Let Them Eat Dirt

Maybe it’s okay to let your toddler lick the swing set and kiss the dog. A new mouse study suggests early exposure to microbes is essential for normal immune development, supporting the so-called “hygiene hypothesis” which states that lack of such exposure leads to an increased risk of autoimmune diseases. Specifically, the study found that early-life microbe exposure decreases the number of inflammatory immune cells in the lungs and colon, lowering susceptibility to asthma and inflammatory bowel diseases later in life.

The finding, published today (March 21) in Science, may help explain why there has been a rise in autoimmune diseases in sterile, antibiotic-saturated developed countries.

To fully appreciate the value of this and similar findings it is important to understand that much of the damage and the symptoms of infections and autoimmune disease are the result of the immune response, somewhat like the damage done to your house if you went on a rampage to kill flies and mosquitoes indoors with a shotgun.
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