Asthma allergies and the Disinfectant overkill!
As an asthmatic with an allergy to dust mite and having studied micro biology to an honours degree level I have always had strong views on the increasingly sterile world that we now find ourselves living in. I am also an acupuncturist and a Buteyko breathing teacher and as such I regularly treat people suffering with allergies such as hay fever, asthma and eczema. The incidence of allergies has increased 10 fold since the 1950’s. A new theory proposed by Prof Graham Rook can explain why. This article looks at why so many of us our prone to allergies and asthma and how we can reduce the chances of our children being affected also.
I hate the way we are bombarded with adverts telling us that certain disinfectants and, or cleaning products kill 99.9% of all bacteria! I hate even more the fact that reality TV has taken to going into people’s homes to wallow in the level of dirt and grime they find. They use specialist microbial counters to ascertain the level of microbes per centimetre of kitchen or bathroom surface!! Really who gives a Sh1t! Is this level that prime time TV have sunk to in order to increase the sales of cleaning and sterilising products!! Do we need more scare mongering and hard kill sales tactics!! Don’t get me wrong, I encourage good hygiene, but we should maintain a healthy balance between hygiene and super sterile living environments.
What these adverts and TV shows fail to tell the greater population is that 99.9% of all these microbes are beneficial to us and in fact as a result of this blanket bomb approach to exterminating all microbes, we in the (so called) developed world have become much more prone to developing serious allergies. As a result of the over use of disinfectant, bleaches and particularly the over prescription (and incorrect use) of antibiotic’s our hospitals are now constantly fighting new and more potent forms of multi resistant strains of harmful bacteria.
Almost 1 in 3 of us in the developed world have some form of allergy, these figures have increased dramatically in recent years (10 fold since the 50’s). There have been various theories as to why asthma and other allergies are on the increase, none of which could explain satisfactorily why places such as New Zealand and Australia with low pollution had such a high incidence of asthma. The most recent one, which seems to be proving correct, suggests that allergy increase is down to the overly sterile world that most of us living in an urban world reside in. Prof. Graham Rook’s theory postulates that as a result of our lifestyle, most urban dwellers exposure to a broad spectrum of microbes has been dramatically reduced. As a result our children’s young immune system is not getting a chance to learn how to ignore un harmful perceived threats from allergens such as pollen’s, dust mite, foods such as peanuts, tomato and various other naturally occurring and man – made allergens.
The immune system gets educated by exposure to various microbes. This begins with the journey through the birth canal where newborn babies get exposed to benevolent bacteria, essential to their immune systems. In a study in Norway it was found that children born by cesarean section were 52% more likely to develop asthma. In Ireland almost 25% of all births (just over 30% of first time mothers in Ireland give birth by cesarean) are now by cesarean section. Breast fed babies are exposed to over 700 different types of microbes contained in breast milk and as a result are much less likely to develop allergies. Babies who spend the first few days of their life in intensive care miss out on a large part of the benevolent microbial diversity that the mother can give them and instead their bodies become home to less beneficial microbes found on skin and on hospital surfaces.
The Immune system needs to encounter a large array of different microbes in order to learn when and how much to react to a perceived threat. It needs to know when to tolerate or ignore things that are not dangerous In the same way as we become desensitised to much of the busy street noises when we live in a city, street sounds become “white noise” that don’t annoy us. Likewise if we get exposed to lots of different microbes they become like “white noise” and we don’t over react to them. On the flip side if you spend a night in a busy city after living in peaceful surroundings, the hum of cars, trucks and the constant loud sirens and horns would keep you awake as each noise begins to grate and seriously irritate you. This is similar to what happens with people who are more susceptible to allergies, they never became desensitised so the slightest allergen can really aggravate their body and the immune system over reacts to the slightest disturbance!!
As we spend more and more of our time indoors in our apparently safe and sterile world we don’t get exposed to all those beneficial microbes that are also an essential part of our immune system. If these good bacteria don’t inhabit our body’s orifices, alimentary and birth canals then other less beneficial or potentially harmful microbes will take up residence.
Another aspect to the allergy explosion is the use of antibiotics, particularly in the first year of life. Research now shows that 1 course of antibiotics in the first year of life increases the chance of the child developing eczema by 40%. Each additional course of antibiotics in the first year of the baby’s life increases the likelihood of eczema by a further 7%. This is as a result of the immune system not having specific beneficial bacteria such as Lacto-bacillus, which have been totally obliterated by the antibiotics.
So what can we do to improve the situation? We can improve our children’s exposure to beneficial bacteria and microbes by allowing them to play outside, let them “get down and dirty”. Obviously we still need to be careful of potentially hazardous microbes and we need to keep areas of food preparation clean and free from germs. Animal and human faeces of course should be avoided as it can contain a huge amount of potentially lethal microbes, hand washing is essential when dealing with raw meat and after using the toilet.
Where possible avoid the use of antibiotics, use alternatives such as natural products like garlic to fight simple infections. Acupuncture can enhance the immune system and has been shown to prevent post-operative infection, thus alleviating the need for antibiotics. Acupuncture and herbs can be used to cure many infections. Buteyko breathing can be used to stop any asthma and hay fever symptoms; it also prevents any of the related conditions such as bronchitis and chest infections.
Ref BBC Horizon Aug 24