Hygiene Hypothesis

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The Hygiene hypothesis states that the lack of exposure to infections and microbes in early childhood is associated with several chronic inflammatory diseases in later years. This is an important theoretical framework for the study of chronic inflammatory disorders.

The Hygiene Hypothesis was initially proposed in 1989 to explain why hay fever and eczema were less common in children from large families. This is now supported by data showing that diseases like asthma and autoimmune conditions are more common in the industrialized world than the developing world; these conditions have been seen also in higher income households in developing countries as they get more affluent and, perhaps, cleaner.

The human body is covered with millions of bacteria that keep us healthy. The gut also has millions of bacteria which help us with our digestion. Both within and without, these organisms work round the clock to keep us going in being healthy.

A not so sterile atmosphere may protect in several ways. It allows the immune system to grow, exposing one to good bacteria, and is linked to lower inflammation later in life.

“Bad” bacteria are portrayed as disease-causing agents and the market has various products that promise to protect us by killing 99.9% of germs. But every inch of our body, both inside and out is covered with a community of trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi that have evolved with us over millions of years; not all these bacteria are bad. Our bodies carry as many microbes as they have cells and we would not function without these microbes. These microbes are not just harmless; we may not function well or even survive without each other.

The largest population and diversity of microbes in the human body are found in the gut. Interest in gut microbes is growing and studies have shown that apart from helping us digest food and processing nutrients, they also affect inflammation, hormones, obesity, skin, stress levels and brain function and mental health.

Anti-microbials and sanitisers have been connected to weakened immune systems, increased allergies possibly due to reduced exposure to bacteria, antibiotic resistance in microbes, and hormonal imbalances. When sanitisers kill bacteria, they kill all the good bacteria that the body needs along with and bad bacteria that may cause harm, without any discrimination! Extensive use of hand sanitisers and the presence of sanitised environments may actually weaken immunity.

Antibiotics are used to treat infections caused by harmful bacteria. But indiscriminate use of antibiotics has led to the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria; we have fewer and fewer drugs in our weaponry to fight against them. As a result, these new resistant strains of microbes that cause common conditions like urinary tract infections, tuberculosis (MDR TB) and even hospital acquired infections cannot be contained by any drug.

Cleveland Clinic asked its top experts about the innovations set to reshape healthcare for 2014. One of the key innovations discussed was Fecal Transplantation.

The microbiota in the intestines exists in a delicate state of balance. Sometimes, antibiotics used for treatment can undo that balance by killing both aggressive and friendly bacteria.When this happens, Clostridium difficile, a difficult to kill bacteria, live on — often with disastrous results, spreading infection from person to person. Many gastroenterologists are fighting this problem with a novel approach called fecal microbiota transplantation, a.k.a. human stool transplants.

In this therapy, a colonoscopy or enema is used to transfer a liquid suspension made from a healthy person’s fecal matter into a sick person’s colon. The goal is to restore bacterial balance and fight infections and diseases.

As research continues, experts expect that fecal microbiota transplantation could become a primary therapy not only for C.diff infection, but also for inflammatory bowel disease. It even holds promise for treating conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson’s disease.

Does this mean that we stop washing hands, say, after going to the toilet? No; one needs to wash hands after using the bathroom, handling very dirty stuff, changing diapers or handling obviously infected material.

One does not have to sanitize his hand every time he has shaken someone’s hand or have been in a public place. You don’t need to kill every germ on your house floor and you don’t need to wash your vessels with antimicrobial detergents. Children need not wash their hands with antibacterial soaps every time they have been out or touched pets. Your kids can really play freely in the dirt.

Refernce: http://scroll.in/pulse/815009/a-little-dirt-is-good-for-you-the-myth-of-the-anti-microbial-hand-sanitiser.

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Dr. Udaya Kumar Maiya is one of India's leading oncologists. He is a Director at the Bangalore Hospital as well as a Senior Consultant at Apollo Hospital, Bangalore, and the Bhagwan Mahavir Jain Hospital. Dr. Maiya focuses on Radiotherapy and Oncology and has published a large number of scientific articles on these topics and teaches at the postgraduate level in Bangalore.

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