Hygiene hypothesis in baby allergies

Hygiene hypothesis in baby allergies

Scientists try to find the answer to the question about the cause of baby allergies. What causes food allergies? Where do the hay fever and eczema really come from? One of the hypotheses of baby allergies is the hygiene hypothesis. At this point the hygiene hypothesis is more a direction in research than a full answer about preventing baby allergies. But it might surprise you how true it is.

Baby’s Immune system

Immune system at birth is immature. Its condition is compared to an unprogrammed computer that needs instructions over the time. It translates to the baby exposed to more and more external factors that engage immune system. But what happens when all the germs vanish and the immune system doesn’t get its lesson how to fight off foreign substances like allergens? Babies who live in too sterile conditions and are not exposed to bacteria and parasites, do not give their immune system the opportunity to develop standard responses and, in consequence, the things normally harmless, cause reactions. It doesn’t know how to work because cleaning, sanitizing products and antibiotics and, in general, the super-clean lifestyle do the job!

Studying babies from all around the world

Immunologists and epidemiologists, studying different families and conditions, discovered factors that may answer some questions about the allergies:

  • family size – children from larger families are less likely to have hay fever or eczema because they are more exposed to germs and bacteria than in one child families.
  • pets – children raised on farms with pets have fewer allergies than children raised in cities without pets.
  • lifestyle – people with different lifestyles in different part of the world…

Lifestyle factor in hygiene hypothesis

More children suffer from allergies in high industrialized countries. Why? The standard of hygiene vary from one part to another of the world. It is related to the economic factor: high industrialized countries are highly developed (with: modern conveniences and sanitation, vaccinations, antibacterial products, etc.) and suffer from environmental factors (toxins, chemicals). Staying germ-free help them prevent spread of diseases and infections, but having this super-clean lifestyle may be responsible for the increase in baby allergies. We seem to be healthier but we seem to trade one problem for another.

Balance clean and healthy lifestyle

Bacteria and parasites are important modulators of immune system development so let the kids be kids! Don’t wash her hands every five minutes! If she drops her cookie on the kitchen floor, let her grab it and eat. A little dirt never hurts. It can even do a little good. It doesn’t mean that you should not be hygienic. There is a difference between being hygienic and being sterile! And use the common sense. Because when she wants to grab her cookie from the sidewalk it is not the same!

Related stories:

The Wall Street Journal – Can dirt do a little good?
The New York Times – Babies Know: A Little Dirt Is Good for You

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