Are Experts Finally Embracing the Hygiene Hypothesis?
April 08, 2006
Mounting evidence in support of the hygiene hypothesis -- the theory that early exposure to dirt and germs programs the immune system to identify threats -- is leading researchers to test remedies based on the theory.
These new approaches could benefit the more than 50 million people with allergic diseases. Asthma alone causes 2 million emergency room visits, and 500,000 hospitalizations, every year.
Studies testing the curative powers of the hygiene hypothesis include a seven-year test exposing children to peanuts to see if they will develop peanut allergies less frequently, and a similar study exposing children to airborne allergens such as ragweed.
Studies on Adults
Other research includes attempts to "retrain" the immune systems of adults. One strategy being investigated involves creating a series of shots that will cause the immune system to treat potential allergens in the same manner as bacteria, thereby preventing allergic attacks.
Similar strategies could also eventually benefit those who suffer from autoimmune disorders, such as Crohn's disease.