Is Overuse of Antibiotics Driving Up Rates of Ulcers, Stomach Cancer, Allergies, Asthma and Obesity?

Is overuse of antibiotics a driving cause of ulcers, stomach cancer, heartburn, cancer of the lower esophagus, auto-immune diseases like allergies and asthma, and perhaps even obesity?

It all centers on a bacterium known as H. pylori, which is at the epicenter of a major and unresolved debate among some of the world’s leading doctors and medical researchers. Ask many doctors, and they’ll tell you that the only good Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a dead one. The common human stomach bacterium was implicated in stomach ulcers, and the scientists who made that connection, Barry J. Marshall and Robin Warren, won the Nobel Prize [3] for their work in 2005.

But Martin J. Blaser [4], the director of the Human Microbiome Program at NYU, thinks that’s only part of the story. His findings suggest that our relationship with H. pylori is one of amphibiosis, a scientific term meaning a relationship between two organisms that is sometimes helpful and sometimes harmful. In other words, it’s the combination of symbiosis and parasitism rolled up in one.

Blaser takes on this question in his book [5], Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling our Modern Plagues. He makes the claim that the same microbe that plays a role in ulcers and even stomach cancer might also protect us from gastroesophageal reflux (heartburn), cancer of the lower esophagus, auto-immune diseases like allergies and asthma, and perhaps even obesity.

According to Blaser, it appears that H. pylori plays a helpful role early in life, and then turns on us later in life. And you might think, “Great! All we have to do is live with H. pylori until we hit middle age and then kill it off with antibiotics.” But, it turns out, fewer and fewer of us play host to H. pylori than ever before.

Could this microbe leave the human gut forever, just as we find out that it might be good for us? Here’s what Blaser had to say about his findings. And, of course, you can read much more about the subject in his book.

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