Cincinnati -- Maybe being a fussy housekeeper isnt such a good thing after all.
Environmental health scientists at the University of Cincinnati (UC) say they have confirmed what other scientists have only suspected: early-life exposure to certain indoor fungal components (molecules) can help build stronger immune systems, and may protect against future allergies.
The UC team found that infants who were exposed to high levels of indoor fungal componentsknown as fungal glucanswere nearly three times less likely to wheeze compared with infants exposed to low levels.
Fungal glucans are tiny molecules that scientists believe cause respiratory symptoms in adults. Crawling infants are often exposed to these molecules when they disturb dust on carpet or floors in their homes.
Study lead author and environmental health scientist Yulia Iossifova says exposure to high levels of these molecules may also protect against allergy development in high-risk infants.
The immune systems protective effects only appear to occur when there are high levels of microbial exposure," she explains. "Cleaner environments do not have enough microbial components to trigger the immune system response."
The UC team reports their findings in the May 2007 edition of the scientific journal Allergy. This epidemiological study is the first to suggest that early-life exposure to high levels of indoor fungal glucans can have a positive impact on the human immune system.
"Fungi are a diverse group of microorganisms, so species differ in their glucan content and allergenic proteins. Some fungi also contain mycotoxins that can contribute to disease," adds Tiina Reponen, PhD, professor of environmental health and corresponding author of the study. "Exposure to indoor molds during infancy may be associated with respiratory symptoms, such as persistent coughing and wheezing."