Bacteria May Help Prevent Allergies in Your Children
Parents worry about exposing their children to bacteria and the possibility that the microorganisms will make their children ill. A new study, however, shows that some bacteria, especially those infants encounter early in life, may help prevent allergies later in life.
Fecal bacteria may be good for your children
The number of antibacterial products on the market and the near obsession with cleanliness, especially in the Western world, reflect a general concern about germs and bacteria and their potential negative health impacts. But sometimes bacteria can be a good thing, even when it comes from seemingly unhealthy sources.
At the University of Copenhagen (UC), researchers studied 411 children whose mothers had asthma and evaluated a link between the number of different bacteria present in their rectums and their chances of developing allergies in later life. The group was monitored and tested continually from birth to age 12 years.
According to Professor Hans Bisgaard, head of the Copenhagen Prospective Studies on Asthma in Childhood and professor of children’s diseases at the Faculty of Health Sciences, UC, they found “a direct link between the number of different bacteria in their [infants] rectums and the risk of development of allergic disease later in life.”
In fact, Bisgaard noted that “it makes a difference if the baby is born vaginally, encountering the first bacteria from its mother’s rectum, or by caesarean section, which exposes the newborn baby to a completely different, reduced variety of bacteria.”
Thus, fecal bacteria may actually be good for your children, at least in this stage of life. That’s because in the womb and during the first 6 months of life, infants are protected by their mother’s immune system.
Some previous research supports the idea that exposure to bacteria can be healthful for children. An earlier study from Oregon State University, for example, reported that keeping young girls too clean can put them at high risk for developing allergies, asthma, and autoimmune diseases when they get older.
In the Oregon study, the premise was that women have higher rates of allergies, asthma, and autoimmune disorders than men, and one reason may be how girls are raised: they are not supposed to get dirty and thus are not exposed to the same types and levels of bacteria and other organisms as boys, and so don’t benefit from developing an ability to fight off these conditions.
The University of Copenhagen study has illustrated that while people commonly view fecal and other bacteria as a threat to health, especially early in life, they can actually be beneficial. Bisgaard noted that “our new findings match the large number of discovering we have also made in the fields of asthma and hay fever,” and so, like allergies, they are triggered by early life factors.
Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons