Parents tend to think they’re doing their children a favor when they hover over them with antibacterial wipes, killing the germs that cause illness. But according to a new study cited by e!ScienceNews, a rise in cleanliness over the past 30 years has led to a dramatic increase in allergies and other autoimmune diseases.
While just 10 percent of Westerners suffered from allergies in 1980, that number has since jumped to 30 percent and the mortality rate of asthma sufferers has also increased by 28 percent.
"The more sterile the environment a child lives in, the higher the risk he or she will develop allergies or an immune problem in their lifetime,” says study author Dr. Guy Delespesse of the Université de Montréal Faculty of Medicine.
"Regions in which the sanitary conditions have remained stable have also maintained a constant level of allergies and inflammatory diseases.”
Delepesse notes that exposure to bacteria during childhood is an essential part of building a healthy immune system, as these bacteria slowly test the body’s response to invading germs.
Because increased hygiene has decreased beneficial bacteria in the body as well as harmful bacteria, the flora in our digestive system isn’t as varied as it once was, and that has its own consequences as well.
Pregnant women who want to decrease their child’s risk of developing allergies should eat a lot of yogurt and other products containing probiotics, says Delepesse.