What’s The Scoop On Kids And Dirt?

Get enough to help, but not enough to hurt, a doctor advises.


Published:

Whenever I am asked what I do for a living, the phrase “I’m an allergist” is almost immediately followed by “So, where are all of these allergies coming from?”

Maybe I’ll get sick of that question some day, but I haven’t yet. As a clinician and researcher on allergies and public health, I first explain that when a society begins to become aware of a disease, the reported prevalence will go up. This is understandable. People who have medically unexplained symptoms wonder “Could I have this allergy that’s being talked about?” and try on the diagnosis. Sometimes an allergy really is at the root of their problems, and sometimes it’s not.

For example, at least 50% of patient-reported food allergies are only presumed. They have not been evaluated thoroughly enough to know for sure whether the patient is allergic. Research also demonstrates that, in many cases, we presume wrongly. The symptoms fit better with an intolerance than an allergy, or the events were coincidental. While 11%-12% of patients currently report a food allergy, only about 5% of adults and 8% of children likely have true food allergy. Around 8% of patients report a penicillin allergy, but fewer than five out of 100 patients who report a penicillin allergy can be shown to be allergic when tested.

Many people next ask whether allergies are genetic, but allergies in one’s family appear to explain only 10%-40% of a person’s increased risk for allergies. Allergic diseases are also increasing at rates that are inconsistent with genetic diseases.

More interesting is that there appear to have been different waves in which allergies appeared in historical records. Hay fever (environmental allergies) first appeared in the 1800s, followed by more recent increases in asthma and food allergy.

What’s Changed, And What’s Dirt Got To Do With It?

So if genetics don’t fully explain the rise in allergy, what does? Some of the most consistent risk factors for allergic diseases include overuse of antibiotics; acute viral respiratory infections in childhood; birth by cesarean section; nutritional disorders; second-hand smoke exposure; pollution; and the environment where you grew up.

To organize these risks into categories, two conceptual hypotheses currently seem to be of value – the barrier hypothesis and the hygiene hypothesis.

Imagine that your immune system is an army behind a castle wall. The castle wall is your skin, your respiratory tract and your gastrointestinal tract. The army is composed of your white blood cells in addition to other cells in the body that can activate these gung-ho Marines to defend you.

The central tenet of the barrier hypothesis is that when our skin, respiratory tract and gastrointestinal tract are chronically injured, your castle wall is broken down. The soldiers of the immune system are activated to aggressive defense, yet allergens can penetrate, and people can begin to experience allergic inflammation in those areas. This has been most clearly demonstrated with the allergic skin disease known as eczema.

Research has also shown that activities in these barrier sites can flavor the immune response and profile of a person, especially in childhood. Many risk factors for allergic disease, such as viral infections, nutritional disorders, smoke exposure and pollution, affect the health of our barriers. Studies have indicated that up to 50% of childhood eczema, a barrier disease, can be prevented simply by applying protective emollients like petroleum jelly to protect babies’ skin when we bathe them.

The Role Of Hygiene In Allergy

The central tenet of the hygiene hypothesis is that we have gone a bit too far and inadvertently killed off our good bacteria along with the bad. As our society progressed from one that was chronically burdened with infectious diseases caused by poor sanitation, the thinking goes, we reduced our exposures to the things that gave our immune system an appropriate training and tolerance. Historically, our totally rational fear of dying from a cholera epidemic led to sewage and water management, but may have kicked off the allergy epidemic.

Our overuse of antibiotics and C-sections affects the set of organisms called the microbiome that an infant is exposed to growing up. Both have been shown to increase the risk of childhood allergic diseases.

Growing up in a rural area exposed to farm animals appears to confer a decreased risk of allergies and asthma for your entire lifetime, even among genetically similar populations. Studies in mice have shown that inhaling certain molecules from soil-dwelling bacteria can set off a beneficial cascade promoting an immune system which focuses more on threats rather than nonthreats, such as allergens.

