September 18, 2016

Let them eat dirt

In the Wall Street Journal, more evidence on the importance of the microbes in our gut to our health.

Get Your Children Good and Dirty

Most human communities have experienced the benefits of medical advances like antibiotics, vaccines and sterilization, which have radically reduced the number and severity of infections that we suffer throughout life. Dying from a microbial infection is now a very rare event in the Western world, and, in the U.S., lifespans have increased by some 30 years since 1915—in large part because of success against infectious diseases.

Our anti-microbe mission has been accompanied, in industrialized countries, by an explosion in the prevalence of chronic noninfectious diseases and disorders. Diabetes, allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel diseases, autoimmune diseases, autism, obesity and certain types of cancer are at an all-time high. The incidence of some of these disorders is doubling every 10 years, and they are starting to appear sooner in life, often in childhood.

The practical upshot of all this research is clear: Our health depends to a large degree on maintaining a robust and diverse community of microorganisms in our bodies—and establishing good gut-health as children is especially important.

Inflammatory diseases (such as asthma, allergies and inflammatory bowel disease) and metabolic diseases (such as obesity and diabetes) are characterized by alterations in our immune system and our metabolic regulation. Knowing what we do now about the role of the microbiota, it is not surprising that these diseases are being diagnosed in more children. They are, to a great extent, a consequence of relatively recent changes in our lifestyle—modern diet, oversanitization, excessive use of antibiotics—that have altered the specific microbes that affect our metabolism early on.

Never before in human history have babies and children grown up so cleanly, and our diets have lost many of the elements most crucial to the health of our guts. We have become very bad hosts to our microbes.  By preventing babies and children from following their innate impulse to get dirty, we shield them from the microbial exposure that is essential for the development of a healthy immune system.
Posted by Jill Fallon at September 18, 2016 11:34 PM | Permalink