Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Could lice prevent asthma?


But yes, according to new research published in the journal BMC Biology. Mice with the most lice had calmer immune systems than uninfested mice, adding to evidence that hyper-clean living contributes to asthma and allergies.

The idea is that if the immune system is not properly primed with germs, bugs, and pathogens during childhood, the immune system can go haywire, basically inventing problems to solve when it has nothing to do. Asthma and allergies belong to a broad class of conditions known as auto-immune disorders. In these conditions, the immune system launches a hyperactive response to harmless triggers such as pollen, pet dander, and even the individual's own body cells.

This is sort of pet subject for me, given that my mom and sisters have all had allergies, asthma or other auto-immune conditions. It's also a sore subject for me because no one ever listens to me about keeping the house too clean — except for my dad — he gets it. Perhaps because it's a convenient excuse to not clean the house, something I am sure he doesn't really like to do. My mom on the other hand is a complete neat freak/germaphobe. She takes it to downright scary levels. I think it's insane, personally. And she is coming to visit tomorrow, which means I do need to give my house a top to bottom cleaning so she doesn't freak out.

But while I give the house just enough dusting to make sure the dark wood furniture doesn't look gray, just enough vacuuming to eliminate most of the newfies' under-furniture-and-corner hair balls, and just enough scrubbing to make the kitchen and bathroom appear to be clean, I will keep in the back of my mind the funny yet sage advice from a scientist whose immune system talk I attended at a conference: Be sure to have at least some dog poop in your sheets!

Although I can no longer remember the details of Marlene Zuk's talk, I do recall the take home message is that you need some germs in your environment to have a healthy immune system. Without stuff to fight off, the immune system launches assaults on stuff it shouldn't, causing you to actually be less healthy. Zuk's talk echoes what I had learned in the psychoneuroimmunology course I took during grad school. All of this makes me wish I had the time to read Zuk's book, Riddled With Life. She was an engaging and hilarious speaker, so I am
sure her book is great.

How could you not enjoy reading the work of a scientist who advocates for having a little dog poo in your home? I know we have trace fecal matter throughout the Field Notes' house. Hopefully, Baby Field Notes will have a terrific immune system.

We'll have to trade the lice for poo though. I draw the line at lice.


Cecile/DreamCreateRepeat said...

National Geographic did a terrific article on this. Apparently, asthma is basically unheard of in Africa.

On the flip side, I grew up in a fairly filthy house and have oodles of allergies and asthma. I guess I'm an "outlier."

Sycamore Moon Studios said...

I can think of plenty of people on whom I would like to test these theories....

Does that make me a bad person? LOL

Minnesota Musings said...

That's quite interesting. The most unusual/disgusting things can have positive effects on our daily lives... My mother used to warn me not to be such a germophobe and that we needed some bacteria!

miznyc said...

excellent. This bodes well for my housecleaning. hee hee.