Vaccinations appear to be a crucial exception to the rule of the hygiene hypothesis. They confer protection against diseases without any associated increase in the risk of allergic disease, likely because they, unlike antibiotics, are very specifically targeting only the worst disease-causing organisms.

Our Current Prescription

The data currently paints a picture that we might prevent allergies in the future by protecting our barriers and introducing the right tolerizing exposures at the right time, such as early introduction of peanuts. However, I can’t currently tell you how much dirt or what kinds of bacteria your child needs to safely experience while growing up. It’s too soon for that, but many wonderful scientists around the world are working on these questions, thanks to support from a variety of governments and foundations.

Until then, I will share with you the broad-brush advice that I currently give my friends and patients. The Conversation

  • Let your kids play outside, get dirty, try new foods and be exposed to a variety of things. Advocate for them to have outside recess time in school as much as possible.
  • Use plain soap and water; you don’t need to sanitize everything.
  • Talk to your doctor about watchful waiting to respond to an illness, rather than take antibiotics.
  • Be judicious about what you put on your body’s barriers, and become an advocate for clean air, clean water and a clean environment for everyone.
  • Get all of your routine vaccinations. The healthiest children in the U.S. are the ones who are fully vaccinated.

Cosby Stone, instructor in allergy/immunology, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Vanderbilt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

See also:
What Is Mud’s Dirty Little Secret?
‘The Dirt Cure:’ Why Human Health Depends On Soil Health

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

September 22, 2019

Shortly after midnight the Moon settles into her home base, Cancer. The quiet pleasures of familiar places is accented, although a late morning lunar sextile to Uranus may bring unexpected messages or surprise visitors. An informal gathering of close…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

September 2019

It’s time for a workshop!  One plus one always equals two. In a similar fashion EFT plus Law of Attraction always equals effective and positive change. Teaching Emotional Freedom...

Cost: $40

Where:
21 Wiles Farm Road
Northboro, MA
View map »


Sponsor: Medicine My Way
Telephone: 508-523-7132
Website »

More information

In this 90 minute workshop you will find clarity in what brings you joy. You will create your personal vision statement that will help guide you to living a more satisfied, balanced life. This...

Cost: $25 early-bird till 9/20 ($30 after)

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

Witness the healing power of mediumship! Join New England's own trusted spirit medium Raylene Sousa and top UK medium Dominic Boag from Scotland for an afternoon of spirit messages. If...

Cost: $40

Where:
The Little Meetinghouse
723 Roosevelt Trail
Windham, ME  04062
View map »


Sponsor: Raylene Sousa Medium LLC
Telephone: 207-956-0220
Contact Name: Raylene Sousa
Website »

More information

Come shine with us! Join us in harmony and in our goal to bring the light of Spiritualism forward to all those who are searching.

Where:
VFW Post 2597
775 Boston Rd, Rt 3A
Billerica, MA
View map »


Sponsor: The Spiritualist Fellowship Church Of New England
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

2nd and 4th Monday of every month This psychic message circle is for anyone wishing to raise their connection using their psychic centers known as the “clairs.” Learn how to use...

Cost: $20

Where:
Messages From Heaven Healing and Learning Center
646 Central Street
Suite 3
Leominster, MA
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Members of the Reflexology Association of NH will be offering “mini” hand or foot reflexology sessions at the Salt Cave within Bien Soigne in honor of World Reflexology Week.

Cost: Donations suggested $15 - $20

Where:
Bien Soigne Salt Cave
350 North Broadway
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: Reflexology Association of NH
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

September 25–October 29, 2019 Expert Tai Chi instructor and Qigong Master Instructor Terry Dunn will be giving a total of four five-day intensive workshops in October 2019 at Eastover...

Where:
Eastover Estate & Retreat
430 East Street
Lenox, MA  01240
View map »


Telephone: 866-264-5139
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

September 26–29 This training at the Center for Mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) uses mindfulness meditation and cognitive therapy to break the cycle of...

