Opinion

Germ-free doesn’t always mean disease-free

From hand sanitizers to antibiotics in the food industry, various forms of antibacterial agents have become a norm in modern America. One might assume that due to the increased usage of antibiotics and antiseptics, the rates of disease should have decreased. However, statistics have illuminated the opposite.

In a 2013 report, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that from 2001 to 2011, there was a 28 percent increase in asthma patients and a steady increase in positive allergen tests. Furthermore, there have been increases in autoimmune diseases over the past few decades. One in 133 people are affected by celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder of the digestive system that is most visibly recognized by its gluten allergy. The numbers are only increasing, according to the National Institutes of Health and the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.

As a result of these figures, many researchers sought to determine the cause for such an epidemic. What they came across seemed to be contrary to popular belief and became known as the “hygiene hypothesis.” This hypothesis states that, due to the increased usage of antibiotics and germ-free environments, infections in Western countries have dropped, but this decrease comes at the price of an increase in both autoimmune and allergic diseases. A 2012 paper published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology revealed that Amish children living on farms had rates of autoimmune disease and asthma incidence that were far lower than those living elsewhere. These kids grew up around farm animals and larger families, and, as a result, were exposed to a vast range of microorganisms. They also drank the milk right from the farm instead of being exposed to the antibiotics that the conventional methods of milk production utilize.

Doctors such as Martin Blaser, professor of internal medicine at New York University, believe this may be due to the underexposure of the immune system to microorganisms. For example, if you compare the immune system to a defense army, both need to practice differentiating between harmless and harmful threats and need to respond accordingly.

Furthermore, if all the threats are eliminated through a global knockout (in this case, an antibiotic), the immune system is forced to find a new role in the human body. This creates an overactive immune system that is incapable of deciphering between good and bad, thereby attacking cells indiscriminately.

Many of our body’s processes cannot be conducted without the microbiome we have acquired over centuries of evolution. As our habits are changing and the human population is consuming larger quantities of antibiotics, we are destroying that microbiome in the process and decreasing the potency of our immune system. By underexposing children at a young age to their environment and instead protecting them from playing around in the dirt every now and then, we may be doing more harm than good.

This is not to say that you should never practice hand washing or showering, but perhaps we should shake the habit of pumping the hand sanitizer bottle. Faizah Shareef is a junior majoring in exercise physiology.

Faizah Shareef is a junior majoring in exercise physiology.

 

Featured image courtesy Pixabay user Unsplash

October 21, 2015

Reporters

Faizah Shareef


Around the Web
  • Miami Herald
  • UM News
  • HurricaneSports

Shakey Rodriguez, the Miami high school basketball coaching legend, vividly remembers the first time ...

It was a good day for the Miami Hurricanes basketball team. They moved up to No. 6 in the AP Top 25 ...

Erykah Davenport and Shaneese Bailey made key plays back-to-back late in the game and four players s ...

1. MARLINS: Jeter's Fish trade Gordon. Stanton next?: While others spend -- like the Angels to ...

A six-pack of Hurricanes notes on a Thursday: ▪ With the first ever early signing period just two we ...

Retired baseball star Alex Rodriguez gives "Major League" advice to UM’s fall graduating c ...

Becoming the Man of the Hour ...

Always a little bit of a flair for the dramatic. ...

A scholarship created by retired Major League Baseball star Alex Rodriguez and born out of his love ...

New Multi-State Institute Focuses on Reducing Damage from Severe Storms ...

University of Miami senior wide receiver Braxton Berrios earned 2017 first-team 2017 CoSIDA Academic ...

The Hurricanes and Colonials square off at noon Saturday in Washington, D.C. ...

University of Miami men's basketball player Chris Stowell is an active member in the Hurricanes ...

Eighteen Hurricane student-athletes graduated from four schools and colleges at the University of Mi ...

Miami director of track and field/cross country Amy Deem's incredible career earned her a place ...

TMH Twitter Feed
About TMH

The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.