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Is Squeaky Clean Too Clean?

07/18/2016

As a child I remember playing outdoors all day and coming home a muddy filthy mess.  I’d walk in the door and my mother would march me into the bathroom and wouldn’t let me out until I’d scrubbed myself raw.  I’m sure many of you had the same experience; however, you may not know the importance of being exposed to microbes found in nature.  Over the past few decades, our understanding of microbe exposure and its effect on our immune system has grown steadily. Research has shown that microbes can also play a vital role in our health and wellbeing, and consistent exposure to naturally occurring organisms, like yeast spores, fungal spores, bacteria, and viruses, especially when we were children, can play a vital role to our health and wellbeing as adults. 

Researchers call this theory the “Hygiene Hypothesis,” and it's being studied because of the explosion in immune system ailments, like allergies, that are very common in Western societies and not much of a problem in the rest of the World. 

Are Western hygiene habits bad for us?

In 1989, Dr. David Strachan at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, coined the term, "Hygiene Hypothesis." His research focused on the higher prevalence allergies in children, which he believed was due to a lack of exposure to respiratory viruses and infections in early childhood.

It may seem counterintuitive, but research has shown that when a child is challenged with viruses and bacteria, their immune system is constantly engaged in fighting off invaders. During the battle, the immune system remembers the molecular makeup of each specific pathogen, and this memory ensures quick response when it is exposed to that pathogen again. This immune memory is best developed during childhood. 

If, however, an individual doesn’t encounter pathogens commonly found in a diverse outdoor environment until later in life, their immune system may not know how to react properly.  Instead of reacting quickly and efficiently to pathogen exposure, it overreacts.  Instead of carrying out a controlled attack, an individual experiences an allergic response, and unfortunately that response is also remembered by the immune system.  So, any further exposure to the same allergen ends up in another allergy attack.

Although the Hygiene Hypothesis did explain in part why reduction in exposure to microbes during childhood can lead to a rise in the incidence of allergic and autoimmune diseases, it was not the whole story. Further research in 2009 showed that the observations made by Strachan in 1989 were not related to an aberrant immune response, but instead due to presence and lack of presence of a diverse population of good microbes which we now refer to as probiotics, as well as other viruses and organisms that all humans interacted with prior to the 20th century.

Unlike our ancestors, today’s modern western lifestyle limits many outdoor activities, especially among children, and emphasizes the importance of personal hygiene, which drastically limits exposure to the diverse microbes that were common a few generations ago. Although this level of hygiene has helped prevent common diseases and ailments, it has also removed the good bacteria, like probiotics, which helps our immune system stay strong and active. The result of this is that as we begin to experience these pathogens later in life, our immune systems are unaccustomed to these organisms and will mount a hyperactive response to them which results in what we call allergies.

How can probiotics help cure allergies?

Probiotics are “good” gut bacteria that help us maintain a healthy digestive system, however, the digestive system itself is a nexus for immune cells. It is thought that  70% of our immune system resides in the gut and it is the first place our immune system comes into contact with the outside world. Improving our gut microbiome through the consumption of SuperBio can help over the long term to educate our immune system in such a way that it will mount a reasonable immune response when challenged with various pathogens rather than a hypersensitive allergic response.

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