Cost: $1,390

Where:
Center for Mindfulness and Compassion
1035 Cambridge St, Suite 21A
Cambridge, MA  02141
View map »


Sponsor: Center for Mindfulness and Compassion
Telephone: 617-591-6132
Contact Name: Center for Mindfulness and Compassion
Website »

More information

Come detox, relax and renew yourself for the fall in our sanctuary! We have an intimate gathering of great readers and healers providing services at sampler rates to enjoy their services while...

Cost: $60: 3 Pack Service Special; $25: Single Service

Where:
Healing Power Of Flowers—Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey Smith
Website »

More information

Mirabai Starr was an adjunct professor of Philosophy and World Religions at the University of New Mexico-Taos for 20 years. Her emphasis has always been on making connections between the perennial...

Cost: $20

Where:
First Parish in Lexington
7 Harrington Road
Lexington, MA  02420
View map »


Sponsor: Lexington Community Education
Telephone: 781-862-8043
Contact Name: Craig Hall
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Maryellen Labelle, David Sholemson and Steve Cunningham are excited to announce Qigong for Inner Peace teacher training fall term 2019. This 50 hour certification training is appropriate for a wide...

Cost: $1100 / $800 early registration

Where:
Yoga Depot
17 Depot Square
Lexington, MA  02420
View map »


Sponsor: Qigong for Inner Peace
Telephone: 617-721-7215
Contact Name: Maryellen Labelle / David Sholemson
Website »

More information

Join life coach Cheryl Richardson and her husband, Michael Gerrish, a psychotherapist and gifted intuitive, for a special evening designed to help you upgrade your life! During this event,...

Cost: $35

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street
Suite 1A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

This Dating Program is the follow-up to Kerri Morrison's workshop, Deliberate Dating: 5 Keys to Successful Online Romance; held Friday, August 16th, 2019 from 6:30-7:30pm. View that event...

Cost: $199

Where:
Awaken Holistic Counseling Services
2 Liberty St., Unit 2L
Newburyport, MA  01950
View map »


Sponsor: Awaken Holistic Counseling Services, LLC
Telephone: 978-255-7893
Contact Name: Kerri Morrison
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Learn Reiki—revitalizing self-care and healing in the palm of your hands. Facilitated by Lou Orsan, Reiki Shihan (master teacher.) This one-day class covers the...

Cost: $150

Where:
Northeast Reiki Center
61 Nicholas Road
Framingham, MA  01701
View map »


Sponsor: Northeast Reiki Center
Telephone: 508-808-5696
Contact Name: Lou Orsan
Website »

More information

With Laura Haley, IET Master Instructor Trainer  This class provides you with everything you need to conduct a powerful Integrated Energy Therapy session on yourself or others (either in...

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
Methuen, MA


Telephone: (978) 474-8010
Website »

More information

Learn the benefits of yoga for families as well as how to develop character in children to get them more focused, respectful, and confident before returning back to school this fall! This class...

Cost: $45 early bird till 9/25 (includes child and a parent), $50 after

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

September 28–29 Saturday 10 am Registration; 10 am–5 pm  Sunday 10 am–5 pm This practitioner training takes place over 2 days and offers students the opportunity to...

Cost: Course Fee: $450; Recalibration Appointment: $333

Where:
The Hampton Inn Coventry Warwick
850 Centre Of New England Boulevard
Coventry, RI
View map »


Telephone: 617-366-6042
Website »

More information

September 28–29 Learn hands-on techniques for the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, as well as the sacrum, psoas and ilium. Leave with tools you can use right away. Coming in...

Where:
Downeast School of Massage
Waldoboro, ME


Telephone: (617) 678-8920
Website »

More information

Learn to overcome spinal tensions through therapeutic postures, designed to decompress your spine and relieve pain. Taught by a certified yoga therapist, classes bring you through poses...

Cost: 5/$50

Where:
Bliss Through Yoga
484 Bedford St
East Bridgewater, MA  02333
View map »


Telephone: 508-331-3564
Contact Name: Janice O'Brien
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags