From peanuts to cats, house dust mites to grass, horses to cockroaches, an epidemic of allergies is going around. Allergens only became as issue when people started to live in an infectious-free environment, when our immune system no longer matched the environment it was made for.
Consequently, when we breathe in an innocuous object – like a pollen grain or flake of cat skin – many people have a dramatic allergic reaction, far in excess of the danger posed by the allergen.
There are scant clues for why some people develop allergies and autoimmunity while others don’t. But if you spent time in daycare, grew up on a farm or were not the first-born child, you are far less likely to be a sufferer.
I remember while growing up on the farm when friends of the family would come to visit their kids were not allowed out of the house because of their constant illnesses. Their mother had grown up during the dust bowl. This was a time were people would drape wet sheets over their bed to catch the fine dust and sleep with a washcloth in their mouth. Waking in the morning with a mouth and nose full of mud. She had developed a phobia as a child of being dirty. She super-sanitized her children and as a result of this their immune system failed to develop. Luckily a common-sensed old physician recognized this. His prescription was to let the kids get dirty. Almost miraculously their health improved.
In allergies, the immune system reacts to an outside substance that it normally would ignore. With autoimmune disorders, the immune system reacts to normal body tissues that it would normally ignore. Autoimmunity is the underlying cause of more than 100 serious, chronic illnesses. It targets women 75 percent of the time.
Allergies and autoimmunity may be an unintended consequence of the triumph over the infectious diseases.
The term “autoimmune disease” refers to a varied group of illnesses that involve almost every human organ system. It includes diseases of the nervous, gastrointestinal, and endocrine systems, as well as skin and other connective tissues, eyes, blood and blood vessels. In all of these diseases, the underlying problem is similar – the body’s immune system becomes misdirected and attacks the very organs it was designed to protect. The fact that women have enhanced immune systems compared to men increases women’s resistance to many types of infection, but also makes them more susceptible to autoimmune diseases.
Taken together, autoimmune diseases strike women three times more than men. Some diseases have an even higher incidence in women. In fact, of the 50 million Americans living with autoimmunity, 30 million people are women, some estimates say. Autoimmune diseases have been cited in the top ten leading causes of all deaths among U.S. women age 65 and younger. Moreover, these diseases represent the fourth largest cause of disability among women in the United States.
What causes the immune system to no longer tell the difference between healthy body tissues and antigens is now being understood.
A century ago, cholera or diphtheria might have been the rising threat, but these have been largely banished by antibiotics and sanitation. Now allergies and autoimmunity are on the rise – ironically, a threat that may be an unintended consequence of the triumph over the infectious diseases. Allergies and autoimmune may be the diseases of the modern era: but there could be a solution that goes back to our most primitive lifestyles.
Hand Sanitizers May Do More Harm Than Good!
Though we tend to associate bacteria on the skin with conditions including acne or more serious infections, recent research shows that some bacteria may be beneficial. They are your skins first line of defense. By occupying your skin they prevent more disease causing bacteria from gaining a foothold on your body. It’s like a game of bacterial musical chairs.
Normal bacteria found on our skin’s surface – which forms part of what is known as our microflora – may help to prevent excessive inflammation after injury. Although problematic if they penetrate the skin’s surface, they are harmless when sitting on the skin’s outermost layer. In fact, researchers have found that some species of staphylococcal bacteria inhibit skin inflammation caused by trauma. Bacteria usually only become a problem if they penetrate the skin, for example through a wound or cut.
In alcohol-based hand sanitizers (like Purell), the active ingredient is ethyl alcohol. Alcohol is a natural antiseptic that has been used in the medical field for over 100 years because it kills germs in seconds, without water, and evaporates quickly, leaving no residue on the skin. It physically destroys the germs. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers kill harmful bacterial, such as streptococcus, salmonella, staphylococcus, E. coli and shigella. These products do not claim to kill viruses.
Sanitize Surfaces – Wash Your Hands
Presumably, when people buy antibacterial soap, the idea is to kill bad germs and promote health. But over the years, scientists and public health advocates have worried that triclosan — a common chemical in antibacterial soap — may actually do more harm than good.
Triclosan weakens and slows muscle cells’ ability to contract; decreased heart function and grip strength. If you have an autoimmune or neuromuscular disease like MS, fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue do you really want to weaken your already weakened muscles?
