If Being Too Clean Makes Us sick, Why Isnt Getting Dirty The Solution?

Today rates of allergic, autoimmune and other inflammatory illness are rising dramatically in Western societies. If that werent bad enough, we are beginning to understand that many psychiatric ailments, including depression, migraine headaches and nervousnes disorders, are associated with rednes. Perhaps the most startling observation is that our children are afflicted with the same inflammatory problems, contributing to the fact that over 40 percent of US children are on drugs for some chronic condition.

And the cause, according to the hygiene hypothesis, is that being too clean causes a malformation of the immune system, leading to a broad range of inflammatory cancers. The original idea was that decreased infections in childhood due to hygiene led to a weak immune system, prone to become allergic and inflamed.

If the problem is that we are too clean, then, hypothetically, the issue can be easily resolved. We only need to get dirty, right? Wrong.

Getting dirty doesnt help our immune system and generally stimulates inflammation worse. Much worse. That means there is something very wrong with the hygiene hypothesis.

Biodiversity Is The Real Issue

What we are genuinely have is a biodiversity problem. Our clean, indoor-centered lives and a Western diet rich in processed foods have depleted our biomes the bacteria and worms that naturally live in our bodies, our intestines including with regard to. These organisms play a role in the development and regulation of our immune systems, and scientists have identified the loss of biodiversity as being central to the high rates of inflammatory cancer in the developed world.

Giving up soap wont help your biome. Bar of soap via www.shutterstock.com .

The Hygiene Hypothesis Was RightIn Its Day

An increase in inflammatory ailments, like allergies, was first observed about 150 decades ago among the gentry in Europe, then reached the entire population of the industrialized world by the 1960 s, and seems merely to have climbed steadily since then.

When trying to understand why inflammatory diseases increased in the late 1800 s and throughout the 20 th century, scientists set their thumb on things such as toilets and water treatment facilities. In those days, having a toilet was hygiene.

But days change. After generations of living with toilets and water therapy facilities, some of the wildlife in our bodies has been driven to the point of extinction. Our loss of contact with the soil due to indoor working environments has further depleted the wildlife of our bodies. And the typical Western diet doesnt assistance either.

Even if you were to never use soap again for the rest of their own lives, you would not recover the wildlife your body is missing. Many of the lost organisms of our body dont exist in North America in the wild, and others you simply wont come across in your daily life.

On top of tremendous social difficulties imposed by a lack of soap, youd likely increase your exposure to a lot of aggravate and even dangerous germs. The bacteria and viruses deposited on your shopping cart manage or the light switching at a hotel are generally not good. Those are often the germs of modern society that cause infection and rednes. Your immune system would remain inflamed, and perhaps be even more agitated than before.

So what exactly are we missing? For practical purposes, its important to divide the wildlife of our bodies into two groups: microbes and more complex organisms such as worms. Microbes and worms affect our immune systems in different ways and both are important to be healthy. Biodiversity is the key.

A Healthy Crop Of Microbes And A Few Good Worms

What would the intestine biomes in our hunter-gatherer ancestors have looked like? A study by Jeffrey Gordon at Washington University in St. Louis demonstrating that people living in modern preindustrial societies had more diverse micriobiome compositions than people living in the United States today. Seventy bacterial species Gordon found in preindustrial people biomes were present in most varied sums from those found in the modern U.S. participants.

While each group may have been exposed to different kinds of bacteria in their day-to-day life, the primary reason for the difference in diversity was attributed to diet. The preindustrial folks eat a diet rich in corn and cassava, compared to a US diet rich in animal fat and protein.

And you might believing that antibiotics are an issue, but they are usually less of a long-term problem for biodiversity. They can deplete bacteria in the gut microbiome, but the dangerous and disease-inducing tailspin is generally temporary. The microbiome usually regains quite nicely, for the most part, although some lingering consequences can remain.

The second group of organisms that we need are intestinal worms called helminths. These worms are called mutualists, because they is beneficial for us and we benefit from having them hanging around in our bowels. They used to naturally live in our intestine. In fact, merely 150 decades ago most people in the West had intestinal worms that helped regulate immune function and prevent inflammatory cancer. The culprit here isnt diet, but cleanliness and sanitation.

Eat some fiber. Ali Karimian/ Flickr, CC BY-SA

If Getting Dirty Wont Help Your Biome, What Can You Do ?

When it comes to bacteria, a healthy diet is the critical ingredient. We can actually achieve a good mixture of intestine bacteria very similar to that of our hunter-gatherer ancestors by adopting a good diet high in fiber and low in processed foods. The right diet helps the good bacteria in your gut flourish, and might make it easier for new varieties of good bacteria to take root.

In addition, there are some products that might, in theory, support a more hunter-gatherer-like bacterial floras, by uncovering us to the various kinds of bacteria we dont encounter anymore, but they havent been tested in clinical trials.

Probiotics, generally formulations of bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli that grow readily in milk, are safe to utilize unless patients are severely ill. They could help support biodiversity in our guts if we need to take antibiotics.

Worms are a bit more challenging. There are two schools of think on how to help helminth-less intestines: one is to figure out what builds good worms good for us, and develop anti-retroviral drugs that can do the same thing. The other is just to have these good worms living in your intestines.

Personally, I dont think we can replicate complex biological relationships employing anti-retroviral drugs. My opinion is that modern medication will eventually embrace the actual worm or maybe complex single-celled organisms called protozoans that work the same style, but research in this field is still in the early stages of development.

In the meantime, some intrepid people are going straight for the worm. As in actually acquiring worms in their gut. The challenge for these adventurers is to find a worm that has more benefits than disadvantages.

For instance, the same species of worm can have different impacts in different people. The human hookworm, for instance, is commercially available and easily cultured at home. It has been found to treat multiple sclerosis and severe airway hypersensitivity but can also cause severe gastrointestinal distress in many patients.

For now, most people interested in immune health will focus on those factors that are risk-free, like avoiding chronic psychological stress, eating well and exercising, and watching out for vitamin D deficiency. These factors, all within our control, are important for avoiding a broad range of inflammation-related cancers, including allergy, autoimmunity, depression and cancer.

William Parker, Associate Professor of Surgery, Duke University

Read more: www.iflscience.com

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