Friendly Bacteria Protect Against Type 1 Diabetes

bacteriaIn a dramatic illustration of the potential for microbes to prevent disease, researchers have shown that mice exposed to common stomach bacteria are protected against the development of type 1 diabetes.

The findings support the "hygiene hypothesis" -- the theory that a lack of exposure to parasites, bacteria and viruses in the developed world may lead to increased risk of diseases like allergies, asthma, and other disorders of the immune system.

The results also suggest that exposure to some forms of bacteria might actually help prevent onset of type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease. In Type I diabetes, the patient's immune system launches an attack on cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
Many people don’t realize that type 1 diabetes is actually an autoimmune disease that occurs because your immune system mistakenly attacks the cells in your pancreas that produce insulin. Like other autoimmune diseases such as lupus, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease, type 1 diabetes occurs because of a malfunctioning in your body’s defense system, or your immune system.

Meanwhile, other immune system disorders -- such as asthma, hay fever, eczema, and food allergies -- are caused by your immune system responding to substances that are ordinarily harmless, such as pollen or peanuts.

While you wouldn’t normally think that allergies or asthma have anything in common with type 1 diabetes or MS, they are all in fact related to problems with your immune system.

Experts estimate that many allergies and immune-system diseases have doubled, tripled or even quadrupled in the last few decades. Many researchers suspect something about modern living is to blame because the increases show up largely in highly developed countries in Europe and North America. The illnesses have only started to rise in other countries as they have become more developed.

What About Modern Society Could be Harming Your Immune System?

Your immune system fights off invaders using a two-pronged defense:

• Th1 lymphocytes, white blood cells that direct an assault on infected cells
• Th2 lymphocytes, white blood cells that produce antibodies that try to block dangerous microbes from invading your cells (Th2 lymphocytes are also the cells that drive allergic responses to foreign organisms)

At birth, an infant's immune system relies primarily on the Th2 system to keep healthy. But the “hygiene hypothesis” suggests that the Th1 system can grow stronger only if it gets some practice, either through fighting infections or through encounters with certain harmless microbes. Without such stimulation, the Th2 system flourishes and the immune system tends to react with allergic responses more easily.

So, if a child is raised in an environment doused in antibacterial soaps and cleansers, given antibiotics that kill off all of the good and bad bacteria in their gut, and kept away from the natural dirt, germs, viruses and other grime of childhood, they are not able to build up resistance to disease, and they are vulnerable to illnesses later in life.

Similarly, the mice in the Nature study were protected against type 1 diabetes under normal living conditions. But when they were raised in a germ-free environment, and lacked beneficial gut bacteria, they developed severe diabetes. It was only when the mice were exposed to bacteria normally found in the human intestine that they became less likely to develop diabetes.

Another CRUCIAL Factor for Diabetes Prevention

Many people do not realize that, just like MS, there is a strong association between how far away from the equator you are and the likelihood of acquiring type 1 diabetes. In other words the more sun you get the higher your levels of vitamin D and the lower your risk of insulin-dependent diabetes. This is so well documented that many Nordic countries now regularly supplement with high levels of vitamin D to prevent diabetes.

Typical adult doses of vitamin D are about 4,000 units per day. One can save the cost of supplements, risk of overdosing and cost of testing by exposing large amounts of your skin to sunlight in the spring, summer and fall. You can achieve levels of about 10,000 units per day.

Interestingly, vitamin D levels also help prevent and treat type 2 diabetes.

The Healthiest Environments are Those With a Bit of Dirt

There’s a misconception that a healthy home is one that’s been scrubbed from floor to ceiling with disinfectants. A healthy home is actually one that allows a bit of normal dirt to exist. Otherwise, when you leave the sterile environment of your antibacterial home and go out in public, say to the grocery store, your immune system will either go into overdrive or not even know what hit it.

This is the precise reason why kids who grow up on farms have a lower risk of allergies and asthma, while kids who are overly hygienic get asthma and eczema more frequently.

So if you want to lower your (and your children’s) risk of all sorts of immune system disorders from type 1 diabetes to allergies, you need to learn how to live in harmony with a little bit of dirt. You can do this easily by:

• Letting your child be a child. Allow your kids to play outside and get dirty (and join them yourself once in a while).
• Not using antibacterial soaps. Simple soap and water is all you need.
• Serving locally grown or organic meats that do not contain antibiotics.
Avoiding antibiotics unless they are absolutely necessary.
• Introducing more friendly bacteria to your gut by eating naturally fermented foods or taking a high-quality probiotic.
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