Every now and then. I have one of those days where I just have to go to the bookstore. It’s not because my surroundings are devoid of reading material; my room, the libraries I sit in while I write, the uncomfortable chairs outside of scientists’ offices where I wait to interview my sources, the cafes …
The book: Asleep: The Forgotten Epidemic that Remains One of Medicine’s Greatest Mysteries by Molly Caldwell Crosby (2010) What it’s about: Asleep is the story of the encephalitis lethargica epidemic that followed in the wake of the 1918 flu. Encephalitis lethargica is mainly known by the nickname “Sleeping Sickness”, but shouldn’t be confused with African …
What it’s about:
Epidemic of Absence tackles one of the trickiest and trendiest topics in 21st-century biomedical research: the complex relationship between autoimmune disease and the bacteria that live in our guts.
A growing body of evidence suggests that by decimating the number of pathogenic microbes people are exposed to, modern medicine has inadvertently shifted the ecological balance between the human immune system and the human microbiome, leaving millions of people vulnerable to allergies and autoimmune disease.
The basic evolutionary argument is that our immune system evolved to cope with a constant onslaught of opportunistic microbes by developing a complex system of checks-and-balances with our bodies’ microbial populations. With those microbes gone, many of the immune system’s coping strategies are having disastrous side effects. In this book, Velasquez-Manoff implicates the depletion of bacterial biodiversity as a driving agent in the pretty much every non-infectious disease you can think of (cancer, depression, Crohn’s, Celiac’s, allergies, and autism are all covered in this book).
It’s a rare snapshot of a scientific revolution in progress. And it’s easily the most thought-provoking book I’ve read all year.