When we welcome a new baby into the world, we’re ever so careful to keep it safe and healthy. However, a recent CBC News story suggests that being exposed to certain bacteria may actually be in our infants’ best interests.
A group of Canadian scientists found that when babies are exposed to four gut bacteria types before they are 3 months old—during a crucial period when their immune systems are taking shape—they gain asthma protection. The group from B.C. Children’s Hospital says that when it comes to hospital visits, asthma is the No. 1 reason.
There’s a belief that doing everything we can to keep our homes and children dirt-free and germ-free could be doing as much damage as good. It’s known as the “hygiene hypothesis.” In our crusade to sterilize everything around us and protect ourselves from infectious diseases and germs, we also kill the good stuff—bacteria that actually benefit us.
The researchers found a correlation between babies’ healthy immune systems—which fight the wheezing of asthma—and the levels of healthy bacteria in their systems.
One scientist cautioned that people shouldn’t go seeking out diseases and germs, but that it’s quite alright for babies to crawl on the floor, put things in their mouths, lick things, be around pets, etc. Doing so apparently colonizes bacteria in their immune system that are designed to fight off the real nasty stuff.
There are studies that have been done in Europe that show children who grow up around farm animals and are exposed to the types of bacteria common in a farming environment gain asthma protection.
While there are some environmental triggers that can trigger asthma, such as dust particles, other studies have shown that the chemicals we use to clean our homes may be contributing to the problem as well. Some companies, including Melaleuca, manufacture safe products that help people avoid asthma. Melaleuca products, for example, are environmentally friendly and contain no harmful chemicals like chlorine bleach, formaldehyde, or ammonia.