By John Salak –
Hold it. Just maybe you don’t need to clean your bedroom so thoroughly. In fact, a little dirt in a child’s room may actually help them keep asthma, allergies and autoimmune diseases at bay later in life.
At least, that’s what a group of researchers at the University of Copenhagen believe. Their studies found that there is a correlation between exposure to microorganisms living in the dust of children’s beds and these children being more resilient to various diseases as they age.
In what the university, in collaboration with Danish Pediatric Asthma Center at Herlev and Gentofte Hospital, claim is the most extensive study of its kind, researchers analyzed dust samples from the beds of 577 infants before comparing them with respiratory samples from 542 children. The study’s ultimate aim was to determine which environmental factors affected the composition of microorganisms in the bed dust and if there was a correlation between bed dust microorganisms and the bacteria in the children’s airways.
“We see a correlation between the bacteria we find in bed dust and those we find in the children. While they are not the same bacteria, it is an interesting discovery that suggests that these bacteria affect each other. It may prove to have an impact on reducing asthma and allergy risks in later years,” reported Søren J. Sørensen, a professor in the university’s Department of Biology.
The researchers had already recognized that a high diversity of microorganisms in homes is believed to help build a child’s resistance to a host of diseases and allergies. Not surprisingly, beds often serve as central collection points for bacteria, microscopic fungi and other microorganisms.
“We are well aware that microorganisms living within us are important for our health, with regards to asthma and allergies for example, but also for human diseases such as diabetes II and obesity. But to get better at treating these diseases, we need to understand the processes by which microorganisms emerge during our earliest stages of life. And it seems that the bed plays a role,” Sørensen added.
With beds apparently playing a crucial role in building micro-diversity, the degree of bed cleanliness now takes on new urgency. “The simple message is that constantly changing bedsheets may not be necessary, but we need to investigate this a bit more closely before being able to say so for sure, ” Sørensen explained.
Bed cleanliness isn’t the only factor, however, in building healthy micro-diversity. Where a child lives and whether they have pets and older siblings also contribute to the richness of bacteria. Rural homes, for example, had significantly higher levels of bacteria than urban apartments.
“Previous studies inform us that city-dwellers have less diverse gut flora than people who live in more rural settings. This is typically attributed to their spending greater amounts of time outdoors and having more contact with nature. Our studies demonstrate that changes in bacterial flora in bed dust can be an important reason for this difference as well,” Sørensen explained.
Other beneficial factors include pets and older siblings, exposure to both contribute to lowering the risk of younger children developing autoimmune diseases in their older years.