Utne Reader #4greenspun.com : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread
Utne Reader #4
-- Anonymous, May 10, 1999
Get Down and Dirty by Minna Morse, Jan.-Feb. 99, pages 14-15.
Is Our Obsession With Cleanliness Harmful?
Submitted by Karen Swenson
Could it be possible that the very things that we do to keep us from becoming ill are actually causing our immune systems to breakdown? This article says that our society has become obsessed with the need to kill germs. From antibacterial soaps and cleaners to antibacterial toys, the marketplace has given us countless products to kill off germs. This obsession is understandable considering that deaths caused by infections in the United States rose 58% between 1980 and 1992.
There is a new theory among an increasing number of scientist, however, that our growing separation from dirt and germs may be behind the rapid rise in diseases such as asthma, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. This new theory has been dubbed the hygiene hypothesis. During most of evolution, the immune system was bombarded by dirt and germs from the moment of birth. The argument is that exposure to the microbes that live in dirt and grime helps the immune system defend against certain allergic and autoimmune diseases. While supporters of the hypothesis have yet to find indisputable evidence of their claims, immunologists have discovered a mechanism within the immune system that does go along with their theory. At birth, we have a certain number of immune cells called Th cells, which are directed by our environment into one of two paths. Either they become Th1 cells which kill off bacteria in the immune cells, or Th2 cells which send out antibodies triggering an allergic reaction. When microbes are removed from the environment, the immune system is pushed toward favoring the allergy-inducing Th2 response. The most helpful microbes appear to be mycobacteria that live in soil and pond and stream water, but not in our bodies. Our changing relationship with the environment has likely had a dramatic influence on our contact with these important mycobacteria.
As an allergy sufferer, I found this article interesting. I have certainly seen a dramatic increase in the number of children in Falls Elementary School who suffer from asthma over the past five years. My own allergic reactions have become more severe in the last few years as well. Whether these changes are caused by todays squeaky clean world or an ever increasing exposure to chemicals that pollute our air and water, is still a mystery to me. I discussed the hygiene hypothesis with several of my colleagues who have allergies. Most of us have seasonal allergies brought about by pollens and allergies to animal dander. We did find that smoke and dust from the environment aggravated the symptoms associated with our allergies. We found it difficult to believe that the relationship between antibacterial products and allergy related diseases is factual. As children, we all played in the dirt and made mud pies, but many of us had some type of allergy even back then. The mycobacteria found in that dirt did not prevent the onset of allergic reactions in us, but then, none of us are asthma sufferers. Clearly, there are reasons for the increase in diseases such as asthma, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis in our country today. This article had an original and interesting approach to at least one possible reason for this rise in allergic and autoimmune diseases.
-- Anonymous, May 10, 1999