Saturday, January 14, 2017

Children and Immunity

From The Star:
We’ve been hearing for some time that overusing antibiotics may lead to antibiotic-resistant hospital infections, something we may associate with the elderly and other immune-compromised people. But I gather the implications are much more immediate and individual than that. What’s the connection between microbes and the development of the immune system in childhood?

When we’re born we do not have any microbes. Our immune system is underdeveloped. But as soon as microbes come into the picture, they kick-start our immune system to work properly. Without microbes our immune system can’t fight infections well.

It’s not just the presence of these microbes but what they produce. They produce molecules and substances that directly interact with the cells of the lining in our guts, but also with the immune cells that are on the other side of the lining in our guts. They literally train them. It is only upon the encounter with these microbial substances that an immune cell obtains the information to do what they’re supposed to do. Then these cells in our gut have the ability to transport themselves to other parts of the body to do more training.

It was rare when we were growing up to learn of a peer having a severe nut allergy. In the book you touch on a theory known as the “hygiene hypothesis.” What is that? The hygiene hypothesis tries to explain why allergies, as well as obesity and inflammatory bowel disease and even autism, these are all diseases on the rise. And this is not explained by genes alone. Our genes simply do not change that fast. Research is consistently showing that it’s these changes in early life exposure to microbes that are driving the rise of these diseases. The lack of microbial exposure early in life that is necessary for our immune systems to be trained properly and to eventually be able to avoid the development of these diseases.

Are there things parents can do — and not do — to make sure they develop a good healthy microbiome and perhaps lower the chances of children contracting allergies, asthma and other related conditions? (Read more.)

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