Rising levels of allergic asthma and eczema have scientists wondering if there is such a thing as being “too clean”.
“We see auto-immune diseases like asthma and eczema increasing rapidly in North American children, but we don’t see the same effect in children in the developing world,” says Dr. B. Brett Finlay, a professor in the Michael Smith Laboratories at the University of British Columbia.
This has led Finlay to embark on a new project called the Impact of the Microbiota on Immune Development and Disease. Researchers will look at the role of intestinal microbiota (normal bacteria that live in our gut) on immune development and disease, including asthma and eczema.
This makes a lot of sense. The gastrointestinal tract is afterall the primary site of interaction between the host immune system and microorganisms, both symbiotic and pathogenic.
Some of our everyday habits such bleaching countertops or giving antibiotics to young children may be killing off good bacteria along with the bad bacteria. This so-called ‘hygiene hypothesis’ claims that our desire to be ultra-clean may mean that kids aren’t getting the bacteria they need to have strong immune systems later in life.
Finlay has assembled a team to study and identify the various types of microorganisms that live in the gut. They will also track the health development of young children enrolled in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development Study (CHILD) in order to both better understand the role microbiota plays in the immune system, and development of autoimmune disease.
The goal will be to gain a genetic understanding of the bacteria that lives in and on the human body, specifically those found orally, on the skin, the gut, nasal/lung and vaginally.
Previous studies in humans have suggested that immunological dysregulation is the cause of many non-infectious diseases such as autoimmunity, allergy and cancer. Gut microbes are thought to play a role in preventing diseases such as obesity inflammatory bowel disease and type -1 diabetes.
Word on Health, will be following this story closely. In the meantime we’re thinking a little less housework might not be a bad thing!