Is cleanliness wiping out our immune system?

June 2, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Too much cleanliness has been linked to the alarming rise in auto-immune and allergic diseases in the Western world, says Professor Barbara Fazekas de St Groth from the Centenary Institute. But the answer to this dilemma could lie in our gut.

In an article published on The Conversation, Professor Fazekas de St Groth writes about mounting evidence supporting the "hygiene hypothesis" - a theory suggesting a link between the rise in living standards and immune-related diseases such as allergies, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

"We don't know exactly why these diseases continued to rise despite - or indeed because of - improved living standards. The research suggests an infectious cause but we are yet to discover the responsible microorganism.

"One way of narrowing down the huge field of possible factors is to approach the problem from the other end - by understanding the immune system better and how environmental or hygiene factors could change its function."

Professor Fazekas de St Groth claims that the discovery of a small but absolutely essential subset of T cells within the immune system has been vital. or Tregs (pronounced tee-regs) control unwanted immune responses, such as allergies and .

"Tregs are distributed throughout the body, particularly at points where we are likely to encounter disease-causing microbes. The most important site is the (the GIT) where up to 90 percent of our are located.

"This ties in neatly with the because it explains how an infectious event early in life (colonisation of the gut with bowel flora) can produce a life-long effect on the immune system."

Professor Fazekas de St Groth says we are only just starting to understand our gut microbes, many of which cannot be cultured and were discovered only by sequencing their DNA.

"There is now a massive sequencing effort - the Human Microbiome Project - which, like the Human Genome Project, will serve as the foundation of further studies to understand our gut microbes.

"The major concern now is whether research findings will come in time to preserve our natural gut ecosystem before it's too late."

Explore further: Friend or Foe? Scientists Determine How the Intestine Keeps Us Safe From Microbial Invaders

Related Stories

Why are allergies increasing?

April 13, 2010

Allergies have become a widespread in developed countries: hay fever, eczema, hives and asthma are all increasingly prevalent. The reason? Excessive cleanliness is to blame according to Dr. Guy Delespesse, a professor at ...

Gut-invading worms turn enemy T cells into friends

September 27, 2010

Intestinal worms sidestep the immune system by inducing the development of suppressive T cells, according to a study published on September 27th in the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

Recommended for you

Basic research fuels advanced discovery

August 26, 2016

Clinical trials and translational medicine have certainly given people hope and rapid pathways to cures for some of mankind's most troublesome diseases, but now is not the time to overlook the power of basic research, says ...

New method creates endless supply of kidney precursor cells

August 25, 2016

Salk Institute scientists have discovered the holy grail of endless youthfulness—at least when it comes to one type of human kidney precursor cell. Previous attempts to maintain cultures of the so-called nephron progenitor ...

New avenue for understanding cause of common diseases

August 25, 2016

A ground-breaking Auckland study could lead to discoveries about many common diseases such as diabetes, cancer and dementia. The new finding could also illuminate the broader role of the enigmatic mitochondria in human development.

Strict diet combats rare progeria aging disorders

August 25, 2016

Mice with a severe aging disease live three times longer if they eat thirty percent less. Moreover, they age much healthier than mice that eat as much as they want. These are findings of a joint study being published today ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.