You shower, you put on clean clothes, you wash your hands with antibacterial soap, you keep the house spic and span, you work in a clean office – and you set yourself up for disease and depression.  That’s what some scientists are proposing with the “hygiene hypothesis.”  By depriving yourself of access to your bacterial helpers, you’re living unnaturally.
Dr. Charles Raison of Emory University explained the Hygiene Hypothesis in a short video interview on PhysOrg.  Earlier studies had implicated allergies and other problems with over-cleanliness, but now he is conducting experiments with the hunch that genetic dispositions to depression are also linked to deprivation of “ancient relationships with microorganisms in soil, food and the gut” that our ancestors had that helped keep inflammation at bay.
Science Daily reported on studies at Michigan University that suggested antibacterial soaps can make you sick.  Triclosan and BPA could “play a role in changing the micro-organisms to which we are exposed in such a way that our immune system development in childhood is affected.”  One of the researchers remarked, “It is possible that a person can be too clean for their own good.”
In another article on PhysOrg, Professor Mark Viney at the University of Bristol has conducted experiments with mice to show that the immune system is boosted by life in the wild.  And if you can handle the yuck factor of a story on Science Daily, New York University researchers are studying a new treatment for inflammatory bowel disease: “worm therapy.”  These articles suggest that we need to reduce our hesitancy to the elements and ecology of the out-of-doors a little, and while not rolling in the mud with pigs, understand that we have a living environment that can do us good.  For more on the hygiene hypothesis, see 01/13/2010 bullet 3,03/09/2008, 04/11/2007, and 08/02/2006.
On a different but somewhat related subject, why are African nations so far behind in food production?  Don’t they have more exposure to the outdoors and their fellow creatures?  Some westerners can only think of malaria, ebola, guinea worms, lion attacks, starvation and other horrific trials the inhabitants of the African continent face in their struggle to survive.  But the BBC News reviewed a new book called The New Harvest, by Harvard University professor Calestous Juma, that points the blame on something else: the lack of political will.  There would be no need for those endless appeals to feed the starving children; Africa could feed itself in a generation, Juma says, and even export food to other countries.  With modern equipment, better roads, crop improvements and other factors, African agriculture could grow like it has in the west, rather than fall, like it has 10% since 1960.  What is “needed above all else was the political will at the highest level.”….

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