We can sometimes be very protective of our little ones. It’s understandable as we want to take as good care of our children as possible to help them grow healthy and strong. However, by doing this we may be protecting them in ways we don’t realize could actually be a little worse for them. A new study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology reveals that babies who are exposed to animal dander, roach allergens, and household germs during their first year of life appear to have lower allergy and asthma risk.
The Urban Environment and Childhood Asthma study examined a group of 560 children who were at high risk of asthma in Baltimore, New York, St Louis and Boston. Over a three-year period, researchers measured the allergen exposure and bacteria rates in dust found in the houses the children lived in. Using blood tests and other physical exams, researchers monitored the infants for allergies and wheezing.
The next step in the study was to examine the data gathered over the three years. Researchers found that children who grew up in homes with cockroach and mouse droppings, as well as cat dander, in their first year of life had lower rates of wheezing by age 3 in comparison to children who were not exposed to these allergens in their first year. Further, children exposed to all three of these allergens versus just one or two of them had an even lower risk of either symptom.
It was found that approximately 40 percent of allergy-free, wheeze-free kids grew up in houses with the highest levels of allergens and largest spectrum of bacterial species. About 8 percent of children who had both wheezing and allergies were exposed to these substances in their first year. Children who grew up in homes which contained far less germs or allergens were 3 times as likely to suffer from wheezing.
The study also revealed that the protective effects these substances create disappears if the exposure was not taking place within the first year of the baby’s life.
“The timing of initial exposure may be critical… Not only are many of our immune responses shaped in the first year of life, but also that certain bacteria and allergens play an important role in stimulating and training the immune system to behave a certain way.” – Robert Wood of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center
The study tests the hygiene hypothesis that poses: children growing up in germ-free and too cleanly of environments develop hypersensitive immune systems. Previous studies revealed that children who grew up on farms who had regular exposure to bacteria and microbes were much less likely to have allergies or asthma compared to inner city children. On the flip side however, even inner city children who had exposure to roach and mouse allergens could still have high risks of asthma and allergies. It appears previous research was inconclusive but this new research might lend a lot more understanding to the importance of bacteria and allergen exposure early on in life.
In general I feel it is important to think about what we expose our children to early on. Anything from foods with high sugar contents, processed foods, GMOs, environmental toxins, excessive amounts of vaccinations, topical creams and soaps etc. I feel this research makes sense to what many of us would naturally infer with exposure to germs, but we sometimes don’t think about things like food, beverages, medical and cosmetic products we expose our children to at a young age. Perhaps there is also a link between early-onset-illness and many of the dietary choices we make for our children at a young age.
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