When it comes to your baby, could cockroaches and rodents actually be good for his/her health?
Before you laugh, consider this: a recent study found that newborns in urban environments who came into contact with common allergens showed fewer allergy and asthma symptoms by the time they were three than babies in more sterile environments.
“The piece that came out of this study that was unexpected was that exposure to the things that we find to be most harmful in older children with asthma—cockroach and mice—seem to be protective if you have high levels of exposure at a young age,” admits study author Robert Wood, MD, whose further qualifications include director of pediatric allergy and immunology at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.
Perhaps it’s the need to over-clean that’s at the center of such a shocking discovery. “The hygiene hypothesis says that exposure to bacteria may help prevent allergies; or rather that lack of exposure may have caused the rise of asthma over the last twenty years,” he offers.
Researchers examined the bacterial environments in babies’ homes. “We questioned if it was the allergen having the protective effect or if there could be some relationship that homes with cockroaches and mouse infestations also have high levels of protective bacteria,” Dr. Wood continues. “We found that, in fact, exposure to higher levels of protective bacteria in the home was associated with lower rates of asthma and wheezing.”
In truth, the relationship between allergies and bacteria could be a matter of gut health, offers Dr. Wood. He also thinks health and the immune system corresponds with the gastrointestinal tract in a way so that the microbiome in the environment shares a correlation to the microbiome in an infant’s GI tract.
That being said, perhaps being too clean is the issue: “I would say that being too clean can be detrimental,” Dr. Wood confirms, “there was a point where we thought that having pets in the home would increase allergies, but it seems to be the other way.”
Still, that doesn’t mean you should be actively seeking cockroaches for your little cherub- “in fact, once children have developed asthma, those exposures can be harmful,” Dr. Wood says. Regardless, this research sheds light on the understanding that parents only have a narrow post-childbirth window where exposure to allergens can offer a protective effect (rather than an adverse one) on baby health.
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