NEW YORK, April 15 (UPI) -- Worm infection may protect against inflammatory bowel diseases, according to a recent study, leading researchers to suggest a lack of exposure to worms in the overly-sanitized modern world is increasing cases of the conditions.
Researchers at New York University suggest exposure to worms, or at least to immune chemicals produced when worms are present in the gut, could prevent IBD in some people.
The worms trigger reactions in the gut microbiome -- the production of specific bacteria, clostridia, which help counter inflammation -- but in their absence, the researchers found inflammation occurs, leading to IBD.
The researchers say the findings support the hygiene hypothesis, a theory that too-clean homes, pervasive overuse of hand sanitizers and a general avoidance of "germs," has contributed to changes in the collection of bacteria in the gut essential to bodily function.
Speaking of the hygiene hypothesis, this reminds me of some research I heard about regarding peanut allergies: For a while the advice given to parents was to keep peanuts or peanut products away from babies and young toddlers, but it seems that actually the reverse is true: small amounts of exposure to peanuts at an early stage can actually protect against developing peanut allergies. In fact, at one point they even told pregnant women to not eat nuts:
In 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised allergy-prone moms to avoid peanuts and tree nuts during pregnancy to help prevent their babies from getting allergies. They extended the warning to breastfeeding, adding cow's milk, eggs, and fish to the list.
But times have changed, and so has the thinking about allergy prevention. "The incidence of food allergies, particularly peanuts, has increased since those recommendations," says Frank R. Greer, MD, professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin. "The idea of avoiding peanuts was based on deduction, but it seems like that wasn't a good idea."
Published medical studies find no evidence that avoiding foods like milk and eggs during pregnancy has any effect on a baby's allergy risk, and little evidence that shunning peanuts helps.