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21 August 2006

Allergies and the ‘Hygiene Hypothesis’

In our need for cleanliness we have inavertantly created greater chronic health problems through an undeveloped immune system. This is another reason why I recommend everyone drinks kefir everyday to help restore bacterial to our bodies and strengthen our immune system. As this article highlights... even the bad bugs can help us.

Sometime in the 1990s, researchers developed the “hygiene hypothesis” as a way of explaining the steady increase in chronic respiratory illnesses over the preceding 15 years. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology in Milwaukee, Wis., the number of Americans with asthma increased by 75 percent during that period and the number of those with some kind of allergy doubled. The hygiene theory points to the American obsession with cleanliness as the correlating factor.

Advocates of the hypothesis note that when a baby’s developing immune system doesn’t encounter enough or the right kind of bacteria, viruses, or parasites, the body’s lymphocytes get out of whack and start treating harmless things like dust or pollen as major invaders. Critics of the idea quickly point out exceptions—like the high incidence of asthma in inner city children—but two new studies enhance the hypothesis’ viability. The first, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Immunology, found that sewer rats actually have stronger immune responses and higher levels of disease-fighting antibodies than rats raised in the dirt- and disease-free environment of the research lab.

The second involves whipworms. A Michigan State University team found that swallowing the eggs of this threadlike parasite helps relieve the intestinal ulcers and severe bouts of diarrhea that characterize inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Since IBD occurs more frequently in industrialized nations, these new findings also fit the hygiene hypothesis, which says that occasional infections actually bolster the immune system, and that parasites have historically played an important part in our immune development.

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