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: That's an interesting point, I know an only child with a severe peanut allergy. I could totally see how only children would not have as many chances to encounter the bacteria they need to when young, from their siblings bringing them into the home. In my opinion Bacteria-ell would just be an attempt for all the Sheldon Coopers out there to live in a fake sterile environment. Instead, why not have your kids go to the park every once in a while. Over prescription of antibiotics is another thing, lots of people just assume antibiotics are purely good things.

    Yet another factor is the constant bombardment of microwaves from cell phoned and wireless internet that could be affecting our immune systems. These things became standard overnight despite the fact that we know very little about how a lifetime of exposure could affect someone internally. Consider going to the dentist and having the large doormat thing placed on you to protect you from the rays, or the radiation sickness created by an atomic bomb. While these are quick exposures of a lot of radiation, microwaves do not penetrate as deeply but they are always around. Kids half my age have grown up with iPhones always on hand, and an old apple commercial, as disorienting as ever, ended with some little kid with huge eyes using his iPhone which made me shudder. The potential long term effects spooked me a long time ago, I insisted on not having a wireless modem and I almost never carry my phone around.

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