The tendency to reach for disinfectants, stringent cleaners, and hand sanitizers is high this time of year for cold and flu prevention. During pregnancy women tend to be extra careful to reduce exposure to bugs of any kind. It appears, however, that a little exposure can go a long way as a new study found it may help prevent allergies in utero for kids later in life.
The Phillips-University of Marburg, Germany researchers found via testing on pregnant mice that exposure to environmental bacteria resulted in allergy resistant offspring. According to the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, expecting mice who inhaled barnyard microbes gave birth to pups that were protected from allergies.
Microbe exposure elicited a mild inflammatory response in the mothers characterized by an increased expression of “Toll-like” receptors (TRLs), which are microbe-sensing, as well as an increased production of the immune system cells cytokines. The maternal TRLs were necessary for the mother’s own protection but exactly how that translates to the next generation remains unknown.
The rate of childhood allergies have been on the rise for some time, along with new strands of illness causing bugs resulting in the propensity to keep kids too clean- the basis for the hygiene theory. According to the hygiene theory, exposure to environmental microbes conditions kids’ immune systems to withstand allergens and microbes later in life.
In fact, previous studies have found that children raised in rural areas, particularly farms which are microbe laden, have fewer allergies than their city raised counterparts. Yet it appears it is not just the child’s exposure that matters because children of farming mothers also fare better when it comes to allergies regardless of their own exposure. It is still unknown if this protection can span a broad range of allergens, including food allergens, until then much more research is needed.