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Cleanliness Leads to Rise in Allergies, Asthma


Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but it also appears to be the cause of the significant increase in allergies, asthma, eczema, and autoimmune conditions. A University of Montreal study finds that the more we attempt to clean up our child’s environment, the more he or she is at risk for developing allergies or an immune problem.

The increase in asthma is alarming. Between 1980 and 1994 alone, the prevalence of asthma increased 75 percent, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, and asthma rates in children younger than five increased by more than 160 percent during that same time period. The American Lung Association reports that about 34.1 million Americans have been diagnosed with asthma, and the World Health Organization notes that an estimated 300 million people around the world suffer with the condition.

Dr. Guy Delespesse, a professor at the University of Montreal Faculty of Medicine, explains that excessive hygiene limits a child’s exposure to good or beneficial bacteria, along with the harmful ones. Thus the immune system cannot “learn” how to respond.

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“The bacteria in our digestive system are essential to digestion and also serve to educate our immune system,” says Delespesse. “They teach it how to react to strange substances.” Without this learning process, the immune system can turn against the child, resulting in allergies, asthma, hives, eczema, or other immune problems.

The risk of these problems occurring and their severity increase as the level of cleanliness increases. But in areas where the level of sanitation has remained stable, the level of allergies and related conditions have remained constant.

One way to address the growing prevalence of allergies and asthma, according to Delespesse, is to take probiotics (beneficial bacteria) to enrich the bacterial population in the intestinal tract. Probiotics have been proven to treat diarrhea and have shown promise in the treatment of allergies, including eczema. A recent study in Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, for example, found that probiotics was effective in preventing eczema in infants at high risk of allergies, and others have shown them to be effective in preventing and treating atopic dermatitis.

Rather than forego cleanliness, Delespesse recommends that women take probiotics during pregnancy to help reduce allergies in their child. “They are not a miracle remedy, yet they are one of many elements that improve our diet and our health,” he says. Other research suggests that taking probiotics has a positive impact on the immune system.

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology
Kim JY et al. Pediatric Allergy and Immunology 2009 Oct 14
University of Montreal