Leaving well enough alone.

This article in the National Post caught my attention today:

People from well-educated families are almost twice as likely to suffer from some dangerous food allergies as others — possibly because their bodies’ natural defences have been lowered by rigorous hygiene and infection control, suggests a new Canadian study.

I’m not a scientist at all but I have a theory, totally untested and unproven, that using all manner of antibacterial soap and sundries would lead to a lower tolerance for germs. Basically the same goes for avoiding all kinds of foods, such as peanuts, would lead to allergies to those foods. And apparently, some actual scientists have the same idea:

The link to higher education may be explained by what is called the hygiene hypothesis, the unproven idea that smaller families, cleaner homes, more use of antibiotics to treat infections and vaccines to prevent them have curbed development of the immune system, said Dr. Moshe Ben-Shoshan, who led the research. That in turn could make some people more susceptible to allergy.

My father, who ate bacon and eggs for breakfast almost every day, and who is currently 85 years old, used to say that everything was ok in moderation. As kids we played outside all the time. We got dirty. And there was always at least one friend with a runny nose. We washed up with water and regular old soap. We ate regular food. We did get a lot of vegetables from our garden, which folks would now call “organic” I guess, but otherwise we did nothing special to take care of ourselves.

We got sick occasionally too, and we generally got penicillin for it. I’m not sure if there even was any other drugs back then. Now I just tell my wife I stay healthy by eating the odd bit of mouldy bread.

In short, we didn’t watch what we ate and we didn’t run for the hand sanitizer constantly. I’m not sure the words “hand” and “sanitizer” had even been combined at the time.

Yet the experts are still getting it backwards:

“We can’t suggest we become dirtier and expose our children to more bacteria,” he said. “If the price of having fewer allergies is more infection, I don’t know any parent who would expose their child to more infection.”

That’s getting it exactly backwards. It isn’t about exposing children to more bacteria; it’s about leaving well enough alone and letting our bodies do what they have always been so good at before we got arrogant enough to think we could improve things.

One last pet peeve: Lysol commercials claim that there are millions of germs on every surface, and Lysol kills 99.9% of those germs, but for the innumerate among us, that still leaves tens of thousands of germs on that surface. You can use Lysol, and I sometimes do, but there will still be germs left, and all it takes is one.

Tip of the hat to small dead animals.

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