Down and not dirty

With depression a major public health issue the search is on for what may be behind the current epidemic of this debilitating condition. While many of the isolating and anxiety-inducing elements of 21st century living undoubtedly play a role a new component of the depression puzzle has emerged. It seems that we may be too clean for our mental good.

The clean lives that we live these days have been blamed for the rise on conditions like asthma. The theory is that an exposure to germs and bugs switches on parts of the immune system that in turn will control the other parts of the immune system that get out of control in “atopic” conditions such as asthma, eczema, and dermatitis. Now that cleanliness is also being linked to depression.

In a new report neuroscientists from Emory University have cited mounting evidence that our changed relationship with our immediate environment may be contributing to depression. For millennia, as we have evolved, humans have been in contact with a range of microorganisms in our soil, food, and homes. Those bugs, germs, and gremlins have come to play a vital role in the maturation and control of our immune systems; now, we have nowhere the exposure to them that we have had and that has many consequences.

Over our evolutionary past these microorganisms have trained our immune system in how to tolerate other harmless organisms and in the process has reduced unnecessary inflammatory responses. Now, in our very clean world, we have lost contact with many microorganisms and as a result inflammation in our bodies is getting out of control.

Inflammation is believed to underlie many diseases from asthma to heart disease to cancer and now these researchers are linking it to depression. They point out that rates of depression in younger people have now overtaken depression rates in older people due, they believe, to loss of contact with healthy bacteria.

This does not mean that you should chew down on a couple of spoons full of dirt each evening but it does point to getting your hands a little dirty not necessarily being a bad thing. These researchers are looking to see if exposure to these benign bacteria might improve depression and if it does, that will be a wonderful thing.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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