#52 Bacteria and antibiotics – who’s the bad guy?

Martin Blaser, professor of medicine and microbiology at New York University

Martin Blaser, professor of medicine and microbiology at New York University

Obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease. Asthma, allergies, celiac disease. Have you ever wondered why their incidence is on the rise? Let’s consider obesity for a moment. In 1990, one in ten adults in the United States was overweight. Nowadays, that number has risen to one in three, and one in ten adults is obese. According to the World Health Organisation, the problem affects people worldwide, including those in underdeveloped countries, so fat-rich diets and increased food intake cannot be the only explanation.

Then why are we getting fatter?

Martin Blaser, professor of medicine and microbiology at New York University, has a theory. He believes that some of our modern medical practices are to blame. The main culprit? Antibiotics – or rather, the way we have abused these antibacterial drugs over the last 70 years. Each one of us hosts a collection of good bacteria, known as the microbiome, that keep us healthy by training our immune system, helping us digest food and making essential vitamins for us. But every time we take an antibiotic, we destroy some of our friendly microbes and perturb this useful alliance, with negative consequences for our health.

Who would have guessed that the same ‘miracle drugs’ that cure us from horrible, deadly infections would – in some ways – make us sicker?

Book Cover_English


In 2014, Martin Blaser wrote a book entitled “Missing Microbes”, an urgent call to action to stop damaging our precious microbes before it is too late. Martin Blaser visited Stockholm last year to celebrate the release of the Swedish translation of his book. On that occasion, he met our intern Federica Santoro to chat about our bacterial allies and how antibiotic abuse is damaging our health in ways we could never have imagined.



This episode is also available in Swedish.

And while you’re here… Did you know that bacteria can talk? Don’t miss our previous episode on bacterial chit-chat to find out all about it!

Listen to this episode’s playlist on Spotify:

  • Thomas Dolby – She blinded me with science
  • Bonafide – Sicker than I think
  • Everything But The Girl – Missing
  • Madness – Our House
  • Ennio Morricone – The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
  • Superlux – Microbiota
  • Will And The People – Jekyll & Hyde
  • Blur – For Tomorrow
  • Jamiroquai – Emergency On Planet Earth
  • The Verve – The Drugs Don’t Work
  • Squirrel Nut Zippers – Fat Cat Keeps Getting Fatter
  • Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’
  • Bob Dylan – Blowin’ In The Wind

This episode was produced with support from the Swedish Research Council Formas, the Swedish Association for Professional Scientists Naturvetarna and KI Career Service.
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