It has been suggested that exposure to common childhood infections like measles and mumps can decrease the risk of heart disease. However, the research has not been clear.
In the journal Atherosclerosis, researchers reported a study of more than 100,000 subjects for more than 20 years. They examined the relationship between infection from measles and/or mumps and the development of cardiovascular disease. Subjects who had measles and/or mumps infection in childhood had a lower chance of cardiovascular disease as an adult.
Men who had childhood infections with both measles and mumps had a 20 percent lower risk of overall cardiovascular disease, a 20 percent lower risk for heart attack, and a 27 percent lowered risk for strokes.
Similarly, women who had both childhood infections had a 17 percent lower risk for cardiovascular disease, and a 16 percent lower risk for strokes. Compared to single infections — mumps or measles alone — those with both infections had approximately 15 percent lower risk for cardiovascular disease.
The hygiene hypothesis states that early exposure to common childhood infections helps stimulate the immune system and lead to a more robust immune system throughout a person’s’ life.
This theory also states that a lack of infectious exposures leads to defects in the immune system’s ability to differentiate self from non-self. The hygiene hypothesis was first described in 1989 to explain the rapid rise in allergic diseases such as asthma, Type 1 diabetes, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.
We have sterilized our children’s environment to the point where newborns are treated as if any germ they encounter will lead to a serious illness. Although a clean environment may have advantages, we have taken it too far.
In addition, children are being given more and more vaccines — a practice that has, in fact, been successful in lowering the incidence of childhood illnesses.
By eliminating childhood infections such as measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox, we may be altering the ability of the immune system to reach its full potential, leading to the cancers, autoimmune disorders, allergies, and asthmas we’re seeing in our youth.
When I was a child, no one was allergic to peanut butter and few had asthma and allergies. Now, there are frequent cases of severe peanut allergies, asthma, and other environmental allergies.
We need more studies comparing vaccinated and unvaccinated populations to determine if the hygiene hypothesis is valid.
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