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Excess Hygiene May Weaken Developing Immune Systems

New research suggests that childhood exposure to germs may help strengthen the immune system and protect children from developing allergies and asthma in later life.

The latest research on mice supports the “hygiene hypothesis,” which states that the lack of early exposure to bacteria increases vulnerability to auto-immune diseases, and contends that such diseases are more prevalent in the developed world where the frequent use of antibiotics reduces children’s exposure to microbes.

Scientists compared the immune systems of one group had been exposed to a normal bacteria environment to another group of “germ-free mice,” and found that the mice living in normal environments had a significantly healthier immune systems than mice living in ultra clean environments.

Researchers found that the germ-free mice had exaggerated inflammation of the lungs and colon, resembling asthma and ulcerative colitis in people, which was caused by the hyperactivity of an invariant natural killer T cell.

The findings also show that a lack of exposure to microbes in early life cannot be compensated for in adult mice.

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