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Thanks Mom for the Bugs

Our complicated relationship with the bugs around us

Dr Padma Garvey/Plant-Based Doctor Mom

Thanks Mom for the Bugs

Several years ago, over our morning cup of coffee, my 70 year old mother casually told me about the day she was stung by a scorpion when she was 18.  This was in her small town in South India around 1960.  Her parents rushed her  to a neighbor who was pretty good in dealing with such things.  The shaman-woman, as I like to refer to her, tied a tourniquet around my mother’s arm to stop the spread of the venom and burned the spot of the sting.  Of course there was also some chanting and incense involved.  As my mother describes it, she went back home and all was well.

Upon further questioning, my mother revealed to me that during the course of her childhood she had had malaria once or twice, typhoid, dysentery, and cholera.  That’s what happens when you live in an area where there is relatively poor sanitation.  You get exposed to a lot of bugs.  Some of them are deadly but most of them are actually really good for you.  They boost your immune system and make you better able to deal with the world around you.  My mother survived all of these exposures and came out stronger for it.  Sadly my mother’s younger twin brothers died from cholera when they were a year old. 

I spent the first five years of my life growing up in India.  My exposure to bugs was certainly quite different from that of my husband, who was born in the Bronx.  Below is a picture of my cousin and me going to nursery school.

Our relationship with bugs is complicated to say the least.  Our assumption that every cold, fever, runny nose, and burning with urination needs to be dealt with using lots of antibiotics has had some serious repercussions.  Our use of antibiotics in factory farming of meat and dairy, that started around the 1950s and jumped in the 1980s, has had some serious repercussions.  Antibiotics are indiscriminate killers, carpet-bombing our body with each dose.  The good bugs that we need usually bear the brunt of the assault. 

The relationship between us and our bugs is called the human microbiome.  There is growing scientific evidence  suggesting that many of us have drastically altered microbiomes and that this may be linked to autoimmune problems, acid reflux, asthma, food allergies, anxiety, and obesity to name a few.  There is ample evidence that the rising rates of serious infections with drug-resistant bacteria have a lot to do with the food you are served in the hospital, like the chicken on your tray.   Several books proved useful to me in understanding these relationships.  I recommend Missing Microbes by Dr. Martin Blaser and An Epidemic of Absence By Moises Valasques-Manoff.  In addition, check out my podcast series on Itunes under Doctormom where I did three podcasts on the human microbiome.  There are lots of things you can do to prevent you and your family from developing problems related to an altered microbiome.  Start consuming more plant-based yogurts that you make at home, cabbage, sauerkraut, bran cereal, green leafy vegetables, etc.

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