More on Allergies

Meg’s comment on my last post reminded me of a talk I’d heard at work a while back.  There is a lot of research going on these days about the body’s microbiome- the mix of bacteria that is present in and on the body, and how it affects one’s health.

I had previously posted about it here, and how it may affect obesity:

Well, the particular talk I heard focused on allergies.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the speaker, and I wish I’d taken notes.  So everything I’m recounting here is based on what I remember of her talk.

She started the talk discussing how there are differences in babies’ microbiomes based on whether they were born via vaginal delivery or C-section.  What’s frightening is that whether they were breastfed or not, these differences persisted at one year of life.  Breastfeeding was beneficial, but there were still significant differences between the vaginal delivery and C-section babies.

A healthier microbiome appears to be one that has a greater variety of organisms.  From what I recall of the talk, there were certain bacterial species that were seen in the “healthier” individuals, but I don’t remember which ones they were.

In terms of an OB standpoint, the difference is thought to come from the natural vaginal flora that the babies are exposed to during a vaginal delivery.  I should also mention that prior to a C-section, mothers are given IV antibiotics to help prevent infections at the surgical site.

Now, I don’t want women to fear a C-section.  We do them when we have to, but our goal is to have a vaginal delivery whenever it is deemed safe and appropriate.  I’ve heard of some researchers looking into swabbing the mother’s vagina and then transferring the material to the baby’s mouth and nose in cases of a C-section.  But that is still experimental, so we don’t know if it’s beneficial or not.

The standard use of antibiotics, such as prior to C-sections, or for moms with a positive Group B Streptococcus (GBS) test, is done based on extensive research on the benefits.  However, this emerging research on the body’s microbiome may show that there are more subtle long-term effects from antibiotic use.

The speaker went on to say that the body’s microbiome has effects on allergies.  Asthma is a marker for allergies.  In other words, asthma is considered to be a manifestation of the allergic response of the body, along with conditions like eczema.

So this brings me back to Meg’s comment about her son eating dirt from their yard.  The speaker mentioned that prior to our modern days, we were exposed to certain bacteria, such as from dirt and exposure to livestock.  Her research is showing that those exposures reduced rates of asthma.  Individuals with a greater variety of organisms in their microbiome tend to have less asthma.

Since it’s not realistic for most of us to have a pet cow, she mentioned that households with dogs were shown to have a healthier microbiome.  The bacteria found in the homes themselves have a “healthier” mix.  Cats provided some benefit, but not as much as dogs.  Therefore, her research suggests that having a dog in the house can reduce your kids’ risks of allergies and asthma.

And I also think that letting your kid play in the dirt, which will presumably lead to ingestion of some of it, is probably going to help out their microbiome as well.  Knowing this, I have wanted to get WZW outdoors more.  Unfortunately our yard isn’t as conducive for playing in the dirt.  Thanks to the California drought, we have an artificial lawn.  And our landlords had put in some tanbark, which is not the best for WZW to be putting in his mouth.  But we’re hoping to buy a home at some point, so perhaps we’ll have a better yard for him to play in.

We recently went to my 80-something year-old aunt’s place.  She has an extensive garden in her backyard, so of course she has a lot of gardening tools.  WZW was having a ball playing with a little shovel and getting dirty.  She handed him a fresh apple from her tree, and he bit right into it.  Good thing since he only has 8 teeth, he can’t take large chunks out of it, so it wasn’t much of a choking hazard.  It was cute seeing him biting into an apple half the size of his head.

As much as I would love to have a dog, I just wouldn’t be able to take care of it.  I’ve tried to convince my parents to get one, but they’re not interested.  Ultimately, I try not to be too much of a germophobe when it comes to my son.  I don’t think it’s good to be going crazy with hand sanitizer and such.  In fact, the only times we use the hand sanitizer in WZW’s diaper bag are when we have to change a poopy diaper and there is no sink nearby to wash our hands.  I keep thinking we should take him to a petting zoo to try to expose him to healthier flora.  But like the peanut butter thing- it’s one of those things we think of, and have not quite gotten around to.


2 thoughts on “More on Allergies

  1. Fran December 27, 2016 / 5:01 pm

    It is interesting how even right when the babies are born there already are differences including the microbiome of the babies. But despite all those innate/early differences, the later exposures to different things in our surroundings and food that we ingest as you alluded to will all make a difference in our children’s bodies. All the issues with overuse of antibiotics and feeds in agriculture makes me even more wary of what I feed my own child. But like you I agree that we can’t keep our children inside a bubble, at least not 24/7.


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