The latest warnings come from a team of researchers who ran a series of tests that showed that triclosan weakens and slows muscle cells’ ability to contract; decreased heart function and grip strength.[i]
Here’s a closer look at what’s known about the benefits and potential harms of triclosan.
Triclosan stops or slows the growth of bacteria and fungi. It is added to many products as a preservative to prevent bacterial contamination within the product itself, but it’s added to soap to help battle germy hands.
Antibacterial soaps do fight germs on your hands — but that’s thanks to the soap, not the triclosan, according to a number of studies.
Studies that looked at the rate of infectious illness that occurs in households using antibacterial soap versus plain soap and found no difference. One reason may be that the most common illnesses, such as colds and stomach flu, are viral. Triclosan and alcohol-based sanitizers do not target viruses.
The hospitals of UCLA use soap with 3% triclosan, but only in patient-care areas and only as an amendment to alcohol-based hand gels, which work faster than washing with soap and have a sustained germ-squashing effect, says Dr. David Pegues, who directs the program on infectious diseases. “I think the use is appropriate in the hospital where we’ve got antibiotic-resistant germs that need to get killed on skin and skin surfaces,” he says. “Where it’s not appropriate is the routine use of a variety of consumer products, mostly for peace of mind.”
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The Hygiene Hypothesis
The ‘Hygiene Hypothesis’, an idea put forward in 1989 by David Strachan from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, attempts to explain the cause of this allergy and autoimmune tsunami. It argues that the human immune system is no longer suited to our modern, hygienic world.
Our immune system evolved in the presence of infections and found an optimal way to live with it. This was a balance between immune responses that protect against infections, versus responses that down-regulate hyper-reactivity in order to avoid allergic reactions such as asthma.
A new awareness is that 99% of the microorganisms inhabiting our body are anaerobic. These microbes can survive in air about as long as you can survive underwater. This means that all the use of hand sanitizers is impacting only 1% of the air-breathing microbes on the surface of your skin.
While we have a symbiotic relationship with many microbes, others are opportunistic homesteaders. The sole purpose microbes have is to survive and reproduce. If you have to live with a chronic microbial infestation for years, the microbes don’t necessarily want to have constant inflammation surrounding them. The same with a mouse in the house, they don’t want to let you know they are around.
As lab testing improves another new observation is that the part of the immune system normally responsible for attacking invading microorganisms is suppressed by opportunistic or pathogenic bacteria, parasites and even probiotic bacteria as part of the survival methods. The microbes are dampening the immune system down in order to ‘damage control’ the side effects of a long-term bacterial or worm infestation.
The Bored Immune System
When I first heard the term Bored Immune System, I was gobsmacked to think that an immune system could become bored.
Definition of a Bored Immune System: When the environment that a person lives in becomes so clean that the immune system becomes bored and creates immunity to natural substances such as pollen, food and even itself.
Today a compromised or dysfunctional immune system is recognized as being a major component of most chronic diseases. The immune system carries the burden of maintaining the health and proper functioning of the entire body.
Apparently there is an inverse relationship between the level of hygiene and the incidence of allergies and autoimmune diseases. The more sterile the environment a child lives in, the higher the risk a child will develop allergies or an immune problem in their lifetime.
Regions in which the sanitary conditions have remained stable have also maintained a constant level of allergies and inflammatory diseases. Allergies and other autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis are the result of our immune system turning against us.
We can keep our environment fairly clean. We cannot, unless we live in an enclosed bubble keep it clean from bacteria, virus’s, small vermin and parasites.
When you understand the intelligence of the body and as long as you give it the right resources and don’t interfere, then the body knows exactly what to do, it has been doing it without the knowledge of science for 1000’s of generations. But we interfere by treating pregnancy as a disease rather then something natural, creating hazards at birth, injecting immediately with Vitamin K and so called immune system “enhancers” as well as fever depressors and pain killers. The body never really gets a chance to do something for itself before a foreign pill or chemical is thrown into the system.
It is my belief and many vitalists belief that these modern medical practices are what cause the intelligence of the body to be depressed resulting in the vast amount of allergies and autoimmune diseases that now exists.
The correlation of a sanitized environment with an increase in allergies has too many other paramaters to take into account, including our very over medicated society that consumes a diet of modified, processed, chemical foods filled toxins with many being genetically modified.
