceutical companies gain competitive market edge.

However, in this concept of dosage--meaning how much you take and for how long--we find destruction of good bacteria, which could have lasting effects into adolescence and adulthood. Every father should engage his child's doctor in an honest conversation about which antibiotic, for how long, at what dosage, and why.  Is the antibiotic absolutely necessary? Can a lesser strength drug be prescribed for a shorter period of time?

One commonly prescribed class of antibiotics, known as Fluoroquinolones (Cipro, Levaquin, Avelox) is extremely strong and can cause permanent peripheral nerve damage. Having litigated this drug, I would not let my son ingest these drugs unless absolutely, absolutely necessary. 

According to the FDA in 2009, 80% of antibiotics sold in the United States are for livestock. Antibiotics given to livestock animals may be a significant cause of antibiotic resistance as humans consume meat containing more resilient harmful bacteria, which in turn could mean your child requires stronger antibiotics after having been exposed to those stronger, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which in turn could destroy the good bacteria in your child's microbiota. The World Health Organization concludes antibiotic resistance is due in large part to antibiotics in livestock. Feeding your child organic and antibiotic-free foods is a great way to protect your child's microbiota. [8]

Whether on the farm, in the doctor's office, or in the kitchen, fathers can offer tremendous benefit to their child's heath by protecting that microbiota.  

And so I am reminded of John Mayer's (modified) song, 

"Your Body is a (Microbial) Wonderland."

Yours truly, 

John Paul Fiske, Sr.