Sometimes while passing through the entryway to my grocery store I watch pasty sorts of folks assiduously scrubbing down shopping carts before touching them. No foolin’. A little exercise would boost their immune systems far more than the deficit a few germs might cause and would put a bit of color in their cheeks to boot.
You can be too clean. When I was a kid my MD grandfather would say that the healthiest babies were those nursed from coke bottles to which plastic nipples had been attached. Recent research would uphold his observation. As recounted in (among other places) a fine article by Melinda Beck in the 5-18-10 WSJ, the “hygiene hypothesis” holds that “exposure to a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasitic worms early in life helps prime a child’s immune system much like sensory experiences program his brain”.
The simile is made even more interesting by the fact that Gerald Edelman, awarded the medicine Nobel for his elucidation of immune system mechanics, was the one who later drew the analogy between it and neuronal development. He coined the term “Neural Darwinism”.
Allergies and autoimmune diseases were rare before the advent of modern sanitation and still are in the third world. Furthermore, there are clinical trials underway (re)introducing bugs such as pig whipworm to the gut as treatment for those “modern” ailments.
The article also points out that “children who grow up on farms have low rates of allergies and asthma”; “children who attend day care during the first six months of life have lower incidence of eczema and asthma”; “Having one or more older siblings also protects against hay fever, asthma, multiple sclerosis and Type 1 diabetes” (you’re welcome bro); and more.
Very obviously however, one does not wish a return to the unsanitary conditions of yore. The ultimate ramifications of poor water quality are even more pernicious than the obvious tragedy of an elevated infant mortality rate. The energy drained by endemic diarrhea during impoverished youth will irreversibly attenuate cerebral potential and thus that of an eventual ruling class.
But, still, here we are. I once asked MD brother how dogs could drink from questionable puddles and not get sick. He said “a better question is why we would”. In the 10-15-10 Men’s Journal, Yvon Chouinard gave as his best survival tip that one should drink out of every stream one might fish. Gave him a good gut. “I can go to any country and eat out of the bazaars and don’t get sick.”
Hmm. Never seen catfish in a Patagonia catalogue…
*Top photo from the WSJ article
**Kid who rolled in paint went then to a mud hole. Dad got in trouble.
***Bottom photo shows that we count on her for everything.