Approaches to Microbes

I ain’t no scientist or doctor, but I was thinking today that sometimes the approach one takes with scientific/medicinal information can determine the efficacy of that information. For instance, we developed, with the advent of antibiotics, a powerful ability to kill microbes. This is an ability which, in the short term, has saved many lives. But the unfortunate thing is, microbes evolve and mutate in response to our efforts to destroy them completely, and we are approaching an age where antibiotics will no longer be very effective. That’s scary. And this is because we’ve overused our antibiotics, and attempted to eradicate microbes that are impossible to eradicate. And my argument here is going to be that this is a rather idealistic approach for which we will suffer for greatly in the future unless we learn to shift our approach in treating disease.

Some microbes, like viruses such as HIV, evolve so rapidly that it is quite readily apparent that the standard approach is nearly completely ineffective–although the “cocktails” concocted have slowed its progress somewhat. Yet still, researchers are still plugging desperately away with the same approach, hoping to find some chink in its armor, some magic bullet that will wipe out all strains of the virus. This is most likely never going to happen.

Let me here make an analogy between the human body and a large plot of land. Think of vaccines and antibiotics like pesticides and insecticides. You are attempting to cultivate a large and healthy supply of various foodstuff from your soil. But there are numerous pests (microbes) which attempt to destroy the plants or steal the food at all stages of development. So you purchase the latest pesticide and hose down your garden with it, and voila!, the pests are murdered, like magic. But a couple of years later, they are back, and suddenly the pesticide ain’t workin’ so good no more. Because the pests have evolved to be resistant to that pesticide. So you buy the latest version, and kill them again. All this is well and dandy. But unfortunately, you later perform studies on your land and discover that these pesticides have also been polluting your water supply and poisoning your soil for years to come.

You then begin to study organic and permaculture farming principles. Organics relies on natural sustainable yields, with no unnatural, toxic pesticides or insecticides used.

Now let me bring this analogy back to the human body and medicine. It’s time that organics came into how we treat and approach the “pests” of the body: nasty microbes, which propogate like weeds and threaten to stifle our blossoms at every step of the way. You see, we’ve been approaching it in the idealistic, ethno-centric attempt to triumph over nature. We think that we can conquer our viral and bacterial enemies through science, that eventually we will be like gods, impervious to all microbes, chuckling condescendingly at the medieval memory of colds and flus. But just like in visible nature, the attempt to completely destroy some bad types of animals or plants ends up leading to similarly destroying good types. Nature relies on biodiversity. Our bodies rely on multiplicities of microbes to function. Even the bad ones.

It’s a matter, as in organics, of learning how to live with the “bad” things by tolerating a small amount of them, not wasting your time attempting to eradicate them completely. There are always methods of natural control and regulation which can be harnessed and applied in a balanced ecosystem, such as creating plant and animal “guilds,” in which natural collaborations between allied species acts to protect one another against invasive species. One of the crucial weapons in a permaculturist’s or organicist’s arsenal is that of cultivating biodiversity. The most devastating current agricultural practice is that of monoculture, cultivating solely one product. It devastates the soil, the ecosystem, the circulation of water through the soil and air, everything. And then of course you add the myriad toxic pesticides and all that crap and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

So the approach of traditional medicine, while laudable for its idealism in attempting to save humans from suffering and disease, is simply misguided. We are treating patients for the short-term cure, not long-term health. For example, most of our major health problems, which is costing the nation thousands of dollars every day, are things like heart disease. Heart disease will never be cured. But it can fairly easily be prevented through education and subsequently enforced lifestyle and cultural changes.

Let me get back to the microbes. Just like in the organic movement, a more holistic approach to medicine does not necessitate swearing off the advanced findings of research and technology. It implies simply that one changes one’s approach in their application.

Anyway, these were just some thoughts that popped up in my head when I was on the plane coming back home.


Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

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