Could being too clean be a bad thing? Research has indicated overuse of anti-bacterial agents and cleanliness in general could actually weaken our body’s defenses against germs, hindering our resistance against numerous ailments. So you would think to just limit use of antibacterial soaps or even play in the dirt a bit to solve this issue, but the latest study takes it a step further, identifying some of the most repulsive contaminants as having a positive impact on childhood health.
Researchers found children exposed to cockroach, cat, and mouse allergens in infancy were less likely to wheeze at age 3. Further, those exposed to Bacteriodes and Firmicutes were less likely to develop allergies and asthma. The children exposed to all of these germs had the best outcomes of all.
The findings published recently in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology aren’t completely clear, however, and lead to even bigger questions about germs and wellness.
“It adds a degree of precision to the broad concept of the hygiene hypothesis,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci, according to NPR. Fauci is the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The hygiene hypothesis goes something like this: expose children to bacteria early in life and their body will be better equipped to fight dangerous germs and ignore harmless ones. The hypothesis suggests that a sterile environment could be disastrous for a strong immune system.
But if the hygiene hypothesis was true, inner city children exposed to more of these insect and rodent germs would be the healthiest of all, and that simply isn’t the case. On the contrary, inner city children typically have higher rates of allergies and asthma.
“We’ve talked for a number of years about how the inner city really does contradict the hygiene hypothesis,” says Dr. Robert Wood of Johns Hopkins Hospital and an author of the study. “There’s such a high rate of allergies and asthma in the inner city. The inner city must be a very dirty area where kids must be protected.”
The latest study turns this line of thinking on its head. If these germs have a protective quality, perhaps inner city homes are getting too clean, or there are other factors at play.
In the meantime, the researchers caution against inviting roaches and rodents into your home to bolster immune function, but say their findings require deeper study.