In Cooperation with Microbes 3/4: Let’s get Exposed!

Already for a while, we have been looking for enhanced immunity in various pill jars.

However, surer places to find it would be forests and farms. Being exposed to different microbes has been proven to be linked with increased resistance to infections and diseases.

In cooperation with microbes:





The immunity of humans is mainly built during childhood. “It would be good for a child to be a lot outdoors, crawl on the floor, and put things into his mouth that are not clearly poisonous or cause an imminent threat of choking. This way the immunology is challenged”, microbiologist Aija Luoma says in our interview. Digging the ground, jumping in puddles and sucking stones can be good for toddlers – despite the worries of mothers.

Researched data on the health benefits of exposure to microbes

Several studies have shown that adequate exposure to a versatile population of microbes is beneficial to our health. According to a German research, children who have grown up on farms are less likely to suffer from asthma than other children.

The reason why we have more allergies is the decreased exposure to the microbes of nature.

One possible explanation is that a particular combination of microbial species stimulates the innate immune system and so prevents it from entering a state that promotes the development of asthma.

According to another model, continuous exposure to many different micro-organisms might make it more difficult for the species that potentially induce asthma to become the dominant forms in the lower respiratory tract.

An extensive Finnish research proposes that declining biodiversity may be a contributing factor to the increase of allergies. Allergy professor Tari Haahtela, who was part of the research group, emphasizes in the article of newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, the importance that nature has on our health.

The reason why we have more allergies is the decreased exposure to the microbes of nature. The population of microbes in our bodies withers without a sufficient connection to nature, where the immune system would get adequate stimuli.

"If children are in contact with cattle and nature, the population of bacteria on their skin is more versatile and they have less allergies."

In her dissertation scientist Anne Karvonen suggests that the mold and moisture damages in the home environment increase the risk of asthma in child. In contrast, the quantity and diversity of environmental microbial exposure may have protective effects on asthma. Consequently, not all of the microbes are dangerous, but the number and the type we find in a certain environment determines the effect they have for our health.

Too clean and controlled

According to Luoma, constantly disinfecting our hands and our environment impairs our health. By disinfecting our normal microbe population we give space for more harmful bacteria to grow. Instead, it would be good for our health to head out into nature.

Specialist doctor of the Finnish Allergy and Asthma Federation, Timo Vanto states in the interview of Yle that if children are in contact with cattle and nature, the population of bacteria on their skin is more versatile and they have less allergies. The contemporary Western way of life is too hygienic and children don’t get the natural microbes they need.

 There are a lot more pathogens in indoor air than in the air in forests.

We are constantly surrounded by different kinds of microbes. As Luoma claims, we have gotten used to the microbe population that can be found in the nature. The problem is that the acts of humans affect the circumstances of certain areas and thus create growing mediums, where certain microbes can occupy more space than in nature.

Jessica Green with her research team has found out that the profile of microbes indoors is not as versatile as the one in nature. In her TED Talk she shows that there are a lot more pathogens in the indoor air than in the air in forests.

Microbes are part of our lives in many ways. Without them the humanity could not live and the nature would not survive. Humans have also learned to use microbes to their benefit. The most well-known way of using them is food processing. Microbes have been used already for thousands of years to make cheese and wine. The last post in our blog series covers the utilization of microbes.


More information:

ScienceDaily: Microbes help children breathe easily? Bacteria and fungi may offer protection against asthma, study suggests
PNAS: Environmental biodiversity, human microbiota, and allergy are interrelated
Dissertation: Microbial Exposure and Childhood Asthma – Protective and Adverse Effects
TED: Are we filtering the wrong microbes?
Helsingin Sanomat: Allergiatutkijan neuvo: kävely metsässä parantaa vastustuskykyä (in Finnish)
Yle: Vie lapset lehmien ja kukkien luo – siedätä ja vältä allergia (in Finnish)

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