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Caution: Killing Germs May Be Hazardous to Your Health
Key Excerpts from Article on Website of Newsweek

Newsweek, October 29, 2007
Posted: November 2nd, 2007

Our war on microbes has toughened them. Now, new science tells us we should embrace bacteria. Any part of your body that comes into contact with the outside world ... is home to bacteria, fungi and protozoa. There are thousands of different species ... says Stanford biologist David Relman, who is investigating the complex web of interactions microbes maintain with our digestive, immune and nervous systems. Relman is a leader in rethinking our relationship to bacteria, which for most of the last century was dominated by the paradigm of Total Warfare. He says, "people still think the only good microbe is a dead one." The body's natural microbial flora aren't just an incidental fact of our biology, but crucial components of our health. Our microbes ... regulate our immune systems and even our serotonin levels: germs, it seems, can make us happy. What we need is more exposure to the good microbes. "Modern sanitation is a good thing, and pavement is a good thing," says [science writer Jessica] Sachs, "but they keep kids at a distance from microbes." The effect is to tip the immune system in the direction of overreaction, either to outside stimuli or even to the body's own cells. If the former, the result is allergies or asthma. Sachs writes that "children who receive antibiotics in the first year of life have more than double the rate of allergies and asthma in later childhood." But if the immune system turns on the body itself, you see irritable bowel syndrome, lupus or multiple sclerosis, among the many autoimmune diseases that were virtually unknown to our ancestors but are increasingly common in the developed world.

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