A recent study by the Institute for Cancer Research revealed that an overly sanitized, ‘germ-free’ early childhood is the leading factor in cases of the leading childhood cancer, lukemia. Following over a decade’s worth of research, researchers learnt that exposure to a variety of common and harmless bugs could in fact help prevent the gene mutation that leads to the disease.
The Science Daily article announcing the research findings states that “Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is particularly prevalent in advanced, affluent societies and is increasing in incidence at around 1 per cent per year. They suggested that ALL is “paradox of progress in modern societies -- with lack of microbial exposure early in life resulting in immune system malfunction.”
An article on CNN explaining the findings states that “more specifically, children who grew up in cleaner households during their first year and interacted less with other children are more likely to develop ALL”.
While ALL is of course and extreme and highly tragic disease, the insights and recommendations from the research are incredibly simple: along with reinforcing the advantages of breastfeeding, the need to give the immune system a chance to strengthen, fend off infections, and thus develop is reasserted as the only way for children’s cells to mature and grow properly. Exposure to common germs through contact with other children and surfaces, such as in a nursery setting, is an essential element of growing up healthy and strong.