SCIENCE
05/20/2014 02:20 pm ET Updated May 20, 2014

Here's How Our Obsession With Killing Bacteria Could Actually Be Killing Us (PODCAST)

Carl Glenn

Dr. Martin J. Blaser has one big theory about a lot of little things.

The little things are microorganisms--the estimated 100-plus trillion bacteria and other microbes that live on and in the average human body.

And Blaser's big theory? That our relationship with these microbial companions--known collectively as the human microbiome--has gotten dangerously, and in some cases lethally, out of balance.

What's behind the imbalance? Blaser, a professor of medicine and microbiology at New York University and the author of a new book entitled "Missing Microbes," cites hand sanitizers and C-sections but puts most of the blame on antibiotics.

He says that recent research--including studies conducted in his own lab--suggests that by killing off beneficial as well as potentially dangerous germs in our bodies, the overuse of antibiotics is promoting obesity, diabetes, allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, autism, and other "modern plagues" that have arisen in the decades since antibiotics became available.

"Our ancient microbiome, which we've had since time immemorial, is degrading," Blaser told HuffPost Science in a wide-ranging interview conducted in his New York City home. "We're losing diversity [of bacterial species]. We're changing it early in life during critical periods of development, and that's what's fueling all these problems."

Blaser said that while antibiotics certainly save lives, they kill germs that our bodies depend upon to stay healthy. Unfortunately, he said, doctors in the U.S. are too quick to prescribe antibiotics--and patients are too quick to ask for them.

Children may be especially vulnerable to the microbial imbalances resulting from antibiotic overuse, he said, adding that 60 percent of the antibiotics that we're giving our kids are unnecessary.

"In the United States we're addicted to many drugs," he said. "We know that. And antibiotics are one of them too."

Listen to the entire interview below.

The interview was broadcast on Sharon, Connecticut radio station WHDD/Robin Hood Radio.

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