NYT: Educate Your Immune System

A recent commentary updates the concept of the hygiene theory and how our lack of exposures to a ‘dirtier’ environment when we are younger can make us more prone to autoimmune diseases, including celiac disease, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.

Here’s the link: Educate Your Immune

Here’s an excerpt:

People living just over the border in Russian Karelia, as the region is known, have the same prevalence of genes linked to autoimmune disease [as in Finland]. They also live at the same latitude and in the same climate. And yet they have a much lower vulnerability to autoimmune disease. Celiac disease and Type 1 diabetes occur about one-fifth and one-sixth as often, respectively, in Russian Karelia as in Finland. Hay fever and asthma, allergic diseases that also signal a tendency toward immune overreaction, are far less common.

So in a follow-up study, the results of which appeared last month in the journal Cell, Dr. Xavier and his colleagues followed 222 children who were genetically at risk of developing autoimmune diabetes. The newborns were equally divided among Finland, Russia and Estonia, where the prevalence of Type 1 diabetes is on the rise, but still well below Finland’s.

Autoimmune diabetes can be predicted, to some degree, by the appearance of certain antibodies in the bloodstream that attack one’s own tissues. After three years, 16 Finnish children and 14 Estonian children had these antibodies; only four Russian children did. And when the scientists compared the children’s microbiomes in the three countries, they found stark differences. A group of microbes called bacteroides dominated in Finnish and Estonian infants. But in Russia, bifidobacteria and E. coli held sway….

Russian kids have more fecal oral infections, such as hepatitis A, suggesting more sharing not only of pathogens, but of microbes that may benefit health. And previous studies have found that Russian homes harbor a richer and more diverse community of microbes than Finnish ones….

The world today is very different from the one our immune system evolved to anticipate — not just in what we encounter, but in when we first encounter it. Preventing autoimmune disorders may require emulating aspects of that “dirtier” world.

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One thought on “NYT: Educate Your Immune System

  1. Pingback: Why Asthma Study is Important: Hygiene Theory | gutsandgrowth

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