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Old 03-28-2013, 02:51 PM   Topic Starter
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Akhilandeswari
 
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Is Modern Hygeine Making Us Weaker?

The Unintended (and Deadly) Consequences of Living in the Industrialized World

Scientists believe dirt could explain why some of the wealthiest countries suffer from afflictions rarely seen in less-developed nations

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The idea that dirt, or the lack of it, might play a role in autoimmune disease and allergy gained support along another border. In the late 1980s, Erika von Mutius was studying asthma in and around Munich. At the time, researchers thought air pollution was the cause. But after years of work, the young German researcher couldn’t clearly link Munich’s pollution and respiratory disease.

On November 9, 1989, an unusual opportunity came along: The Berlin Wall fell. For the first time since the 1940s, West Germans could conduct research in the East. Von Mutius, of Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich, seized the opportunity, expanding her study to include Leipzig, a city of 520,000 deep in East Germany.

The countryside around Leipzig was home to polluting chemical plants and was pocked with open-pit coal mines; many residents heated their apartments with coal-burning ovens. It was a perfect experiment: Two groups of children with similar genetic backgrounds, divided by the Iron Curtain into dramatically different environments. If air pollution caused asthma, Leipzig’s kids should be off the charts.

Working with local doctors, von Mutius studied hundreds of East German schoolchildren. “The results were a complete surprise,” von Mutius says. “In fact, at first we thought we should re-enter the data.” Young Leipzigers had slightly lower rates of asthma than their Bavarian counterparts—and dramatically less hay fever, a pollen allergy.
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http://www.smithsonianmag.com/scienc...tml?c=y&page=2
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