An interesting factoid about kids who grow up in overly hygienic households is that they develop more allergies, eczema and other disorders that result from a depressed antibody response. Scientists have theorized that children from affluent families have weaker immune systems because they live in cleaner homes. They may be right.
Besides increases in medicated and vaccinated children in the past 20 years, the number of children with allergies has also doubled -- with the sharpest increase among the middle classes, however it may not only be our failed medical system that is only to blame.
The sharpest increase has been among the middle-classes which scientists say support their theory that youngsters from wealthier families have a weakened immune system because they live in cleaner homes.Their study examined 8,306 patients, 776 of which had some form of reaction to peanuts, and the findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.
Lead study author, allergist Dr Sandy Yip, said: ‘Overall household income is only associated with peanut sensitization in children aged one to nine years.
‘This may indicate that development of peanut sensitization at a young age is related to affluence, but those developed later in life are not.’
Previous studies have suggested that children born during tree pollen season may develop a tolerance for pollen, thus reducing their risk for acquiring pollen allergy later in life. Scientists believe the same type of 'de-sensitizing' mechanism may be at work in infants exposed to pets in the home.
Young children who share their home with two dogs or cats in the first year of life are half as likely to become allergic to those animals than kids who grew up with only one dog or cat, or no pets.
Researchers also found that peanut allergy was generally higher in males and ethnic minorities.
Last year, researchers at Edinburgh and Maastricht universities studied records from more than 400 GP practices in England between 2001 and 2005 to determine the number of patients with an allergy.
The study showed more than 25,000 people in England have been diagnosed with a nut allergy at some point in their lives.
It also found that children from a more affluent background were twice as likely to have a peanut allergy compared to their poorer counterparts.
Routine childhood vaccinations also contribute to the emergence of chronic allergic problems such as eczema, ear infections, and asthma. However, most vaccinated children come from households with lower incomes, which may support the theory that hygiene and their environment may indeed be a greater contributing factor of childhood allergies than perhaps vaccinations.
More educated and affluent households are less likely to vaccinate, which contradicts the misconceptions of many health professionals who profess that parents don't vaccinate because they are under-educated, poor or misinformed.
Increasing levels of hygiene appeared to be especially linked to a risk of developing severe eczema. In infants and young children, eczema manifests as intensely itchy, red patches that can ooze and crust over. The condition is typically treated by doctors with ointments and antihistamines, however a large percentage of children do not benefit from the treatments with recurring symptoms.
The link between hygiene and allergies is in step with the so-called "hygiene hypothesis"--the theory that a lower exposure to germs affects the immune system's development in such a way that it is more prone to allergic reactions.
For example, previous studies have found that adults who had grown up on a farm were less likely to develop allergies, while young children exposed to older siblings at home and those who attend day care also have a lower risk of allergies and asthma.
It's not a call for parents to abandon all hygiene practices, since hygiene (not vaccinations) is what eradicated many infectious diseases in the last few centuries. However, it is important to maintain a sense of awareness on all the factors that may affect and influence childhood allergies.
Perhaps we should start focusing more on using natural cleaners and organic cleaning supplies. Most of all, we need to eliminate cleaning products which depress our immune system with carcinogenic agents.
One last thing for all the parents out there...the next time your child tracks in some dirt, give them a break as they could be doing a world of good for their immunity.
Dave Mihalovic is a Naturopathic Doctor who specializes in vaccine research, cancer prevention and a natural approach to treatment.