Everyone knows that people are living longer because we’re healthier. So, why has the number of asthma cases DOUBLED since 1980? And what accounts for the 500% increase in allergies? Some scientists think the answer is - we’re too clean! It’s called the hygiene hypothesis, and here’s the thinking behind it:
Allergies and asthma attacks occur when our immune systems overreact to something in our environment. Less than 100 years ago, our immune systems came into contact with lots of different germs, molds, pollen, and dust on a daily basis. So, our bodies learned that they weren’t really a threat.
But today’s world is much cleaner. Babies are born in germ-free hospitals - not farm houses. Everyone spends more time indoors. And almost every sink has a bottle of antibacterial soap. Which means that our immune systems never learn that things like ragweed, for example, aren’t dangerous.
And get this: Dr. Joel Weinstock is the chief of gastroenterology at Tufts University Medical Center. And he says that disgusting as it sounds, until very recently, everyone had some type of worm living in their gut.
In order to survive, the worms released chemicals that tricked our immune systems into not attacking them. And the chemicals also suppressed allergic reactions. But once we got rid of the worms, we became more susceptible to allergies.
Of course, even the doctors that support the hygiene hypothesis don’t want you to stop washing your hands, or to eat dirt so you can develop an old-fashioned case of worms. But they do say that it’s okay to face life without hand sanitizer every now and then.