For decades now we humans have been disturbing the natural balance of microbes with our over-use of chemicals and antibiotics. Microbes (single-cell organisms) may be invisible but they live on and in everything: the mountains and oceans, plants and animals, soils and food, and in and on us. Within each of these habitats, trillions of microbes live together in communities called ‘micro biomes’. We now know that these complex communities play a crucial role in maintaining health in any environment. They help humans and animals thrive, ensure plants grow big and strong, and make our homes pleasant places to be in.
And they have been doing that for billions of years.
In our attempt to control harmful bacteria, unbeknown to us we’ve enabled an environment where microbes mutate to resist antibiotics and become more dangerous. A growing list of health concerns such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning, gonorrhoea, and foodborne diseases are becoming harder, and occasionally impossible, to treat as antibiotics become less effective.
The situation is close to breaking point, especially in the UK’s health system. In six years the number of patients with life-threatening conditions who have failed to respond to antibiotics has risen by a third. But antibiotic resistance is a global problem. The World Health Organisation claims 50% of antibiotics are used inappropriately, either for treating viruses – when they actually only treat bacterial infections – or by using broad spectrum antibiotics which more rapidly contribute to resistance.
The world is now waking up to the extent of this damage. Scientists and public policy leaders are rightly committing resources and research into finding out what can be done to protect human life. The Department of Health and Social Care is spending £32 million on research grants.
In the hunt for solutions to antibiotic resistance some scientists are looking back to nature. A University team in Bristol has identified a sea sponge living 2km below the Atlantic ocean that has the potential to fight the superbug MRSA. And cicada and dragonfly wings are inspiring common medical implants; scientists are copying their bacterial-killing nano-spiked surfaces to reduce patient infection and save the NHS billions.
Like climate change, the issue of antibiotic resistance feels like an overwhelming and pending threat to humanity. Most of us file it away under distant and hopeless. But also like climate change, there are things that you can do to as an individual to protect yourself, your family and your environment.
New technologies mean you can ditch the chemicals, limit the use of antibiotics and work with the power of nature. We know now how to isolate, multiply and deliver beneficial microbes, also known as probiotics, to any environment. You can choose to boost nature and support life when you embrace a probiotic lifestyle, and recognise that microbes have an incredible intelligence. Remember, they created the conditions for life to evolve on earth. They work continuously for maximum vitality and abundance. We believe it is important to trust them to get on with their job.
There is one thing you will need to give up: the feeling that bugs are bad. If we are to learn anything from the history of antibiotic resistance, it is that when we think we have the answers, we don’t. Short-term fixes are not necessarily long-term answers. We are discovering that the biodiversity and power of the invisible microbial world is an intricate life support system for our planet. It’s time to admit that nature usually knows best.