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Studies prove that some exposure to germs and infections from a young age help build the immune system, which can protect against allergies including asthma, eczema, and auto-immune diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease. Whilst appropriate hygiene is essential to prevent serious infectious disease, too much hygiene and cleanliness can have the opposite effect of contributing to disease, as it does not allow the immune system to strengthen. Research indicates that there may be a balance between being too clean and too dirty.
The hygiene hypothesis suggests that the right amount of exposure to germs and dirt builds the bodies’ immune system library of known diseases, in order for the immune system to quickly respond to pathogens if exposed to them later in life. Dr. Dennis Ownby says, “it’s not the infections so much as exposure to a wide variety of bacteria that helps control the development of our immune systems.” Without this training, the immune system may become hyperactive looking for diseases to fight and might find innocuous aspects of our own biology to attack instead. When the body attacks itself, it can cause autoimmune disorders such as asthma and inflammatory bowel disorder. As such, hygiene, lifestyle and cleaning practices influence immunity to disease. Studies show that we need exposure to both friendly and unfriendly bacteria to maintain health and a strong immune system, suggesting that there may be a balance between being too clean and too dirty. Some exposure to disease causing pathogens when young leads to the development of a regular immune response and proper defense against disease and is needed for healthy immune system development.
Pathogenic microorganisms are any microorganism capable of injuring its host by competing with it for metabolic resources, destroying its cells or tissues, or secreting toxins. These include viruses, bacteria, fungi, worms and protozoa. When the immune system is exposed to bacteria and viruses, its adaptive immunity develops and the immune system develops a specific antibody just for that substance so that if you are infected with that virus in the future the immune system can manufacture the antibody more quickly (within hours instead of days). This is why with a number of infections, once you have been exposed to it, you don’t get it again. This applies to viruses as well. For instance, if you have been immunized for the mumps, if exposed at a later date, your body can quickly eradicate the virus so that you do not get the disease whereas for people who haven’t been immunized, when they are exposed to the virus they are more likely to get the disease, as their immune system will respond more slowly to the viral exposure.
Penny Sarchet states that children who grow up on farms, seem to be healthier as are children whose parents wash dishes by hand as opposed to a sterilizing dishwasher. Research suggests that even for children living on farms, exposure to dirt and dust vary and affect children’s health. A study of Amish school children published in a major medical journal in 2016 found that because their farms do not use modern technology and as such, they would have a higher exposure to microbes, only one in ten children have asthma or allergies. That is about half as many as children in farming communities that use modern equipment as opposed to manual labor.
An allergy is, in fact, our immune system going haywire, by perceiving a harmless substance as a major attack. “Our bodies,” says Dorothy Matthews, biologist at Russell Sage College in Troy, New York, “may overreact to beneficial microbes, because our immune systems have not properly developed and forgotten how to live with them.” According to a study of 3000 adults who didn’t have asthma when the study commenced, the use of cleaning sprays more than once a week prompted asthmatic attacks and as the use of sprays increased, so did the possibility of asthma.
Inflammatory response diseases involve an overactive immune system and some research indicates that our bodies are designed to co-exist with parasites. Dr. Joel Weinstock underwent testing that involved introducing one of a variety of worms, Trichuris suis, into the digestive tracts of Inflammatory Bowel Disorder patients, resulting in a decline in the severity of the inflammation. Fifty-four ulcerative colitis patients and 29 Crohn’s disease patients with active disease ingested a drink containing 2,500 pig worm eggs every 3 weeks. At the end of the trial, 47.8% of the ulcerative colitis patients responded to the treatment, and 72.4% of the Crohn’s disease patients demonstrated remission. Symptoms such as abdominal pain, bleeding, and diarrhea disappeared. For an individual without a parasite there is nothing to act upon except itself, resulting in digestive diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. As such, some worms such as tapeworms which take nutrition off the host, contribute a break down in general health and damage the immune system, whilst other worms such as Trichuris suis, help to build up a resilience to other diseases.
I have sourced information from a wide variety of sources that are recent and relevant to the task. Each provides accurate and factual information allowing the research question to be answered in full. They are very credible as I have used numerous articles from government organizations, such as the National Centre for Biotechnology Information and the National Centre for Health Research. Although I have mainly used reliable sources, I have retrieved information from some commercial health websites, such as Everyday Health and Seeker, though they have been used scarcely.4.2 Limitations There were few limitations within the research as many government corporations target exposure to microbes and pathogens and the prevention of disease. The limitations I did face involved the study of pathogenic microorganisms and parasites as useful information was scarce.
Cleanliness in the form of good hygiene practices is the best approach to defend against acute, serious diseases; however, exposure to germs in some form is essential for the development of a strong, mature immune system. Excessive cleanliness can weaken the immune system to become more susceptible to allergies, such as asthma and eczema as well as autoimmune diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease. According to a study of 3000 adults who did not have asthma when the study commenced, using cleaning sprays more than once a week can prompt asthmatic attacks.
The hygiene hypothesis suggests that the right amount of exposure to pathogens constructs the body’s immune system library of known diseases, in order for the immune system to quickly respond to pathogens if exposed to them later in life. Research indicates that children who grow up on farms seem to be healthier as are children whose parents wash dishes by hand as opposed to a sterilizing dishwasher. As such, in-depth research indicates that there is a balance between being too clean and too dirty, to encourage the development of a healthy immune system and prevention against disease. A balanced exposure to pathogens includes practices such as reduced exposure to cleaning chemicals that destroy pathogens on a large scale and living in a ‘sterile’ environment.
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