When usually harmless substances become harmful to the immune system we speak of allergies. Today we know: our immune system needs training. From birth our organism is in constant interaction with its environment which either supports or attacks it, although newborn infants still receive a certain immune protection through the antibodies of the mother. Breast-feeding prolongs this protection somewhat.
As the child develops externally, including standing, coordination, walking and speech, a parallel development takes place in the individual immune system. The thymus gland, which recedes in later life, most clearly reveals this development. It has sometimes been called “the life clock” and its function consists fundamentally in mediating perception and digestion, providing an organic basis for differentiating between “foreign” and “self.”
The Lymphocyte School
Today, some immunologists consider the thymus as a “school for lymphocytes,” where the latter learn to recognize foreign as opposed to body protein. Lymphocytes even store memory for subsequent encounters with the environment. Recognition, memory and response – these concepts belong to the learning process.
On an organic level children learn to integrate themselves into their surroundings, just as they later learn to fit themselves into their world in a healthy way. A central anthroposophical medical premise asserts that growth forces underlying the development of the immune system are the same as those forces that a child draws on for learning. They are the life forces at the basis of all physical and mental wellness.
Obviously such a metamorphosis from growth forces to forces of consciousness needs inner and outer challenges and stimulation. The “lymphocyte school” needs its teachers and challenges that are appropriate and age-related.
Continuous under- or over-stimulation of the immune system and the nerve-sense system can cause long-term weakness and damage. The dynamic balance between challenge and assimilation is key.
Allergies are due to lack of immune stimulation
Immunological studies confirm that allergies are more prevalent in countries with high standards of hygiene and living and in families with few or no children and less prevalent in rural children. This can be interpreted to mean that where the immune system is not “trained” allergies increase.
Recent research in Germany attempted to prove allergies more prevalent in polluted industrial areas. The result showed the opposite. Allergies were three times higher in pristine, non-industrial areas. Further studies indicated a prevalence for allergies in well-to-do households although the incidence was lower if children had normal childhood illnesses such as measles. The magazine Bild der Wissenschaft (Science View) wrote: “The medical establishment has to rethink. It appears that lifestyle has a greater influence on health than pollution does.”
In 1999, a Swedish anthroposophical physician, in collaboration with the Karolinska University Hospital, Stockholm, researched children from three schools, including one Waldorf school. Hair and blood samples showed that 13% of the Waldorf students had allergy problems as opposed to 25% of the children in the other schools. Possible influencing factors were listed as: Waldorf students often receive fewer antibiotics and fever depressants, they are allowed to have normal childhood illnesses, are breast-fed longer and have a different diet.
The Immune System Needs Training
While classical childhood illnesses are being eradicated, youngsters suffer increasingly from adult illnesses such as allergies and psychosomatic disturbances.
But a shadow side is that the immune system is becoming less “trained.” At the same time children are subjected to ever earlier and sharper assaults on their sensory-nervous system. The result: a certain organic “hatred” which overreacts at the slightest touch. Allergies are manifestations of such overreactions of a “bored” or inactive immune system.
Interestingly, the latest research suggests that triggers such as dust mites or pollen may not be as causative as previously thought. The organism’s reactive ability, formed from the very beginning by the confrontation with the inherited body and the environment, is equally important.
Finally the encounter of the organism with the environment must be appropriate to the age of the child, and built in healthy stages. This includes the childhood illnesses which represent unavoidable prerequisites for developing a strong and mature immune system.
Knowledge of Self and Knowledge of Non-Self
The boundary between “self” and “non-self” is not as sharply delineated as one might think. Our body is penetrated by myriads of bacteria far outnumbering our own cells. The fact that some can be disease causing and others essential for our functioning leads us to rethink the relationship between environment and our body, and between macrocosm and microcosm – a question as old as humanity itself. Paracelsus wrote: “It follows that the human being is a small world—a microcosm—but a complete world, including extracts of all the stars and planets, the whole firmament, the earth and all the elements.”
Our immune system is a place where we confront the “large world.” It is a place of experience and learning – a sensory organ. All learning is based on an encounter with the world, on challenge and on effort. Health can be seen as the balance between our inner development and the outer challenges on the path of life so that “we can become who we are.” Understanding ourselves by knowing the world—that is the path towards freedom.
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[i] Cherednichenkoa G, Zhanga R, Bannisterb R, et al. Triclosan impairs excitation–contraction coupling and Ca2+ dynamics in striated muscle. PNAS August 13, 2012, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1211314109 PNAS August 13, 2012