Gastric bacterium protects against asthma and proves hygiene hypothesis


July 5, 2011

Electron micrograph of H. pylori

Electron micrograph of H. pylori

It's widely recognized that asthma rates have increased significantly since the 1960's and continue to rise. With increases in asthma and other allergic diseases centered on industrialized nations, a recent hypothesis suggested that the disappearance of specific microorganisms that populate the human body due to modern hygiene practices might be to blame. Now researchers claim they have confirmed this hypothesis by proving that a certain gastric bacterium provides reliable protection against allergy-induced asthma.

The hygiene hypothesis states that modern hygiene practices and overuse of antibiotics have led to a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents, symbiotic microorganisms and parasites, which has suppressed the natural development of the body's immune system. Scientists from the University of Zurich and the University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz are now saying that the increase in asthma could be put down to the specific disappearance of the gastric bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) from Western societies.

H. pylori is a bacterium that is resistant to gastric acid and it is estimated that it could currently infect around half of the world's population. While it can cause gastritis, gastric and duodenal ulcers, and stomach cancer under certain conditions, over 80 percent of individuals infected with the bacterium are asymptomatic. However, even if the patient doesn't show any symptoms, H. pylori is often killed off with antibiotics as a precaution.

For their study, the researchers infected mice with H. pylori bacteria at different stages of their development. They found that mice that were infected at just a few days old developed immunological tolerance to the bacterium and reacted insignificantly or not at all to strong, asthma-inducing allergens. Mice that were not infected until they had reached adulthood, however, had a much weaker defense.

"Early infection impairs the maturation of the dendritic cells and triggers the accumulation of regulatory T-cells that are crucial for the suppression of asthma," explains Anne Müller, a professor of molecular cancer research at the University of Zurich.

The researchers also found that if the regulatory T-cells were transferred from infected mice to uninfected mice, they too enjoyed effective protection against allergy-induced asthma. Additionally, mice that had been infected early lost their resistance to asthma-inducing allergens if H. pylori was killed off in them using antibiotics.

According to lung and allergy specialist Christian Taube, a senior physician at III. Medical Clinic of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, the new results that are published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation confirm the hypothesis that the increase in allergic asthma in industrial nations is linked to the widespread use of antibiotics and the subsequent disappearance of micro-organisms that permanently populate the human body.

"The study of these fundamental mechanisms is extremely important for us to understand asthma and be able to develop preventative and therapeutic strategies later on," he said.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

this is why i don\'t religiously wash my fruits and vegetables. wash your hands is good, washing all your food is not. a little soil in you system is healthy for you.

Facebook User

There are over 400 species of bacteria in gut and most of these we have no idea what they do.

I personally think it\'s a huge undiscovered area of medicine that could improve our health no end.

Stuart Halliday

This parallels studies regarding other maladies that have reappeared as a result of excessive baby washing, anti-bacterial soaps, ointments, and medications.


It is not undiscovered medecine. There are thousands of studies on these beneficial bacteria.They are more commonly known as lactic acid bacteria and probiotics. Check out the studies cited on this site They have been pushing gut health based on scientific studies for over fourteen years.

Herbal Orgasm


The problem with that is that because of modern factory farming, you get a lot more than just soil with your veggies. You can also get things like pesticides and truly dangerous pathogens like E coli and listeria. Some caution is healthy, in more ways than one.


@ Herbal Orgasm I\'m no biologist or anything close, but my five cents worth, or whatever it is: The important beneficial effects of the many types of lactic acid bacteria (Lactobacillus) have been well known for a long time. Helicobacter Pylori is the subject of this study and seems to belong to an entirely different group of bacteria, but it does of course live in the same environment.

H Pylori is not part of the bacteria \"cocktails\" used for rebuilding the cultures in our body after having used antibiotics. I strongly doubt that \"Viorganica\" would dare to include it in their product as H Pylori has been seen as causing ulcers, cancer and more, with no known beneficial effects. When this study on the opposite finds clear links to the asthma problem, that is entirely new to me at least.

It\'s not surprising though, that problems arise from the washing and disinfecting mania and germ paranoia in our society. It seems exaggerated purity becomes more and more like a \"religion\". I wash my hands and shower when there is a reason to do so. Not to soothe my fears. I will use antibiotics, disinfectant hand lotions etc likewise, but I never have had any reason for either yet, and I\'m 50... Some cleaning maniacs may think I\'m \"dirty\". I\'m not, but I do have a very good health, partly due to not being afraid without reason.

Stein Varjord

So eat dirt and die does not seem to apply in this case. Have read in the past of animals and so called primitive peoples eating stuff we would walk around. So many things are added to the food we eat. Here in Australia they have to list the ingredients on the packaging. I\'m nearly 60 Stein and my great great grandfather died from a hernia at 105. He\'d been digging the garden the day before, rained over night and did the damage lifting a wheelbarrow full of soil. We are all a world for bacteria etc to live on and in us. Symbiosis that is compromised by the way we in the civilized world live.

Roland Smyth

Research and testing of hypotheses like that of Helicobacter pylori boosting the immune system in such a way as to prevent asthma, are a great indication of the importance of the Human MicroBiome Project. For more info on the project, check out these sites.

The growing collection of biological projects with the \"-ome\" suffix seem to me to be proving crucial, ultimately building expansive databases of information on what components of the human body actually do and how they work; allowing scientists and doctors to potentially correct problems with the human body in accurate, precise, and direct ways.

Check out these other \"-ome\" projects and be amazed: Human Genome (Now Fully Sequenced) Human Proteome Human Connectome Human Microbiome Human Epigenome Human Transcriptome Human Metabolome Human Variome

There are potentially more \"ome\"s out there, I just gave a healthy sampling. Enjoy!


\"Early infection impairs the maturation of the dendritic cells and triggers the accumulation of regulatory T-cells that are crucial for the suppression of asthma,\"

I love the cultural bias expressed with this phrase, \"impairs\". ROFL

Whoa, you have just demonstrated that an organism found in soil, natural water sources, most human intestinal tracts not ravaged by antibiotics, etc., that we clearly have co evolved with ( and causes an immune shift that protects the infected individual from asthma, currently increasing in incidence in the developed and developing world by leaps and bounds.

And this is impairment?

Dear Dr. Müller, please indulge in some introspection about the attitudes that inform such a misguided and clearly biased statement, and Mr. Quick (you couldn\'t make this stuff up), please exercise some critical thinking when quoting such a gem in the future.

Or at the very least make hay with it, instead of leaving it to your commenters. Come on, you are kicking yourself exactly now for not noting this in your article.

Jasper Lawrence

Jasper Lawrence
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