Yesterday I saw an article in USA Today (May 13, 2016, B1) that demonstrated the way the mainstream media incorporates subtle biases in their reporting.
The bias is introduced by framing risks to the human microbiome as deriving from individualized "lifestyle" choices, such as diet and personal use of antibiotics with no discussion of the impact of industrial agriculture (such as widespread use of pesticides, herbicides, and arsenic) and widespread pollution by toxic elements freed from their matrices in industrial processes:
Liz Scabo (May 13, 2016). White House Launches Effort to Study of Beneficial Bacteria. USA Today, B1.First, let me note as an aside that copy-editing is going to hell, as illustrated by the superfluous presence of the "of" in the title of this article.
Modern life may be disturbing balance.
The White House will announce an initiative Friday to kickstart research into the microbes that shape life on Earth - including those in plants, animals, water, soil, and air - as part of an effort to fight disease, grow more food and even reduce the greenhouse gases fueling climate change [in the National Microbiome Initiative]...
...Humans have altered microbiomes through diet and the widespread use of antibiotics, which kill off good and bad bacteria, says Martin Blaser, director of new York University Langone Medical Center's Human Microbiome Program.
Second, note that "DIET" and "ANTIBIOTICS" alone are held responsible for the decline of microbiomes necessary for thriving life. These explanations are severed so that antibiotics and other chemicals in our diet are conceptually dis-associated from the food itself.
These conceptually individualized explanations shift responsibility and blame for the decline in healthy microbiomes to individual human choices about diet and antibiotic use. This explanatory framework essentially articulates the perils of "modern life" within a framework of personal choice.
However, what is left unexplored is the question of how the artificial chemicals and freed elements (e.g., mercury, arsenic, and lead) in our DIET are affecting the microbiome.
In particular, the role of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides in destroying healthy microbiomes is evaded altogether, despite published research examining precisely these processes.
Here is an example of research studying the chemical industry's impact on the microbiome:
Anthony Samsel and Stephanie Seneff. 2013. Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases. Entropy 2013, 15(4), 1416-1463; doi:10.3390/e15041416 http://www.mdpi.com/1099-4300/15/4/1416/htm
AbstractGlyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup®, is the most popular herbicide used worldwide. The industry asserts it is minimally toxic to humans, but here we argue otherwise. Residues are found in the main foods of the Western diet, comprised primarily of sugar, corn, soy and wheat. Glyphosate's inhibition of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes is an overlooked component of its toxicity to mammals. CYP enzymes play crucial roles in biology, one of which is to detoxify xenobiotics. Thus, glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins. Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body. Here, we show how interference with CYP enzymes acts synergistically with disruption of the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids by gut bacteria, as well as impairment in serum sulfate transport. Consequences are most of the diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet, which include gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. We explain the documented effects of glyphosate and its ability to induce disease, and we show that glyphosate is the “textbook example” of exogenous semiotic entropy: the disruption of homeostasis by environmental toxins.
The NIH journal Environmental Health Perspectives explains that research on the microbiome is upending conventional knowledge in toxicology by redefining the very concept of bodily exposure:
Kellyn S. Betts. 2011. A Study in Balance: How Microbiomes Are Changing the Shape of Environmental Health Environ Health Perspect 119:a340-a346 (2011). http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.119-a340 [online 01 August 2011] http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/119-a340/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=119-a340This article explains how the microbiome influences our bodies interaction and absorption of toxic chemicals such as mercury.
The implications of these new insights are staggering. Environmental health scientists may need to expand the toxicokinetics of metals and other environmental agents, as well as associated biomarkers, to include the microbial component. “This is a huge thing that has never been thought of before in environmental health sciences,” Silbergeld told workshop attendees.
Emerging findings also demand a re-examination of what it means to be exposed to environmental agents, Silbergeld says. To a toxicologist, she explains, a contaminant is only “in the body” once it has crossed from the external environment into circulating blood, or a cell, or an organ. But new findings suggest biologically relevant transformations may take place prior to absorption, when contaminants interact with the microbiome in the mouth, intestines, or other tissues. Because of the metabolic processes mediated by microbiomes, a great deal of what toxicologists attribute to human metabolism—such as methylation of arsenic—may actually take place at least in part before contaminants cross into the internal environment of our bodies.
The chemicals that we use while growing and processing our food negatively impact healthy microbiomes yet the USA Today article FRAMES RISK from the perspective of individual choices tied to "diet" (food selection) and personalized antibiotic use.
Is this framing entirely accidental? I think not.