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Book review: Missing Microbes by Martin Blaser

This is a fascinating book, which looks outside the box and illustrates simple messages of preventive care.

In the first sentence, the author stated that he never knew two of his father`s sisters who had died before the age of two with a high fever. My father`s sister died of cholera aged 18 months in the 1920s, which may have geared him also towards microbiology as a career.

Professor Blaser is currently doing several projects exposing baby mice to antibiotics in their drinking water, seeing how the microbes are affected and the illnesses that are caused by this.

He discusses obesity, food allergies, asthma and a host of other illnesses and shows research evidence in animals that continuous or pulsed doses of antibiotics change the intestinal flora, affecting the microbiome and causing an increase in fat deposition. Weight gain appeared to occur because of the altered microbes alone.

Studies have also been done on pulsed doses of antibiotics showing a similar effect, which is relevant to the treatment of children. A shortage of lactobacillus species has been found to be harmful.

Helicobacter pylori is discussed in children and adults with evidence that it can be beneficial, for instance a certain strain has been found to reduce the incidence of asthma by 40% with fewer reactions to allergens.

The author cites stats suggesting the average age Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed has now been reduced from nine years to six, which he believes is due to a change in microbes. Research is ongoing.

Autism has been postulated to be due to a change in gut microbes affecting early brain development.

This book should appeal to open-minded doctors, scientists and other interested professionals.

Dr Rosemary Alexander is a GP in Hendon, north west London

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