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The Hygiene Hypothesis

A study on mice may explain why it's not so bad to get lots of infections when you are young. Many studies show that children raised on farms are less likely to develop allergies than those raised in cities. If your immune cells and proteins do not get a lot of practice and learn how to recognize bacteria and viruses, they may attack pollen, mold, dust and other particles that are not bacteria to cause allergies that show up as skin rashes, nasal and lung obstruction and irritation.

Researchers at The University of Marburg in Germany worked with a line of mice that had been genetically programmed to develop asthma. They sprayed Acinetobacter lwoffii, a type of bacteria found in farmyards. into the noses of pregnant mice, and this prevented their newborns from developing asthma (The Journal of Experimental Medicine, December 2009).

Asthma means intermittent obstruction of the bronchial tubes that carry air to and from the lungs. It is caused by the body's immune cells and antibodies attacking something unknown in the lungs to cause the bronchial tubes to fill with mucous, the inner linings of the bronchial tubes to swell, and the muscles surrounding the bronchial tubes to constrict and block the airways.

When a germ gets into your body, your immune cells and antibodies recognize that the germ has surface proteins that are different from your own surface proteins, and they attack it to try to kill it. This causes swelling and irritation. The Hygiene Hypothesis is that exposure to lots of germs when you are young gives your immunity practice in attacking germs so it will not attack your own body tissues or non-germs such as mold, dust or pollen.

This study shows that exposing a pregnant animal to germs can prevent allergies in their offspring. However, it is unreasonable and probably dangerous to recommend exposing pregnant women to infections. We await further studies to see if extreme cleanliness and protection from infections causes allergies.


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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Does coffee reduce risk for diabetes?

Apparently yes. Harvard researchers reviewed 18 studies of almost 500,000 people to find that drinking four cups of coffee, decaffeinated coffee, or tea daily reduces the incidence of Type 2 diabetes by up to 30 percent (Archives of Internal Medicine, December 2009). Each cup of coffee reduced the incidence of diabetes by seven percent.

Athletes have known for more than 60 years that taking caffeine before a competition improves both speed and endurance by increasing the amount of sugar that muscles use for energy. Sugar requires less oxygen than fat to be converted to energy. Caffeine may lower risk of diabetes by the same mechanism of lowering blood sugar levels by driving sugar from the bloodstream into muscles. Since decaffeinated coffee also helps prevent diabetes, other components in coffee, such as lignans and chlorogenic acids, may help prevent diabetes by their antioxidant effects.


Dear Dr. Mirkin: My 80-year-old mother can barely walk; is it too late for her to start an exercise program?

No! A study from Israel shows that previously sedentary people who start to exercise at age 85 are twice as likely to be alive three years later as people of the same age who remained sedentary (Archives of Internal Medicine, December 2009). The authors also found out that four hours a week of walking was as beneficial as more vigorous or prolonged exercising. They also suffered less depression and loneliness and a greater ability to perform daily tasks.

Most of the two million years humans have been on earth, they have been forced to be very active. Only recently have large segments of the population exercised too little and eaten too much, causing the "diseases of western civilization": heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and so forth. You need to exercise almost every day to protect your arteries from arteriosclerosis, the most common cause of death in older Americans. It's never too late to start.


Recipe of the Week:

My favorite holiday treat --

Fruity Pebbles

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June 21st, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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