TED Conversations

Anna Crist

student researcher , University of Oregon

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Purell now, Bacteri-ell later?

The hygiene hypothesis, the idea that “too much cleanliness prevents the development of a well-balanced immune response”(Sironi and Clerici, 2010), has received a lot of support and also criticism. It has recently been challenged by the hypothesis of “early immune challenge”, which states that a lack of appropriate immune stimulation during early childhood might account for the increased development of allergies in industrialized countries (Kramer et al, 2013). This proposal places less emphasis on excessive hygienic practices and focuses more on the insufficient exposure to specific environmental microbes, particularly those from non-urban environments, as the reason behind the rise of atopic disease. While different, both hypotheses point to the beneficial health affects of some microbes.

What do you think is the reason for increased allergy levels in industrialized countries? Do you think that a concoction of the “right” microbial species in the form of a lotion, drink, or inhalant (aka "Bacteri-ell") could be a future replacement for natural exposure to beneficial microbes?
Instead of using hand sanitizers like Purell, do you see a future where people from some regions of the world are unsanitizing their hands with “Bacteri-ell”?


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    Apr 30 2013: I read one article that suggested increased allergies also stem from the fact that families are becoming smaller and smaller, and thus children are exposed to less bacteria to which siblings would normally expose them. I happen to be an only child, along with three of my best friends, and we all have terrible allergies compared to any of our other friends who have multiple siblings. On top of this, hyper-sanitized homes and bodies prevent the body’s immune system from strengthening at an early age. It is easy to make the analogy to weight lifting—your body won’t become stronger unless you expose it to some resistance. However, it is important to consider that people’s bodies might react to different microbes differently. A community of microbes that might help one person’s immune system might cause harm to another’s. The idea of a product containing microbes meant to help expose people and strengthen their immune system is very interesting and has great potential for the future. It may just take some trial and error to determine which microbes would universally benefit its consumers without major side effects. Also, it may be important to note that such a product may not benefit older age groups whose bodies did not become used to microbe exposure at an early age.


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