It’s been a truism for as long as science has known about germ theory that letting children get dirty is good for their immune systems. Now, new research has shown that overprotecting children from germs is correlated with the most common form of childhood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Professor Mel Greaves, of Britain’s Institute of Cancer Research, has put together three decades of data which shows the connection between acute lymphoblastic leukemia and too little exposure to germs in early childhood. While the subject of childhood cancer is certainly tragic, this research comes to a promising conclusion. It would appear to mean that there is a simple and free method to reduce the chance that children will develop the disease. That is exposing children to germs in a medical setting.
Professor Greaves’ data also suggests that the disease has three stages:
1. A genetic mutation triggered ion the womb, which cannot be remedied.
2. Low exposure to germs in the first 12 months of life.
3. Infection can then trigger immune malfunction followed by leukemia.
This disease model, which Greaves calls a unified theory of leukemia, was assembled from the data provided by many disparate studies. Case studies contributing to his conclusion include:
- A swine flu outbreak in Milan
- Breastfeeding related data showing breastfed children have a lower incidence of leukemia.
- Cases where children with older siblings or who went to nurseries had a lower chance of developing leukemia.
- Children born vaginally had lower rates of leukemia compared to children delivered via C-section.
- Animal studies reflect these data sets by showing that animals born in sterile environments develop leukemia after exposure to infection.
Professor Greaves commented, “The most important lesson is that the majority of cases of childhood leukemia are probably preventable.” He recommends administering a bacteria cocktail, such as a specialized yogurt, to stimulate the immune systems of children. The children who are at the greatest risk due to genetics and the method of delivery would be strong candidates for the preventative treatment.
This research will further ingrain the relatively recent insight that germs are not always our enemy. It may be an uphill battle, however, convincing parents to submit to feeding their children a “bacteria cocktail.” But, as for the children of the digital age, they will certainly benefit from being encouraged to spend more time outdoors.