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A Dirtier Life Can Be a Green and Healthier Life

Posted by Christina B. Farnsworth

Sep 9, 2014 2:25:00 PM

Can you be too clean to be healthy? Doctors are now saying the answer is yes -- and that some exposure to dirt and pets early in infancy can help prevent allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases.

 To clean to be healthy?

Who doesn’t carry hand sanitizer or worry about e-coli or exposure to diseases? Yet doctors are saying now that cleanliness isn’t always next to godliness. Exposure to dirt and pets early in infancy can help build immune systems and prevent allergies. Who ever thought that crawling around in the dirt, being exposed to rodents, roaches and cats, and having a pet like a dog or being raised on a farm might actually inoculate babies towards long-term health?

Doctors call the not-so-clean theory the "hygiene hypothesis" and WebMD is among those reporting and recommending that a less than totally hygienic environment promotes good health. Here is the info, but it begs another question. Where is the green balance? How much nasty nature is good and when is it too much? We'd love to hear your thoughts.

According the one story on WebMD, “when exposure to parasites, bacteria, and viruses is limited early in life, children face a greater chance of having allergies, asthma, and other autoimmune diseases during adulthood.”

WebMD quotes doctor Thomas W. McCade, PhD, a biological anthropologist specializing in human population biology at Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill. The professor is director of the Laboratory for Human Biology Research, Northwestern University: “Just as a baby's brain needs stimulation, input, and interaction to develop normally, the young immune system is strengthened by exposure to everyday germs so that it can learn, adapt, and regulate itself.”  

Another recent study WebMd reported looked at 467 inner-city infants tracked from when they were in the womb in Baltimore, Boston, New York City and Saint LouisIt reported that infants exposed to “household bacteria and allergens from rodents, roaches and cats during their first year of life” -- ooohh Yuck! had less wheezing and asthma.

Study results surprised everyone, because earlier studies had found the opposite.


"What we found was somewhat surprising and somewhat contradictory to our original predictions," study co-author Dr. Robert Wood, chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore told WebMD.

The study put filth in rather interesting terms: “About 41 percent of allergy-free and wheeze-free children in the study grew up in homes that were rich with allergens and bacteria. By contrast, only 8 percent of children who suffered from both allergy and wheezing had been exposed to these substances in their first year of life.


The study was published June 6 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

WebMD says, “As many as half of all 3-year-olds in the United States suffer from wheezing illnesses, and recurrent wheezing and allergies are considered a risk factor for asthma in later life, researchers said. According to the American Lung Association, asthma remains one of the most common pediatric illnesses, affecting about 7 million American children.”

McDade told WebMD, "I'd like to see a recalibration toward common sense. You don't have to wash or sanitize everything." He also thinks far fewer antibiotics should be prescribed.

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