Pamela Bond's Blog

What is immunity's dirty little secret?

I’m a reluctant adopter of hand sanitizers. I have had my hands sprayed by friends after a session at the busy climbing gym, where hundreds of people paw their way up the same plastic routes each day. And by store employees after I keyed in my debit card pin at the grocery checkout. Yet I have never stashed my own sanitizer supply in my purse (though I was tempted when the alcohol-free options made their debut).

I subscribe to the hygiene hypothesis, the theory that there’s such a thing as being too clean. It goes: If your body doesn’t learn to respond to germs by being exposed to them, you never develop a healthy, robust immune system. Your defenses, therefore, become too weak to put up a good fight against infections. Like I said, it’s a theory.

Until now. Researchers studying thousands of children from the Philippines over two decades concluded that infants exposed to germs and pathogens during infancy had less heart-disease-causing inflammation as young adults. Specifically, researchers measured levels of C-reactive protein, which is a byproduct of inflammation and a precursor to heart disease and stroke. The study is slated for April publication in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, a London-based scientific journal.

Could this line of research lead to the development of novel products? I envision bottles of pond scum lining store shelves claiming to help reduce inflammation, to help boost heart health.

Or not.

You see, I—the one who doesn’t sanitize—am fighting a nasty cold.

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