mini review: Good Germs, Bad Germs

Good Germs, Bad GermsAt turns fascinating, frightening and hopeful, Good Germs, Bad Germs – Health and Survival in a Bacterial World by Jessica Snyder Sachs is an enlightening read.

The book discusses the fallout we’ve been experiencing from our use and overuse of broad spectrum antibiotics resulting in the rise of antibiotic resistant infections. It also traces from the earliest theories of germs to the current thoughts of a more cooperative existence with these microorganisms, frequently addressing the “hygiene hypothesis” along the way.

Science has come to terms with the reality that not all bacteria are bad and in fact we need them to have a healthy life. After all, the bacteria colonized on and in our bodies outnumber our human cells by a factor of 10 to 1. Studies are underway to determine what constitutes a normal healthy microbiome so that perhaps we may one day treat our wide spread problems of inflammatory diseases, autoimmune illnesses and infections with an adjustment to the community of our invisible friends.

Witness the Human Microbiome Project underway at the National Institutes of Health. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America has joined this path by launching the Gut Microbiome Initiative in May of 2008 in partnership with the Center for Genome Sciences at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and collaborators at the University of Colorado at Boulder. In addition, a similar large project called MetaHIT is underway in Europe.

Besides being generally informative, Sachs’ book has offered me at least one bit of potentially actionable info. In my naivety, I had presumed that all antibiotics would disrupt the bacteria in our guts. It turns out not to be so clear cut. There are broad spectrum antibiotics like amoxicillin and narrow spectrum ones like the older penicillins and erythromycins. You can think of a broad spectrum antibiotic as a shotgun approach, while a narrow spectrum antibiotic is more akin to a sniper’s focus. If I should need to take an antibiotic in the future, I am going to ask my doctor if one of the narrow spectrum antibiotics that are more kind to my gut bugs would be appropriate for me.

Good Germs, Bad Germs takes a vast and complex subject and provides the non-scientist with a grasp of the universe inside ourselves. And as someone who has benefited from the SCD I can certainly appreciate the role bacteria can play in my everyday life.

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2 Responses to “mini review: Good Germs, Bad Germs”

  1. 1 Meghan March 17, 2009 at 11:03 am

    It’s a fascinating topic, and we’re really beginning to realize how much there is still left to know. For instance- the role of the gut microbiome in obesity… it turns out obese and lean people have different complements of bacteria. I blogged about this recently:

  2. 2 Paul Stocker March 17, 2009 at 12:11 pm


    I agree, it seems like an absolute ocean of knowledge is to be had in this field with a wide-ranging impacts for us all. Reading your post reminded me of my own experience. You tell about the experiment between mice that were delivered naturally and those that were delivered by C-section. One of my children was delivered by C-section and the other naturally. The one delivered by C-section seems to be more vulnerable to those everyday colds when compared to the naturally delivered one…


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