Shrinking biodiversity, reduced medicinal effectiveness?

Traditional salmon cooking.

Considerable research has been undertaken in the past 5 - 10 years on our microbiome, the commensal and symbiotic microorganisms that inhabit our bodies both inside and out. Several truths about the great importance of these organisms have become obvious over this time. First, the genetic diversity of these organisms is immense, effectively dwarfing our contribution to a collective genome. Second, these microbes are of significant importance to our health, including a major role in processing components of our foods and medicines. Third, the diversity and functionality of these microbes is being negatively impacted by our modern lifestyle.

Over the past several generations inhabitants of western civilization have been reducing the number of microbial species present in and on us with many consequences. It is fair to speculate at this point that many of our autoimmune diseases could be the result of a dysfunctional microbiome. Some obesity and behavioural issues could be linked to our microbiome. In our gut many of the species process components of our food providing us with important nutrients, hormones, and neurotransmitters.

Our western lifestyle of a reduced range of food items that may have been overly processed contribute to this reduction in beneficial microbial species. Our over-use of antibiotics and our chlorination of water also contribute to a reduction in microbial species. An important set of questions has not yet been addressed. How has this reduction in species affected our ability to make use of natural remedies? Without knowing it we may have slowly reduced the ability of traditional medicines to do their work as they may have depended on the processing power of one or more microbes to bring about its health benefits.

Over time as more information comes to light I will post information here. I mention this now to give you something to consider next time you want to wash up with antibacterial soap or take some antibiotics when a few days will see an end to an infection. Or perhaps more commonly, reach for a burger and fries instead of a salad. These courses of action have their place, but they should be far from routine.

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