The New York Times just published an excerpt from this upcoming book, which I'm very much looking forward to reading, called An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System.
In the book, the author posits a compelling question:
Should your children pick their noses?
Should your children eat dirt? Maybe: Your body needs to know what
immune challenges lurk in the immediate environment.
Picking up your food from the floor, aka the 5 second rule? He quotes a Dr Meg Lemon who says yes to that- and more. Get rid of antibacterial soap, hand sanitizers, and encourage your kids to eat dirt...and boogers.
Interestingly, the research is brought back to 19th century London, where Hay Fever was thought of as an "Aristocratic disease."
The paper hypothesized that “allergic diseases were prevented by infection in early childhood, transmitted by unhygienic contact with older siblings, or acquired prenatally from a mother infected by contact with her older children.
“Over the past century declining family size, improvements in household amenities, and higher standards of personal cleanliness have reduced the opportunity for cross infection in young families,” the paper continued. “This may have resulted in more widespread clinical expression of atopic disease, emerging in wealthier people, as seems to have occurred for hay fever.”
As a result, the immune system that evolved to match the levels of threat found in the environment has now found itself at a loss, leading to the astronomic rise in allergies we see today:
The percentage of children in the United States with a food allergy rose 50 percent between 1997–1999 and 2009–2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The jump
in skin allergies was 69 percent during that period, leaving 12.5 percent of American children with eczema and other irritations... There are related trends in inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, rheumaticconditions and, in particular, celiac disease. The last results from the immune’s system overreacting to gluten, a protein in wheat, rye and barley. This attack, in turn, damages the walls of the small intestine.
How did we get to this point where our bodies are so deprived of the stimuli they need that they start to attack themselves? Well, advertising played a role:
We’re fed a steady diet of a hygiene-related marketing that began in the late 1800s, according to a novel study published in 2001 by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and
Epidemiology. Scientists at Columbia University who did the research were trying to understand how we became so enamored of soap products.
What do you think of the hygiene hypothesis? Will you be reading Matt Richtel's book as well?