Monday, June 11, 2012

The Hand Sanitizer Cult

I got a kick out of this from NPR this morning, To Sniff Out Childhood Allergies, Researchers Head To The Farm. Turns out that researchers have found that kids who go outside, get dirty, play with animals, etc. end up not getting allergies. As I listened I chuckled, especially during this part....

Studies show children who live on farms have low rates of allergies. Dr. Mark Holbreich, an allergist in Indianapolis and a fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, calls it "the farm effect."

Holbreich recently did a study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, which found very low rates of allergies among Amish children living on farms in Indiana. He says the reason may be because the children get exposed very early on to dirty environments, and to a variety of dust and germs. Even young kids are often in the barn, working with animals, and drinking raw milk.

"We think there's something about milk," Holbreich says. "That's key, along with exposure to large animals, particularly cows."

Scientists don't know exactly what it is in raw milk, or in the barn, or on the cows, that helps boost the immune system. They're researching that now. But Holbreich cautions against drinking raw milk or serving it to your child. It contains too many dangerous, disease-causing bacteria.

So raw milk seems to help prevent the development of allergies but you shouldn't drink it. Huh? I am thinking that once we start milking our cow I will need to add "don't drink raw milk" to the list of "stuff that 'experts' tell me I shouldn't do but that I do anyway".

Later it talks about a possible link to antibiotic use and then they say that antibiotics are used to mitigate the symptoms. Um, I am not a doctor but maybe that is part of the problem?

We live in a society that over-medicates for every sniffle, slathers sanitizer on every surface and thinks that dirt is likely to kill children on contact. I choose not to participate in that. Kids getting dirty, playing outside, being exposed to the world they live in might not be culturally acceptable but it just might make for healthier children.


Debbie said...

Interesting study, though I wonder which came first - the farm or the tendency to not have trouble with allergies. Perhaps the Amish do not have a genetic trait that leads to allergies.

I was very young when my family learned that I couldn't be around furry critters and continue to breathe. Would that have been different if I had been around them every day since birth? Maybe, but it's probably equally likely that I simply would have been sickly. I know that exposure to the things I'm allergic to has never helped me. Of course, we've never treated allergies with antibiotics, either. That's a bit ridiculous.

I've often wondered if consistent exposure to the things my body reacts to would teach my system to deal with them (like allergy shots are supposed to do). But the two weeks I spent with a cat during Christmas break of my sophmore year of college convinced me that such exposure might very well kill me before it could cure me.

I agree that our society tries too hard to keep things too clean, though. We shun antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer, and hardly have a sterile environment. But my kids have each only been on antibiotics once in their lives, and they rarely deal with any illness. Guess they don't really need that germ-killing stuff!

Arthur Sido said...

Well, certainly people still get allergies. I think your situation is more "natural" but I also think that te incredible rise of allergies has something to do with a lack of exposure to the great outdoors.

Bean said...

I was at the doctors office with one of my children, Ben who was around 2, the doc insisted my son had allergies and wanted us to go to testing. In the meantime he instructed us to remove all carpeting, draperies, and soft animals from our home, we had four children, and no money to redo our home into a sterile environment, so we did nothing, plus any where we visited, grandmas, library, preschool etc there were carpets and draperies he would have to cope with :)
We did do the basic test, they swabbed his nose or something like that, and on the follow up visit said he had extreme allergies. During the visit the doc was called our of our exam room to meet with a young mother and her toddler by the nurses station. The mom had brought the little girl over for an emergency allergy shot, her reason, the child had awoken from her nap and been cranky and the mother was sure it was because of some wheat crackers eaten at lunch! The child was given a shot. I was horrified, and at that moment decided that Ben would have to adjust to dust, and pet dander, and we would be fine. Ben is almost 21, has had no adverse effects and is a healthy young man.
In some cases I think allergies are simply a lucrative line of business for some doctors.