Saturday, April 17, 2010

The excessive cleanliness nonsense is not dead yet

If excessive cleanliness is responsible for autoimmune diseases, how come one of the least hygienic people on Earth, Australian Aborigines, have high rates of asthma and diabetes? See here

Put away the hand sanitizer. It's not necessarily the grime, dust bunnies, cat dander or pollen causing those miserable springtime allergies. The culprit actually may be too much cleanliness.

"Allergies have become widespread in developed countries: hay fever, eczema, hives and asthma are all increasingly prevalent. The reason? Excessive cleanliness is to blame," said Dr. Guy Delespesse, an immunologist and director of the Allergy Research Laboratory at the University of Montreal.

The school released new findings on the topic Wednesday.

While family history, air pollution, processed foods, stress and other factors can trigger allergic reactions, Dr. Delespesse is concerned by "our limited exposure to bacteria" — even cautioning parents to lighten up when their children drop toys on the floor.

"There is an inverse relationship between the level of hygiene and the incidence of allergies and autoimmune diseases," he said. "The more sterile the environment a child lives in, the higher the risk he or she will develop allergies or an immune problem in their lifetime."

The sneezing, itching and coughing is widespread.

Some 50 million Americans suffer from allergic conditions and the numbers are increasing, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. The cost of treating allergies and asthma stands at about $32 billion a year. And there is much misery: 60 percent of allergy sufferers say they were unable to find ways to stamp out the seasonal ills, according to a survey released this week by Consumer Reports National Research Center.

Dr. Delespesse also frets about the burgeoning allergic population. He noted that 10 percent of people in developed countries suffered from allergies two decades ago. Today, the percentage has increased threefold to 30 percent, with one in 10 children suffering from asthma. Deaths from that condition are also increasing, he said.

"It's not just the prevalence but the gravity of the cases," Dr. Delespesse added.

Well-intentioned hygiene can backfire, particularly with youngsters.

"The bacteria in our digestive system are essential to digestion and also serve to educate our immune system. They teach it how to react to strange substances," Dr. Delespesse explained. "This remains a key in the development of a child's immune system."

Cleanliness does reduce our exposure to harmful bacteria, he said. But it also limits our exposure to beneficial microorganisms. As a result, the bacterial flora of our digestive system isn't as "rich and diversified" as it used to be in less-paranoid times.

As a homestyle panacea, Dr. Delespesse recommends yogurt — which contains its own spate of microorganisms, or probiotics — "to enrich intestinal flora," and consequently the immune system itself.

"Consuming probiotics during pregnancy could help reduce allergies in the child," he said, adding that some studies found that women who ate yogurt in the last third of their pregnancy may reduce the impact of allergies during the first two years of their childs life by 50 percent.

"Probiotics are not a miracle remedy, yet they are one of many elements that improve our diet and our health," he said.


Dieting really CAN harm your health: Slimmers at higher risk of heart disease and cancer

A nasty one for the obesity warriors

Going on a diet could increase your risk of developing potentially deadly conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, a study has revealed.

It found that those who controlled their calorie intake produced higher levels of the harmful stress hormone cortisol.

And it claimed that exposure to the hormone actually made some dieters put on weight, which could explain why so many Britons fail to shed fat despite slashing their food intake.

The researchers also warned that far from making people feel better about themselves, dieting could actually damage their mental health.

Many suffered increased psychological stress when they were constantly forced to count calories and monitor what they ate.

Doctors should think twice before putting their patients on strict diets because of the possible long-term damage to their health, they said.

'Regardless of their success or failure (in losing weight), if future studies show that dieting increases stress and cortisol, doctors may need to rethink recommending it to their patients to improve health,' the researchers said.

'Chronic stress, in addition to promoting weight gain, has been linked with coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer. Dieting might potentially add to this stress burden and its consequences would best not be ignored.'

The study, by California University in San Francisco and Minnesota University, looked at 121 women who were put on a standard three-week diet of 1,200 calories a day - around half a woman's recommended daily amount of 2,000 calories.

Each patient was asked to provide a saliva sample before and after the study to test for cortisol levels. The results showed a significant increase in the amount of the hormone after three weeks on the programme.

The study, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, said one reason for the increase in cortisol could be because it is used in the body to increase energy levels.

If a person is not eating enough calories to provide their body with energy, then they automatically begin releasing the stress hormone.

The volunteers were also asked to keep a diary of everything they ate and how they felt during the three weeks. It showed many reported higher levels of psychological stress - perhaps because they were constantly reminded that they were depriving their bodies of food.

Catherine Collins, chief dietitian at St George's Hospital in London, said that sticking to a diet of 1,200 calories a day was too severe for the body to cope with.

Instead, dieters should aim to restrict their calorie intake to between 1,500 and 1,800 calories a day, combined with regular exercise.

'Very low calorie diets do cause problems and it's not that unexpected that cortisol levels went up,' she said. 'We need cortisol for "fight or flight" situations.

'But chronic exposure to it over a long time can affect our cholesterol levels, increase blood pressure and even raise the risk of depression.

'We already know that people on strict diets often fall victim to depression. For many people, food is a comfort and so they are being asked to curtail the very thing that relieves their stress.'

Around one in four adults in the UK is classified as clinically obese - so overweight that it threatens their health.

Research has shown that being overweight increases the risk of a range of deadly conditions including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and some kinds of cancer.

Although a combination of healthy eating and exercise is recognised as the best way to ditch extra pounds, experts have warned about the dangers of 'yo-yo' dieting.

Research has shown that dieters who lost weight quickly only to put it back on again produce lower levels of white blood cells, stopping their body's immune system from working properly.


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