It turns out that early exposure to common microbes (germs!) in newborns and babies helps to protect them against acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (aka A.L.L.), the most common form of childhood cancer, later on in life.
According to Professor Mel Greaves, a world-renowned leukaemia researcher at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, there are 3 stages to developing this form of cancer. Children are more likely to develop A.L.L if:
- Firstly, they have a genetic mutation that happens in the womb (before the child is born)
- Secondly, they live in germ-free environments and have little interaction with other children particularly in their first year of life. This lack of exposure to microbes prevents the immune system from learning how to deal with threats.
- Later on in childhood, A.L.L. may be triggered when they get an infection that causes the immune system to malfunction. “The research strongly suggests that acute lymphoblastic leukaemia has a clear biological cause and is triggered by a variety of infections in predisposed children whose immune systems have not been properly primed,” explains Professor Greaves. He and his team also discovered a higher prevalence of A.L.L. in countries with higher socio-economic development and affluence.
The following evidence helped the researchers reach their conclusion:
- Studies show that children who had older siblings or went to nursery/ play groups, which expose them to bacteria, had lower rates of leukaemia.
- Breastfeeding, which promotes good bacteria in the gut, protects against leukaemia (click here to read other benefits of breastfeeding).
- There are lower rates of leukaemia in children born vaginally than by Caesarean section, which transfers fewer microbes.
- An outbreak of swine flu in Milan led to seven children getting leukaemia.
- Animals bred completely free of microbes developed leukaemia when exposed to an infection.
Professor Greaves emphasizes that the study is not about blaming parents for being too hygienic. Rather, “the most important implication is that most cases of childhood leukaemia are likely to be preventable.”
He suggests that parents can “be less fussy about common or trivial infections and encourage social contact with other and older children”. For those who want the extra “microbe” boost, Dr. Ardyce Yik ND suggests consuming more probiotic foods such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, kim chi and tempeh. Supplementing with probiotics may also be beneficial. For newborns and babies, breastfeeding is encouraged.
Click here to learn more on how to support your immune system.
SOURCE: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41568-018-0015-6; http://www.bbc.com/news/health-44199844