Hygiene hypothesis, the theory that exposing children to pathogens early in life is beneficial, has been unproven and speculated about for years. Just recently, a study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) reveals that researchers were correct in their assumption: Germs go a long way to prevent autoimmune and allergic diseases later in life.
Like most germ-related studies, mice were the test subjects during the research. The rodents were separated into two groups; one group was germ-free, and the other group was allowed to live in a normal, captive environment as a control reference. The germ-free mice showed a significant incidence of inflammation of the colon and the lungs when eventually exposed to microbes, symptoms characteristic of asthma and colitis. These symptoms have been linked to an overactive immune response, something both humans and mice share.
When exposed early in life, the germ-free mice eventually developed a normal adult immune system and immune response. Those exposed later in life did not have as long lasting effects, and the adults that were exposed had a lower resistance to disease than did the exposed adolescent mice.
Co-author of the study, Richard Blumberg, MD, chief for the BWH Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Endoscopy, told the BWH Health Blog, “These studies show the critical importance of proper immune conditioning by microbes during the earliest periods of life. Also, now knowing a potential mechanism will allow scientists to potentially identify the microbial factors important in determining protection from allergic and autoimmune diseases later in life.”
The news should strike a chord with germ-phobic parents, intent on keeping their children away from new places and social situations because of communicable pathogens. Allowing children to experience life to the fullest may be beneficial to the health as well as to the mind.