Gritty rats and mice living in sewers and farms seem to have healthier immune systems than their squeaky clean cousins that frolic in cushy antiseptic labs, two studies indicate. The lesson for humans: Clean living may make us sick.
The studies give more weight to a 17-year-old theory that the sanitized Western world may be partly to blame for soaring rates of human allergy and asthma cases and some autoimmune diseases, such as Type I diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. The theory, called the hygiene hypothesis, figures that people’s immune systems aren’t being challenged by disease and dirt early in life, so the body’s natural defenses overreact to small irritants such as pollen.
See, Mom. All those times I didn’t clean my room, I was promoting a healthy lifestyle choice.
Challenged immune systems — such as kids who grow up with two or more pets — don’t tend to develop as many allergies, said Dr. Stanley Goldstein, director of Allergy & Asthma Care of Long Island.
Thank heavens, you let me have a cat when I was five or I’d be doomed now. Good thing you’ve got Buster for the grandkids.
Parker said he hopes to build a 50-foot artificial sewer for his next step, so that he could introduce the clean lab rats to an artificial dirty environment and see how and when the immunity was activated.
That may be the biggest thing to come out of the wild and lab rodent studies, Platt said: “Then all of a sudden it becomes possible to expose people to the few things (that exercise the immune system) and gives them the benefit of the dirty environment without having to expose them to the dirt.”
Ooo! I think I may have just found the trigger for my next science-fiction story.