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What Germs Tell Us
Hygiene Hypothesis and Lifestyle Factors
The idea of being clean, sanitary, and germ-free has been so prevalent in our society for the past decade that we believe that being clean is a natural part of our life. In fact, we are becoming more focused on eliminating as many germs from our environment as possible, using products such as antibacterial soaps and chemical household cleaners. While sanitation and antibiotics have contributed to an increased life-span among people, they also seemed to have produced undesirable side-effects, like allergies, asthma, and drug-resistant bacteria.

The so-called "hygiene hypothesis" was born from this phenomenal shift in modern people's health conditions. First developed by David Strachan, a Scottish epidemiologist, this "hygiene hypothesis" is getting more and more attention among scientists and medical professionals in recent years. Strachan is also responsible for the theory that the more siblings a child had, the lower the risk the child had for developing eczema or respiratory allergies.

The "hygiene hypothesis" proposes that a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents (symbiotic microorganisms such as intestinal flora) increases a chance of disrupting the harmonious balance between humans and the microorganisms that live in our bodies and environments. This imbalance makes the body susceptible to immune disorders such as allergies and asthma.

In her book "Good Germs, Bad Germs - Health and Survival in a Bacterial World", Jessica Snyder Sachs (a freelance science writer) describes intriguing research done right after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. The study compared asthma and allergy prevalence in two ethnically identical populations living in two dramatically different environments. West Germany had a high regulation of air quality control, while East Germany suffered a heavy industrial pollution.

Over two years of detailed research involving more than seventy-five hundred children on both sides, they found a puzzling result that although children in East Germany had higher rates of bronchitis because of the air pollution, they were three times less likely to suffer from hay fever and a third less likely to have full-blown asthma than their West German peers. Over a third of the West German children turned out to be allergic to mites, animal dander, and pollen -- fewer than one in five in East German children had similar issues.

The researcher's explanation is that in the former socialist country where mothers had to work, children were put in day care centers as early as babies. These babies at day care centers were always picking up germs from other children. When the researcher went back to the same city in former East Germany five years after the reunification, she found out that hay fever rates had doubled and those of eczema had increased by half.

The children she researched who developed hay fever and eczema in five years had been born years before the reunification and had been already exposed to the environments with infectious agents and symbiotic microorganisms suggested by the "hygiene hypothesis". The "hygiene hypothesis" certainly fit the lifestyle factors that determined the rates of asthma and allergies, but there was something more. Since the reunification, the families of the children had quickly adopted a Western lifestyle. This included a major diet change - most of them started to depend more on processed foods like margarine and canned vegetables. These same families used to buy fresh produce harvested directly from the soil and unpasteurized dairy products sold by farmers.

For the past century, scientists and medical professionals did major research on undesirable microbes, with the goal of how to destroy and eliminate them - mainly using antibiotics. In contrast, the research on symbiotic microorganisms that protect and benefit our bodies is still in its infancy. Our bodies are a delicate ecosystem, just like the earth's natural environment. Tipping this environment's balance could actually detract from human health and vitality in the long run. Future science will unveil more of the not-yet-known world of the microbial world, especially that of friendly bacteria that can be beneficial for humans, animals, and the environment.

Special Note: Although every effort has been made to present healthy products and useful information to support your pets' health, the products and information contained within this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The contents of this site are not meant as a substitute for consultation with a trained veterinarian. If you are concerned about the health of your pets, you should ask your veterinarian for proper guidance suited to the specific condition of your pets. The owners of this website accept no liability for any consequences resulting from the use of products and/or information provided through this site. Please use your discretion when attending to your pets' health.
Special thanks to Fintan Darragh, Rich Bensen, Maggie, Jiji, and Mary Crissman for providing our pet pictures!
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