We don’t get dirty anymore. We live in a society that has declared war to germs, in a simplistic way to fight disease without realizing (or realizing it too late) that at the core of our defenses there must be a strong immune system.
We human beings evolved in contact with germs, both benign and pathogen. The human body, which contains about 100.000.000.000.000 cells, normally harbors about ten times bacteria. To protect ourselves from infections, we have a few physical barriers in place, like the skin but also the mucus in the nose.
But when for example the skin is broken, let’s say fighting a wolf with a stone axe :), bacteria and virus can get into the bloodstream and potentially infect the whole organism. Still, we do have an incredibly sophisticated system to combat infections, and that is the immune system.
The fact is, the immune system is a little like a baby, it must learn how to recognize all the different pathogens before being able to fight them, that’s how vaccines work, for example: a dead virus (or an attenuate form) is injected into a healthy person so the immune system can fight it easily and produce the necessary antibodies, ready in case there is a real infection.
To learn, our immune system has to be exposed to pathogens.
Sadly, we don’t let kids play in the dirt anymore, and if they do we immediately sanitize their hands before they can put them in their mouth. We eat sterile food, we pasteurize milk and we don’t even allow it to be used to make cheese (well, most European countries don’t). We rarely eat fermented food.
So we can’t be too surprised to discover that most healthy people have a very weak immune system.
Now, back to cancer.
Professor Greaves from The Institute of Cancer Research in London has published a research about acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, the most common type of childhood cancer, cause by genetic mutation and exposure to infection.
His research concludes that this cancer could be prevented by a strong immune system, able to fight the infection. No infection means no leukemia, even with the genetic mutation. The problem is that children who experienced a childhood without being exposed to infections, can lack the immune system ability to fight it later in life and therefore develop the cancer. It’s not a case that this disease is mostly present in the Western societies and is increasing significantly year after year.
And it’s not just cancer, the same could be said for type 1 diabetes, allergies and other autoimmune diseases, they all could be preventable.
“The research strongly suggests that acute lymphoblastic leukaemia has a clear biological cause,” professor Greaves said, “and is triggered by a variety of infections in predisposed children whose immune systems have not been properly primed.”
“It might be done in the same way that is currently under consideration for autoimmune disease or allergies – perhaps with simple and safe interventions to expose infants to a variety of common and harmless ‘bugs’.”