Last week BBC2 (27/08/14) showed a fascinating programme trying to understand and explain why the rise in allergies in the western world.
One in three of us has an allergy whether to pollen, pets, latex or peanuts. This is a massive increase from a few decades ago.
Interestingly, if a family moves from a third world country to a more developed country their likelihood of developing allergies goes up! So what has changed in our environment to cause this?
The theory that was researched in this Horizon programme was that our reduced of exposure to bacteria is the cause of the increase in allergies.
They tracked two families with children with allergies, one more severe than the other, asking them to take swabs of their skin, guts and home, i.e. floor, worktops, furniture. The results showed that compared with people in traditional tribes in developing countries they had far fewer types of bacteria in their environment.
It was concluded that the way we bring up children has an effect.
• 25% of babies are born by Caesarean. This is significant when a study has shown that Caesar babies are 52% more likely to suffer from asthma than those born naturally.
• Breast milk contains up to 900 species of bacteria. Exclusively breast-fed babies are less likely to suffer from allergies.
• The use of antibiotics in early life may also increase the risk of developing eczema by 40%.
• Of the families involved in the experiment, the children spent on average 91% of their time indoors, missing out on the bacteria existing in the garden and airborne.
A study showed that even having more plants and flowers around the house will affect the amount of different bacteria on our skin so you are less likely to be allergic.
Professor Graham Rock of University College London calls these “friendly” bacteria and has no doubt they are essential for our immune systems and health.
There have to be some serious lessons here to learn about the way we bring our children up and expose them to everyday bacteria. They are not all bad.