Do Modern Lifestyles Drive the Development of Chronic Diseases?
Antibiotic overuse, artificial lighting, lack of sun exposure, and constant access to food may all play a role in the rise of NCDs
Global urbanization and modern civilization have been responsible for countless scientific and technological achievements over the past couple centuries. But these advances have also been accompanied by a more disturbing trend — the rise in chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as allergies, diabetes, depression, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease, which are likely at least partly fueled by our modern lifestyles. Decades before such chronic medical conditions reached epidemic proportions, a microbiologist named René J. Dubos (1901–1982) had already begun cautioning against impending urbanization, loss of biodiversity, and technological shifts borne out of convenience rather than necessity.
Dubos initially gained fame after discovering the first clinically tested antibiotic, gramicidin, in 1939. His discovery revived interest in Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin and launched the era of antibiotics. Dubos would go on to pioneer the field that is now known as the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD). Ironically, Dubos’ discovery may have galvanized the very forces he warned against. In his discussions on biodiversity, Dubos intoned:
“Man himself has emerged from a line descent that began with microbial life, a line common to all plant and animal species…[he] is dependent not only on other human beings and on the physical world but also on other creatures — animals, plants, microbes — that have evolved together with him. Man will ultimately destroy himself if he thoughtlessly eliminates the organisms that constitute essential links in the complex and delicate web of life of which he is a part.”
A 2019 study discovered that as many as one in four antibiotic prescriptions were not medically justified, according to data on outpatient antibiotic prescription fills from 2016. Lead author Kao-Ping Chua, a researcher and pediatrician an University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, commented that the actual percentage of unnecessary prescriptions may be much higher than the numbers…